Boardgame Theft

edited January 2008 in Story Games
Ok, so Judd made a comment on Indie Insurgency about taking some ideas in presentation from the rulebooks for Battlelore and Memoir '44. Daniel Solis, boardgame ninja that he is also seems hell bent on writing game rules that learn from the lessons of boardgame rule presentation.


This is a space I really dig, and every time I see the rulebook for a new Days of Wonder game (they're the guys who made Battlelore and Memoir' 44)I can't help but think "Man, I want to see an RPG expressed this well." So given that, I'm wondering if there are other boardgames (or cardgames, I suppose) that people feel they'd like to see stolen from in terms of _presentation_ (of materials or rules) in games out there?

As an example, The Testimony of Jacob Hollow is a card game that has a format that knocks my socks off. It's a double deck game with a row of D6s' in the top half inch of the box, and that simple physicality really just tickles me. There's some neat, story-creating play to it too, but that presentation as pretty much all-in-one makes me want an RPG with a similar profile.

So what else is worth looking at?

-Rob D.

Comments

  • BattleLore has to be the gold standard. It's a complex game, but they teach it to you incrementally, through play. I can't think of anything that compares in terms of clarity or presentation, not even Memoir '44. I also have DoW's smaller game, Fist of the Dragonstones, and it isn't nearly as well presented.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarBattleLore has to be the gold standard. It's a complex game, but they teach it to you incrementally, through play. I can't think of anything that compares in terms of clarity or presentation, not even Memoir '44. I also have DoW's smaller game, Fist of the Dragonstones, and it isn't nearly as well presented.
    Yeah that's the specific piece Judd was stealing.
  • It occurs to me that this progressive instruction from Battlelore is also pretty much a *given* in most computer Real Time Strategy games (as well as some MMOs and other games). Start on the first level controlling only one or two unit types and add complexity with each progressive level.

    But I'm very sincere that Days of Wonder has some awesome in their other games (and I have not seen Dragonstones, I admit, but it's also one of their older games). Their player handouts for games like Shadows over Camelot, Cleopatra or Mystery of the Abbey are wonderfully concise and useful. Cleopatra has a great trick for hidden information and props as play. Shadows over Camelot does a great job of making the levelof opposition precisely track to player action. These are all fun games too, but these specific widgets of use and presentation that make me get all thinky. :)

    -Rob D.
  • Video games in general teach through recursion with death or penalty as a very practical feedback mechanism. You do see the incremental skill-building approach quite often, though, with varying degrees of subtlety.

    I forgot about Shadows over Camelot! That's another complex game, clearly presented, and stuffed with interesting mechanical interactions.
  • Fantasy Flight Games have amazing rulebooks. You can download them for free too, off their website. Take a look at the Descent rulebook by way of example. Note the organization and layout, use of iconography, use of callouts and sidebars, and extensive examples and summaries. Now look at the Marvel Heroes rulebook. Everything is almost identical in presentation except the last layer, i.e., "color", which perfectly suits the subject matter.

    I'll also note that D&D 3e went a long way in this direction in comparision to prior editions. Take a look at the combat chapter from the PHB, and you'll see what I mean. I'd be shocked if 4e didn't go even further with this.

    N.B. - This paradigm is also something I'm striving for with Bullseye. It seems like there's something of a new movement on this front of indie design.
  • IMHO, the gold standard for rulebooks in boardgaming is the Alea series of games, which includes such modern classics* as Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, and Ra. In particular, I appreciate the sidebar, which locates special cases and rules examples right next to the associated rule.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf

    *"Modern classics" is such a silly term. I mean, can it be a classic if it's not at least 100 years old? (I'm not sure how serious this footnote is.)
  • Huh, I'll have to bust my Puerto Rico rulebook back out. I didn't notice it at the time, but I was also not looking. Good call.

    And yeah, FFG have nailed the production side of things. Descent really does feel like even more shorthanded D&D, and the parallels are pretty clear. I'm not sure I always agree with their design decisions (such as tracking EVERYTHING with counters) but i appreciate why they make them.

    -Rob D.
  • The other thing a lot of these companies do (out of necessity) that rpgs invariably lack is use of iconography and other visual elements to facilitate learning by non-native speakers. I think FFG's use of counters might have something to do with that. (Plus, of course, more fiddly bits = bigger dick = higher MSRP.)
  • edited January 2008
    For me, Ra is a perfect counterexample of everything Rob was looking at, above, and a perfect example of what I hate about some board game explanations and game rulebooks, as it is produced with an entirely different mindset that we've talked about from time to time but haven't explored too much: Emergent Properties.

    Basically, Ra gives you just enough simple instruction to make you manipulate the pieces. Unless someone else explained to you how to play the game, the first game is universally confusing, miserable, unfun and sloppy*. But the instructions (and I might be charitable here in assigning good motives for their total lack of clarity) were probably written so that you explore how the game works in play. Failing hard, being confused, seeing how A affects B or X affects Y without being explained how or why (simply rather learning it in play); perhaps in the same way that those $200 laptops don't come with instruction books.

