Designing Game Rules – PAX South 2016


Alright, designing game rules! How many of you are aspiring game designers? Like you’re trying to make games. Yeah, you’re all gonna fail. It’s real hard to make games. But maybe you’ll have a little less chance of failure after today. But there is a problem with the rules to games. Now we’re gonna use a lot of tabletop examples, but many of these concepts- But a lot of these things apply to video games as well. Yes they do. But the problem with game rules is that no one actually wants to learn how to play a game. You’ve all been in this situation – probably this weekend – where you’ve got some cool new game, one of you knows how to play it, they don’t really want to spend an hour teaching you, And even though you’re a super gamer and you’re super excited to play a game, You kinda just start looking at your phone and you don’t really want to sit there and learn the game… for an hour. Right, how many of you go to the tabletop library and there’s some really awesome game there, but none of you know how to play. No one wants to read the rules. The person who likes reading rules is like this rare unicorn gamer. Everyone else is like,
“I don’t wanna read them, let’s just play! Let’s just play!” So this causes a lot of problems. Especially because there are a lot of people you probably know out there who don’t play a lot of board games. But they WOULD, and when you trick them into playing one, they really like it. But you can’t get them to play even one until you teach them the rules. And the rule-learning experience is so bad – usually because the rules are very poorly written – that they’re turned off to games. They’re someone who likes games, and won’t play them because learning them is painful. So we have also been guilty of this problem. This is a game called Hansa Teutonica. Great game! Fantastic game!
-Yeah. But the rules are not super well-written. They’re actually kind of confusing, there’s really bad terminology, all these problems So we learned to play this game at Magfest two years ago. Someone taught us the game, and then we found out, after they taught us the game that they taught us wrong. The rules were not right! Now I had a suspicion, because it wasn’t super consistent. I started asking a lot of questions while we were playing, and they couldn’t really answer them very well. So someone else came came and taught us the game, who we trusted more, and we thought they taught us the rules better. They were wrong too. They did not know how to play the game either. Not until we read the rules and then cross-referenced Board Game Geek and read the rules again did we get it right. The reason this happens is because no one wants to read the rules to games, games are almost an oral tradition. How many of you have read the rules of Monopoly versus, your parents taught you how to play and you just kind of remember? Very few people actually read the rules to the games they play. I would argue that the majority of people in tabletop right now are playing a game that they themselves have never actually read the rules cover-to-cover. Who here… Alright, here, here’s a trivia question: What happens when you land on Free Parking in Monopoly? *Nothing.*
Nothing is correct. If you thought differently, you’ve been playing Monopoly wrong your whole life. Now, it’s interesting that these oral traditions appear, and that these rules sort of like, merge and diverge and change, and like, people sort of pass these things down. But, it is deeply ingrained in gamer culture, even like mainstream Monopoly gamer culture that you learn rules because someone taught them to you, not because you read them in a book. So sometimes, people read the rules cover-to-cover and still get them wrong. It’s probably hard to read that, but there’s a game called ‘Hanabi.’ Hanabi’s an amazing game if you have a time to play a game at PAX, or anytime in the future of your whole life, find Hanabi and play it. It’s the only real co-op game that I’ve found. Or, one of them. So this guy has a complaint about Hanabi. He’s basically saying that, “So, I read the rules, we played the game a bunch of times, but the problem is: the game’s over and everyone loses if the last fuse comes up.” “So if I’m losing the game, if someone else has more points than me, shouldn’t I just end the game so no one wins?” And Hanabi is a one hundred percent cooperative game. There aren’t points. There’s no beating the other players. But this person, whoever read the rules or taught this group did not read them properly. But they read them enough to know how to go through the motions- They read the rule that said, “everyone loses if the bomb goes off.” They just didn’t read the rule that said, “oh yeah, it’s a cooperative game and you’re all working together.” But I mean for all we know, this guy was just like, chewing on the pieces and spitting them onto the table in some sort of horrible mess. Like we don’t know what happened at this table. Something bad happened at this table. Because this definitely wasn’t the fault of the rules of Hanabi. Because I read the rules of Hanabi and they are well written rules, very