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Subject: Why an FAQ might work for your rulebook. rss

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Peter Shafer
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I've seen a lot of advice being flung around on various websites and here in the BGG forums on why including an FAQ in a rulebook is a no no. Some of this advice even appeared to come from self-named professional technical writers.

I think that advice is wrong. Here is why:

Most of the arguments I've seen against an FAQ center on efficiency: "If you have to explain it in an FAQ you failed to explain it in the rules." The remaining arguments appear to be simply against this type of redundancy in favor of a once-stated, it's done, elegance.

The best weapon of a rulebook is efficacy. Efficiency is not efficacy. Efficacy might more helpfully be thought of as: efficiency, effect, and effectiveness combined.

The format of an FAQ is different from the format usually used in body of the rules presentation. It's a QA format. This format of writing, for many readers, hits home on certain rules, usually crucial rules, that then allow readers to see the wider meaning and intention of a rule. I've found that stronger visual thinkers really craved this part of the rules (along with images and diagrams or tables).

Increased effectiveness and much more accurate effect at the cost of a little efficiency? I'll take that, please.

Also, I have seen readers of my rule book turn directly to the FAQ first to read it. Why? I asked them. Because it gave them a heads up on certain tricky rules. Then, when they read those rules in the text body, they had a preconceived constraint to apply. It made them feel "safe."

When I removed FAQs and incorporated the ideas into the body of text, some readers complained they wanted to see an FAQ to further ensure the real limits of some rules. The FAQ served as a very concise section of examples, but one that worked better toward ensuring mastery of the concept of the rule. It helped kill rule lawyers. Win.

So I would say to those of you worried about how you "ought" to write a rulebook, keep your eyes and ears open primarily to those who are actually using and applying the rule book.

I do have one caveat to to all this. I'm pretty sure this mostly applies to games that have complicated, or slightly dense rules that must be communicated. An FAQ for something like One Night Ultimate Werewolf might indeed be a sign of a rulebook gone wild.
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Grace McDermott
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I'm happy to see an FAQ and rules clarifications in rulebooks.
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Orpheus
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As an example, this outstanding FAQ for Tigris and Euphrates helped to clear up a few questions I had:

http://freespace.virgin.net/chris.lawson/rk/e-t/faq.htm

There's a saying amongst my people:

"It is better to have a FAQ than to not have a FAQ"
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Rob Harper
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I think that one of the objections to having an FAQ section in the rulebook is that it is so often used to explain rules that have not been adequately explained elsewhere. This is just lazy.

The main body of the rules should explain everything thoroughly, but it can be really helpful to have a section (whether an FAQ or a quick reference) that covers the rules that most often get forgotten, mixed up, misinterpreted or argued over, so that they can get resolved easily.

Of course, if there are these confusing or forgettable rules, this raises the question as to why they are in the game in the first place and could they have been changed to something more straightforward? But that is another debate entirely.
 
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Daniel Newman
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I think a FAQ is not a bad idea. You should make sure you cover everything in your book to begin with, of course, but depending on the game there could be concepts that are just a little trickier to grasp. It's not terrible to have a list at the back that reiterates those. In one of my games I'm currently working on, there are some rules that come up mid-game even though I've explained them at least once or twice during my initial explanation before play. Those would for sure go into the FAQ for quick reference.
 
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Richard Irving
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FAQ's make up for the fact that the main body of the rules were inadequate in the first place.

There a lot that can be done in the main body of the rules to improve understanding:
- Example of play
- Formatting (bold text or bulleting important points, sidebars, section headers, etc.)
- Pictures

But there are always elements in many games that may make them hard to teach/explain:
- Lack of a consistent phase order (Games that allow any action to occur at any time are harder to explain than those that follow Step A, Step B, Step C...)
- Unfamiliar mechanics (If new game has some similarity to older game, then new game is easier to learn)
- Games that have some rule that breaks normal flow of the game.

Questions are inevitable--some people will ask even if the rule the clearly explained. But to go into rules writing needing to have an FAQ is self defeating--that encourages sloppy writing the first time.
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trying to cram everything into a rules entry and you run the risk of making it too cumbersome, and turning off your reader. I think in some cases, moving some of that info into a FAQ lets your readers focus on the main points, and lets them understand the core rules first. If it's to address something that will only come up in rare circumstances, then it's best to leave that to a FAQ.
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Rob Harper
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There are options other than having a wall of text and moving stuff into an "FAQ" -- and if you've actually moved rules into an FAQ, it's not an FAQ, it's part of the rules.