    Here's my previous converstaion on why Ra sucks, but, if you make a game based on the same principle, that is "I want the players to keep trying over and over again, to explore the rules and find, for themselves, the emergent behavior... which we know and simply won't reveal!":

    ====================
    http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=3343

    Has anyone here played RA? Most people play it for the first time at a game store or gaming convention or friends' house, where they are taught by someone experienced with the game. They, too, were taught.

    I bought the game because I heard so many awesome things about it, and played it with a group who never experienced it before.

    The first game sucked. SUCKED. Literally, the instructions tell you the bare mechanics of how to manipulate the board and pieces. Nowhere does it tell you why you are doing it so, or how you should do it. It just presents the bare minimum to call an instruction book "instructions", and says "go!". (note that these are typical german board game colorful glossy-paged instructions, not a hackneyed translation or anything like that) Comparing it to a game like Settlers of Catan, which is a majestic "night and day" difference in guiding first time players.

    Now, in the playing of the game RA, you come to discover the whys and the hows. But guess what, your first game (IF playing in an all-newbie group, where you nor anyone else has played before) is almost destined to Fail, unless you've been previously taught/training on how to play the game. The instructions are confusing, they *are* readable but without understanding the intent behind the rules, it's easy to forget or misinterpret rules. The game starts and stops. People have to constantly reference or re-reference the rules. Lots of "Wait... that can't be right?"s.

    Once you get through a game of RA, you will understand quickly the hows and whys, and your Next Game will be much more fun. Your Third Game will probably be very fun, and will continue that way forward. When you introduce the game to others, you will be able to explain the strategies and pitfalls, the expected behaviors and play tips.

    And it's not like the instructions will be worthless at that point: Once you understand the flow of the game, and have experience with it, the rules serve as a great reference. Forget how many tiles to place, or how many auctions before the Epoch ends, or what you can do each turn, or how tiles are scored? The RA rules are great. They don't explain the game play well, but they help you reference the data behind the game (data).

    A lot of parallels can be drawn with existing games, like Sorcerer. It's really hard (impossible? depends on the person and the reading) to understand the game from the "instruction book". However, it is still a great reference for the data, do's and don'ts, and finer points - Once you've already played the game once and understand how it works.
    ======================================

    * like sex?** tiddy-boom
    ** not sex for me of course: Ask you mom for details. tiddy-boom
  • edited January 2008
    The instruction booklets for the OOTS boardgame struck me, personally, as very shiny.

    Not as in "crystal clear", but as in "fun enough to read that it didn't matter".
  • edited January 2008
    Shadows over Camelot is another DOW game that I seek to steal from for horror at some point -- brilliant usage of ratcheting adversity and minimal resources to convey a sense of dread. In fact, I would put that out as a good reference on how to construct a GM-less RPG.
    Posted By: AndyAsk you mom for details.
    She said "I'll tell you when you're older." Man, I hate that answer.
  • Aw, man. I thought this thread was going to be all, "So I want a copy of Twilight Imperium, but that shit's expensive! How do I get the five-finger discount?"
  • Posted By: LarryAw, man. I thought this thread was going to be all, "So I want a copy ofTwilight Imperium, but that shit'sexpensive! How do I get the five-finger discount?"
    OK, sidetrack, but... If you can five-finger a box of Twilight Imperium, then you need to go talk to David Copperfield about a possible career change.

    (or alternately, you visit an LGS like the old Cerebral Hobbies in Chapel Hill, and simply walk out with whatever you can carry, as the employees were always in the back playing CCGs where they wouldn't be disturbed by annoying paying customers)

    ==================================================================================

    Also, I was feeling some Deja Vu. I spotted some other interesting threads with similar themes that also might be worth checking out:

    What RPGs can learn from Board Games

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=31 http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=813 http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=862 http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=874 http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=873 <-- People's ideas about combining board-game elements with RPGs.

    Personally, I'm totally high-fiving Rob, and also sitting in the bleachers with my popcorn, waiting for the eventual release of RPG rules that more resemble GOOD boardgame rules. I think we're also both staring at that Starter's Lineup Arch over there that says "Daniel Solis" on it.

    -Andy
  • My favorite example of rule and strategy writing is Learn to Play Go: Volume I -- I occasional urge the documentation people from the software company I work at to read it, as it is such a beautiful example of clarity in writing and layout.
  • Posted By: Peter AronsonMy favorite example of rule and strategy writing isLearn to Play Go: Volume I-- I occasional urge the documentation people from the software company I work at to read it, as it is such a beautiful example of clarity in writing and layout.
    And now wishlisted. :)

    -Rob D.
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Rob DonoghuePosted By: Peter AronsonMy favorite example of rule and strategy writing isLearn to Play Go: Volume I-- I occasional urge the documentation people from the software company I work at to read it, as it is such a beautiful example of clarity in writing and layout.
    And now wishlisted. :)

    -Rob D.

