J. Chris Miller
United States
Plano
Texas
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I've found a trend lately of a lot of board games having sub-optimal rule books. It's put me off to such an extent that I will trade away a game if I have to constantly check FAQs and such for games.

I've also wondered why some people are able to easily grok a game through one read of a rule book, while others toil through pages of FAQs and post in forums.

I've come to realize that there are essentially 3 types of "rule-learners" in board games.

1. Total Noob - Very new to board games; has to be shown every aspect of board game in order to understand how to play.

2. Thorough Reader/Memorizer - Someone who understands games and carefully reads and memorizes every element of the rules within a rule book by reading cover to cover.

3. Indexer - Someone who understands games and and also finds rule book reading tedious. They also have a hard time with longer, non-indexed rule books because they have to search through paragraphs to find the answer to a given rule when referencing during game play. These learners thrive in the two-book model used in games such as Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

I find myself in the Indexer category. I'm somewhat impatient when consuming information because I consume a lot of it. It's to the point where I don't enjoy reading at all for pleasure. A lot of the distaste for reading I think comes from having to review similar information that has already been learned, over and over again throughout the course of x time period. It's also probably a byproduct of the information age, but that is a separate discussion.

For example, I know how to play a worker placement game. I never need to be taught that rule again. So when I go to a rule book and it gives a long, detailed explanation about worker placement, I often find myself wanting to skim it or ignore it completely.

And this is where the crux of my argument comes from. Within this elaborate, detailed explanation about worker placement is a key rule buried in a paragraph in one sentence. So learner type 1 and 2 will see this rule and most likely remember it while learner type 3 will miss it entirely.

A long, detailed rule book is fine for learners 1 and 2, and bad for learner 3. A Rules Reference with Action Charts in the Appendix (but no How to Play section) is great for learner 2 and 3 but a nightmare for learner 1. It should go without saying that I am not formulating an opinion on which learners are "better" or more correct. That isn't a part of this discussion.

The rule book with accompanying rules reference wouldn't be necessary for a light weight game, but I think this is the ideal for medium to heavy weight games. Fantasy Flight has been doing this a lot with their games. I think the board gaming hobby would benefit greatly from this if more designers and publishers embraced this concept.

A couple quick notes:

Logistics - I do not know the logistics of rule book printing or anything so I don't know if this is economically unfeasible for most companies. However I would argue that the number of pages of this style of book would not need to change as the "How to Play" portion could be much more concise, and the Rules Reference portion would have smaller print with bigger, bolded topic titles.

Is this a repeat topic? - I am aware of another thread regarding rules, and the understanding of such from a couple months ago that includes discussion about two rule books. This thread means to be more focused on the types of learning and the possible need to appeal to two audiences when creating rule books either by using two books, or by having a more thorough index.

The Mage Knight Example - Some games have executed the two-book style poorly. I feel that Mage Knight is a shining example of how to do 2 rule books the wrong way. I fully expect people to be on both sides of the fence on Mage Knight in this regard.

Mage Knight should not be used as the poster boy for the two rule book system. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is an example of a good two rule book system.

Below is a Venn diagram illustrating the types of rules-learning environments each learner thrives in.



2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Paradox Games
msg tools
publisher
mbmbmbmbmb
I think a reference supplement is a good idea. I liked games that use them. Older war and strategy games often used the PROGRAMMED INSTRUCTION method, where rules were broken down into smaller, digestible chunks (a unit of measure?). A person would play a scenario after learning a "chunk", to familiarize oneself with te rules learned so far. Then the gamer would read the next chunk and play a new scenario that adds the new rules, and so on, until the entire game is learned.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Oliver Dienz
United States
Shelburne
Vermont
flag msg tools
What I am missing given the length and depth some of today's rulebooks have is an index! It has become a real chore to look up a rule or special situation in rulebooks nowadays. Often the vital information is then hidden in some special box somewhere but not where you would expect it.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Philip Kitching
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I clicked on this, wondering what you would mean by having two rulebooks.

The obvious answer (and the one I expected) was the one given above (ie how to play + rule reference).

However, I was hoping that you were going to argue that heavyweight games should come with two copies of the rulebook: so that I could have one and lend the other to my opponent.

In truth, although a good idea in days gone by, with so many publishers putting rulebooks on line, it seems to be unnecessary these days.

Back to the how to play + rule reference, I have a number of games that use that format, and I’m not entirely convinced.

Yes, it means that the how to play guide is not cluttered with too much detail. However the rules reference is usually grouped alphabetically by topic (so that you can find things), this has problems:

* unless I guess the topic, how do I find a rule?
* is each rule repeated under every topic that applies?
* if I want to read the rulebook, the rules reference is harder to read because it lacks context.
* all the rules for each phase or action could be scattered across each item they refer to.
* I might still need to refer to the how to play guide for setup and for how play occurs in each phase.
* I think that I’m still going to need a good index and then I might as well have a traditional rulebook with rules grouped by phase - at least that way it is easier to compare my possible actions.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve
United States
California
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Paradox Games wrote:
I think a reference supplement is a good idea. I liked games that use them. Older war and strategy games often used the PROGRAMMED INSTRUCTION method, where rules were broken down into smaller, digestible chunks (a unit of measure?). A person would play a scenario after learning a "chunk", to familiarize oneself with te rules learned so far. Then the gamer would read the next chunk and play a new scenario that adds the new rules, and so on, until the entire game is learned.

