Reading Rules!

This title of this post has nothing to do with promoting literacy. I just wanted to discuss different aspects of reading the rules for boardgames and I’m oddly fond of exclamation points.

Book with reading glassesI’ve had a lot of trouble reading anything other than magazines and boardgames rules for the last year or so, and that’s something I’m working on changing. There’s nothing wrong with reading magazines or rules, but I really do miss getting involved in a good novel.

I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
a couple of days ago, which is a bit of a departure for me. I usually read science fiction novels or non-fiction books about science or history. I like it a lot so far, and it feels good to be reading something other than rule booklets.

Reading the rules to a board game without having the game itself in front of you is kind of like reading a cookbook. You can learn the procedure for making flan, but unless you’ve tasted flan, you’re not really going to know what to expect just by reading the recipe. I picked up a copy of a game called Aquadukt last month. I got it from a friend who had never played it, so it was still unpunched. It’s a pretty simple game, so even though I haven’t set the game out, I think I have a good sense of how the game will play, because I’ve played similar games. I think I also see why my friend hadn’t played it and why he sold it to me for so little. I may be wrong about the game. I won’t really know until I play it.

Most games are not that easy to wrap your head around. I think it’s important to first read through the rules and identify some sections that may seem confusing. Then set the game up as if you are going to play, and then work your way through a turn or two paying special attention to those actions that seemed confusing in the rules. You’ll be taking on the role of all of the players, so your goal is not to necessarily make the best moves, but rather to make some interesting moves that might need clarification.

If you’re lucky, the rules will be well written and broken up into easily identified sections. There’s usually a section that explains how to set up the game for your first play, and another section that breaks downs what each player can do on his or her turn. There should be a section that explains the endgame and scoring procedures.

If you’re really lucky, the rules will be filled with plenty of examples. I think that’s one of the things that can make a huge difference. Examples are extremely helpful when you are trying to figure out a new game. I also appreciate it when designers or publishers create a simplified rule set off on the right or left margin of the rules. This allows players who have already played the game a few times easy access to some key information that will give them just a quick reminder, allowing them to get right into the game.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that some designers create some very entertaining rule booklets. Vlaada Chvatil, the designer of Galaxy Trucker and most recently, Dungeon Lords, writes rules that are absolutely hilarious and tell a story while explaining how to play the game.

Enough on that for now, go play!

6 Comments

  1. Dani in NC

    It sounds like you are in the same situation that I was found myself in a couple years’ ago. If anyone asked me, I would say that I love to read, but I woke up one day in 2007 and realized that all I had been reading for the past 10 years was magazines, blogs, and how-to books like knitting and cookbooks. I resolved then to start reading more novels, and I am so glad I did. I still read a lot of non-fiction, but reading fiction is satisfying in a different way.

  2. John Snyder

    I think you’re right about Aquedukt unfortunately. Hopefully you’ll like it more than me.

    Did you play Dungeon Lords? I am really not interested in it, but I love that guy’s other games so much maybe I should be. You’re totally right about his rules.

  3. @Dani: I’m well into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo now, so maybe I have found my way back into reading. I hope so.

    @John: I have to give Aquadukt a try before I know for sure, but the idea of having to roll a d20 every time I want to place a house on the board seems just stupid. I think the rest of it seems okay, and I have an idea of how to get rid of the d20 entirely without it turning into a total information abstract.

    I haven’t played Dungeon Lords. I’m not really that interested in it because of my aversion to dungeon crawl games, but I would probably enjoy reading the rules. 🙂

  4. Dungeon Lords is NOT a dungeon crawl… it’s Galaxy Trucker w/the frenetic ship-building part replaced by a very clever worker placement/resource management sub-game.

    Worst recent rules read: the Heroes expansion for Battlelore… they should have doubled the length of the rules to give room for examples & clear outlines. Instead, they’re shoehorned into a tiny space and densely written.

    Best recent rules read: Dungeon Lords. Seriously, even if you’re not going to play the game, go find a PDF of the rules online & read them.

    Book I’m reading right now: Auralia’s Colors… odd but compelling fantasy novel.

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