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Subject: The Great Magic Realm Rules Debate and Challenge rss

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Jay Richardson
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The fan-produced 3.1 version of the Magic Realm rulebook is widely acknowledged as the best rulebook ever produced for Magic Realm. If one takes into consideration the amount of errata generated for this rulebook (almost none) and the number of questions that arise from players encountering situations that cannot be resolved with the 3.1 rules (very few), one could even make a compelling argument that the 3.1 rulebook is one of the finest rulebooks ever produced for any complex game.

In spite of all of this, calls for yet another rewrite, revision, or reorganization of the 3.1 rulebook occur on a regular (if infrequent) basis. And the rumors of a possible reprint for Magic Realm have, understandably, intensified the scrutiny of the 3.1 rulebook.

What I want to do in this article is to take a closer look at this phenomenon of players being dissatisfied with a popular rulebook that has no obvious flaws. To this end I've gone through the Magic Realm posts here on BGG and selected a number of quotes from players who think that the rulebook needs some improvement. This selection of quotes is not intended to be exhaustive, but it does represent a variety of different viewpoints. I'll list all of these quotes first, along with links back to the articles where they were originally posted:

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Reference 1

Lee Kennedy wrote:
The big thing missing, especially to attract new players, is a rulebook that explains how to play with these components. So I started playing around with rewriting the components section of the 3.1 rules.

It wasn't long before I decided that what is really needed is an entire rewrite of the rulebook. Magic Realm is a complicated game, but it is not nearly as complicated as the rulebook makes it seem.

Lee Kennedy wrote:
I certainly am not trying to turn Magic Realm into a "simple" game or just focus on beginners. On the other hand, I believe the rules as written and structured are significantly more complex than they need to be.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/31031/magic-realm-it-t...

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Reference 2

Chris Jones wrote:
I appreciate that people have spent days/months/years rewriting these rules, but I've read the first 70 pages of the third edition and it still doesn't tell me how to play it?

Chris Jones wrote:
Just a brain fart to see if there's help for thickies like me who want to play great looking games, but are really struggling with the numbingly incomprehensible nature of the rules (no disrespect to all those who have crusaded to make what was illegible better than it was).

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/346644/aaaagh-my-brain-e...

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Reference 3

kjamma4 wrote:
For myself, I think the rules in general don't need changing per se but need to be clarified and represented (somewhat like the MRIPE rules.)

Robert Sweeney wrote:
A) Clearer rules

bill_andel wrote:
Rules/components revisions that accomplish the same thing mechanically but in a more intuitively obvious way.

Tom McThorn wrote:
I would be happy to see the game with better rules.

Barry Kendall wrote:
Cleaned-up rules either streamlined or with generous examples of play.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/468462/if-magic-realm-we...

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Reference 4

Alex Charlton wrote:
What I DO see a great need for is a fully redesigned 3 ed. rulebook. Boardgaming is a medium where a lot of information can be shared through imagery, and the rulebook has next to none. I'm certain a lot of the rulebook could be cut down through aggressive editing, layout changes, and the inclusion of some well designed diagrams. A well laid out, lighter on text, heavier on diagrams rulebook would naturally lend itself towards being a learning resource.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/535728/learning-rulebook

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Reference 5

David S. wrote:
I mean for goodness sake, the v3 rules are over 100 pages. Other than a fan, who is going to see a new game they've never heard off, feel the weight of the 8lb rulebook and say, hey, this looks fun, I think I'll put the next three months into learning it...

kronlin wrote:
Have you seen the rule books for Mage Knight Board Game? It has both a conversational style book and a more traditional reference style rule book. The first is intended for learning the game. I've read it, and it's fantastic. It presents the intention of the rules in an order and simplicity someone needs to learn the game. The reference book provides all the intricate rules not covered by the former. Magic Realm could really benefit from this style of presentation.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/714215/could-ffg-do-just...

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Reference 6

Jeff Chamberlain wrote:
Complex and streamlined are not mutually exclusive concepts.

I do understand. I do fear it would be difficult to streamline the combat without losing the essential flavor, but that doesn't mean its impossible. At a minimum, it's certainly possible to streamline the components in such a way that the outcome of the combat is easier to calculate by visually looking at the pieces without having to memorizes and/or lookup a bunch of arcane rules, as you do now.

kronlin wrote:
What makes MR so inaccessible is the rule book, which necessitates law school-level memorization or looking up every action on every turn. Maybe that's how games in 1979 were designed, but modern games are not. They put info on cards, and let players discover the rules as they play. FFG would be excellent at doing this.

David S. wrote:
A majority say they'd buy it with updated rules. Add to that those who said "it depends" (which is essentially a yes) you have an 80% majority that disagrees that it should be left as is in a reprint. Quite surprising to me and a minority doesn't really work for a petition...

David S. wrote:
I know that the 3.1 rules are very clear, but I guess the rational now is that who is going to read a 100+ page rulebook for fun to learn a game system?

I think because of that, this poll almost proves we need updated rules otherwise people won't be interested other than those of us who have already taken the time to learn it.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/716264/pre-petition-sort...

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Reference 7

Jeff Chamberlain wrote:
On the rules, at least the 3rd edition ruleset at a minimum, but if someone can figure out how to speed up and simplify the combat mechanic so that it doesn't take dozens of replays before players can even understand the tradeoff's they are making during play without destroying the underlying feel of the game, that would be genius.

Chris Jones wrote:
Copies would be sold to those who already can play it and it would be crucified by people spending the prospective £60 -70+ cover price for a game whose rules are decades behind the easy-access philosophy of modern games.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/719002/poll-and-discussi...

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Reference 8

Nick Freeman wrote:
However, I think you can all concede me this: there is a lot of unnecessary complexity, and it adds nothing to (or worse, detracts from) the game experience. Otherwise, why would there be 4 separate re-writings of the 3th edition rulebook? (Yes there are that many. And no, none of them help that much)

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/923103/my-thoughts

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Reference 9

NateStraight wrote:
If anything, what the game needs is a more concise, better organized set of rules, not a tutorial style teaching guide [honestly, the game seems much too large and full of way too many special cases to be effectively taught tutorial style, though you've clearly made a grand attempt].

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/175969/games-significa...

