The Rules of Responsibility

New games drive me mad, so why do I keep buying them? There’s that initial rush of satisfaction as you hand over cash, the thrill of looking at the long coveted box, the joy of opening it up and punching it. All of that is swept to one side as I open the rulebook. Or even worse, the rulebooks.

My latest purchases – Crossbows & Catapults, Space Alert and Red November – all suffer in different ways. They take something that should be relatively simple and make it over complex. I mean, Crossbows & Catapults man! You make a castle, you fire discs at your opponents, when a castle lies in ruins the victor dances in front of the victim. That’s it.

But no. No, not here. This Battlegrounds edition gets itself bogged down in the movement of pieces (6″ or so at a time), action points (2 per turn, unless you own the expansion – I do – in which case you get 3 when you free your hostage), vague notions of ammunition (what to do when I run out?) and clearing the field. It took, literally, 10 minutes of play before all of these fun sucking minor details fell apart in favour of “You shoot, I shoot”. Ludicrous.

Red November takes a vaguely complicated system and applies a pretty shitty rulebook to proceedings. Once again, Headless Hollow has gamesheets here that are about 1/16th the length but 1,000,000 times clearer. Someone pay him money, please.

But Space Alert. Jesus fucking Christ. It comes with a rule book and an interactive lesson booklet designed to teach you how to play without reading the rule book. It’s the most text dense, colour miscoordinated lump of shite I’ve seen in a long time. It literally makes no sense, instead focusing on being all clever and funny where it should be succinct and insightful. The three of us just stared at the book and the board as the entertaining CD played in the background and we continued to have no fucking idea what to do.

And it made me angry. All of the above did. It’s always down to me to read the rules, to bludgen my way through bad writing and text books put together as an after thought. And, having imparted upon myself some semblance of knowledge that lets me get off of the ground, I’m then responsible for explaining this minefield of vagueness to my coplayers. It’s maddening, but if I don’t do it then no-one will and we’ll never play.

Is it my fault? Do I expect too much? Just give me a simple flow chart, a step by step guide to a turn that isn’t spread across 200 pages with multiple exceptions printed in tiny font and hidden away. It’s maddening and it’s absolutely putting me off buying more games and it needs to stop. I don’t look at games and wonder “Will my family enjoy these?” any more. I wonder “Will I be able to make head or tail of this and explain it and get through the first 6 games to the point where everyone understands it and we can just get to the point where we enjoy playing it?”.

And that’s a really shitty customer experience to have.

Author: Padlock

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4 Comments

  1. Oh god, Space Alert indeed. It’s a great game, but we’ve started the entire endeavor three times before we finally got what the game wanted from us. It’s truly the most horrific first encounter I’ve had with a game.

    When it does finally click it’s rather easy, but at no point do the rule actually mention: “you record your moves without playing them out, then afterwards they are all played back at the end to see if you succeeded.” If at any point it had said that, everything would’ve made so much more sense. But now, we had to deduce that one from reading in-between the lines.

    Thank god they fixed Red November in the bigger Revised Edition, but the smaller first edition is just a mess of rules. It boggles the mind how rulebooks like these can still be written.

    So yes, I wholeheartedly agree here and it makes me happy sites like BGG exist…

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    • Ha! The bit about the recording moves is THE MOST CONFUSING BIT. Because – ACTUALLY – you do play your moves out but you don’t calculate damage etc as it goes through. There’s a single line in there that says “Return all pieces back to their original starting positions” which implies that you can move them around as you’re planning – you just don’t calculate damage, survival rate and all that other stuff that I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND.

      Which is completely nonsensical when you think about it. As a broad concept it’s pretty easy – you have minutes marked out and you role play in real time “I’m firing the LASERS AT HIM! Boost the energy”….”OK, I’m going down the grav lift” – then you do a piece at the end to see when you get blown up and if all your efforts were for naught.

      Which is part of the secret – you have to do that separately because, actually, the role play is bullshit and you died halfway through without realising.

      I’m actually tempted to play it through from the cards a couple of times so that I understand how it fits together before I try the real time approach again. I’m also going to watch some videos. Considering all I can do is move left, right, up, down and press 3 buttons, it’s a bit FUCKING STUPID.

      Red November – I think I’ve got the revised edition, but the rules are just SO LONG.

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  2. I hear ya!
    Too many games suffer from this, games such as Wiz-War which are actually very simple but a quick flick through the rules would have you believe you’re about to undertake solving the Schrödinger equation. The problem stems from a number of areas:
    – Rule books trying to be too funny & clever
    – Rules where they try to be comprehensive, but word it badly, as if they “over think” it, so simple concepts get explained in a weird half-ass backwards way. Often rules written by the designer have this problem, as they are too close to the rules.
    – Games that totally fail to cover questions that will obviously come up in the first 5 minutes of play. “Do diagonals count as adjacent?”, “When can I play this card/use this power” are the classics

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    • Pandemic is my favourite, because the fundamental lose condition – no more player cards – is a single line, almost an annotation at the bottom of a page after 6 pages of text. It should be in a BIG RED STAR – WHEN THESE CARDS RUN OUT YOU CAN’T RESHUFFLE AND THE WORLD BURNS

      I’m angry today, it seems.

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