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Subject: My Gaming Pet Peeve - Poorly Written Rules rss

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Al Johnson
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OK, I doubt I am not alone on this, but I do wish companies would write their rules a little more clearly. Looking at the crazy amount of rules questions here on BGG shows there is much room for improvement. Granted, I will admit many of the questions are easily answered if the person just slowly read through the rules (me included at times), but there are those games that leave too many questions unanswered or are just poorly worded.

The latest example is Railroad Tycoon. Now don't get my wrong - I love the game and I am glad I bought it. When I first looked at the rule book I thought; "This is great - short rules." Well they are short because they simply are not thorough enough. I am not pointing out this game because I have a vendetta against it; it's just a prime example of a game that could be greatly improved by better rules. Look at its Rules Questions thread - close to 50 questions.

With the gaming community growing larger, this is an area that screams for attention. Nothing can turn off a new gamer quicker than poorly written rules. I want well written rules, so that the new gamer will read through them and not get frustrated.
 
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Tim K.
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I hate the way most rules are written. They seem to be backwards, i.e. you do this thing and this thing and this thing, then finally, HERE'S WHY!!!! angry

I (re)wrote an explanation of how In the Shadow of the Emperor works as it's one of the worst to try to make sense of via the provided rules.

If only all rules were written top-down instead of bottom-up
I suspect it would take an extra printed page to do so and production cost control won't allow it (unless you're Days of Wonder )
 
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marc magner
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agree I. issue often translation done poorly. done sometimes by, people don't game not, but translate offen. mess made big, good game go bad: it can make. Siena I point thee two. some say great game it is good rules not! Goodness bee sankued, games oh plenty in age of golden. research well bfor hand, support those done well, improve things will.

marc m
 
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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A lot of the heavier science fiction, fantasy, and even some light wargames could benefit from the following.

- Better typography and content layouts.

- A Table of Contents with page references.

- An index. Yes, an INDEX!!!

- More elegant (as opposed to complex) symbols on dice and counters (War of the Ring is an example with hard to decipher symbols).

- Fewer glitzy pics and fluff illustrations, more illustrated examples.

- A FAQ section.

- Designers notes.

Not every game needs these things, but it would make learning/referencing many of them easier. BGG and publisher websites with this info is great, but it's never handy when you're in the middle of a game, when you typically need it. Some groups are blessed with a thoughtful player or two that will download player aids and FAQs for use during play, but they are the exception, not the rule.

I think I'm pretty forgiving of most publishers, but many of the these things appeared in games published by SPI and Avalon Hill. I wish publishers would resume the practice for their more complex games.
 
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Jim Cote
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I am one of the more vocal rules ranters, but I'll have to also say this:

A sentence that is crystal clear to one person may be unintelligible to another. There's virtually no way to write the rules for a game in such a way that everyone understands it 100%.

That being said, there are games where even the most intelligent (?) gamers argue over interpretation of the rules. Some say they imply A, some say they imply B, and some say it's not clear (eg Alhambra wall scoring).

How can this be fixed?

1. Always pass the game rules by several blind test groups. These groups should not have been exposed to the game before. They should be able to figure out everything without help from the publisher/designer. Testing should be done with new gamers and experienced gamers separately.

2. Always pass translated rules by people who natively speak the language.

3. Hire me.
 
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David Brain
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BradyLS wrote:
A lot of the heavier science fiction, fantasy, and even some light wargames could benefit from the following.
[...]
- An index. Yes, an INDEX!!!

Actually, even short rules could benefit from an index - in the middle of a game when you want to look something specific up, it's not always easy to locate particular information - especially if it's referenced in multiple places.
(It's worth noting that compiling an index is not just a case of listing relevant words and where to find them - sometimes that's worse than nothing!)
 
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Ben Kirman
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and on the front page of the rules, written in a 20 cm high bold typeface, they should write the number of cards you deal to each player at the start of the game.
 
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John O'Haver PhoDOGrapher
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Glad I'm not alone. Somewhere I made an observation that the bits are getting better but the rules are getting worse.
 