A lot of newer wargames still do this, don't they? Conflict of Heroes did.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cris Whetstone
United States
California
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I can sympathize with your plight a little bit but when we talk about practicality I think you are not going to feel much love.

Niche publishers might want to include a rule-book for their regular customers who know their systems. This would assume that they made many similar games using similar systems.

Any publisher hoping to penetrate a wider market probably isn't going to want to spend the extra time with such an endeavor. Their time and money might be better spent making sure their rule-book is tight and complete.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald Walsh
United States
Columbia
Maryland
flag msg tools
I buy science fiction/fantasy book collections in MD/DC/VA. GeekMail me.
badge
I buy science fiction/fantasy book collections in MD/DC/VA. GeekMail me.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
The current trend is 2 crappy rule books. I don't think 2 crappy rule books are better than 1 crappy rule book. I much prefer 1 less crappy rulebook with an index, thank you. Or old wargames with 1 rulebook and one designer's notes/example of play.
3 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Laura Creighton
Sweden
Göteborg
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
havoc110 wrote:
The current trend is 2 crappy rule books. I don't think 2 crappy rule books are better than 1 crappy rule book. I much prefer 1 less crappy rulebook with an index, thank you. Or old wargames with 1 rulebook and one designer's notes/example of play.


I like the old wargame version best, but then it is what I am familiar with. I want AIs to get good at making indices before they get good at driving cards and predicting what we will buy for dinner and vote for next election. Oh how better indices would help this world!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Joe Salamone
United States
Billerica
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Aggravating people worldwide since 1964
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I'm not a fan of having one book to explain the basic rules and a second book that describes additional details and nuances. I would rather have everything related to a topic explained in the same place. However, I find that separate sheets explaining individual card/tile effects is very helpful.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
CARL SKUTSCH
United States
New York
New York
flag msg tools
Agricola, Sekigahara, Concordia, Innovation, COOKIE!!! (and Guinness)
badge
SANJURO: You're all tough, then? GAMBLER: What? Kill me if you can! SANJURO: It'll hurt.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
No, no, no no no no no NO! I really dislike the Fantasy Flight two rule book format. I didn't always feel this way. When I played Forbidden Stars I thought it was a kinda clever innovation. No more.

When I read rules I want to read rules set in a coherent fashion. In a wargame, for example, I want all the rules on combat to be complete and in the same place. With a two-book system I don't get this. I get a how-to-play book that leaves out important details here and there. Not good. Then I get a rules reference that sticks all the rules in different places. So I can look up Combat, but then I also have to look up all the ancillary rules: Terrain Effects, Airstrikes, Routing, Morale, each one in an entirely different part of the book. And what if I forget the proper term? I look up Morale, but there's nothing there, because these rules use Unit Cohesion or Spirit.
coyotemoon722 wrote:
I often find myself wanting to skim

So don't skim. When I learn a game I read the rules. All the rules. I don't skim. You shouldn't either.

The Fantasy Flight two book system seems designed for skimmers who just want to jump into the game. It's designed for impatient people. It's not designed for me.
coyotemoon722 wrote:
Arkham Horror: The Card Game is an example of a good two rule book system.

I just got this game and I feel the opposite. The basic game was quick to learn but now I have to read a whole rules reference written in alphabetical rather than conceptual order in order to play properly. This is not a good way to learn something. Our brains naturally latch on to concepts and topics, they do not naturally learn alphabetically. Bah!

Write one book. Write it well. Put each rule under its appropriate topic and sub-topic. Use side-bar boxes for rules examples (but not rules!). That's it. A clearly written set of rules is a joy to read.

(I agree with folks on an index. Adding an index would be very nice for bigger rule books.)
16 
 Thumb up
2.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Alexandre P.
France
Strasbourg
France
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
skutsch wrote:
No, no, no no no no no NO! I really dislike the Fantasy Flight 2 rule book format. [...]


My thoughts, precisely.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
James Arias
United States
Sanford
FLORIDA
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Every game should have their primary rule book transliterated by Universal Head to get it on one page and in a more optimized play flow

I find those + other Geek-produced rules cheat sheets to be the most useful (even more so than the current FFG 2-book approach). I end up writing my own anyway, but those are very helpful for getting thru everything.

It also depends on the game. Some games are just going to be complex to describe in text ... e.g. IMO games with long turns full of many hierarchical phases, lots of bookkeeping, game flow logic that "branches and returns" or has "event-driven triggers" mid-turn vs. procedural flow, etc. Videos are often more helpful than rule books here.

Another example...I had a concept of "opposed roll, each 2 dice, rank hi and lo, compare". Half a page to cover possible outcomes, but only took a few minutes to demo/grok the basics.