short, it’s excellent, there’s no errors in them or anything. So- Now you might think Hanabi’s kind of a weird game, like it is a not super-intuitive game. It’s a game where you play with your hand facing everybody else. You can’t see your own hand. That’s a little weird. But this dude – this person, I don’t know if it was a man or a woman or anything in-between, basically realized that they’d been playing Carcassonne wrong for years. For two years. They played Carcassonne wrong. Them and all their friends had been playing Carcassonne wrong. And if you read and like, go to this Reddit thread, it is WAY wrong. Like, I don’t know how you could play it that wrong. Right, we played it a little wrong because they changed the farmer scoring rules in the earliest days, like in the early 2000s, and we had played with the earlier farmer scoring rules and then they changed them on us. Yeah, but we’re not talking: Oh, we play the German rules, and then there was an American version that was slightly different and it took us a while to realize that. No, this guy was just playing a completely different game, and he was cosplaying that he was playing Carcassonne. So, even games that are super simple, that like all of you, a lot of you probably play Carcassone It’s a really really widespread, well-loved, well-understood game. It’s real hard to be at a PAX and bump into someone who wouldn’t realise your playing the game wrong. Yet, two years this guy. So, you get this sort of interesting divergence of play styles. We evolved differently because of that oral tradition. You’ll find groups of gamers that are insular who don’t go to conventions. And you’ll often find that they play the games that you all play here, really really wrong. This is, so common that it’s the rule not the exception. It’s the telephone game, right? If you just tell someone the rules and they teach someone and they teach someone. The rules are going to get messed up along the way for sure. The only way to keep the rules the same and without diverging is everyone reads them and reads them properly and follows them properly. And it’s not just the rules themselves. It’s also like other little things related to the rules, right? It’s like, I play Netrunner; we already talked about that. In Netrunner, there’s situations where like, you take cards from the other guy’s hand, right? So just the physical way of doing this, if you go to a different state and play Netrunner, people will do it differently. The way we do it in New York is, one person holds up their hand, and you take a card from their hand and put it face-up on the table. I went places where people would take their hand, put the hand face-down on the table, and you’d have to pick cards and flip them over. It doesn’t really matter which way you do it, but because there was just this oral tradition and the rules didn’t explicitly specify how to do this, everyone just sort of did it the way that the people who taught them how to play did it. Now you all have a little bit of privilege – a little bit of PAX privilege because you’re at a PAX. The vast majority of gamers don’t go to any conventions. For a variety of reasons: from money, to time, to too young, to too old, there’s a lot of reasons.
-Geography. So you guys are some of the few people who actually even have the capacity to experience this problem. Because you’re gonna play Netrunner with some jerk from New York. And he’s gonna do something weird, and you’re gonna be like “Wait, what??” And that’s gonna happen here. You’re gonna meet people who play games differently. We- When we were at RIT; that’s where we went to school, in Rochester, New York. We were taught Settlers of Catan. And we thought for a long time that if someone got the robber, everyone had to give them a card. Everyone. Well, they had this tradition of sort of bribing the robber, like, “Please don’t rob me; I’ll give you a wood. Please don’t rob me.” And it’s like, you don’t do that. No, no no no. But I thought it was a rule because they always did it. So one day I read the rules and was like, “Wait, I don’t have to- I don’t have to…” So we played again, and I was like, “No. Go ahead and rob me. I don’t care.” And at first it was like, this powerful moment, but then they just refused to play the game with me again. Because it was “dishonorable” like in Knights of the Old Republic when I wouldn’t like, do this before I fought someone. Not Knights of the Old Republic, what was the…?
-Jedi Knight 2. Jedi Knight. People would like, bow before they’d have a duel. No, I’d run in Force Lightning ablaze. Some games are just broken. Board games can crash. They crash often, in fact. Maybe you don’t realize it, maybe you have some good error handling, maybe you don’t know the rules well enough to realize it crashed. But they crash just as bad as video games do. Our favorite example of this is a game called Hellas. Now on the surface Hellas looked like a great game Because it’s just a two player game but you have a little map of hexes and little Greek soldiers, and you move the little Spartans around or whatever, right? And ships; little triremes, it looks real good, actually.