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Reference 10

Thomas Lang wrote:
Have a look at the rules before grabbing this one. I failed miserably at comprehending them thoroughly and I tried realmspeak and all sorts of tutorials. Hands down the most aweful rules I've ever seen (even the 3rd edition ones)

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/176595/against-hotness...

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Reference 11

Enrico Viglino wrote:
But gods! What they did with the 3rd edition in terms of rules bloat makes it unapproachable.

This is what happens when fans get their hands on a design. Europa Universalis suffered from the same need (by the fans) to spell every little thing out.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/video/56595/magic-realm/mr-revi...

***

Ease of Learning

In looking over these quotes, the first thing that jumps out is how so many of them are complaining that the 3.1 rulebook makes the game too hard to learn for a beginner (Refs. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 11). I don't think there's any argument here: trying to learn Magic Realm just by reading the 3.1 rulebook is indeed a daunting task. It's not at all surprising that many potential players have given up in frustration.

It would certainly be possible to rewrite the 3.1 rulebook to make it less intimidating, more accessible, and a better resource for someone trying to learn the game... in fact, the "Magic Realm in Plain English" (MRIPE) rulebook has already attempted to do this, with mixed results. Some people find MRIPE useful in learning the game, others not so much.

I know of one other instance where this kind of rewrite was attempted: Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). ASL's rulebook is a monster in every sense of the word. The basic ASL rulebook (with nearly 200 pages) is much bigger than Magic Realm's basic 3.1 rulebook, and with each core module and historical module adding additional pages, a "complete" ASL rulebook might well have over 400 pages. It is similar to the Magic Realm rulebook in that it is seen as an excellent rulebook for use during actual games, but it is very difficult learn the game just by reading the rulebook. However, ASL publisher Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) decided to take a different approach to making ASL easier for beginners.

Rather than trying to rewrite the ASL rulebook itself, MMP instead created the ASL Starter Kit (ASLSK) game series. The ASLSK rulebooks are an incredibly streamlined subset of the full ASL rules, presented in a non-intimidating conversational style. The rulebook for the first Starter Kit is only 12 pages long, and even the full ASLSK rulebook is just 28 pages long (there are three Starter Kits, with each one adding additional rules to the ASLSK system).

There are two main problems in trying to rewrite a rulebook to be more beginner-friendly. First is the enormous amount of time and effort that would be required to rewrite a complex rulebook. Then, in addition, the resulting rulebook would likely be much harder to use as a reference during a normal game. It's not really surprising that MMP would look for a way to make ASL more appealing to beginners that did not involve rewriting the ASL rulebook.

The ASLSK rulebooks are intentionally designed to be as non-intimidating and beginner-friendly as possible, but as a result they are really awkward to use when actually playing the game. Players who move up to full ASL after learning ASLSK are almost universally amazed at how much easier the big, complex, 200-page ASL rulebook is to use... precisely because it makes no concessions to being beginner-friendly. You won't find too many players who think that the ASLSK rulebooks are better than the full ASL rulebook, but there are plenty of ASLSK-only players who wish that their rulebooks could be redesigned to be as easy to use and as functional as the big ASL rulebook.

There's no reason to suspect that things would be any different with the Magic Realm rulebook. If you were to rewrite the rulebook to be more beginner-friendly, it would end up being harder to use as a reference when actually playing the game. The requirements of a teaching document are simply incompatible with the requirements of a reference rulebook; if you insist on trying to combine the two, the result is usually a mess that does a poor job of both.

In addition, now that the Book of Learning comprehensive tutorial is available for Magic Realm, the number of players wishing that the 3.1 rulebook could be made more beginner-friendly will probably decrease (many of the references used in this article were posted prior to the release of the tutorial). While not everyone agrees that a tutorial document is the right answer (Ref. 9), the overwhelmingly positive feedback that the tutorial is receiving – particularly from beginners who *are* using it to learn the game – suggests that the tutorial is serving its intended purpose for many new players. It will be interesting to see what players who do learn the game through the tutorial will have to say about the 3.1 rulebook.

Rulebook Length

Another common criticism regarding the 3.1 rules is that they are too long (Refs. 4, 5, 6, 9, and 11). I suspect that this reflects a belief among some players that a shorter rulebook would be easier to learn and easier to use, but this belief is not correct. A rulebook's ease of use is determined almost entirely by how it is designed and written; the number of pages it ends up with doesn't really matter.

There are only two significant benefits to reducing the page count of a rulebook. The first benefit is that a shorter rulebook is cheaper to print, so a game with a short rulebook will probably cost less than a game with a long rulebook (if the games are otherwise identical in terms of components). The second benefit is that a potential buyer will *think* that a shorter rulebook is less complex and easier to learn, and thus be more likely to buy the game on a whim.

In other words, a reprint of Magic Realm with a 90-page rulebook would sell more copies (and cost less) than a reprint with a 200-page rulebook, even though the 200-page rulebook would almost certainly be a much better rulebook.

As a general rule, it is easy to improve a rulebook by adding pages: the extra space will give you lots of flexibility in designing easy-to-read page layouts, rewriting problem rules so that they are easier to read and understand, and adding useful illustrations, examples of play, and reference charts. On the other hand, it is really hard to improve a rulebook by removing pages, as you are likely to have to resort to draconian measures just to squeeze in the minimum content that is necessary for the rulebook to actually remain functional as a rulebook.

In my work as a rulebook proofreader (I've been a proofreader for the ASLSK game system since 2007), I'm often required to rewrite a rule to either correct an error, improve the rule's clarity, or remove any ambiguity about when and how a rule is to be applied. In most cases the rewritten rule is longer (sometimes much longer) than the original, but almost never shorter. You simply cannot improve individual rules by rewriting them to be shorter... unless they were really poorly written to begin with.

Here is a practical example from the Magic Realm rulebook. The List of Characters, found on pages 99-103 of the 3.1 edition, is a summary of the 16 characters and their individual capabilities. This list is not very easy to use in its present state, as it is basically five pages of solid gray text with very little white space or organized structure. And there's no way to improve it by rewriting it to reduce the page count (if you don't believe me, go ahead and try it).