In order to make things more manageable you can use a summary section to outline all play before going into gritty detail later, well thought-out diagrams, sidebars and boxouts to separate examples, special cases, or headline information, and so on.

I really think that there shouldn't be anything that is only in an FAQ.

Edit: of course, I have mostly just reiterated what rri1 said!
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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Q. How are you pronouncing "FAQ" such that you want to write "an FAQ" rather than "a FAQ"?



I've had bad experiences with FAQs. I've had several cases where the answers break down along the lines of:

about 20% is reasonable clarification of tricky issues;

30% is saying "yes, really, it works exactly like the rulebook said", for the benefit of customers who understood the rule but didn't like it;

15% is questions that I want answered, but which were completely misunderstood by the designer because they can't see the alternate reading the question is trying to get at, and therefore the answer fails to address the underlying issue;

and 35% is actually errata (contradict the original rules, or introduce totally new rules that were never previously alluded to) but disguised as clarification because the designer or publisher won't admit that the original rules were flawed.

(Several of these experiences occurred in FFG games, which may skew my sample...)


I suppose that's not so much a reason to avoid FAQs as a complaint about the quality of rules-writing in general, but I always get a sense of dread when I see a giant FAQ, and usually I feel like I already understand the rules, so the actual clarifications are a waste of my time, but I'm compelled to read it all anyway because it might contain stealth errata.

I do feel that a FAQ is appropriate when:

1) The original rule being addressed is both correct and complete,
2) But there's a common misunderstanding/misinterpretation, that
3) Requires such a large amount of text to clear up that it would severely disrupt the experience for the players who already understood it (particularly when the original rule is on a game component like a card or the board, where space is at a premium)

I'd say many of the individual-card clarifications in the Dominion rulebooks are good examples.
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Joshian Grr
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Antistone wrote:
Q. How are you pronouncing "FAQ" such that you want to write "an FAQ" rather than "a FAQ"?
There was a fascinating thread about this on ask.metafilter.com a while back.
Some people say "a fack", and some people say "an effaycue".

http://ask.metafilter.com/287663/FAQ-or-FAQ

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Tommy Occhipinti
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I tend to view a FAQ as like a mini-comprehension quiz of the rulebook I just read. If I read the questions in the FAQ, and answer them correctly, I'm happy I'm ready to teach the game. If I am miss a subtle point, I'm happy to have it pointed out so I get it right.

If the FAQ is about how card #81 and card number #122 interact in the situation all players have exactly 13 of Object Type #7, and I know that if I play the game a hundred times, this will probably come up exactly once, I am less inclined to read it, and am somewhat inclined to think that maybe the greater structure of the rules could have been done differently so as not to create this kind of ambiguity. In particular, if there are ten such ambiguities the designer can think of, there are probably 50 they cannot.
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Brendan Riley
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I like the way the Roll for the Galaxy rulebook ends with a section called something like "things you may have missed." This is a great way to add an FAQ without calling it that or misunderstanding what it's for.

Also, I write "an FAQ" because I pronounce the letters as letters, with the sounds "eff ayy keww," so the vowel-sound at the beginning of the letter F suggests the word "an" before it.
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Glen Dresser
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Okay, I'll answer for the curmudgeonly technical writer side. The intent of an FAQ originally (going back to NASA mailing lists and then Usenet), is to answer common questions that new users to a list had, so that the list wouldn't be spammed with newbie questions. If your question was not answered by the FAQ, cool; feel free to ask the list. It was essentially designed as a courtesy to non-newbie users of the list, rather than to make learning as easy as possible for newbies. If you had a question, you were expected to read through a very long and potentially unhelpful text document before actually asking your question.

The primary purpose of your manual should be to teach the game; the secondary purpose should be to answer questions as they arise. Despite its name, an FAQ actually gets in the way of this second purpose. If your game has some sort of quick-reference (as I think all complex games should), then that's the first place that people are going to look (and probably players learn right away what sort of information is and isn't in the quick-ref). If they don't see the answer there, then they go to the manual, and maybe they look for the FAQ. And maybe their question isn't in the FAQ. They're now frustrated. They've looked in two places and they haven't found their answer. Or maybe they thought, 'hey, my question is about step X. I'll look in that part of the manual. But, guess what, you put the detailed explanation in the FAQ. And they don't know that because it didn't occur to them to look there, and maybe you didn't cross-reference it.