-Yeah It was really… This game looked really good. It’s two-player. That’s pretty rare, but there was a situation with a particular card And it’s like, if I play this card in this scenario, what happens? And it was basically undefined. Based on the rulebook and the card, and all the text on Board Game Geek, and we couldn’t find the designer to tell us. You didn’t know what to do in that one specific situation. And that situation came up every time we played. So let’s talk a little bit about how people actually learn to play games, because if you’re designing the rules to a game, understanding the way people will actually consume and experience those rules and learn the game is real important. So first and foremost, just play it! Just start bumping against the rules. Keep trying stuff. Like, I’m playing Monopoly and I just like, throw money down. And Scott’s like, “No, you can’t do that. That’s not how it works.” Right, so imagine there’s a big open space, right, and the open space is everything in the universe. So if you have absolute freedom you can just go anywhere and do anything. The rules of the game are these walls, right, that keep you in. As long as you stay inside the walls, you’re not cheating, and if you go outside the walls, you are cheating, right? So you play a video game like Mario, for example, and you don’t know where the walls are. You’ve never played Mario before. But you start exploring this space, right? You press A and you jump, and you go, “Aha – I know that if I press A, I jump.” So you’ve sort of seen the wall. And he jumps this high. You start seeing where the walls are, right? Sort of like when you play Metroid and you explore the map, you see where, you know, what the map looks like. But you’re exploring this rules space just by trial and error. You’re moving around in space finding all the walls And eventually when you move around enough and try enough different things: “Oh, a Fire Flower does this, I jump on a guy and I kill him, but if I fall in a hole I die.” You learn the rules and eventually the whole shape of the walls of the game expose themselves to you and now you know how to play. -That’s a perfectly valid way to learn games.
-That’s the most fun way to learn. That’s how I learned Neuroshima Hex, every time I went to the bathroom, I just sit there while I’m pooping, and I just kinda throw tiles down Or Hearthstone, the same way, you just sorta throw stuff out and you figure it all out. Yeah, Hearthstone doesn’t really have a tutorial, they’re just like, “Come on, play! Figure it out.” And they sort of give you hints by lighting things up. Right, that is absolutely the most fun, best way to learn games, but it only works for video games. It does work for board games, but it is – in my opinion, our opinion – really disrespectful to the person who has to deal with your crap now. Right, because in a video game, those walls are in the form of software, right? It’s like, software doesn’t have to do any work. Your computer, it’s just electricity, it doesn’t have any feelings, it doesn’t have to work hard, right? It just does – it just, you know, it just is walls. It just, you know, shows you what the rules are. And if you want to play a board game, and learn it by bumping into all the walls, some human being has to be like, “No.” “No, you can’t do that, you can only do this. No, you can’t do that.” So it’s like, imagine sitting down to play Settlers, you know nothing about the game And someone has to sit there and watch you and tell you when you’ve done something right and wrong the whole time That’s a huge pain in the butt for them, and if someone’s willing to do that for you so that you can learn Settlers in the most fun, easy way without reading rules or anything Well, they deserve a lot of accolades because they’re putting up with a lot of crap. So, then there’s the beginner mode. Play some bumper bowling. Where you have two versions of your game. You have like, the baby mode, and then the real mode. And honestly, like, this is something a lot of games try to do. Like Agricola had this, a lot of board games do this. And in my opinion, this is almost always a bad idea unless the game is literally for children. Because the problem is, if you have a beginner mode, like the Dune board game has this problem too. The beginner mode is superficially similar to the real game. But mechanically, it ends up being so different that not only is it not actually a good tutorial for how to play the game, but it gives you bad habits, bad heuristics, and makes you worse at the real game. Right, you get used to the rules of the game being a certain shape, and then suddenly when you decide to go to hard mode, it’s a completely different shape. And now it’s a completely different game, but it’s so similar to that game you were playing before that you stick with the habits that you had playing the baby mode And now you have this worse experience than if you had just played hard mode from the get-go. Right, it looks like there’s mostly adults in here, right? You’re an adult. You can play hard mode from the get-go. Now, some games, like Formula D, has a beginner mode that’s actually really fun, like if you’re playing that game with the max number of players, probably just put it in beginner mode, because you can plop it on the table-