If, however, you were to increase the page count of this section from five to 16, allowing each character to have a full page, you could greatly increase the List of Character's ease of use. In addition to avoiding the "crammed-together" look of the original list, you could actually use illustrations of each character's action chits and starting equipment, and you could provide structure so that important information (like trading relationships) would appear in the same location on each page, making it easier to find specific items of information. The image below shows how this could work: a sample page from the current layout is shown on the left, and a sample page from an improved layout is shown on the right.



There are, of course, other ways to reduce the page count of the rulebook besides simply trying to rewrite individual rules. You could go through the rulebook and simply delete rules that you think are unnecessary, or you could try to save space by combining two or more rules into a single rule. But both of these are really bad ideas, especially for the Magic Realm rulebook, for reasons that I will discuss in the next section.

And then there are those players who apparently want to throw out the entire 3.1 ruleset and start over from scratch. They'll suggest that rewriting the entire rulebook in a user-friendly modern style will result in a rulebook that is shorter, easier to learn, and easier to use. There's really no meaningful way to discuss suggestions like this, because there's no way to know what such an all-new rulebook would actually look like. We could try looking at the rulebooks for recently released games like Mage Knight, but such a comparison is not too useful because these games are all much less complex than Magic Realm and thus, presumably, their rulebooks would be easier to write (that is, one would expect that a rulebook for a simple game would be easier to learn and use than a rulebook for a complex game).

First, Do No Harm

While often applied specifically to the medical professions, "First, Do No Harm" is also a good general principle: when trying to fix or improve something, be absolutely sure that what you're planning on doing has no chance of inadvertently making the situation worse.

I'm not sure how many Magic Realm players truly understand how remarkable the 3.1 rulebook really is. In the nine years that this rulebook has been in use, there have been almost no errata needed to fix errors and the rules themselves generate very few rules questions. Let's see how the Magic Realm rules compare to the full ASL rules in these areas. (ASL and Magic Realm are generally seen have having similar levels of complexity, despite being radically different games, so comparing them should be a valid exercise. Comparing Magic Realm to Mage Knight, on the other hand, would be less useful because Mage Knight is not nearly as complex as Magic Realm.)

Errata:

The 3.1 rulebook does indeed have errors, but almost all of these are minor items such as errors in punctuation usage or capitalization that do not affect gameplay whatsoever. The only significant error that I know of is on page 13, where the Treasure Set Up Card Schematic illustration has the "Lost City" and "Lost Castle" labels switched. This illustration was wrong in the 2nd edition rulebook as well. It appears that no one ever noticed this error in the 2nd edition rules, and it took nearly nine years for someone to notice it in the 3.1 rules, so it's a rather insignificant errata item.

This is in sharp contrast to the ASL rulebook, which has pages and pages of errata, most of which does change the way specific rules work. MPP publishes official errata once a year in the ASL Journal magazine, and there's always new errata. The most recent issue, #10, contains over a page and a half of new errata for the ASL rulebook! Overall, it's a staggering amount of errata that has accumulated in the 13 years since the current edition of the ASL rulebook was released. Some estimates suggest that as many as 50% of the pages in the ASL rulebook contain at least one significant errata item, but ASL players simply take it for granted that a complex rulebook is going to generate a lot of errata.

Rules Questions & Rules Arguments:

In the first 10 months of 2014 there have been just 20 questions posted in the Magic Realm rules forum here on BGG. Only one of these posts actually involved a flaw in the 3.1 rules (the errata item mentioned above). Of the remainder, several were questions about how to do things in the RealmSpeak Java program, one concerned the 3.2 rulebook version that uses Karim's redesigned graphics, and the others were easily answered by simply providing the appropriate 3.1 rules reference. I can't even remember the last time there was a serious rules argument (two or more players arguing over a rules question that could not be resolved by looking it up in the 3.1 rulebook).

The Magic Realm Mailing List (where the development of the 3.1 rules took place) has only had 15 messages posted so far this year, and none of them concerned Magic Realm's rules.

In the GameSquad ASL Rules forum: In just the last 30 days over 100 new ASL rules questions have been posted... more than the BGG MR forum and the MR Mailing List combined get in a year! And at least a few of these are probably rules arguments, where the rules either don't explain how to handle a specific situation, or the players can't agree on what the rules actually mean. Now, to be fair, ASL is a popular, in-print game that probably has many more active players than Magic Realm, so of course that will have an effect on the number of rules questions that get posted. But, even so, the almost total lack of errata or rules arguments for the Magic Realm rules is nothing short of astonishing.

This is why the "First, Do No Harm" maxim is so important: there is simply no room for improvement in terms of errata and rules arguments. Any rewrite of the 3.1 rules therefore can only diminish the quality of the rulebook in this respect... unless one is very careful indeed. With a rulebook that is already near perfect in such important areas, I am very skeptical of the benefits that could be gained by any potential rewrite.

Redundancy

Redundancy occurs when a rule appears in two or more locations in a rulebook. Redundancy itself is neither good or bad; its value depends entirely upon how it is used. No one in the references I selected for this article actually complained about the redundancy in the rulebook, but I thought it was worth discussing anyway because the 3.1 rules do have a fair amount of redundancy.

The main benefit of redundancy is that it makes a rulebook a little easier to read and understand: all of the rules that apply to a specific situation can be presented together, even if some of them are normally found in widely separated rules sections. The drawbacks to using redundancy are that repeating rules adds to the overall length of the rulebook, and too much redundancy might annoy a reader if he starts to feel like he's just reading the same rules over and over.

Rule exceptions are almost always redundant. For example, Rule 4.3.2 discusses a character's options with respect to activating a belonging at the moment he obtains it, but it also contains an exception concerning Enchanted cards (which must always be activated) from Rule 4.4.2. Thus, the rule concerning Enchanted card activation is redundant in that it appears in two places: Rule 4.3.2 and Rule 4.4.2.

In addition to exceptions, which are usually quite short, larger rules sections are also used redundantly. The rules concerning Artifacts, for example, are found in Rule 2.3.9 (A Guide to the Playing Pieces/Belongings and Spell Cards), Rule 4.4.7 (Game Mechanics/Treasure Cards), and Rule 4.6.6 (Game Mechanics/Magic). The Artifact rules in these three occurrences are all different to some extent, but there is a significant overlap in terms of specific individual rules that appear in all three locations. These redundant elements could be removed to shorten the rules slightly, but it's easy to see that the resulting rules would be a little harder to use: two of the rules would lack any description of Artifacts, and would then maybe need a cross-reference to the one rule that did have the full description of Artifacts.

