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.