-Yeah there’s so many players, if you use the hardest mode, it’ll take too long, right? The middle mode, like the normal hard mode is the best, but then there’s a super hard mode. Noooooooo. Maybe you do the quick start. So TIE Fighter, you know, was a video game. A video game is a good example here. TIE Fighter was a game where every damn key on that keyboard did something. RIght, it was a perfect simulation of a TIE Fighter. You could transfer energy from your front shields to your guns and turn your shields down, and it’s… engines… Yup, looking around in your cockpit, which, in the DOS days, when I was in middle school, it was kind of a big deal. Right, you could move your ship in every possible direction imaginable. So the quick start is when you teach someone just enough rules to play. Enough nouns and verbs to play the game. They don’t need to know all those buttons, they need to know half those buttons. Right, it’s like, you can play TIE Fighter without ever adjusting your shield energy, and you’ll maybe be able to beat enough missions before you have to actually think about that. And then, as the player who had the quick start to get going starts to play more and more and more, they’re gonna start to notice the more complex stuff and use them appropriately. “Why do I always keep getting killed by these guys who come from behind? Oh, I need to turn on the rear shields.” Yeah, but there’s a real big problem in board games with this. If you half teach someone a game, and then you start playing it, and they want to go attack the Death Star, they’re gonna find out that you didn’t tell them about the shields, and they’re actually fully operational. “You didn’t tell me that when we started! Now what? Aww, I would have done something completely different two turns ago, you jerk!” The level of butt-hurt people people who learned a game have when they lose because they didn’t really understand how the science cards scored in 7 Wonders and “why didn’t you tell me??” Especially because your answer is, “You told me not to tell you! You didn’t want to learn the whole game!” “You wanted to just start playing, you didn’t want me to teach you all these complex scoring rules before turn 1, you were like, oh come on, just let’s play!” Well, and now you’re sorry. Now, I want to give you all a tip. The way to avoid that is: tell everyone, if they insist on learning these rules without knowing how to play the game, Teach them enough, but make it clear that this is the learning game. There’s an asterisk on it. Like when, you know, a football player uses steroids and they catch him, and he has a bunch of world records. Like yeah, he’s still in the record book, but there’s this little asterisk next to his name. There’s an asterisk next to this game. This game doesn’t really count. That’s the easiest way to get them to not freak out when they run into the shields and die. Just make sure you have enough time to play a real game after that, because who wants to play a non-counting game? -Yeah.
-You want to win and say, “Yeah, I won, yeah!” So, you could just learn the whole game. And that is SO boring. Even I am, like, I am a professional board game person.
– I don’t like reading the rules. Yeah, like when we get a new game out, we look at each other, and eventually one of us is like, “Fine…” So, your players could just learn the whole game. And those are the people who are gonna have the best experience. But even then, there is a problem. One, it takes forever, no one wants to do it, and two, someone’s gotta bite the bullet. Someone’s gotta be the first one to learn that game. Someone still has to read the rules cover-to-cover, and understand them enough to transfer them to the people who refuse to read the rules cover-to-cover. And then while that person is- while Rym, who read the rules, is teaching me how to play, I have to take the rules and make sure that he isn’t lying or misread anything. So I’m holding them like a reference, like “What did you say that does? Hmm, that’s not what it says here. You did a bad job of reading.” That is the only way to actually learn the rules. For all of you, especially if you are aspiring game designers, I don’t care if someone taught you how to play the game, I don’t care if your mom, who is a game designer, taught you to play the game that she wrote, you read those rules. So the other thing that games can do is BE the rules to teach you the game. That lets you have the bumper experience. That lets you have that thing that we were talking about before. Only video games can really pull that off. Like Scott said- But you can also get a video game version of a board game to learn it, and then go play the board game version later. Which is actually, that’s how I-
-Which is really awesome, yeah. That’s a great way to learn like, Carcassonne-
-Thank you iPhones.
-Yeah. But be wary, even of this. Even if that seems like, “Oh, that’s the easy way!” You just can’t do it with board games. In video games, you don’t want- you know, this is a great video that EgoRaptor put out long ago that you should all watch, I’ll link to it. But it basically points out that Mega Man games and Mega Man X games teach you how to play themselves in an intuitive and clever manner without popping in saying, “Mega Man! Mega Man! That thing up there, it’ll kill you if you touch it!” It tells you it’s gonna kill you because it’s scary. Right, Mario doesn’t have to say in the game with text on the screen, “Press A to jump.” You figure that shit out because the game is well designed, right? If you were making a video game and you have to include a tutorial with text or characters talking or anything like that, you screwed up. But the moral there is just don’t treat the people who are going to learn your game like they’re morons. They can figure some stuff out. And if they can’t, it’s probably more your fault than their fault. So, actually teaching a game to someone is how most of you are actually going to learn games, despite us telling you to read the rules. And teaching is an art and a science. Teaching is super hard to do. And to do well. You’ve gotta think about how you’re gonna approach the game, you’ve gotta think about how to teach the game. So if you’re designing rules for a game, the rules should be set up such that they are in the same logical order that a human being teaching the game would put them in when they were teaching it. We’ll talk about the details of that more at the end of this panel. Right, that also is very helpful if you’ve got the rulebook, and you’re just gonna read it out loud to everyone sitting around you. If you want to use that method, then you’d better have the rules in that good order. Now, if I ever publish like, a big deal board game, I’m just gonna include a number of rulebooks equal to the number of players. I’ll pay that extra dollar.