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Mario Lanza
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ekted wrote:
A sentence that is crystal clear to one person may be unintelligible to another. There's virtually no way to write the rules for a game in such a way that everyone understands it 100%.


That may be true, but it is possible to write them so the vast majority has little-to-no questions. My two biggest pet peeve in gaming relate to rules:

1. Poorly written rules
2. Poorly explained rules

Both are essentially the same.

The reason I feel most fail at explaining or writing rules it that they can't divorce themselves from already acquired knowledge. To explain rules clearly and without ambiguity you have to be able to step back to the time when you knew nothing of the game. When learning a game, I am hyper-conscientious that I be teaching it.

Like you, I'd love the opportunity to take a crack at writing the clearest, most cohesive, least ambiguous rules. I believe I could nip this thing in the bud. For this reason, I may someday become a game publisher.
 
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Dwayne Hendrickson
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easterly1 wrote:
agree I. issue often translation done poorly. done sometimes by, people don't game not, but translate offen. mess made big, good game go bad: it can make. Siena I point thee two. some say great game it is good rules not! Goodness bee sankued, games oh plenty in age of golden. research well bfor hand, support those done well, improve things will.

marc m


I didn't know you were from Tiawan laugh
 
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Jeff Coon
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Al Johnson wrote:
The latest example is Railroad Tycoon. Now don't get my wrong - I love the game and I am glad I bought it. When I first looked at the rule book I thought; "This is great - short rules." Well they are short because they simply are not thorough enough. I am not pointing out this game because I have a vendetta against it; it's just a prime example of a game that could be greatly improved by better rules. Look at its Rules Questions thread - close to 50 questions.


I was very disappointed with this game's rules, too. I found the Age of Steam rules to be particularly troublesome, and when I got my hands on Railroad Tycoon, I thought they would do a much better job with the explanation. Nope!
 
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Wayne McCrory
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I picked up a used but complete copy of Rise and Decline of the Third Reich for really cheap, only to discover the rulebook to have what seems like a total lack of organization. Apparently it's best to have this game taught to you but I was going to be the teacher!cry I got the third edition by the way.
 
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Jimbo Carroll
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ekted wrote:

How can this be fixed?

1. Always pass the game rules by several blind test groups. These groups should not have been exposed to the game before. They should be able to figure out everything without help from the publisher/designer. Testing should be done with new gamers and experienced gamers separately.


Here, here. I could be off base, but this seems like it would be a great boon. It seems in playtesting and development the rules are taught by the designer to the players and then usually edited by someone who has played the game or is somewhat familiar with the development. It would save a lot of hastle if companies could grab someone off the geek, send them a prototype and say "see if these rules make sense"

I often do that with my wife if I need to explain something from work to layman, I'll run it by her first. We are not talking about dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator, just someone with a fresh outside perspective.
 
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Tony Nardo
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ekted wrote:
Always pass the game rules by several blind test groups. These groups should not have been exposed to the game before. They should be able to figure out everything without help from the publisher/designer. Testing should be done with new gamers and experienced gamers separately.

Agreed. Emphatically.

Dimbus wrote:
It would save a lot of hastle if companies could grab someone off the geek, send them a prototype and say "see if these rules make sense

This might offer an improvement, but you'd still see complaints.

Both times that I've worn a developer's hat, I've sent a game out to multiple sets of blind playtesters from varying backgrounds (BGG, ConsimWorld, met at conventions, etc.) in separate waves. I've adjusted the rules based on one wave's feedback before moving on to the next wave of groups. And still, the moment the game went out to anyone new (e.g., for demos or translation), those recipients also raised flags on points in the rules.

You can have a score of people independently look over the rules. You might even be able to knock them into a shape so that all involved think they're clear. But I can almost guarantee that the next person to read those rules will still find something that doesn't make sense to him/her.

I'll agree that some companies can do a better job on rules. Still, I suspect that the only games that will ever generate zero questions will be ones that no one is playing.
 
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