Guest Post: How to Teach Drafting Games

Guest Author: Jim Cohen from What Board Game (WBG)
Instagram: jim.gamer

Jim runs the brilliant website What Board Game where – you guessed it – he’ll tell you all about what board game you should be playing next! His website is filled with game reviews, interviews, videos and competitions. We asked Jim if he had any advice for people who are looking to teach a particular game mechanic to new gamers and he has written two great articles on how you introduce the deck building and worker placement mechanics.

This month he continues his series with a new article explaining how you teach drafting games to new players. We start off with Mesozooic as our feauture game and towards the end Jim recommends more advanced games you can play once you have learned and understood the drafting mechanism!

Jim Cohen, WBG – In this series of blogs so far we have looked at how Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle can help you learn and teach more advanced deck building games. Also how Targi can help you learn and teach worker placement games.  This month, we are looking at another fundamental pillar of the board gaming mechanisms world, drafting. 

Drafting was made famous and universally popular when 7 Wonders, was released back in 2010. It is a phenomenal game that uses the drafting mechanic brilliantly as a core mechanic that is fundamental to the success of the playthrough experience. The game works best in higher numbers with a sweet spot being four to five players. So, it is a little limited in how often it can get to the table. But also, with all the symbology on the cards, can be a little intimidating for new players. It is not a complex game in any sense, but probably not the best to teach drafting to new players. 

So, which game should you choose to teach the concept of drafting to new or younger players?

Mesozooic is a very light, fast and fun family card game in which players compete to make the most attractive and point-worthy Dinosaur themed zoo! It employs an interesting mechanic reminiscent off the sliding picture puzzles of our youth. You know? The ones where you have a small plastic nine by nine grid with 8 tiles in. Your job is to rearrange the tiles by sliding them one space at a time to complete the picture. The tiles invariably always got stuck but children would play for hours trying to complete the image of a horse or superhero!

In Mesozooic, players are looking to use this technique to move the cards they have drafted and laid into a random four by four grid with one space free. Like the sliding puzzle games, you need to move the cards around, but not to complete a picture, rather to move each card into the optimum spot for scoring points. Players are looking to maximise their score by completing enclosures or road networks, and placing the ranger truck cards next to the dinosaur exhibits or the special cards in the right positions. For example, the T-Rex must always be in the middle of the park so all visitors can find it easily.

But before all this, players need to get the cards they want first. And in order to do this, the game employs drafting with a very well executed and easy to learn system. Each player will start with a hand of cards. They chose two from their hand to keep and then pass the rest onto the player to their left. Each player does this in turn so all players are choosing and passing cards in unison. This continues until all cards are chosen or drafted as we will now call it! 

Anyone could learn the fundamentals of drafting within one game of Mesozooic.

The card art is very simple. There are minimal words, symbols or numbers on them to confuse younger players. You just need to decide what type of park you want to build and then try and get those cards. Lots of roads, maybe you aim for a plethora of dinosaur exhibits. Or maybe just the big-ticket items like the gift shop if they come up! The card images are all very clear and younger players from five up will easily be able to choose what they want. But more importantly, know why they want them and draft them into their own personalised deck of cards ready for the sliding phase. 

There are also starter sets of cards you can use so that everyone has the same eleven cards to start with before the drafting starts. This makes the choices more limited, and less fun, but certainly easier to learn for game one before you bring in the more exciting cards. 

This will essentially teach any player, young or old, how to draft within five minutes. They will understand the process of picking certain cards out of a hand that is not theirs. How a hand of cards moving round in a circle like this will eventually return to you, but many cards lighter after other players have drafted their cards. And as such, how you need to pick cards based on what you want, but also on what you hope others don’t want, so the right cards will be passed to you as well. It is the concepts and nuance of choice that need to be learnt in drafting over the general mechanic of it. Not just how it works, but why you should make certain choices. 

There are a lot of elements to drafting that can be quite complicated if the cards are complex themselves. Drafting can also be hard to learn when you are doing it alongside other actions at the same time. In Mesozooic, the cards are so clear and simple, and the two phases of drafting followed by card positioning are completely separate. When you are drafting in this game, that is all you are doing. You can completely focus on your choice of cards. Anyone could learn the fundamentals of drafting within one game of Mesozooic. 

Once you have mastered Mesozooic and drafting as a mechanic in general, it’s time to look at the other great drafting games out there such as the aforementioned 7 Wonders, Bunny Kingdom and Isle of Cats. All of which are brilliant games and will be a lot easier to master for any player who now understands the fundamentals of the mechanic. Happy drafting!