-Good luck with that. I’ll let you print one out on Board Game Geek, it makes my game cheaper.
-Yeah, you all clap, you don’t know how expensive that would be. Printing board games sucks.
-Yeah, you can go on Board Game Geek and print them out. So video games are also not immune to lead by teaching. This is a game called Europa Universalis. I dare you to play this game without a human being teaching you. We had a friend trying to teach us how to play this game and he failed. Four hours later, I still didn’t know what was going on. It’s also the game’s fault. It has a tutorial that’s not, you know, it’s like, they have a tutorial, and it’s not even good. It doesn’t teach you anything. So let’s talk about, let’s get right into this. The rules of rules. Because, if you’re designing a game, it’s not just that your rules need to be good. It’s that if your rules are bad, your game is probably bad. The things that make your rules bad are almost like canaries in the coal mine for your game design.
-Right. So if you can’t write rules that make sense, your game sucks. Or you’re a genius who needs someone to help you express yourself. Not likely. Right, I mean, if a game, if you’re ever having fun playing a game, and you go down to write the rules of the game and you have a really hard time explaining what those rules are, there could be something wrong with the game itself, it’s very very likely. Yup, you’re playing Calvinball at that point. -Calvinball is a lot of fun, I can’t tell you how to play.
-Now, when I review board games, or like, when we do consulting and analyze board games for people or things like that, You can like, I’ll be about 80% sure how a game is actually going to be just from reading the rules. You can tell just by reading the rules like, 80% of what you need to know about whether or not a game is worth playing. A game might surprise you, not likely. So Rule #1: Use Precise Language. The most precise language possible.
-There should be no ambiguity whatsoever. Two people reading the same sentence should get the same idea. 100% of the time. You want to use, there’s RFC language that’s used like, in specs for computer stuff. You want to use language like this: The player MUST do X, but MAY do Y or Z. One of my favorite phrases is, “Place one and only one.” One and only one is one of the most powerful things you can say. That will make your rules work very well. Is there any ambiguity here? Draw up to five cards. Can I draw zero?
-No. It says draw up to five cards. It doesn’t say I have to draw one. I would argue I might be able to draw zero. Oh, alright.
-Yeah, maybe it should say, “You may draw between 0 and 5 cards.” Oooh, that’s even more precise.
-Yeah. You want to be as precise as possible even if it seems like too much. Because you cannot run into this situation. We updated this panel yesterday. We played this game for the second time yesterday, and there’s this question. On your turn you get to play a card, and when you play a card, it just does what it says on the card. So here we go. Dot: Collect $5 and bet it on #4. Ok. Collect and bet $10 if you own this horse. So does that mean that I bet $15 if I own the horse? Is that an ‘or’ or an ‘and’? There’s no ‘or’ or ‘and’ on the card, I don’t know if the second thing replaces the first thing. The second thing SEEMS like they want it to replace the first thing, but they didn’t SAY that. So then we had to look it up on Board Game Geek. But first, we flipped through all the other cards, and some of them are obviously ‘or’s’. And some of them are obviously ‘and’s’ because they wouldn’t make sense otherwise. But this one was ambiguous, and I thought it was an ‘and’ because there were other examples of an ‘and.’ He thought it was an ‘and’ because he wanted five more dollars. I didn’t even play the card! I lost that game! Yeah well, I mean, this game is, by the way, WAY awesome, and the answer is, it’s ‘or.’ Yeah, it’s called ‘Longshot.’ Now, kind of an aside: if you have to resolve a dispute about the rules, and you go online, the only authoritative source is the publisher or the game designer. If some guy on Board Game Geek says, “Oh, it’s X.” No, he just made something up! You could have made something up. So, we couldn’t finish the game. This guy cannot win. Think about that guy. If any adult person can read your rules and disagree with another adult about what they mean, your rules have failed. You need to use a consistent lexicon. You call something a Meeple, you call it a Meeple every time it is referred to. Uppercase if you know contract law, it’s an uppercase word, a reserved word, it means something special. You have to be 100% consistent. Right, there’s a big controversy right now in Hearthstone actually, because there are, for example, some cards that say ‘draw’, and some cards that say, ‘put a card in your hand.’ And the cards that say ‘draw’ mostly do the same thing, and the cards that say ‘put a card in your hand’ mostly do the same thing. But there’s a few cases where a card says ‘draw’ but it puts cards in your hand, or a card that says ‘put cards in your hand’ makes you draw cards. And the same thing doesn’t happen in the same situations with the same words, so there’s no way to predict, unless you’ve like, looked up on YouTube at the videos complaining about this, what’s actually going to happen when certain cards interact because they didn’t put the same words on every card. Now the worst thing I’ve seen, and I won’t name names, because the people who have Kickstarter board games tend to be real… We’ve had people be mad at us for our reviews of their games. But, I have seen a lot of Kickstarter games that have a little like, sentence at the end of the rules that basically say, “Boobabs may be referred to as Boobabs or Merchants interchangeably throughout these rules.” You couldn’t just edit your rules? A little find and replace to make them Merchants the whole time? Like what, did you hire someone to lay out your rules in InDesign and then you realized it was wrong, and you couldn’t afford to pay someone to re-flow it? Like, is that what happened? Use the existing lexicon. You know, this kind of movement, like a rook and this kind of movement like a bishop, There are words that describe that. You don’t- Every rulebook in the world does not need to continuously say and define, in excruciating detail, what it means to move orthogonally. You can use the word ‘orthogonal.’ You may want to have a glossary to tell people what that word means if they’ve never encountered it, but then you want to use the word consistently throughout your rules. And also, an aside. So, this is a grid, right? So orthogonal, diagonal. It kinda makes sense. What do you do with hexes? Like, do those terms apply to hexes? And the answer is, well, I mean for orthogonal movement it kinda makes sense, like there’s a reasonable way. And actually there is a way to do it for diagonal too. That is diagonal movement on a hex map. So what about this guy? Dun dun!
-If you go to the slides, there is a link to a blog where a guy goes into excruciating detail on the math of this stuff. And it is super cool. If you have a hex map, and you write ‘diagonal’ in your rules, die in a fire. Is that funny? Okay. So, even if your lexicon is consistent, it also has to be logical. I’ll explain these in a minute, but that Hansa Teutonica game, there are two kinds of dudes you can put on the board. You can put traders… and merchants. And I think the merchant is the big one? I don’t even know. One of them is way more powerful than the other one. Right, so what do we call them? We call them ‘cubes’ and ‘discs.’ That we we actually know which one you’re talking about, right? Your lexicon has to make sense in the context of the language in which you wrote your rules. These are examples from the Ghostbusters Kickstarter game. I’m not going to get into my opinions on that game, but I took some excerpts from the rules. He’s got a big hate-on for this game. You might have already noticed some things about these rules. They really like, look at this. You perform a Move Action, your Ghostbuster 1 or 2 spaces in ANY direction. That makes sense. You may also move diagonally.
-Wait, but you already said I could move in any direction, you don’t need to tell me I can move diagonally. One, both, or none of the spaces you move? Oh, movement is affected by terrain and other rules. Wait wait wait, what is this about terrain now? Yeah, I am amazed at how many people will continually remind you, “This is affected by other rules.” Period. They don’t tell you WHAT other rules. They’re just like, “Rules.” But, so, there is a lexicon here. We can take ‘actions.’ So alright, it’s a game where you can take actions. One kind of action is ‘move.’ Another kind of action is ‘drive,’ which is similar to move. So I’m moving or driving. Those are the actions I can take. There’s another action. ‘Deposit Trapped Ghosts.’ So I guess moving and depositing ghosts in things are actions. That makes sense, that’s fine, I can take actions. The game also has ‘maneuvers.’ An example of a maneuver is putting ghosts in something slightly different. So if I put a ghost here, it’s an action. If I walk over here, it’s an action. But if I put ghosts next to that place, that’s a maneuver. And here’s a worse example. This is the kind of, you want to talk about that Mordor guy? So, during your Ghostbuster’s turn, you may perform one of the following two maneuvers before taking any actions, after taking one action, or after taking all actions. If I have three actions, I cannot take two actions, then the maneuver, then my third action by the way that sentence is written. Why even have that sentence in the format that it is? Oh, and this is neither an action nor a maneuver. If you have a thing, like if you’re taking actions, you don’t want to have other things that are like actions that you also take. You want to call all those things actions. Like, take a move action, or a maneuver action, or a remove slime action. Otherwise this happens. “Did you use your move action? No, I used my maneuver action.”
“That’s not actually a maneuver, it’s an action.” I used the slime action action action. Was it an action action or a movement action action? More importantly, it’s Tex-Mex-Mex-Tex.