In theory, one could simply eliminate all of Rules Section 2, A Guide to the Playing Pieces, and just put the component descriptions in with the rules governing their use. That would eliminate quite a bit of the redundancy in the 3.1 rulebook. The problem with this idea is that a lot of players like having a rules section that introduces all of the components of the game, especially for a complex game like Magic Realm that uses a lot of different components. Removing Section 2 would likely infuriate at least as many players as it would please.

No One Will Buy It!

In addition to trying to make the rulebook easier to learn, another reason given for reducing the size of the rules is the belief that a large rulebook will have a negative impact on the sales of any future reprint (Refs. 5, 6, and 7). This is true, to an extent. For potential buyers who have no prior experience with the game, the more pages a rulebook has, the more complex and intimidating it will seem, and that will certainly be reflected in lower sales numbers.

One key thing to consider here, however, is that it seems unlikely that a reprint of Magic Realm would be marketed to casual gamers. The marketing of Magic Realm would be focused squarely on experienced gamers who might be looking for a really heavy-duty fantasy adventure game. While these potential buyers might have some concerns about the size of the rulebook, they are also the buyers who will do their research before making a decision. They'll check out the reviews, the session reports, the introductory materials, and the general forum posts relating to Magic Realm before making the decision to buy the game or not. They'll make their buying decision based on the game's reputation and features; the length of the rulebook shouldn't be an issue as long as the rulebook gets good grades in the reviews.

Complexity

Complaints about the level of complexity in the 3.1 rules (Refs. 1, 6, and 8) come in two closely related forms: some players complain that the rules are more complex than they need to be, while other players believe that the rules make the game itself seem more complex than it really is.

Complexity is a difficult subject to discuss because it is so highly subjective in nature. Something that seems complex to one player may not be seen as complex by a different player, and even when players agree that a game or rulebook is complex, they may well be thinking of different things.

The situation is even worse with a game like Magic Realm, where the complexity level can vary so widely, depending upon what part of the game you are looking at or the situation on the map. For example, the basic activities like moving, hiding, and searching are not complex at all, but a battle with multiple individuals on each side can be highly complex.

Complaints about complexity need to be accompanied by specific examples: "This rule is too complex because..." or "This game action is too complex because...". With specific examples it becomes possible to reach a consensus about whether or not there really is a problem that needs to be fixed.

More Illustrations, Less Text?

In Ref. 4 we have the suggestion that the rules could be improved, and reduced in size, by moving information from the actual text of the rules into additional illustrations, examples of play, and other graphics. This is a bad idea; every game rule needs to be spelled out in the text. If you have some rules that are only found in graphics and charts, what then happens is that some players will overlook those rules, which, of course, makes the game much more frustrating to learn/play.

Here's a perfect example from the current 3.1 rulebook: Which phases may a player voluntarily cancel during his turn?

Have fun trying to find the answer to that one! (Assuming that you don't already know it.)

If you are using a printed copy of the rulebook, you'll have to read through the rules for each individual phase to see which ones can be cancelled... and that's going to take a while. If you are using the PDF version of the rulebook to search for the text string "cancel" you'll find that there are a gazillion instances of that text, so it's still going to take you a long time to check out each one. And if you think that the Index might help, well no, the Index does not contain a link to the answer.

So... does Magic Realm have a rule that can be used to answer that question? Sure it does. And where can this rule be found? It's in note 3 of the "Daylight Activities" chart on page 121, where it is easy to overlook and nearly impossible to find if you are looking for a rule. This rule needs to be spelled out in the text of the rules; that it appears only as a footnote to a chart at the end of the rulebook is a mistake that should be corrected.

The ASLSK rulebooks, which generally try to fit way too many rules into way too few pages, really suffer from this. Many of their rules appear only in the examples of play or the charts because there literally is no room to write them out in the text, and it annoys players when they ask for a rules reference only to be told: "That rule isn't actually in the rules; you need to look at the example of play instead."

I will agree that updating the rulebook's layout and adding new support graphics would likely improve the rulebook, but, unlike what Ref. 4 assumes, these changes would actually add pages to the rulebook... a *lot* of pages! The layout of the 3.1 rulebook already follows the "cram as much type as possible onto each page" philosophy, so any change to the layout will simply have to add pages. Consider, for example, the 3.2 version of the rules, which has 235 pages (3.1 has 122 pages). The creators of the 3.2 version didn't add 113 pages of new content, nor did they rewrite the rules at all (except as necessary to support Karim's graphics)... they just switched to a better, more readable layout, and the rulebook nearly doubled its page count as a result.

This is something that seems to be overlooked by almost everyone who argues that the rules should be shorter: Even if it was possible to rewrite the rules to be shorter without destroying the quality of the rules, switching to a decent layout and using more supporting graphics will increase the page count so much that the number of pages saved by the (likely) months-long rewrite process will be nothing more than just a drop in the bucket in comparison.

And Now for the Challenge...

For me, the most frustrating thing about all of this is not that so many players complain about the state of the 3.1 rulebook. This just shows that people are passionate about the game, and that's a good thing. What frustrates me is that no one ever seems to provide any sort of evidence or justification for the claims that they make. Without evidence, all you have is opinions... and there's no easy way to test an opinion to determine if is a worthwhile idea, or just wishful thinking.

Thus I would like to challenge those who believe that the rules need to be improved to make the effort to provide some support for their opinions. There are several ways in which one could do this; I'll provide a couple of ideas just as examples.

(A) Find an instance in which a rulebook of at least moderate complexity was rewritten to be both shorter and easier to learn/use, with the majority of that game's players agreeing that the rewritten rulebook was better than the original. In other words, prove that the basic idea is valid by showing that it has already been done successfully with some other game.

(B) Rewrite a small section of the existing rules to show how the rules could be improved. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough to convince other people that your ideas have merit and could work. I think that one of the two following rules sections would make a good candidate for a sample rewrite, as both are relatively short:

7.8 The Rest Activity (1/3 page)
7.12 End of Phase - Blocking (3/4 page)

There is actually a precedent for this: several players who think that Magic Realm's combat system is too complicated have actually posted simpler alternative combat systems for the game. This allowed useful discussions of actual ideas, rather than the typical "discussions" of just shouting conflicting opinions at one another.

