I would like to begin by stating that you are *not* a dummy. The whole idea of escort cards is rather overwhelming, so my goal is to break it down for you simply.
The Difference Between Place Cards & Escort Cards
Place Cards - Used for formal seating, place cards are used when guests have specific seating, in specific chairs. The card directs them to their designated 'place'.
Escort Cards - These are used when guests are assigned to certain tables, but their chair *at* that table is not determined. This allows guests to find their table, then choose where they want to sit at their designated table (more flexibility). Escort cards are most commonly used at weddings, even though most people incorrectly refer to them as 'place cards'.
How to Address Your Escort Cards
Individual Names - Every guest has his/her own escort card, with his/her first and last name, and numerical table number written at the bottom of the card. Example: 'Mr. John Smith' then '6'.
Couples' Names - There is one escort card per couple. Example: 'Mr. & Mrs. John Smith' or 'Mr. John Smith & Guest' then '6'.
Which is preferred, you ask? As a wedding planner, in my own experience, I strongly prefer the former over the latter. Here's why: Let's say you are on a limited budget (who isn't?), and you can only afford to let certain guests bring dates (i.e., all married, engaged, and in serious relationships can bring a date). When everyone has their own escort card, it is less obvious who brought dates, and who didn't. It also makes for a cleaner presentation than having some escort cards with two names, and some escort cards with only one name.
On another note, I find the words 'and Guest' to be impersonal on an escort card. By this time, the guest has shared in the excitement of your ceremony, so for them to see 'and Guest' at this time may not be a warm way to welcome them to your reception. Try to get the names of all guests, so that each and every one feels a part of your wedding day.
Escort Card Ideas
Though tented (folded) paper escort cards are most common, here are some ways to think outside the box: