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Subject: Good and Bad Game Instruction Manuals? rss

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David Griffin
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What are your examples for instruction manuals which were well done and those which were not?

Note that it's possible for a manual to do a good job in some things and not others. For instance it may be good for teaching the game but poor for looking up rules (or vice versa) or it might not do either. It may be a great manual with a poor graphic design. It may be well written but poorly organized.

But then again it may be a GREAT manual and since I've had a few experiences lately with bad ones, I'd like to find some good ones. Which ones have you loved and why?

Thanks!
 
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Bryan Thunkd
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Not well done: Every Portal Games rulebook I've ever read.
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My experience with GMT manuals, like Cuba Libre and Comancheria, have been very positive.

The procedures are very clear in sequence of events and operation, despite nested orders, exceptions, and general complexity. In each case I've been able to internalize ruleset and sequences and begin making the system function easily.

However, some errata , but when isn't there?

Fields of Arle, equally well laid out.
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David Griffin
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In the old days, there was a certain "style" of manual in wargames. It was characterized by long, but detailed manuals with few illustrations beyond diagrams and numbered paragraphs. Learning the game was characterized by long study.

I'm not even positive these days what a good manual looks like, but I'd like to have a better idea.
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Jason
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In my experience Days of Wonder has good manuals. Clear rules and examples with pictures. Maybe that's because the games aren't terribly heavy, but they do a good job.

CMON are middle of the pack, they're not always laid out in an order that makes sense. Plus, sometimes their examples make things less clear.

I don't like the FFG 2-book setup. It seems like a first game book combined with a fleshed out more rules with references would be a great idea. But, I find I'm flipping through both trying to find rules for clarification.
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Kevin Buchanan
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Special mention should always go to Ming Dynasty.

When I bought my copy of the game (new) it had the original rules manual inside, alongside an additional rules clarification sheet that solely existed because the original rules were so badly written.

Even so, finding out how to play was pretty challenging as it felt like some of the rules contradicted each other, so it sat on my shelf, unplayed, for over a year.

I eventually found a set of rules on here that actually explained how the game worked and it's not half bad and certainly nowhere near as complicated as the original rules suggested.
 
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J J
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Blood Bowl 3rd edition (1992, reprinted 1998).

Mostly a damned good job (and generally exceptional for Games Workshop). Very few gaps or ambiguities. Simple, solid rules that follow a system consistently, and do so in a logical fashion, and almost entirely lacking odd one-off exceptions to them.

Except for two things:

There's a template you use for when the ball goes out of play and into the crowd. Fully half the rules for its use are not in the section labelled "Throw-Ins", in the logically related part of the book (the section to do with throwing the ball, it not being caught, and bouncing), but rather right at the start of the book, in the introductory here-are-the-contents-of-the-box section. shake Worse yet, what's in the Throw-Ins section appears, unless you already know about the other bit, to be complete.

Then there's the starting skill used by one of the teams that they left out of the rulebook entirely. Sure, it made it into the Death Zone expansion, but still... And then when they re-released it 6 years later they didn't bother fixing this, they just issued a straight re-print yuk
 
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Wilbert Kiemeneij
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I think the best rulebook I own is Dominant Species, although I also like my Splotters' manuals very much. Dominant Species' rulebook lays out the game point by point in such a way that everything is just perfectly clear. I'm a rules lawyer, but I haven't found anything yet that wasn't made clear in the rules. (I haven't played the game a lot yet, so that may change.) Splotter's rulebooks are much more concise and generally super clear as well. Although on occasion I still had to look something up in an FAQ.

The worst rulebook has to be the new edition of Robo Rally. That's a complete mess. It's riddled with contradictions and typos. And on top of that it doesn't reflect entirely the intended changes the Richard Garfield made to the game. The publisher apparently thought they knew better than the designer. Cards are contradicting the rules described for them in the book, and it's just a complete mess in general. Still a super fun game though,
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Ed Sherman
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The original rulebook for Ghost Stories was a disaster.

Any rulebook that hides something like "oh, by the way, if you're not playing with exactly four players, gameplay is totally different" is an automatic fail.
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Doug Marley
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Power Grid's manual is horseshit. I think there are people who give up on the game having never played it correctly.

For all the talk Tom Vassel made about Lagoon's theme being pasted on an abstract and the rules not being intuitive because of that, I thought Lagoon's manual did an excellent job at explaining the game. I think the theme works but I wasn't at all lost playing it.


I really wish authors would spend more time on the manual, not just with the rules but in explaining the possible strategies in the game. Knowing the rules is one thing but people are not going to enjoy the game if they have no idea what they should be trying to do. And let's be honest, I think a lot of people are done with a game if it doesn't pass the litmus test after 2 or 3 tries.
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I honestly think the Catan rule book is next to worthless. It's like it's written with the assumption that you already know how to play.
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Thomas Leitner
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Truly awful...every rule book in every Spielworxx game. The German rule books are bad enough, but the English translations take awful to a new level.

Excellent...the rule book that came with the base Mage Wars game. Well written, well organized with loads of relevant examples.
 
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Jason
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The CGE rulebooks I've seen have been solid. TMG has done a good job.

I know the FFG model has its detractors, but I like the rule books for Rebellion.
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I hate the FFG approach, and my first few plays of Fury Of Dracula were some of my worst experiences in board gaming because of how poorly they explain clearing a location versus searching versus ambushing from a location, etc. You'd think that would be the absolute clearest part of the rules.
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Dwayne Bolt
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Agricola is terrible. I watched multiple videos just to get an idea of how to play. Maybe it's me, but I have never seen it played and the manual didn't tell you what you actually needed to do. Totally turned my wife off the game and it hasn't been played in months. I may pull it out to solo again and get a better idea. Other than that, I haven't encountered a truly bad manual, but some are better than others.
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VaultBoy wrote:
In my experience Days of Wonder has good manuals. Clear rules and examples with pictures. Maybe that's because the games aren't terribly heavy, but they do a good job.

Perhaps then the Shadows over Camelot one is an exception in that includes a Rulebook and "the Book of Quests" which has more details on the rules. Seems to me people tend to forget the second tome.
 
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Trent Boardgamer
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With the introduction of Kickstarter there are some horrible rule books coming out. Dark Darker Darkest and Fairytale: Battleroyale copies that shipped with the games are prime examples.

You would need to google to work out how some parts of the game were supposed to function.

They have both released revised rules since than (D,D,D's aren't bad now), F:BR, hmm I'll leave that alone.

In contrast a lot of the newer retail games rule books have been pretty great over the last few years. Short succinct and to the point and most include good summaries once you get the game going.

I was on the fence with some of FFG's rulebooks were they have the how to play guide (missing half the relevant rules) and then a in depth referenced rules guide, but I actually like them now (Once you know how to play), as it does generally make finding border queries raised easier to find results on, rather than having to check multiple area's of the how to play guide.
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GOOD
Rulebooks that...
-explain things with examples to rule out questions
-that cover specific cases that come up that are generally ambiguous, like what to do in the even of a tie.
Or if there are multiple tiers, if 2 or more people tie for it (e.g. 1st tier gets 5ps, 2nd tier gets 3pts, but 2 people tied for first)







BAD
Thunderstone... (and I paraphrase)
"If you can't find a ruling about something, then come up with something that the group can agree on"
I just assumed this went without saying. Kind of admitting actually made it worse to me!

Ascension rulebooks in general
Yes they cover how the new mechanics work out, and explain the backstory for that set. However, the 4 page rulebook should've been 8 to 12 pages since you'll need about that much space to address an official FAQ on how certain interactions work out. These are covered online on their site, but would've been nice to include it in the first place.
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Trent Boardgamer
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Quote:
These are covered online on their site, but would've been nice to include it in the first place.


Oh yes, I hate any rulebook which relies on the internet to make it work.

I'll maintain for the most part, you should be able to understand how to play a game via the rulebook alone. If you can't it's a poor rulebook.
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Chris Ferejohn
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I feel like FFG has finally arrived at what they were aiming for (with the intro/reference as separate books thing) in the Arkham Horror LCG. I can almost always find the answer I'm looking for instantly. I do feel like they had some missteps along the way as they figured it out.

Best rulebook I've ever read was Dominant Species. I taught 6 new players (myself included) straight out of the rulebook (we literally popped the shrink and I more or less read the rules out loud) in like 30 minutes and I don't remember any significant ambiguity.

CGE rulebooks are goddam hilarious (well some of them), which makes reading through them a pleasure, so people actually do it, though I do find them a bit difficult to use as an after-the-fact reference.

The gold standard for terrible rules for me is Hansa Teutonica. It's pretty clearly a rushed translate job (I'd be interested to know if the German version is equally hard to deal with), and I think it's a shame, because it made a lot of people dismiss a game that could be seen as the next step after Ticket to Ride or Thurn and Taxis as a difficult, complicated cube pusher, and it really isn't.
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Chris Ferejohn
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ProudGeekDad wrote:
Agricola is terrible. I watched multiple videos just to get an idea of how to play. Maybe it's me, but I have never seen it played and the manual didn't tell you what you actually needed to do. Totally turned my wife off the game and it hasn't been played in months. I may pull it out to solo again and get a better idea. Other than that, I haven't encountered a truly bad manual, but some are better than others.


Hmm, I never had a problem with it, but I was taught the game before reading the manual (which was 6-9 months later, so there was plenty to refresh myself on).
 
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Poor rulebooks:
Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game
Dark Souls: The Board Game
Things are all over the place with these two. You never know where to get the info you need.
And they probably could have been dramatically shortened too.
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Lee Griffiths
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Star Trek: Fleet Captains
Stronghold

I thought both of these games had terrible manuals, mostly because they required you to read them backwards to actually understand anything, and because they seemed to be written in gibberish. Even after reading them forwards and then backwards then I still had questions they couldn't answer.

Also I hate practically every Vlaada Chvátil rulebook. They're about 50x longer than they need to be, mostly because of the attempts to be "funny". I think, as well being a game designer, he wants to be an author or something. Even the Codenames manual is far, far too long for what the game actually is.
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Niall Smyth
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Lzmountaingames wrote:
My experience with GMT manuals, like Cuba Libre and Comancheria, have been very positive.

The procedures are very clear in sequence of events and operation, despite nested orders, exceptions, and general complexity. In each case I've been able to internalize ruleset and sequences and begin making the system function easily.

However, some errata , but when isn't there?

Fields of Arle, equally well laid out.


While I understand they work for you, I find them extremely hard to follow. I prefer rulebooks with numerous examples, and that lay out some of the reasons why one might choose an option, and the elementary aspects of the strategy. These 2.2.301 style of books just tell you what you can do at each stage, without enough context for me to internalize the ruleset, and the low-graphics layout is hard to parse.

I'm enjoying FFG's books, although I think the names of the books are misleading. The Learn to Play book is really an overview, and the Rules Reference are the true rulebooks. Too many people stop with the Learn to Play.
 
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David Griffin
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I'm getting the idea that nobody (including me) can really say how a really good manual is written. Sometimes we might know it when we see it, but it's not just a matter of a simple set of principles.

I think we look at manuals we like and try to pick out items from the manual like paragraph numbering or glossaries or indexes or walkthroughs or dual manual structures etc., but somehow even if you copy those features, it doesn't necessarily make a good manual.

As Others have said, Mage Knight with it's dual manual structure (one for learning and one for reference) is murder to learn from AND look things up during play (ditto Star Trek Frontiers which copies it since it's a reskin). But why?

To me Myth is perhaps the hardest Manual to learn from and even worse to look things up from but I think that's mostly because it's actually missing a lot and the stuff it has is organized badly for reference. And it lacks information for teaching the game too.

Is it really more art than science? Or are there rules to follow?
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