    Yeah, on my goodreads queue.

    Thanks.
  • Posted By: AndyFor me,Rais a perfect counterexample of everything Rob was looking at, above, and a perfect example of what I hate about some board game explanations and game rulebooks, as it is produced with an entirely different mindset that we've talked about from time to time but haven't explored too much: Emergent Properties.
    You hate Ra? We can no longer be friends. :-D

    Seriously, I ran headlong into this issue when writing Dirty Secrets. Let me explain.

    For me, boardgaming is all about Emergent Properties. I love that stuff. That's a big reason why I love me Knizia games. I like spending time with a game, teasing out its secrets, figuring out the subtle nuances implicit in a game. I get annoyed where someone brushes off a game as broken when he obviously doesn't understand it. (I'm thinking here of Blue Moon.) I'm also a gamer designer. Of course I like that sort of thing.

    My first game of Puerto Rico was like this. We got done and I thought, "I have no idea what just happened there...but I want to know!" I'm sure that others have had a similar experience and thought, "Screw this. I'm never playing this again."

    So, if I were writing Dirty Secrets for myself, I would have left out the entire Handbook section. Those are all the things that I'd want to discover in play. I'd want to have those "ah-ha" moments when mechanic A connects to mechanic B. This is probably why I have no issue with Ron Edwards' games. I've come to understand that the game is not in the rules, and he only gives me the rules.

    However, I know that I'm somewhat in the minority on this. Most people don't want to have to put that much work into grokking a game. As a result, I wrote the Handbook section of Dirty Secrets, where I attempted to explain (nearly) all the emergent properties of the game, thus allowing players to enter into the game more easily.

    Of course, that increased the length of the book by nearly a third.

    So, maybe that's your trade-off. If you explain the emergent properties, then you have a longer game and, honestly, something that folks might not read. I've wondered how many Dirty Secrets players actually read the Handbook, and how many simply discover the stuff in play. On the other hand, I'd like to think that the increased accessibility of the game will increase the number of people who might actually play it without being horribly frustrated.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • Posted By: Great WolfI'm sure that others have had a similar experience and thought, "Screw this. I'm never playing this again."
    (raises hand)
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonThe other thing a lot of these companies do (out of necessity) that rpgs invariably lack is use of iconography and other visual elements to facilitate learning by non-native speakers.
    Justin, my mileage must vary. I find the iconography in most boardgames* to be completely useless when I'm learning a game. WTF does dot-dot-candleflame-pinetree mean? On the other hand, some of them make for wonderful quick-reference cards once I know how to play, which is just as good.

    Andy, yeah, Ra sucked. You know what else has terrible rules presentation? Niagara. Great game, family friendly, but I think the rules were written by a vintage Avalon Hill wargamer who was determined to make them completely airtight.

    How about multiple un-homogeneous boards? Why are all of our character sheets the same (especially for games with different roles)?
    Or how about full-on visual presentation? Maybe color components. Maybe even non-paper components! What if Agon came with a weighted scroll range strip and some cool color markers like the ones that came with Villains & Vigilantes? Or if Black Fire had M:tG-like cards with both an illustration and some explanatory text detailing awesome setting stuff?

    *I bet we're just talking about different games!

    Edit: There are tons of mechanics I'd like to steal, but you said presentation only, so...
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Peter AronsonMy favorite example of rule and strategy writing isLearn to Play Go: Volume I-- I occasional urge the documentation people from the software company I work at to read it, as it is such a beautiful example of clarity in writing and layout.
    I can also highly recommend this series.
  • Am I going to have to throw down about Ra? Ra is teh awesom3...but Ralph Mazza taught it to me; I didn't have to learn from the rulebook.

    That being said, I suggest that most games are more easily learned from someone else than from the book. So, here's a question. Should rules be written not to the group but to the person who is going to teach the group this game? I seem to recall that Bliss Stage is written that way.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • (Oh, in case it wasn't clear, the bit about Ra is a joke. Yeah, I really do think the game is great, but I can't speak to the quality of the rules one way or the other.)

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • The game I'm working on uses a more overt form of boardgame theft. From the rough draft:
    Fantasy Hack uses six-sided dice. There's something evocatively childlike and board-gamey about d6s, especially the kind with spots instead of numbers. Plus, scavenging them out of the Monopoly or Clue box helps get you into the proper "break into places and steal stuff" mindset.
  • Let me throw out a giant shout out to our favorite antisemitic, sanction-spitting, paranoiac, international fugitive chessplayer's "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess". You really should see it if you haven't. It's fun and brilliant, two things that are hard to do in any work, let alone when you're sitting by yourself with a game that takes two players.
  • edited January 2008
    This is all highly relevant for me with DEAD. Thanks for the thread, Mr. OP!

    In my own case, the wife makes me read all of the rules for any new boardgame that we play (and we've just started to get really rolling on Eurogames), then I teach her through play, with asides about strategy for the first couple of plays.

