The first, and absolutely crucial, element of your game demo is not the games, but the people who are demonstrating. It's essential that your demo is well-staffed by people who are knowledgeable about games in general, and the games you are demonstrating in particular.
Specifically, they should know what skills are used in a game, what ages it is suitable for, and ideally roughly how much it is and where it can be bought (we have had a lot of queries about these last 2).
For us, in a non-profit environment, it was also important that our demonstrators not have a commercial interest in selling games. We didn't want to confuse the goals we had set for the event (interest more people in games, educate them about the range & types of games that were available) with commercial pressures. This also seems to have been a good policy decision as the people we chat to often ask whether we are selling the games.
Also, when people say "wow, cool, game demos, I will help" -- get them to write their names on a calendar then & there. It doesn't matter if it is 8 months before the event, just do it. We are having some difficulty finding people to staff the display, especially during school holidays. Today we had 3 people and we were stretched to the limit.
The second crucial element is the games themselves. As Fraser (in particular) is very fussy about the condition of our games, there was no question that our own copies of some games could be used. There are plenty that we are taking, but there were others where we approached the supplier to see if they could loan us a demo copy or donate one to the cause. Three local suppliers came on board, although we're going to need to speak to the one who invoiced us for them - maybe I'm being cheap, but we're already giving up 12 days (including 4 days when I would have been paid for work) to these demos, we don't want to spend money on duplicates of games we already own.
It was important to us that we have a good range of games to demonstrate. We wanted to really highlight games for families and adults, as well as having plenty for kids to do.
The third element is the rules to the games. I'm always wary of playing games with home rules, but when you're demonstrating there often isn't time to go through every single rule. Make sure that your demonstrators are not so married to the game's mechanics that they can't simplify it when needed. (Remember, I'm talking about demos to the general public, not to gamers). We need to remember that these people have come to visit the museum, not specifically to play games.
Some examples of rules modifications we have made:
- Transamerica - depending on how much time people have, we might eliminate all the blue cities from the board, or even all the blue and green cities. Apologies to readers who live in places that abruptly cease to exist. We also only play one round, then we explain that you can play as a series of rounds.
- Carcassonne - no farmers (again, you can explain them after they have played, if you want to). As we have it left out, we can explain the map building aspect first before we add meeples.
- Snorta - and other games - only play with the basic ruleset, not anything more complicated.
- Apples to Apples - and especially Apples to Apples junior - always have an adult be the judge.
- Ingenious - get them started placing pieces before you even try to explain the scoring.
The fourth element (probably more important than the rules, if truth be known) is the setup, or the layout of your demonstration area. We have two trestle tables, with an option of adding another although I'm really not sure where it would go.
A suggestion that came from Jon Power of York's Beyond Monopoly group, and that grew from our own experiences too, was that it's a good idea to actually have people playing a game - especially if they are willing to talk about what they are doing. We experimented today with Ticket to Ride with train cards face up, but quickly were sidetracked by other queries.
So one table contains a game in play, hopefully with gamers sitting around it. The other has a big pile of games, hopefully arranged in some way. You need one or two people who are *not* playing the demo game who can talk about and demonstrate the games as people stop to look.
One last point - try to have a tagline or something to say about every game. It doesn't need to be profound, but it seems to personalise the encounter for people:
"I like this because my kids can play it together and I don't really need to supervise."
"We went to Albury to play in the national championships for this game - the winner won a trip to Germany."
"I bought this the day after I first played it, I liked it so much."
"I think this should be in every primary school in the country."
"It plays in about 45 minutes, so it's great for after dinner."
"Our daughter used to trade her bedtime stories to play this game."
"Last time we played this, Fraser sneakily took my green route and then all the other players conspired to shut me out of Seattle, so I took a -22 on my longest route card and lost the game 123 to 156. Of course, that was using the first edition board that only scored up to 80 around the outside, and didn't have symbols on the route spaces."
Or maybe not :)
Don't eat the Meeples.