If you've got a well-designed structure to the manual, and you've got an excellent visual hierarchy, and it's properly cross-referenced (something that a lot of board-game manuals do not do well), you're going to make your players feel totally confident that they can always find the answers to their questions exactly where you'll expect them.

That's not to say that an FAQ is always the wrong answer. But it usually makes a manual less intuitively navigable, rather than more.

Now, if you're talking about a quick-reference, or a 'before your first game' reference, or a 'obscure situations' reference, that's a different matter. But give it a name that describes how you intend it to be used.

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Richard Irving
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polyobsessive wrote:


Edit: of course, I have mostly just reiterated what rri1 said!
Great minds think alike!
 
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Richard Irving
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Antistone wrote:

I've had bad experiences with FAQs. I've had several cases where the answers break down along the lines of:

about 20% is reasonable clarification of tricky issues;

30% is saying "yes, really, it works exactly like the rulebook said", for the benefit of customers who understood the rule but didn't like it;

15% is questions that I want answered, but which were completely misunderstood by the designer because they can't see the alternate reading the question is trying to get at, and therefore the answer fails to address the underlying issue;

and 35% is actually errata (contradict the original rules, or introduce totally new rules that were never previously alluded to) but disguised as clarification because the designer or publisher won't admit that the original rules were flawed.
The first & fourth are practically the same. This often comes from two rules that contradict each other.

A good example from Up Front are malfunction rules, the errata file basically rewrote entire malfunction sequence because rule 18.11 said "If only one weapon is firing, the attack ends immediately" and rule 18.13 said in part "In a group with multiple weapons, (randomly) pick which weapon was affected. If the man chosen is pinned, already malfed, or had 0FP (i.e. not firing) then their weapon broke and the attack continues." Often groups at long range might have a single weapon with firepower (like a machine gun) and several with 0FP (like rifles)--is this a single firing weapon or not?

He had to rewrite the entire rule to avoid the contradiction and also how to which weapons are randomly chosen that aren't firing (ordnance/flamethrowers), break in different situations, etc.



The third item I had an argument the designer of Combat Commander which never was resolved. If a player reaches the end of their deck, the starts a "time passes" action where the deck is shuffled and the players could play Dig In cards. Then the game continues. IF they were drawing cards into their hand, they continue drawing. But what happens if a player filling his hand and completes doing that with the last card in the deck and then plays a "dig in" during end of deck reshuffle/time passes?

Did he finish "filling his hand" and THEN time passed and therefore does NOT get to redraw his for his dig in card? Or does hand filling continue through time passing phase, therefore DOES get to redraw for the dig in? (Arcane point to be sure, but rules don't account for it--even now. Chad never understood the distinction I was making.)

Quote:
(Several of these experiences occurred in FFG games, which may skew my sample...)
FFG are certainly not alone on impenetrable rules. Old AH here.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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rri1 wrote:
The first & fourth are practically the same. This often comes from two rules that contradict each other.
Sorry, but clarifications and errata are not the same. Clarifications restate the same rules in a new way; they are designed to improve your understanding of the game. Errata introduce new or different rules; they are designed to improve the game itself.

If you were making a video game, errata would require code changes to the main game. Clarifications would only require changes to the tutorial or help files.

If the original rules are themselves contradictory, then errata might be the only useful option. But that doesn't mean that the errata somehow become a clarification, or that the two words mean the same thing.
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Richard Irving
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Antistone wrote:
rri1 wrote:
The first & fourth are practically the same. This often comes from two rules that contradict each other.
Sorry, but clarifications and errata are not the same. Clarifications restate the same rules in a new way; they are designed to improve your understanding of the game. Errata introduce new or different rules; they are designed to improve the game itself.
Not quite. Errata are errors or statement of acknowledgement of errors and their correction:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/erratum

A misprint, typo, incorrect stat, garbled syntax, missing word, etc. are errata. Certainly errata can require one or more clarifications to resolve.

Introducing new rule changes (whether they improve the game or not) are not errata. I would agree with you that rule changes should not be disguised as an erratum or clarification. Though, too frequently, they are.
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My issue with FAQs in printed rulebooks is understanding where this question was 'frequently asked' and why the answer wasn't codified in the rulebook prior to printing in a way that eliminated the need for the question. This is especially true of a first printing.

Instead these should be presented as one of these headers
"Rules you are likely to misinterpret"
"Rules you may have missed"
"Summary of Play"
"The Rules"
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