    If only you could package a little bit of yourself in every box.

    I'll definitely download the rules for Battlelore and '44 tonight.
  • Gosh, thanks so much Rob and Andy. ^_^

    Where can one find those rulebooks, btw? I've heard such nice things about the BattleLore rules presentation.
  • Memoir '44 rules (pdf)

    The rules for Battlelore don't seem to be online, but DoW does have a "primer" (pdf) on their site
  • Concerning Andy's emergent properties thing:

    I have to respectfully disagree that emergent properties of play should (normally) be included in boardgame rules, even though I believe strongly that they should be discussed in most RPG rulebooks.

    Emergent properties of games are better known by the names strategy and tactics, and for many boardgame geeks, including me, figuring that stuff out for yourself is a big chunk of the fun of boardgaming. Having it laid out in the rules, beyond perhaps a few super-basic points, would rob these games of most of the fun.

    I think this sort of thing is better dealt with via fan sites like BGG, where the perplexed can find a few pointers if they need them. In fact, I have done so at length for Princes of Florence, both in text and in podcast format, and I have read strategy tips for a number of games. The point is, though, that I decided when I needed them, and sought them out, while remaining free to investigate at my own pace when I wanted to.

    Due to the close resemblance, I think the same is largely true of fighty RPGs like D&D, Shadowrun or Agon, and other broadly gamist designs. A few basic guidelines that sets out the lay of the land are probably a good idea, since they will help get players oriented in the right direction. Exploration of strategy and tactics is again a big part of the fun, in these games, though, and most of that territory should be left for the players to find, I think.

    Other RPGs are (normally) a beast of a different nature. While exploration of the strategy and tactics is a normal reward of boardgaming (even lightish ones like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne), the ultimate product of an RPG is the fiction. The strategy and tactics of story games are actually procedures that help the players create a story that they are interested in. Understanding them goes a long way to a rewarding game experience.

    So, in summary, discussions of emergent properties, aka strategy and tactics in the rules:
    • In boardagmes, normally bad
    • In generally gamist RPGs, tread with caution
    • In other story games, yes please!
  • edited January 2008
    Oh.

    And, for those of you perplexed by Ra, check out this episode of The Metagamers podcast. It should answer all your questions, and then some :)

    EDIT: removed a stray double prime

    Also, in the interest of full disclosure, the hosts of The Metagamers are longtime online friends of mine, and I have appeared on the show myself a couple of times.
  • I played Shogun/Samurai Swords once, with three other folks -- two (including me) who had never played the game, one who had played on rare occasion, and the owner of that set who didn't play often but loved the game. Our playing of it was pretty weak and unentertaining to all involved, and afterwards the guy who brought it over said "yeah, the first two or three games suck, but then it starts getting good."

    My response: "You mean I have to sit through another few hours of a crappy experience before I begin to like this game?" Since then, I haven't bothered to play again, but my saying that stuck with me, and now I think to myself whenever I'm writing up any sort of game idea: "What is it that I can do to keep someone else from having that reaction with my game?"

    Okay, so that only nominally has to do with board games, though that's part of why I think strategy/tactics should be mentioned in a rulebook, at least as a later chapter or something (which could be ignored), if the topic isn't going to be handled another way. Life is too short for shitty game experiences. The really kick-ass emergent play happens when these different tactics clash together and people respond differently, which you can't really cover as well in such a chapter.

    But that brings something else to my mind: the format of a board game allows one to go through this cycle of play & reset pretty quickly. We spend half an hour to a few hours playing, having an experience of some sort, learning something more about the game perhaps, and then you're done and can play again with a clean slate. Contrast that with RPGs, which take quite a bit longer (the "quick" 30 minute board game vs. the "quick" 4-hour RPG one-shot, etc.). Is there something we can do to make the board game format of play-clean slate-play work in an RPG? Is it worthwhile? Does the whole deal with character/story/fiction/etc. make this idea unworkable? I'm thinking beyond "Let's play a game of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach tonight, and then another one after that!" and into a space where play-clean slate-play is part of a single game.

    Or I'm on crack. I'd make my Master Plan for 2008 to go to crack idea rehab, but I'd only fall off the wagon again.
  • Posted By: LinnaeusConcerning Andy's emergent properties thing:

    I have to respectfully disagree that emergent properties of play should (normally) be included in boardgame rules, even though I believe strongly that they should be discussed in most RPG rulebooks.

    Emergent properties of games are better known by the names strategy and tactics, and for many boardgame geeks, including me, figuring that stuff out for yourself is a big chunk of the fun of boardgaming. Having it laid out in the rules, beyond perhaps a few super-basic points, would rob these games of most of the fun.
    Ra didn't even include super-basic points, from what I remember. Only "you can do this."