I'll even participate in this challenge myself! I'll be posting a file in the near future that will allow players to see just how much a better layout might improve the rulebook's ease of use (without actually rewriting the rules in any way).

***

If you would like to read more about general rulebook issues, there's quite a lot of material available here on BGG. Clicking on the link below will get you started:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/tag/rules_discussion/user/richf...
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Kevin Erskine
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I'm just starting to learn the game from the rulebook, your amazing tutorial and the plain english version. So I can't really comment on this, but when I see such an amazing post concerning the game it really spurs me on to learn it knowing that it has to be great for people like you to put so much effort into it.

So from a Magic Realm noob, thank you!
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Jeff Thompson
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Wow, Jay, that was quite a read. I'm not sure I got all of it digested at this point, but I will make a comment none the less.

Here's a counter point which immediately comes to mind. IF you were to write the 3.1 rules in a way to make it easier to learn the game, then in about 2 months after the game came out, you'd add a reference to your list something like this...

Quote:

These rules are terribly organized, while playing the game it is impossible to find the rules pertinent to my query.


In software development when creating a GUI, there is a basic tenant. There are 3 types of users, beginners, casual users and power users (and in my opinion this is true in board games).

Beginners need to be shown exactly what they can do and the steps to do it. The menu (File Edit View...) is where ALL commands and actions are listed. A new user can go there and look at an entire "menu" of possibilities.

Casual users are familiar with the software and use it for specific purposes frequently enough to understand the application. They will set up the toolbar with buttons they can press that send them directly the action they want to perform. They know longer navigate the menus because they already know what they want.

Power users know the application very well. They can use it for a variety of functions. They use it every day and don't want to peruse the menu or set up dozens of buttons on the toolbar, they just want to zip through the functions and use the hot-keys (CTRL-F, Pretzel-F or whatever).

For all 3 users all 3 methods are available to use when necessary.

If you apply this to how players play games, I see a similar pattern. New players want to learn the game. Casual players want to be able to look up things quickly. And lastly frequent players want to dissect the rules and really apply them properly in unique situations.

A single set of rules simply can't provide all three functions.

Let's face it, Magic Realm is a complex game. We'll need to provide all 3 functions somehow because there will for sure be all 3 types of players. And a player who plays frequently will have been at one time, and for a period of time, both of the other 2 types.

Mage Knight has been mentioned as having 2 separate rulebooks. (The other way that MK made smaller rules is by using a 3pt font, or smaller.)

MR could take the 3.1 ruleset and easily break it down into 3 books and a set of player aids.

Book 1. Start here. It contains the component break down and setup. Then it could contain some examples of play in a play through style.

Book 2. The rules. Don't need component and setup, those are in book 1.

Book 3. Optional and Advanced rules.

Player Aids. All the tables, charts, lists, etc.

My other opinion is that rewriting the rules is an option to streamline them.

To make my point I'll use ASL and SFB (Advanced Squad Leader and Star Fleet Battles). People compare these games as having similarly sized rulebooks. I've played both and ASL rules are 10 times as long as SFB even though the number of words might be similar.

The ASL rules are written in a very terse style. The rule states the rule, and it is done. It uses abbreviations from the start and Key words as well (all defined in a glossary up front).

SFB rules are littered with prose about how to play the game, anecdotes, and rules that are wordy and redundant.

In summary, I think MR rules would benefit from a breakdown into multiple books as well as an editing process that would make the rules more precise.

Thanks for reading. Jay, I look forward to the progress on this project.
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I don't own the game but have had it on my wishlist forever. I have not read any version of the rule book, but do have a couple comments as a future owner/player.

As far as errata and comparing the ASL rule book to MR, I would ask- is this because ASL has more support from MMP which in turn brings more new players to the table? A quick search seems to indicate ASL is more readily available and at a better price than MR. Does MR have any support outside the fans? Also, the answers might be in v3.1, but if people keep asking rules questions, are the rules working?

For me, a well laid out rule book is so much better than worrying about length. I would site your example "List of Characters" above as much, much better than the 3.1 version. However, a lot of other games would put this type of thing on a separate character sheet, thus reducing the rule book by at least 5 pages (an idea if a publisher picks up the game for a reprint).

Are there any other big rule books that get it right? I know Kingdom Death: Monster is suppose to have a 100+ page rule book, but we'll have to wait to see if that helps in any way. I am in no way comparing the two games in either depth or complexity, just the thought that taking ideas from other successful large rule books might be a place to start.

Thanks for all your efforts,
Kevin
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Oh, one last thought.

Take a look at the rules and play aids for Fire in the Lake.

To me finding the game in there was hard.

Some guy created some simplistic looking player aids... and bam! I immediately found the game and am happily playing it now.

Graphics are powerful.
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Seththedog wrote:
For me, a well laid out rule book is so much better than worrying about length. I would site your example "List of Characters" above as much, much better than the 3.1 version. However, a lot of other games would put this type of thing on a separate character sheet, thus reducing the rule book by at least 5 pages (an idea if a publisher picks up the game for a reprint).

The irony is that Magic Realm does include separate character sheets. This is the White Knight information as presented in its original components, both character sheet (top) and 1986 rulebook (bottom):



The 3.1 rulebook combines all of this information inside the character entries of the rulebook itself.

I think you're right: most any game published today would have included everything on the character sheet and the rulebook could feel free to avoid reproducing it. Here, though, the rulebook is being rewritten alone, without touching the components. I assume that Teresa and Stephen concluded it would be better to have all the information available in one place rather than maintain the original split. They pulled items from the character sheet into the rulebook. It duplicates information but, as Jay indicates above, the advantage of duplicated information is that if you want to know "What does the White Knight do?" then you will get 100% of your information in that section of the rulebook.

(Really, the White Knight isn't really the best example, as almost all the gameplay information is on his character sheet. It's when you get to more complicated abilities, such as the Witch's familiar, that the character sheet simply refers you to the rulebook.)

Another several rulebook pages could have been saved if the spells and artifacts actually included what they do. Just about every modern game with cards effectively outsources some of its rules onto the cards themselves. But again, without changing components, they just have to appear in the rules somewhere. (Well, embiggening the cards to include all necessary text introduces its own logistic nightmare, but that's a whole 'nother tangent.)
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Quote:
No One Will Buy It!