Rule books also need to be like legal contracts ... use strict /consistent terminology and definitions, and highlight those terminology keywords. E.g. When learning SWIA I had no idea that "place" [sic] was a special keyword with rules! That should have been capitalized, bolded, italicized, underlined, etc. Games that use iconography (sparingly) instead of keywords work for me in this regard.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
John Sallay
msg tools
mbmb
I would probably phrase your question differently. I don't think it really matters if the rule book is physically one book or two. (Maybe that is important to some people) But I do think that the rule book is divided into sections. This is what FFG attempts to do and I agree with other posters in thinking that they do a poor job.

I think it would be useful for a publisher to ask, how do I expect a rule book to be used? I can think of 3 primary ways - Learning a game, referencing during play, and understanding apparent edge cases.

I think FFG does a pretty good job with their learn to play book. They don't try to get you to understand everything all at once, and tend to have sufficient explanation for at least me to follow that game.

When I am playing a game, I frequently want to look up precisely what something means. It could be a symbol on a card or the board or explanation of card text. I think that every game needs to have what I'll call an anatomy section and it needs to be complete. Every type of card and symbol needs to be clearly explained in a location that people know where to look. Take Star Wars Rebellion for example. Each world has a little number next to it that tells you where to put the units produced on the production track. But in their anatomy section, it doesn't tell you what it is. You have to know what it means in order to look it up in the rules reference.

I may also want to understand the flow of a turn. So it's nice to have a walkthrough of how to actually play the game. Sometimes games will have a short flow description and then have longer sections which give a more complete explanation. For a complex game this is great, because I can clearly see the flow, and I can look up details easily too. (FFG's two book solution doesn't really address this very well.)

Lastly, edge condtions. These are the times where a player asks, well what happens if I do this. It may be a straightforward reading of the rules or their may be a special exception. This should be clearly explained and grouped in a coherent manner. FFG does okay with this, but some of their sections are really long or don't address the question at hand and you have to reread sections are jump around aimlessly to figure it out. Since everything is ordered alphabetically instead of by game flow, you can't bound your search.

So I guess what I'm saying is that rule books need separate sections, but I don't really care if they are separate books. And if anyone at FFG is reading this, I would be happy to help you make more sensible rule books.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Leo Chell
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Honestly I'd much prefer just one well written properly set out rule book. I really dislike this recent trend of two rule sets you need to keep flicking back and forth between. I'm much more likely to miss stuff and get rules wrong with two books.
3 
 Thumb up
1.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kyle
Canada
Toronto
flag msg tools
Show me something that beats a natural 20 and I'll show you hateful lies.
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I for one absolutely despise the 2 book method, at least as it is implemented by FFG, and to a less extent Czech games. Why? Because the flow of the game is separated from the rules, and that is a very bad idea. Not to mention the adaptation is abysmal in both counts.

Then, in a lot of cases you get rules in the learn to play that don't appear in the rules reference, and the rules reference doesn't have the flow at all either.

So you are left with 2 incomplete books, neither of which is adequate to actually play the game. Two books, that are both complete garbage.

Instead of segmenting them, learn to write a rulebook. GMT is a good reference, if the company needs lessons. These alphabetized rules reference guides are completely unacceptable.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Multiple rulebooks mostly increases the number of places the rules can disagree with themselves -- which is already a near crippling problem with only a single rulebook.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jason
United States
Ogden
Utah
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
skutsch wrote:
I get a how-to-play book that leaves out important details here and there. Not good. Then I get a rules reference that sticks all the rules in different places. So I can look up Combat, but then I also have to look up all the ancillary rules: Terrain Effects, Airstrikes, Routing, Morale, each one in an entirely different part of the book. And what if I forget the proper term? I look up Morale, but there's nothing there, because these rules use Unit Cohesion or Spirit.


I agree. It's a terrible way to get the full rules, because the full rules aren't organized in any meaningful way.

skutsch wrote:
Write one book. Write it well. Put each rule under its appropriate topic and sub-topic. Use side-bar boxes for rules examples (but not rules!). That's it. A clearly written set of rules is a joy to read.

(I agree with folks on an index. Adding an index would be very nice for bigger rule books.)


thumbsup
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Trevor Taylor
United Kingdom
FARINGDON
Oxfordshire
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I really like the 2 book system for Mansions of Madness: Second Edition. I had the rule-book to read to initially learn the game. After that, I only needed the reference for any question I had that came up. It would be even better if there was a searchable online reference for the rules (since this game uses an app, simply having a ? button you could use like in many applications would be perfect for this. I'm hoping Dized works well for this.

However, I can easily see how this wouldn't necessarily be the best fit for everyone and even every game.

I found the rulebook/scenario book for Flick 'em Up! was pretty poor. The rules where spread between the 2 and it was not easy to look anything up (it also didn't help as it had lots of ambiguity that required F.A.Q.-ing up).

The best rulebook I've recently read that taught be a complex game simply and efficiently was for Great Western Trail. It used summaries, detailed explanations and pop-up bubbles for examples very well. The only thing it could have done better was having a location reference/action reference that wasn't spread through the book (a simple cheat sheet handles this though). This game did not need to be in 2 books to work.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.