    When you learn a game from a player who is very familiar with it, are they robbing of you of your fun when they explain common strategies? I personally don't find it a lot of fun to be utterly stomped by a guy who knows the tactics well when I'm just learning them. And as several people have illustrated, when you don't explain anything beyond just the rules, people can really have bad experiences and never play your game again.
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Quintin StoneWhen you learn a game from a player who is very familiar with it, are they robbing of you of your fun when they explain common strategies? I personally don't find it a lot of fun to be utterly stomped by a guy who knows the tactics well when I'm just learning them. And as several people have illustrated, when you don't explain anything beyond just the rules, people can really have bad experiences and never play your game again.
    Well, I have a small group, and I own most of the games and therefore end up teaching them to everyone [EDIT: at the same time, and therefore there are rarely radical differences in level of experience], so my experience isn't really typical.

    That said, I normally only touch on such things when teaching a game if it is really important (read: game-breaking), and not always then. It's just in the character of my group. I also play a lot online via Brettspielwelt, and teach games there with some regularity, and much the same tends to apply. Once in a while someone will ask about a point, and I will gladly answer if I can, but I almost never give strategy tips unasked.

    By the way, I have thought of a possible exception to my rule of thumb about boardgames. Wargames often include extended examples of play, often several game turns long, if they have a playbook. While they do not claim to exhibit best play, they tend to indicate "sensible" play. It's not a universal practise, though. I know that Columbia Games rarely includes playbooks in their games, although there looks to be an extended example of play in the rulebook for their monster game, Eastfront II.
  • As an aside, the thing I love about this forum is its slow pace. I love having time to think about a reply, even 4 days later.
    Posted By: Great WolfAm I going to have to throw down about Ra? Ra is teh awesom3...but Ralph Mazza taught it to me; I didn't have to learn from the rulebook.
    Yeah, that's the problem with it as a reference. Literally every person I met who enjoys Ra, learned it from someone else (got a demo at a game store, con, friend, etc), who learned it from somewhere else, and so on in a long line. And people tend to explain things with far more clarity, examples, and insight than the rules, especially in the case of Ra (Quintin knows, he's in one of my groups that gave it a shot).

    The game? Fun. Once you figure out what you're doing, and why.

    However, the rules are entirely unclear on why you're doing what you're doing. Completely lacking play examples, or anything other than a one sentence (with no clarification) expression of every rule in the game. The results? Lots of fuck ups. The first three games I played, we realized about 2/3 through each game that we were dong something wrong. We found in play that the game fell apart. When we went back to the rules, and found that one line that explained the rule we're having trouble understanding, we realized that we simply understood it wrong. We thought it meant "XYZ" when it actually meant "XYA". And the complete lack of examples, re-phrasing the rules, sidebars, further details etc meant that we naturally fell into 3-4 rules ruts without realizing it until far into the game.

    Compare that to Battlelore, which I agree with Jason pretty much is the Gold Standard for what board game rules should look like (albeit not needing so many pretty glossy pictures). They help you ease into the game. They don't explain a lot of emergent properties (it suggests to tighten your dudes into triangle formations, but you won't learn until you get creamed in play why they're so important; it also doesn't go into the details of which spells are good to use when), but they do break down each rule into about 3 sentences of text. Later, they rephrase them. They offer plenty of examples in sidebars to make sure you understood and read that rule correctly, so that you don't get halfway through a game and realize that all the players misread how movement or combat works. Furthermore, they present an "easing" into the game through a few demo scenarios, before putting all the chaotic rules into play.

    For me, I guess it's not that the author should explain all the possible loopholes and affectations that can develop in play. But the text should be written so that you can imagine someone you've Never Met before reading them, and playing the game successfully (and not fucking up the rules because they weren't written clearly) without you needing to teach them live. At least, that's the way I roll. I amusingly remember that article that John Tynes wrote, about wishing that every copy of Everway included a miniature Jonathan Tweet to run the game for you. That happens with a lot of small press games that try to do new things, IMO.

    -Andy
  • Posted By: AndyLiterally every person I met who enjoys Ra, learned it from someone else
    Yup. I can grok that. I learned it on Brettspielwelt.

    That said, The original Rio Grande Games edition probably has better rules than the Uberplay edition I and (I assume) you own, since the original was the English version of the alea printing, and the alea games almost all have good rulebooks. I got Taj Mahal for Christmas, and the reprint keeps the original rulebook, and it was a pleasure to read.
    Posted By: AndyFor me, I guess it's not that the author should explain all the possible loopholes and affectations that can develop in play. But the text should be written so that you can imagine someone you've Never Met before reading them, and playing the game successfully (and not fucking up the rules because they weren't written clearly) without you needing to teach them live.
    I certainly can't argue with one word here. For any type of game, really.
  • Its interesting peoples' experiences with rules, and important to remember that there really isn't such a thing as a "standard". Gold or otherwise.

    I sat down at a table at Origins the first year Ra was available we taught ourselves to play from the book, and after 1 game I went and bought it saying "this could be one of the single greatest games ever invented".

    It never occured to me that anyone could find "why are you doing all this" difficult to grasp.