In addition to trying to make the rulebook easier to learn, another reason given for reducing the size of the rules is the belief that a large rulebook will have a negative impact on the sales of any future reprint (Refs. 5, 6, and 7). This is true, to an extent. For potential buyers who have no prior experience with the game, the more pages a rulebook has, the more complex and intimidating it will seem, and that will certainly be reflected in lower sales numbers.


This is actually a mostly false claim when levied against game rulebooks.

When you buy a game you allmost never know the size or extent of the rules until you open the box and read them.

The real trick is comprehension once you have the game and are going over the rules.

One great example are the old SPI games. At first glance their rules layouts seems weird. But once you read through it makes sense and more importantly SPI tended to use the same layout for all their games.

Gameplay examples and step-by-steps are a good idea too.
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Omega2064 wrote:
Quote:
No One Will Buy It!

In addition to trying to make the rulebook easier to learn, another reason given for reducing the size of the rules is the belief that a large rulebook will have a negative impact on the sales of any future reprint (Refs. 5, 6, and 7). This is true, to an extent. For potential buyers who have no prior experience with the game, the more pages a rulebook has, the more complex and intimidating it will seem, and that will certainly be reflected in lower sales numbers.


This is actually a mostly false claim when levied against game rulebooks.

When you buy a game you allmost never know the size or extent of the rules until you open the box and read them.

The real trick is comprehension once you have the game and are going over the rules.

One great example are the old SPI games. At first glance their rules layouts seems weird. But once you read through it makes sense and more importantly SPI tended to use the same layout for all their games.

Gameplay examples and step-by-steps are a good idea too.

That might be an old rule of thumb, but a lot of modern board game purchases are made after reading rules online. If the rules posted by the publisher are too intimidating, it could stop a lot of those purchases.
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Yes, please! Over the summer I got 40 pages into v. 3.1, tossed it aside, and picked up my second edition hard copy. I understand the game far better now.

A new rule book would need to be shorter, cleaner, with all the exceptions and fine details relegated to endnotes or appendices.

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cbazler wrote:
A new rule book would need to be shorter, cleaner, with all the exceptions and fine details relegated to endnotes or appendices.

So every other line would make reference to an endnote and/or (additional) appendix? That sounds horrifying...
 
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tumorous wrote:
cbazler wrote:
A new rule book would need to be shorter, cleaner, with all the exceptions and fine details relegated to endnotes or appendices.

So every other line would make reference to an endnote and/or (additional) appendix? That sounds horrifying...


As an academic, I'm used to it!

But seriously, a major impediment to learning the game is wading through so much information that it's hard to understand even the basics of how to play. Maybe there could be a "Quick Start"/Walkthrough rulebook in addition to the big reference rulebook a la Ora & Labora or Mage Knight?

Or, maybe someone could reprint it in a new edition with streamlined rules...whistle
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cbazler wrote:
Or, maybe someone could reprint it in a new edition with streamlined rules...whistle


I hope not.

Magic Realm Starter Kit, anyone?
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cbazler wrote:
tumorous wrote:
cbazler wrote:
A new rule book would need to be shorter, cleaner, with all the exceptions and fine details relegated to endnotes or appendices.

So every other line would make reference to an endnote and/or (additional) appendix? That sounds horrifying...


As an academic, I'm used to it!

As an academic, I'd like to throttle every publisher that demands endnotes rather than the vastly superior footnotes. But either way, I'm firmly against turning a functional and comprehensive rulebook into House of Leaves.

cbazler wrote:
But seriously, a major impediment to learning the game is wading through so much information that it's hard to understand even the basics of how to play. Maybe there could be a "Quick Start"/Walkthrough rulebook in addition to the big reference rulebook a la Ora & Labora or Mage Knight?

Have you checked out The Magic Realm Tutorial Project?
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tumorous wrote:

Have you checked out The Magic Realm Tutorial Project?


Yes, I did, and I think it's good (though still unnecessarily long). But even there, in the first chapter, the text goes on and on about why the White Knight decided to choose "Make Whole" and how he really needs to avoid encountering goblins in the caves, and I'm thinking to myself, "What's the goal of the game, again?"

The best beginner's guides I found were Ryan Sturm's How to Play Podcast and the very detailed BookShelfGames videos. Without them, I would have been lost.
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You guys do realize this is a really complex game right?

It's not like information is created by its fans to make it harder to learn.

Magic Realm is not for everyone.

It has become one of those games where the best way to learn is find someone to teach you.

Anyway, the discussion is about rulebook presentation and content.

Maybe it would be marketable in this era if the game was distributed as a bare bones game with expansions coming out every 3 months so the total cost would be way more than what you can find on ebay today?

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cbazler wrote:
tumorous wrote:

Have you checked out The Magic Realm Tutorial Project?


Yes, I did, and I think it's good (though still unnecessarily long). But even there, in the first chapter, the text goes on and on about why the White Knight decided to choose "Make Whole" and how he really needs to avoid encountering goblins in the caves, and I'm thinking to myself, "What's the goal of the game, again?"

The best beginner's guides I found were Ryan Sturm's How to Play Podcast and the very detailed BookShelfGames videos. Without them, I would have been lost.

I don't like to sound too batty over Jay's work, but I found it perfect to introduce the game to me. I started off one night thinking "Well, I'll try to get through the first chapter with the White Knight here before bed." I put the Book of Learning up on my monitor, set the physical copy of the 3.1 rules in my lap, and started reading. When I got up from my chair, it was 2 a.m. and I was neck-deep in the glorious adventures of Elf, Lord of All Bats (i.e., about 100 pages in).

So the Book of Learning wasn't your cup of tea, but a podcast and videos were better for you. On the other hand, I couldn't find a video I found watchable. But... whatever works, right?

