Minecraft is over ten years old, but its popularity hasn’t waned. A whole new generation of kids are discovering this versatile game, and it’s easy to see why: there are so many different ways to play.
This also makes it a great family game. If you’re looking to hack monsters like me, you can. If you want to build complex structures like my kids (or watch me build while they lead), you can. And if you like mining resources and making a garden like my wife, you can.
That said, Minecraft can be overwhelming for anyone just starting out, adults and kids alike. There are a lot of moving parts and no real tutorial in the game, so you have to figure it all out on your own. Here are some tips I wish I had known when I started.
Choose the right mode for your family
There are three main modes in Minecraft: Creative Survival, Peaceful, and Monster Survival (which can be set to easy, medium, or hard). They each offer unique ways to play. In a peaceful survival, you will be loaded into a Minecraft world and can explore and build as much as you want. You’ll need to find resources, discover areas, and watch out for hazards like lava, drowning, and the deadly fall. However, there are no monsters to fight. If you choose to include mobs, you’ll explore and build as you would in peaceful mode, but you’ll need to eat food to avoid starvation, and you can be killed by skeletons, spiders, and other creeps. The three difficulty levels determine how much damage these creatures can do.
My kids love to explore but are young enough that monsters scare them, so most of our family playtime has been in peaceful mode. However, once the kids are in bed, I head to settings and turn on monsters, because what good are video games if you can’t kill zombies?
If you’re not into monsters, exploration, or mining, take a look at Creative Mode. There you just built. Anything you can imagine, you can create. It could be a massive castlea replica of Starship Enterpriseor even a fully functional computer. Oh, and you can fly too.
Use the Internet to help you create
It’s right there in the name: “mine” followed by “craft”. Everything you do in Minecraft comes from mining raw materials and then turning them into something new. At the start of the game, you’ll be logging trees (with your fist, inexplicably), then converting that wood into planks, a crafting table, sticks, and a wooden sword, ax, and pickaxe. As you gather more materials, you’ll progress to stone, iron, and eventually diamond gear, while learning how to craft enchantments and potions.
Minecraft’s full crafting tree is vast and nearly impossible for a casual gamer to memorize. Fortunately, we have the Internet. Keep your phone handy to research how to craft whatever you need. This DIY guide can get you started, and there’s no shortage of useful content on youtube.
Build a bed, torches and shelter on the first day
Achieving your first night of survival in Minecraft isn’t easy. I tried to fight my way through the first two nights of my debut match and died to swarms of enemies both times. The easiest way to survive is to sleep through the night in a bed placed in a secure shelter with torches inside and out. To do this, you will need to acquire three things: wood, wool and coal.
[Related: Stressed out? Video games can help—if you follow these tips.]
Find wool by killing sheep. They’re common, so finding the three you need shouldn’t take long. Once you have your wool, start mining coal with your pickaxe. Coal looks like an ordinary gray stone with large black spots. You might not even have to dig – you can often see it in the cliffs.
Once you have wood, wool and coal, craft torches, a bed and a door. Then dig a small cave in the side of the nearest mountain. Set up the door, place the bed, and hang torches inside and outside to prevent monsters from spawning nearby. Then go to sleep in your bed until morning. Doing this for a few nights in a row will give you a chance to gather enough resources for the weapons and armor you’ll need for the more intense night and cave diving fights later in the game. with the day-night cycle, you can place your bed almost anywhere and fall asleep quickly before the monsters appear. But that, of course, breaks the immersion a bit.
learn to fight
If you have monsters activated, you will eventually have to fight them. As someone accustomed to the fluid combat mechanics of Assassin’s Creed and dark souls, I was surprised at how basic combat is in Minecraft. You can swing a sword or shoot an arrow. That is just about everything. No fancy moves, no quick dodges, no parrying with your shield (although you can block with one).
The most effective early game combat strategy is to swing your sword once and then back up a few steps. Try to trade blows with a monster in close combat and you’ll likely take some serious damage, at least until you get better armor.
And don’t underestimate the Skeleton Archers. They pack a big punch. Try to approach by hiding behind trees or bushes so they can’t shoot you.
Keep track of where you are
Minecraft worlds are huge and it’s easy to get lost. My children and I lost the very first base we had built, much to their chagrin. Getting lost can also be dangerous, especially if you turn around in a cave and fail to get to the surface. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your bearings and always find your way back.
The first is to enable position coordinates. Go to Settingsthen Gameand turn on Show contact details. This will display a set of three in-game numbers corresponding to the X, Y, and Z axes. X is your east-west stance, Y is your vertical stance, and Z is your north-south stance. When you create a home base, write down its coordinates and you can always go back.
Another trick is to build a large structure near you as a visual landmark. I built a series of Y’s stacked on top of each other near my castle, which I can see from afar. It has helped me to come back many times.
When you’re in a cave, getting lost is even easier. Torches are your lifeline. As you explore, place them on the wall at regular intervals. In monster modes, these will prevent new monsters from spawning in lit areas. But they will also show you the way back. Always place your torches on the same side as you enter the cave; I prefer my right. When it’s time to go home, I turn around and keep the torches to my left. When I get to a crossroads, I stack two or three torches next to the exit door, or I make an arrow with torches on the ground indicating the exit. If you don’t plan on returning, be sure to collect the torches on the way out so you don’t waste time crafting more.
If you get lost in a cave, choose a wall and start digging in steps. Eventually you will reach the surface. Just beware of lava and sudden drops.
And if the worst comes to the worst, you can kill yourself and respawn. Put anything you want to keep in a safe and write down its contact details. Then die – I usually build a really high tower and jump, which also makes it easier to spot your chest when you come back. When you respawn, return to your chest coordinates, gather your resources, and head home.
Know where to mine for what
Pretty soon, you’ll need to start mining specific resources. Coal will be first, then iron, followed by gold and diamonds. While you can stumble upon these resources while exploring, there are much more efficient ways to secure them. All resources spawn in different vertical locations throughout the game, and there are specific levels that have the highest probability of doing so. Coal, for example, appears most at the Y=96 level, high in the mountains. Diamonds, on the other hand, spawn deep underground, with level Y=-57 as best depth. But even at the right level, you probably won’t find many resources out in the open. Instead, start surface mining.
To strip the Diamond Mine, for example, drop down to level Y=-57, climb up to a wall, and dig a tunnel two blocks high straight ahead, placing torches at intervals. When mining these deep levels, always have cobblestones in your active inventory. When you hit an unavoidable lava flow, back up quickly and throw a stone so you don’t burn. Then turn left or right, mine three blocks, and start digging in the direction you came from. Continue to follow this back-and-forth grid pattern with two layers between the tunnels to maximize the number of blocks you expose. This organization also makes it harder to get lost in your mines.
Attract a flock of chickens (and other animals)
Capturing and raising animals is an important part of the farming mechanism in Minecraft. To capture animals, simply hold a piece of food they like and they will follow you as long as you hold that food and close enough to them. Cows and sheep like wheat, pigs and rabbits like carrots and chickens? Well, chickens like seeds. It’s fun to lure all the animals into a pen, where you can feed them in pairs to create babies. However, having a gang of 10-12 chickens and their pint-sized brood following you around the map is arguably the cutest thing in all of video games. I highly recommend taking some time out of your monster fight to hold some seeds and be watched by a hungry, adoring herd.