    In Ra the object is to score points. There are numerous ways to score points, each has their own characteristic.
    Frex: Niles score regardless of what other players do, but only if you get a Flood. If lots of Floods come out early there will be fewer available for late in the game, making Niles less valuable (less likely to score). If lots of players are collecting Niles, then Floods will be in demand and thus cost more in the auction to win them. If other players have few Niles, then Floods will be less important to them meaning they will likely be easier to pick up cheap...making those 3 Nile tiles sitting on the tray right now alot more worth picking up. For me that was obvious just from seeing how Niles score and how you get them in auctions.

    Pharoahs on the other hand have a completely different set of characteristics. They are all or nothing. If you're going to go after Pharoahs you have to go all the way, or else all the "money" you spent on them is totally wasted. However they're only worth a limited amount so spending too much to grab the Pharoah lead is not very efficient. But if you don't spend more, then every thing you've spent so far is lost. So Pharoahs tend to be picked up fairly accidentally...because the value of any single Pharoah in any given auction at the beginning of an Epoch is...economically speaking...near zero. Towards the end of an Epoch, where you aren't talking about spending any Sun Tiles to buy a bunch of Pharoahs, but just to grab the couple needed to push you into a surprise lead or get you out of last, they become much more valuable, and thus worth bidding on just for them. Again, for me, immediately obvious conclusions just from reading how the mechanics work.

    None of this insight came from the rules...but none of us playing needed it to, as its all pretty much standard supply and demand economics. There's a limited supply of tiles, your demand for those tiles's will be proportional to how many points any given token combination is worth to you immediately AND what probabilities for future scoring those tiles open up. The total demand for any given tile or tile combination then is the aggregate demand of all the players. You want to target areas where your demand is higher than the aggregate, because you can then pick those tiles up cheap. You want to avoid targeting areas where your demand is lower than the aggregate, because those tiles will be expensive relative to their value to you. If both are high, you have to choose your moments carefully, and be willing to take a risk.

    Acquire is another game that is completely driven by pure economic supply and demand evaluation.

    My point is this is all immediately and completely obvious from just the rules of how to play with zero discussion of emergent properties......as long as your readers are familiar with and comfortable with micro economics. If you already see the world through tiny little supply and demand graphs and shifting curves to establish a new equilibrium, you don't need any additional "how to play" discussion in the text (and in fact such discussion would be highly undesireable). Since this is what I do for a living, Ra and Acquire came about as naturally as breathing.

    Wargame rules provide many similar examples. If you are a grognard already steeped in the lore of CRTs and ZOCs, PDMs, NDMs, column shifts, step losses, supply lines, impulses, and terrain effects tables you don't need or want to be told how to use all of those things every time you open up a new wargame. Just give me the rules of specifically how many hexes long a supply line is allowed to be in THIS game, and whether passing through an enemy ZOC breaks it or not, and I can figure out how to manipulate the pieces.

    By contrast I found Battle Lore's rule book to be overly thick and wasting tremendous amounts of my time with a bunch of unnecessary baby steps. As a veteran of Memoir and Gettysburg and Command and Colors I was all "Criminny, just give me all the damn rules in one place so I can start to play already...I'm not wasting my time with these stupid intro scenarios".


    So, bottom line then, is before you sit down and try to build a better mousetrap when it comes to rule books, its essential that you make a decision on who your rule book audience is. To an economic theory veteran the Ra rulebook is a masterpiece of concise information presentation. To others its bare bones with no meat...a similar discussion has raged for years over the text of Sorcerer for similar reasons...to the audience the book was aimed at, no more meat was necessary. To everyone else (including myself)...huh?

    RPG rules targeted at fellow Story Gamers can be focused completely differently from rules targeted at a more mainstream audience...I mean look at how many rules short cuts are taken in Game Chef and other competitions that everyone "in the know" can pick up on quickly. Rules targeted at "gamer gamers" need to be something else. Rules targeted at "never-gamed-before future gamers" need to be something else.


    All of which is pretty obvious stuff. I point it out (at likely more length than necessary) because there is no template to be found that will nail it for every application. Choosing a format is simultaneously choosing who is going to really dig your game right out of the gate and who is going to balk out of the gate. If you're looking for some commercial success as well, you want to match this choice to your marketing plan. If your marketing plan is to get a bunch of story gamers super jazzed about your game and then let them carry the banner to generate buzz and interest...then chose a format that suits the needs of Story Gamers and bugger off everyone else.

    In a Wicked Age nails this perfectly...if you are a veteran of the indie / story-games scene you will immediately know everything you need to know to play in just a few pages. If you are a veteran of traditional games and are new to the story-games scene, you'll read it and go...wha?

    If you really want to target multiple audiences...in this day of easy breezy PDF publication, its not a bad thought at all to have 2 (or maybe more) completely different versions of the rules. Here's your attractively printed book targeted specifically at non gamers with all the additional aids you think are important to introduce the game to a new audience. Here's your "Jump right in" PDF where the presentation is stripped down to just what a veteran story gamer needs to be off to the races, possibly even complete with references to other games ("do this part just like PTA fanmail") that no one but an insider would get.