With so many ways available to get into the game -- the Book of Learning, that podcast, various videos, the time-honored tradition of sitting down with a long-time player to learn face-to-face -- I'm convinced that the rulebook itself doesn't need to cater to beginners. The rulebook can be the authoritative, precise, comprehensive reference set of rules. Other media can and do flourish, and they implement various versions of the introductory song and dance. It seems to me to be a reasonable division of labor.
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I've had some fun working on a rewrite that uses Karim's components. I'm doing it mostly for my own pleasure since I don't think Karim wants another set of rules floating around with his artwork in it. It started primarily as a reformatting of the 3.1 rules but I've steadily been rephrasing and rewriting. My goals have been to make the rules clearer, to avoid rewriting of rules over and over but to cross-reference, and to make them more beautiful. I'll post a page or two as a pdf to let people see what they look like.
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Would love to see your efforts!
 
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Jeff Thompson wrote:
MR could take the 3.1 ruleset and easily break it down into 3 books and a set of player aids.

Book 1. Start here. It contains the component break down and setup. Then it could contain some examples of play in a play through style.

Book 2. The rules. Don't need component and setup, those are in book 1.

Book 3. Optional and Advanced rules.

Player Aids. All the tables, charts, lists, etc.

I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other about splitting the 3.1 rules into multiple rulebooks, although I'm perfectly content to leave the rules as a single book.

However, if a reprint of the game ever does occur, the publisher may be forced to do this just by production concerns. Printing three smaller rulebooks would almost certainly be more expensive than printing one large rulebook, but there are a number of other technical issues that a publisher would have to deal with, so I'm sure that the idea of splitting the rulebook would be given very careful consideration.

Seththedog wrote:
As far as errata and comparing the ASL rule book to MR, I would ask- is this because ASL has more support from MMP which in turn brings more new players to the table?

Most of the players who are new to ASL these days start out with the Starter Kits. The ASLSK series has been far more successful than anyone ever anticipated: ASLSK #1 became MMP's all-time best-selling game in less than four years, and it's still going strong after 10 years on the market (currently on its sixth printing).

This is why, when I gathered the data for the comparison in the article, I intentionally did not count any posts in any ASLSK Rules forum. Thus I "penalized" ASL by only counting posts from experienced players, while for Magic Realm I counted posts from everyone... and the volume of rules questions for ASL were still overwhelmingly greater than for Magic Realm.

Players who started with Magic Realm after the release of the 3.1 rules, or players whose only interaction with the Magic Realm community is through this web site (BGG), will likely have a difficult time understanding just what a huge impact the 3.1 rules had. Back in the bad old days of the 2nd edition rules, the volume of rules questions and rules arguments for Magic Realm was *much* higher than it is today, especially on sites other than BGG (the BGG MR community was still pretty small back then). I don't think it ever matched the volume of ASL questions, but it might have come close on occasion.

Here's an example to demonstrate just how bad things were:

In 2001 a question was posted on the old MagicRealm.net forums concerning the Meeting Table. The poster wrote several paragraphs to describe the problem he was having, and quoted five different rules as possibly having some bearing on the situation. At the conclusion of his post, he wrote: "Basically it seems ambiguous and I was wondering what others thought."

That comment kind of sums up the whole 2nd edition rulebook! devil It was total mess; players who have only used the 3.1 rules have no idea of just how truly fortunate they are.

His question generated many lengthy responses... but no actual answer, because the rulebook simply didn't have an answer.

But, when the 3.1 rulebook was released, questions like this disappeared. The constant flood of rules questions and arguments that had existed up to that point just... stopped. I was personally astonished by this. I knew that the 3.1 rulebook was going to be good, but I never expected it to be *that* good.

Seththedog wrote:
Also, the answers might be in v3.1, but if people keep asking rules questions, are the rules working?

The rules are absolutely working. If you look at the questions that are being posted, it seems clear that most of them are from beginners. It's to be expected that beginners will occasionally get confused by the rules, or overlook something in the rules. We only rarely see a rules question posted by an experienced player, and we almost never see a question that can't be answered by just pointing to the appropriate rule.

It's hard to imagine how it could be any better, as a game as big and as complex as Magic Realm is bound to have a few rules questions from time to time.

Seththedog wrote:
For me, a well laid out rule book is so much better than worrying about length. I would site your example "List of Characters" above as much, much better than the 3.1 version. However, a lot of other games would put this type of thing on a separate character sheet, thus reducing the rule book by at least 5 pages (an idea if a publisher picks up the game for a reprint).

Removing the List of Characters from the rulebook would be a bad idea. There are times when, during a game, you'll want to review the capabilities of some other player's character... but you don't want that player to be aware of what you're doing (maybe you're thinking about attacking him, for instance, and you hope to catch him by surprise). This is easy to do if the character capabilities are spelled out in the rulebook. If, on the other hand, you are using separate character sheets and you pick up the sheet for an opponent's character, it becomes instantly obvious to the other players that you are plotting something.

The other concern here is that having too many player aids is just as bad as having too few (too many can be really awkward to handle while playing a game). The general rule is that you don't want to make a separate player aid for something unless it is used repeatedly throughout a typical game. The various Search Tables, for example, are used all the time when playing Magic Realm, so you don't want to force players to pick up the rulebook every time they do a Search die roll; it's much easier for the players if they have a separate reference card with all of the Search Tables printed on it.

Checking out a character's capabilities, however, is probably something that you will only do once or twice in a typical game, so having them appear only in the rulebook makes perfect sense.

Matt wrote:
Another several rulebook pages could have been saved if the spells and artifacts actually included what they do. Just about every modern game with cards effectively outsources some of its rules onto the cards themselves. But again, without changing components, they just have to appear in the rules somewhere. (Well, embiggening the cards to include all necessary text introduces its own logistic nightmare, but that's a whole 'nother tangent.)

Removing the Spells List won't work with Magic Realm, even if all of the spell rules could fit on the cards (which, as you noted, they can't). When characters choose spells at the start of the game, or learn spells during the game, they are not given a spell card for that spell. Without a spell list in the rulebook, you wouldn't know what spells are available for selection at the start of the game, and you'd have no way to access a learned spell's rules (unless you learned it from an Artifact or Spell Book that you hadn't subsequently sold or lost).

A List of Spells in the rulebook is a very simple solution to all of these problems.

Personally, even when a game can put rules onto cards, I still prefer to have all of the cards' content listed in the rulebook as well. It makes it easier for me to both learn the game and to play it. Some players seem to have the desire to reduce the page count of a rulebook by any means possible, even if it makes the game harder to play; I prefer that a rulebook be a complete reference to everything in the game, regardless of how many pages that may take.

