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.