    Conclusion: presentation and formating choices will always split your audience into "that's great" and "that sucks" camps with a variety of "that's ok, but totally not necessary", "that works, but wasted alot of paper", and "it could of used more" camps thrown in. There is no presentation or formating that's going to avoid this effect. So really our job as designers is to choose who we want to praise our choice and who we want to think our choice was suboptimal.

    The definition of a bad presentation / format then is when the people we want to praise our choice think its suboptimal. But I think nailing down the question of "who am I writing this FOR" is a prerequisite to deciding whether the Ra approach or the Battle Lore approach is the better choice.
  • If Story Games had that little "thumbs up" plug in, I would try to hack it so I could give Ralph's post a hundred thumbs.
  • Posted By: ValamirBy contrast I found Battle Lore's rule book to be overly thick and wasting tremendous amounts of my time with a bunch of unnecessary baby steps. As a veteran of Memoir and Gettysburg and Command and Colors I was all "Criminny, just give me all the damn rules in one place so I can start to play already...I'm not wasting my time with these stupid intro scenarios".
    I'm sure someone else has thought of this already... I'm thinking of video game tutorials, where the instructional stuff is either separated from actual play right from the home screen or included in actual play, but with the option to "Press A to Skip."

    That's a way to accommodate audiences of different levels of experience. The full text may include intro scenarios, but might also provide quickstart guides or explicitly tell the reader "you don't have to do this part if you already know the game."
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: LinnaeusIf Story Games had that little "thumbs up" plug in, I would try to hack it so I could give Ralph's post a hundred thumbs.
    Heh, yeah that's actually a really thoughtful and convincing take on things. Thanks Ralph, that does actually clarify a lot of things I was wondering about.

    To dwell on Ra for a sec, for us it wasn't so much the scoring (which I could tell was one of those "experiment and see how things work" things that I was fine with), it was the explanation of the processes of bidding, changing epochs, placing the pharohs pieces down to symbolize getting closer to the end of the epoch, etc. I know the rules now, but at the time there were two major pain points that took about two rereads to figure out. I can't for the life of me remember what it was, but I think part of it was in how the pharohs were placed on the board to advance the epoch. Nothing really about scoring/points, which I was cool with winging, but more of the process stuff.

    I was likening that back to RPG rules, and remembered well that it took literally at least six rereads of one 3-paragraph section of the The Riddle of Steel rulebook on using bows in combat (int he middle of our first ranged combat, no less) to figure it out. "But where do you roll to dodge?" "What do you roll against?" Turns out that there was no roll to dodge, but that you simply roll against range and cover, period. But since they're different than the regular melee rules, and wasn't explained as clearly, we had about 3 fuck-up rounds before it clicked. Luckily, those were just rounds and not entire sessions.

    Also, I love the "Press A to Skip" idea, Daniel!

    -Andy
  • I'm generally following Ralph's notions with GLASS, but in a sort of "three-fold" model:
    1) Full GLASS - The complete (for sale) book will include a lot of explication, examples, and sidebars about "theory" (or practical use in play).
    2) But even in that book, the "core" rules will be somehow delineated in the text, by formatting or with some kind of icon or both (design in progress). This will facilitate quick reading/learning (for experienced LARPers) and also help with scanability, during reference look-ups (i.e. makes each page fairly unique-looking and, thus, memorable).
    3) Shot GLASS - A stripped down (free) PDF with all and only the mechanical rules. No examples, no explanations, no art or design blurbs. The. Rules. In. Play. A quick reference. Also, this saves LARP groups from having to buy scores of copies; only GMs and grognards and newbies have any motivation to buy the book; while it's trivial to print out a small stack of Shot GLASS for quick reference by players during character generation, Experience spending, and actual play.
    [4) GLASSCutters.org - A (ad-supported) forum and database system where GMs can define game types, assign them to particular games and their schedules, and then allow players to make PCs for those games under the database's rules enforcement based on the designated game type. The forms on the DB will have a modicum of explanatory text, as Help; and, of course, folks can browse the game types and Ability Templates to see (in time) a bajillion examples.]

    Thus, any investment in the rules is opt-in, with the pay-off of a finer artifact with a lot more explanation for folks who don't "get" the notion of "something like HERO system, but for LARP" and need hand-holding on the math and motivation behind character building. Grognards can download the PDF and go. Folks who want support systems to run games or just make PCs can find them online, generating ad revenue for me as they use them. I think that's damned near win-win, and it embraces all levels of experience, with respect both for a player's monetary outlay and for their necessary time to learn and reference rules in play.