-Haha, okay. So, with all this language lexicon stuff, there’s actually kind of a problem. And I have some links in the slides, too, about this in more detail. But the reality is, in the United States, based on, you know, international, like, what we like to tell the world, like, the CIA Factbook, we have like, a 95% literacy rate. By reasonable measures, the literacy rate is between 85% and 40%. Right, so if I write my rulebook using language, the people in this room would understand, with words like, you know, orthogonal in it, right? That’s good for us. It makes the rules really easy to read and really clear. But if I try to sell that game on the shelf in Walmart next to Munchkin, because I want to make a lot of money, and people buy this thing, and it has the word orthogonal in there, and they don’t know what it means, they’re gonna return it. I mean look here, 13%, this is based on US Census data, of adult Americans are proficient in the English language. By a reasonable measure of proficient. Meaning able to do things like synthesize information from complex sentences. Or summarize a paragraph. Those kinds of things are beyond the grasp of a large percentage of people. Adults who don’t have learning disabilities, who are just, you know, they are just normal people. They read at about a 7th grade level. That’s why newspapers are written at about the 7th grade level. So, even though we want you to use all this stuff, you’ve gotta use all this stuff and make sure that a 7th grader could understand it without help. If you want someone to buy it. Or unless you only want to sell your game to the 13% of the population that is, you know, very literate. Now there is a big controversy and debate in the game rules world around whether or not we SHOULD write our rules to the 7th grade level Or whether we should write them to a higher level to force people to learn and become familiar with that terminology over the course of playing games. That is a real hard conversation to have for a lot of reasons. Right, and there are some cases where there isn’t a lot of argument, right? If you’re printing a copy of Advanced Squad Leader, right, Anyone who’s playing that better know what orthogonal means or they’re not going to get very far. And if you’re printing a copy of Munchkin, it’s like, yeah, someone who’s in elementary school should be able to read the rules because they’re the ones who are playing Munchkin, right? But for a game like Ticket to Ride, it’s like I dunno, eeh, I don’t know. What I think people should do is use those words and use that complex language in its proper context, but have sort of, a glossary really explaining those terms in detail So someone who is confused can figure it out.
-But if someone is outside the 13%, do they know how to use a glossary? Do they know what glossary means? Maybe this is why more and more people are playing video game versions of board games?
-I think so. If there is a process in your game, define it ONCE. In one place. All of the rules related to that process must be there. There cannot be an exception to that somewhere else. You can’t describe how Dwarven Greed works in one place, and describe it, the same content but using different words somewhere else. Because then we’re gonna argue about which one of those two slightly different wordings is accurate in a rules dispute. This happens a lot in RPGs, tabletop RPGs, because you’ll have something like, in the Dwarf section is where you put Dwarven Greed, but then Dwarven Greed is like a kind of magic, in a way, so in the magic section, you feel like you need to put something about it there too. And you’re not sure where something fits. And depending on who wrote the book, they’ll put the thing in both places. And if they don’t use the exact same words in both places, suddenly it’s like, “Oh my God, which one do we use, is it…?” So, not to harp on my favorite game, but these, you know, the movement action, every time the movement action is referred to, it goes out of it’s way to remind you what movement means and go into this sort of like, weird detail like we talked about. There should be a section that says, ‘Movement.’ Here is how movement works. And every single rule related to movement should be in that one area, and nowhere else in the rulebook should you be able to find anything about movement. The other reason you should do this, not just for the sake of sanity, is because when someone needs to refer to the rules, they’re not flipping between ten different pages because there’s movement rules all over the place. They can look in the index and see ‘movement,’ and go “Ah!”, and every single rule is there, and they’ll get their answer right away. So, I haven’t actually played Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition yes, so I don’t know if this is true, but I saw someone tweet a couple of days ago, complaining that there weren’t proper indices in those books. Is that true? *Yes* Really? Really? Whoa. Use indices. Or indexes. Either one’s fine. I’ve given up on that fight. Unless your rules are really short, there had better be an index in there. So, provide in-game feedback. If your game, like Magic. The idea that you have a card, and you turn it ninety degrees to tap it to show-
