Breaking the rules

Darran Jones over at Gaming Unplugged recently waxed lyrical about his love for rule books. This made a nice coincidence because, just hours before I read his latest post, I was banging my head against the wall trying to drum in the turn order of Warhammer: Invasion. Without exception, every game in my collection has managed to dumbfound me and confuddle me as I try to go through those first few turns to get a feel for them and sub-standard English and badly structured rule books have to shoulder a huge part of the blame for this.

I hate them. I hate that initial phase of learning the rules, stupidly pouring over a badly written set of prose that doesn’t even bother to explain the core concept before launching into a lode of game-specific catchphrases and acronyms that make no sense. Take Warhammer: Invasion as an example. It jumps straight into telling you the turn structure in detail and the bit that really confused me was the “action phase”, which occurs after the end of each of the 4 parts of the active players turn. I’m already confused typing it out.

In the action phase the active player can play any actions and the non-active player can play any actions too and then you move on to the next part of the active players turn. The 4th and final part actually has 5 phases, the end of which allows both players to play any actions.

At this point my brain melts and I’m sustained on vitamin injections for the rest of my life.

Even the tutorial videos on Fantasy Flight Games website are lacking, totally failing to mention the loyalty cost of playing a card until it’s shown you playing a card at a different cost at least two times. While they’re trying to drip feed details they just lead to confusion.

I get that these games are complex at first and that once you’ve got a few turns under your belt it’s so much easier. I haven’t found an exception to this – even Tannhauser moved along at a pace once we got into a rhythm on the sole game my wife and I played. But there’s just no need to make something so impenetratable simply because you can’t write or something.

That Headless Hollow Gamesheets exists, with wonderful simplified crib sheets that often show you the same information but simplified, laid out well with colour coded actions and in an easy to digest manner is testament to the fact I’m not the only one feeling this way. Games that have a basic ruleset included are great – Formula D, I’m looking at you – because it’s a nice way to introduce both yourself and new players to the core concepts. I realise that the latter can’t be done for everything, but the former certainly can. Wrath Of Ashardalon did this in a great way, providing each player with a simple printed up card with the turn order on it (and beneath its complex exterior, Ashardalon is a relatively simple game to play).

There’s always room for complicated games, for titles that are difficult to break – Arkham Asylum even recommends soloing it a couple of times before introducing other people to it – but there’s no need for everything to be that way. And that’s the current expectation from everyone I check with online – they buy a new game knowing they’ll need to break it to their will.

So no, unlike Darran, I gain no satisfaction from having to beat a ruleset into my mind and then explain it to other players. It’s horrible, and puts a burden on me that sometimes puts me off actually playing a new game. I wish designers and publishers would make it a little easier for me.

 

Author: Padlock

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14 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, yes. Nothing (well, very little) puts me off a game more than a badly written rulebook – they sap the will to play at incredible speeds, particularly if I’m the first person I know to be playing the game and so will be expected to pass the rules on to others. They also don’t exactly help when trying to get the better half involved.

    There are some real atrocities out there – I still can’t get over the uselessness of the actually-quite-simple Death Angel’s indecipherable booklet, and I’ve yet to play a game of Invasion for exactly the reasons you cite.

    In fact, there’s a List Of Everything That Is Wrong in Board Games that I spent most of last night musing on, and the problem of badly-written rules featured fairly prominently in it.

  2. I still have a copy of Arkham Horror still wrapped up in the cellophane because the rules scare me more than the theme.

    It’s probably going to remain there until I kidnap someone who knows the rules and not untie them until I do a run without any mistakes.

    On another note…who wants to come round to play some games???

  3. Oh my god do rule books suck BIG TIME. I cannot agree with you more on this subject.
    The worst culprit in my experience is Fantasy Flight rules/instructions.Without exception they are the worst laid out, most indecipherable, disjointed, and lacking I have ever come across, and I’ve built loads of IKEA flat packs in my time.
    Have you tried Descent? About 40 pages long AND NO FECKIN INDEX?
    All that time, money, and effort put into making and testing these games and they still get them wrong, time after time after….well you know what I mean.
    I don’t know if this is true, but I’m sure someone told me that FF have a department who only deal with the rules for there games. If it is true, sack the lot and employ the guy from http://www.headlesshollow.com/ cause he’s always fixing what’s wrong for us.
    I could rant for hours about this subject but I’ll call it a day before my head explodes.

  4. Why would they hire the guy from headlesshollow.com ? He’s doing it for free.

    Maybe this is why we get crap rules? “Ah sod it, let’s just let the nerds work it out. Let’s spend this money on booze and hookers instead!!!”

  5. I’m not allowed to drink just now so can I double up on the hookers?

  6. My views on rules are very well documented, usually interspersed with 4 letter expletive so yeah, massive agreement.

  7. Agree on general but I have one game in which I adore the rule book as much as the game itself… Dominent Species. It’s a work of love. Beautifully designed its all light colours and patterns. The diagrams are pretty and it fits the whole games art style. But above the design it’s also excellently written. It’s a beacon of light, a thing of love.

  8. Thanks for the plug :)

  9. The rules for pandemic are by far the best I’ve come across. Some of the rules are missing from Fantasy Flight’s Elder Sign and in their Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game, event cards are mentioned but never explained.

    To be fair, all of the rules in Arkham Horror are in the manual but the layout is an unorganised mess. Still, once we toil over places like Headless Hollow and Board Game Geek, there are some great games out there but my lord, it’s enough to drive a person to drink.

  10. Think my main issues (in the brief period I’ve been playing) have been more around the layout of the rulebooks, rather than actual missing info. As Xibxang says above, it’s often all in there, just buried in a seemingly irrelevant chapter.

    Like many others, the Headless Hollow game sheets have proven invaluable to me recently.

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