    Down the road: Ransom-based genre and setting supplements, most built in the Full GLASS "shiny and detailed" model, but with a lot more "world" info (or world building tools, if appropriate to the supplement).
    That's my 2¢
    David
  • Well, the problem with Press A to skip is that you simply can't do that in a book. This is why I'm all for electronic formats, myself (hypertext was designed for this), but y'all are so insistent on goldarn dead tree presentation. Sure, I've see books where it'll say, "If you think you don't need this, flip to page 68" - Heroquest has a section like that, in fact. But this pisses off the experts who then bemoan the extra cost and size of the book that was completely unneccessary to them.

    Whether or not you charge for it.

    As Ralph says, I think you can't win. Especially if you present the rules in the tutorial format. Because to really do that right, you need two entirely different presentations. The tutorial scenario format means that to look up rules in the scenario in which they were brought up. This method was used in the still nigh impossible to understand rules for the game Magic Realm (in fact it's acknowledged that the first edition is unplayable as written). And when you need to look up how to use magic it's like, "Which encounter was that introduced in again?"

    The tool that, in theory makes it easier to learn the game in stages, then makes the rules very difficult to reference afterwards. At least in this particular case. Now, there are few boardgames as complex as Magic Realm. So for simpler board-games, I suppose the problem may be lesser. Though I've heard people complain about such presentations in other board-games before.

    With RPGs, where the rules are relatively complex, I think that the learning scenario idea is somewhat doomed to fail, unless you do present the rules in their entirity twice. Once in the scenarios, once in an easier to reference format.

    So, basically, instead of the rules being presented in full in the scenarios, and having a "quick play" version to skip to, I'm thinking that the scenarios would, in fact, have the short form version of the rules. Possibly with references to the full version. If you were to do this at all. In this case, in fact, you could present the scenario book as a separate supplement.

    Like most RPGs do.

    Mike
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Rob DonoghueIt occurs to me that this progressive instruction from Battlelore is also pretty much a *given* in most computer Real Time Strategy games (as well as some MMOs and other games). Start on the first level controlling only one or two unit types and add complexity with each progressive level.
    This always seemed to me like an opportunity that is present in the level system in D&D (and derivative games) but never capitalized upon. Your starting character has only a few choices to make before gameplay, a small number of abilities to use, and a fairly simple system to use them in. After a while of playing with the character they have used the all their powers, they get a couple more choices, and a new couple of powers to pick from. Complexity increases along with experience, making for a smooth learning curve.

    Of course, making a starting D&D character is actually pretty difficult, especially if you've never played an rpg before, so this potential is lost. But other games could use it still. The initiation rounds in Dogs work really well as a tutorial for the game's system, for example.
  • Well, one solution to "What's the value of pages 12-67 for people who already know the rules?" is to ... y'know ... provide value other than a dry lecture on the rules.

    People read White Wolf books because they like the atmosphere, and the little story snippets, and stuff like that. Heck, I have a fun time reading Nobilis, and I know the rules about as well as any other mortal I've encountered. Provide some fun, and those aren't wasted pages.
  • edited January 2008
    Another element going on here is the expectation for repeated play vs. one-shot style play. Chess is elegant and easily explained, but you are wasting your time if you sit down and play it once. One game of chess (like one game of Poker or Go) is silly. You "play Chess" by playing again and again, in an extended tutorial which never really ends.

    Contrast that with a game like TransAmerica, Scrabble, or Pit, which people expect to learn and play in one go and have fun with it -- even if they never play it again.

    I suppose I'm saying that some games are really hobbies.

    So that's something to address in your rules. Are you teaching someone how to play and have fun right now, this once? Or are you indoctrinating them into a hobby activity that they will slowly learn and master over many instances of play? Obviously, an RPG might be either one, or both.
  • Huh. Imaginary Thumbs Up next to John's post.

    -Rob D.
  • Nice point, John, and I think it points at something related to the Ra debate. It is kind of on the borderline between a light, fire-and-forget game like Carcassonne or TransAmerica, and a deep, play it over again game (not quite the lifestyle games you were talking about, but stuff that you can really explore over multiple plays nonetheless), like Caylus, YINSH or Princes of Florence.

    You could reasonably expect to approach Ra as either of these, since it does have some room for exploration, but it's rules can be digested in a few minutes, as well. Depending on which approach you want to take will affect (but not completely determine) whether you want the extra pointers or not.
  • I haven't the energy right now to read the entire thread (yes, migraines for those that know me), but would very much recommend having a look at Ca$h 'n Gun$ as a great game to check out if you want tighter rules for a roleplaying game, or perhaps just tips on presentation. You have disregard the absolute horrible job that Asmodée Editions does with translating their games to English, but the fact that you can start playing as soon as you've set it up is golden!

    The game rules start with a half-page intro script that has you reading aloud to the other players and playing as go go along. It's very neat, and will have you mastering the base rules in no time.

    Ca$h 'n Gun$ is also interesting, not only from a rules standpoint, in that it is almost a roleplaying game. You act the role of gangsters splitting the loot after a successful heist. It's a gem of a game.

    There's even a Ca$h 'n Gun$: Live that crosses over to a LARP.
Sign In or Register to comment.