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Mike's Game Ramblings

Some of my current thoughts on tabletop gaming.

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The Importance of Rule Explanation

Mike Hostetler
United States
Omaha
Nebraska
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Maybe I'm just picky, but when someone has brought a game I haven't played before, their explanation of the rules pretty much makes or breaks my opinion of the game. Here are some examples:

Before I really got into this gaming hobby, I got together once or twice with some friends and friends of friends to play a few games. One has a large collection and would bring his favorite. One time, it was Puerto Rico, which is currently ranked #4 here on the Geek. But the rules explanation was sparse and confusing, and many times I or someone else would try something (like build 2 of the same building) and be told, "You can't do that." And when we asked why, he would show us the rules, and then when we said that he didn't say that in the rule explanation, he would agree and say, "But that's the way it's played". Maybe, but you just ruined my strategy and my experience with this game. This was years ago, and I haven't played Puerto Rico since, and I'm just now considering giving it another try.

One the other hand, I have played with a family member that likes to simply open the rule book and start reading it aloud, regardless if anyone has played before. So, one time while sitting down to play Settlers of Catan, we had to sit through a reading of the rule book while most of us had played it before. The same thing happened before a game of Uno, and we had all played that before. That is annoying.

I've had many experiences like this, with other games: Dominion (now one of my favorites), Fairy Tale, Bang . . the list goes on and on. Gamers seem to make bad explaniers. But I've found some exceptions.

I think Wil Wheaton on Tabletop does an excellent job of explaining the rules at the beginning of an episode. Not too much detail, but enough to get you started and the some help along the way. Though my collection isn't large, I do tend to introduce a lot of new games to people . . mostly because my family and close friends aren't into this whole board game hobby.

These are the steps I take when explaining a new board game to someone:

Start With How to Win: I think sometimes this gets lost on some rule explanations. I simply say, "To win, you must have the most X than any other people" or something to that effect. If the point of the game gets lost, then you have all sorts of confusion.

How to Get There: What do you need to do to get X

High-Level Rules: These are the big things to do, big things not to do

Sample Turn: Just show them, "This is what you do during a turn" and show it. I may do two sample turns just to show them.

Stay away from minutia: I hate when people bring up nick-picky rules during the initial explanation. If someone breaks it during the game, I may let it slide but tell them they weren't supposed to do that. Hey, it's just a game and I'm with first-timers.

Sample, simple strategy: in a new game, most people don't know where to start. I tend to give them some ideas of what to think about.

Warnings: Sometimes I will say, "This will make more sense in the game" or "It will take halfway through the game before this makes sense".

Ask "Any questions?": I let people ask questions during when I do a rules introduction, but I always ask this question. Not only do I get a good questions, I can gauge how well I did.


Start a gentle play: I don't do cutthroat, and may do a round or two before starting the game again.

I think the importance of rule explanation can make or break the game, especially when playing with non-gamers. Does anyone else have good guidelines to explaining new games?
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Wed Apr 24, 2013 8:33 pm
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A Tale of Two Kickstarters

Mike Hostetler
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I had a bit of tax refund money still burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to look to see if there were any tabletop games that needed support on Kickstarter. I wasn't looking for in-depth games, but instead looking for deep strategy games, I continued the quest to find games I can happily play with my not-quite-10 year old and our frequent game group of not-quite-10 year olds and their dads. Example: Dominion is about as deep as we should ever take the group at this point.

I actually found one game to support and a friend send me to another one when I sent the original to him. Two games at once! They are:

Dragon Whisperer (DW): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1460165270/dragon-whispe...

Dungeon Roll (DR): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/michaelmindes/dungeon-ro...

Both seem like very strong games, especially for the light methods I want. Easy rules to follow, lots of action, about half luck (this is important when playing with kids), well-made pieces and high-quality art work (a requirement for kids. If the theme isn't great, and the art isn't with it, they aren't interested).

This is my first time sponsoring games on Kickstarter (I did do a couple of albums for an artist at Indiegogo, so this is not my first time seeding a project). What has amazed me, though, is how different these two projects are being ran, and how they are being supported.

Both have made their goals: DW was looking for $5,000 and DR was looking for $15,000. But (as I write this) DW has 3 days left and has raised a total of $19,500 while DR has 15 days left and has raised $56,199! Big difference between two games that are going in the genre. The deciding factor is how these two kick starters are being handled. Let me break it down a bit.

Dragon Whisperer

This is the second time DW has been on Kickstarter. The original version was Dragon's Bard and it was marketed to game reviewers, and then launched. But the price point was $50 -- a bit steep for most people for the kind of game this was (a trick-taking card game). So they went back and change the game a bit. Took out some pieces, simplified the board some, etc. But most of the game was intact, which was a good thing, and a price point for $25 is better since they have great artwork and high-quality components.

But when they put it on Kickstarter again, they had used money to send it to reviewers -- should they bother with that again? I imagine that it costs money, and they didn't want to spend all that again. So they probably alerted the people that had supported it the first time and released it.

What kind of gets me is that the complicated structure of what DW has in their Kickstarter. They have different levels for US and International for the game, which is understandable since the shipping costs are different. But then it gets complicated: another couple of levels and they throw in a copy of a game by the same publisher, and then you get the name "Dragon Whisperer" level. I really want just the game -- not interested in the extras. But (I think this is normal in the Kickstarter level), this is where you get more things from Stretch Goals (you know, the goals after the original goal). Of course, there are Stretch Goals for the original backers. But, you know, I just want one copy of the game and not necessarily other pieces like posters, etc.

I would also like to point out that DW has all the design work, game play testing, and everything else completed -- they just need to print it and ship (knowing that "just need" does not necessarily mean it's easy). So they simply don't need a ton of money to get things out the door.

Dungeon Roll

This is the first time DR has been on Kickstarter, but certainly not the first time this publisher has put games up there. Michael Mindes put preview print-n-play in different reviewers hands, and has Mindes has published updates every day.

The setup was dead simple, too: one level for US, one level for Canadian, and one level for everyone else outside that area (it all has to do with shipping). Since then, based on success and demands from users, they have setup other levels. But the initial terms were easy: if you were in the US, you got X. If you are in Canada, you got Y. No "spend more now, and you get extra stretch goals".

Also note the pricing is really quite low: $15 for a game with custom dice. That means that the manufacturer has to make custom molds for these, and color each one -- that is higher expense. How can they have that price point? Mindes said in his interview at http://www.buzzsprout.com/4646/79711-funding-the-dream-on-ki... that they always thought it was a $15 game, but they would lose money on each unit under normal circumstances, so they put it on Kickstarter with that low price point hoping to be able to manufacture 10,000 units. So simplify the process, market it, and see if it works. And it seems to be.

I feel this post seems to be more down on DW and, honestly, I'm not. I'm really excited about both games, and can't wait to play with them with my daughter, and bring them to game night. It's just fascinating how these not-dissimilar projects are being run.
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Mon Mar 4, 2013 8:30 pm
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