Jeff Thompson wrote:
Magic Realm Starter Kit, anyone?

Steve McKnight, a co-editor of the 3.1 rules (along with Teresa Michelsen), was seriously considering creating something like a Starter Kit for Magic Realm a while back, but I don't know that he ever actually started working on it. You can read some of his thoughts on this idea in these two threads:

A New Magic Realm?
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/175981/new-magic-realm

Magic Realm Starter Kit #1
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/276417/magic-realm-start...
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I personally have not had any problems with the 3.1 rulebook. I think it is very well organized.

Having said that, the way I learned how to play MR was reading through Jay's excellent tutorial a couple of times and then finally playing the game on Realm Speak, since I did not know of any experienced players in my geographic area. I still go back and re-read through the tutorial at times just for fun because Jay did such an excellent job at conveying the excitement of playing the game with all of the unexpected things that the game can throw at you.

And while playing on Realm Speak, I started with characters with little or no magic capabilities such as the White Knight, the Dwarf, and the Woods Girl and focused on just trying to stay alive for a month. I also didn't even try to get any hirelings. It took about 20 games or so, but then things started to click and I could go on to try other characters with magic capabilities. Normally when I would try a new character I would re-read that character's section in the tutorial prior to playing. I also read up on some of the strategy guides put together by some of the experienced players, but I also started to think about my own strategic and tactical decisions.

Also, when playing I always made sure I had the pdf files on how to kill monsters, the reference tables, and the 3.1 rulebook open so I could quickly refer to them as needed. I found it very easy to look up things in the rule book.

I was still on occasion making silly mistakes, but I soon learned (dying in the Realm will force you to learn!), and when I was finally able to play a face to face game over the board things were very easy.

I would encourage anyone who is having trouble learning the game to try Realm Speak and just experiment. You can even use the battle utility to learn separately how to handle combat, or just play Realm Speak with combat turned off.

Heck, I am in the middle of a networked Realm Speak game as I write with six other nefarious characters and I am having the time of my life!

And while you are at it check out the excellent Book of Quests for further adventuring in the Realm.

Cheers!

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If you want short rules, the basic rules in the 1st edition were only 26 pages long. (plus 10 pages were optional/advanced rules and charts/tables.) This version of the rules also had you setting up and *playing* the game with only 5 pages (the first encounter.) Who liked it?

The second edition basic game rules was 55 pages (another 8 pages for advanced/optional rules and 20 pages for charts and tables.) It had you setting up and playing the game after only 20 pages.

Third edition has 73 pages for the basic game(with an additional 15 pages for optional/advanced rules, a 10 page index and 23 pages for charts and tables.)

The only reason we felt that the third edition was needed was because the 2nd edition, with its programmed instruction, was setup for learning to play, not as a reference book. Third edition was explicitly created as a reference, not as a way to learn the game.

If you are just learning MR, use the 2nd edition rules because they were made for you. If you already basically know the rules and want a reference, then the third edition is for you.

Frankly, anybody who plays Dungeons and Dragons, or any other RPG that I've ever seen, and complains that 73 pages of rules (including examples of play) are too much is smoking something. Just my humble opinion...

And now my old guy story. My friend and I were advancing through the 1st edition rules back in 1980. We read the rules one encounter at a time and played several games. As we were working through the 3rd encounter (there were 7 in all,) we learned about a group of kids at school who just read the whole damn book and started at the 7th encounter. We joined their game at that point and wondered why we were so scared of the thing. Those were the days.
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Jay Richardson wrote:
I'll be posting a file in the near future that will allow players to see just how much a better layout might improve the rulebook's ease of use (without actually rewriting the rules in any way).

Well... "near future" turned out to be almost a year and a half, but you can finally see my idea of an improved layout for the Magic Realm rules:

Rulebook Version 3.1 Deluxe
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1547999/rulebook-versio...
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I've been trying to pick up the rules to MR once again (my third attempt, I believe)--and I'm finding that the 3.1 rules are, for me, practically unreadable. Chapter 7 has defeated me. I get bogged down in wading through so many leaves of exceptions and abstract concepts and compound combinations of what-ifs that I can't see the trees any longer. (The tutorial project is a help, but it too requires many, many pages of reading.)

Fortunately I'm finding my solution in the rulebook that came with the game, the first edition rulebook even. It's only 20-some pages of rules, and it's served up three or four pages at a time. Sure, it doesn't handle all of the minutia and rule interactions that can occur--but for that I have the 3.1 rulebook and the tutorial (in which role I expect them to be invaluable!).

I know that on this issue I'm probably not with the majority, but not everybody will be. (I'm also somebody who recommends the second edition rulebook to Third Reich, as that rulebook is only 16 or so pages long.)

Please Note: I'm not at all minimizing the work that has gone into version 3 of the rulebook, or into the tutorial--it's praiseworthy effort, and I expect to make extensive use of them! But for my initial learning of the game, I desire something far more concise--and the original rulebook appears to be that for me.
 
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Smash62bill wrote:
...

Fortunately I'm finding my solution in the rulebook that came with the game, the first edition rulebook even. It's only 20-some pages of rules, and it's served up three or four pages at a time. Sure, it doesn't handle all of the minutia and rule interactions that can occur--but for that I have the 3.1 rulebook and the tutorial ...


Personally, i learned with the 2nd edition rules. 4 encounters instead of 7. the only thing i didn't grok with one read was the subtleties of hirelings. The biggest benefit using the 2nd over 1st edition rules is that it is more compatible with the 3rd edition (being identical rules-wise, just reorganized and with clarifications from the creator)

If you learn using 1st edition, there are things you will have to re-learn. not exceptions and endless minutia, but actual main aspects (weapon times being optional probably is the biggest one).

But, if you learn it well in the first edition, then have your fun.
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Bill K
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Quantum_Jack wrote:
If you learn using 1st edition, there are things you will have to re-learn. not exceptions and endless minutia, but actual main aspects (weapon times being optional probably is the biggest one).

Thank you for the caution, and I was aware that some things would change--but the savings in wordage (about 20 pages vs. 55) and the fact that I have a hardcopy of the 1st edition rules right here in front of me, outweigh that (small) negative.

Keep the ballad, give me the haiku!
 
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