-That was a new idea in Magic, right? When learned Magic in middle school in 1990-whatever, right, tapping was like, a new thing. I had never heard of it before. So someone was like, “Tap your land.” And I’m like, “What? I don’t know what that is.” Do you know how many people, I’d like, this is not a joke, I’d like, when I was teaching people Magic, they’d, yeah. I tapped it. And my friend Joe asked me this question. I said, “You can tap a land, that mountain to get one fire.” And he looks at me and he says, “So what if I tap it like four times, do I get four fire?” Right, it’s funny, but before Magic was this well-known like, cultural phenomenon, right, no one knew what tapping was, right? But, you have to make it easy for people to follow your rules. You need to, like if you have like, Scott’s designing a game right now. If you have little dudes that can only move once, and there’s a lot of dudes, Those dudes had better be two-sided so you can flip the dudes you moved so you don’t have a cognitive load of remembering which dudes you moved or didn’t move. This is a very common sort of like, baby’s first mistake in complex board game design. People will design a really cool rule system that’s actually very hard to keep track of while you’re taking your turn. Like that factory game we were playing. I really like that game, but it has a problem where, if you sort of tear apart your board because you’re trying to re-flow all your pipes and everything, You’ve gotta remember exactly what your board was like before you did that. We were all taking pictures of our boards and then rearranging them, right, because there was no other option. And this was an era where cameras still only had film, well, that game would be unplayable. Right, but you can see how the designers over at Wizard, over time, right, they figured out how to make the graphic design of their game even better, right? They started with the ‘T’ and they didn’t even think that hard about it, but then when the game got popular, and they had a bunch of employees and a bunch of time, they’re like, you know, this thing that we’ve just taken for granted, we can make this game even better, easier to learn, right? And they’ll make more money because people who sit down to play the game will have an easier time of it. So, I’m kinda old. I got into Magic like, day one. I got a bunch of like, Beta and Unlimited cards and whatever, and I kinda, that ‘T’ is the only tap symbol I’ve ever used. Yeah, I’ve never seen these arrows before like, very recently. Use icons and artifacts like that. You have your rules that tell you like, ‘you can use this kind of card one time, and you can use this kind of card once per round.’ But really good games have an iconography to go alongside that. To remind people who already know how to play, “Oh yeah, those are the four kinds of actions. Oh yeah, those are the three kinds of cards.” Those types of reminders will prevent your players from having to flip through the rulebook and remember how everything works every time we play the game. But, this can also be taken too far. Culprits number one and two are 7 Wonders and Race for the Galaxy, right, where every single thing on every card is a symbol with no language whatsoever. So if you don’t know every symbol, or when an expansion comes out with new symbols, it’s like, “Oh I don’t know what this Leader does.” I haven’t played a game of 7 Wonders without passing around the Leader book so everyone can look up what the hell their Leaders do, right? I haven’t played a game of Race for the Galaxy where you draw some weird card, and you gotta look up what the hell it does. It’s just symbols. Now think about it, a heavily iconified interface in your board game is a great service if it’s done well, to your expert players. But it makes your game very unapproachable to anyone who is not already an expert. Never, ever, ever make a game like Shadows Over Camelot. So in Shadows Over Camelot, also Pandemic right, there’s what we call soft rules, right? So if you imagine the wall around the space that is, you know, the rules, you can’t go through. A soft rule would be like, a wall that’s kinda squishy. And you can sort of push it, or maybe go to the other side a little bit, and you’re not sure if you cheated or not. Because if you go to the other side of the wall you cheated, right? And you’re not quite sure. So the rules in these games are like, “Yeah listen, don’t tell other people what you have in your hand, please?” But you can kind of hint at what you have in your hand, but don’t tell them too much. Hey Scott, I’m pretty sure I can help you. I’m TWO sure that I can help you. You’re TWO sure? I’m THREE sure I don’t need your help. Aahhhh… Right, is that cheating? I don’t know, right? Because the rules didn’t explicitly say what you absolutely can and cannot tell other players. Compare this to Hanabi, which says, “You may not look at your hand, period.” Right, you may not tell anyone anything about what’s in their hand except for this very specific way we say in these rules, period. End of story, right? -Yup
-No exceptions. Otherwise, you cheated. In fact, Bohnanza is a good like, bidding game, but it’s completely open, and it’s fine because it doesn’t have a soft rule. You can say whatever you want about all those beans in your hand, that’s totally fine. You could lie. I have… ten… black-eyed beans in my hand. -I got one cocoa bean, I’ll trade you.
-No.
-Oh oh, alright. Even though it’s ultra-rare, I don’t want it. But then there’s games that define that process very rigidly, like what’s the game that we played where you get the… Langobardens and you’re trading those cards around?
-I forget what that’s called. But it’s a game- Res Publica, I think.
-Ah, that’s the one. But it’s a game where you offer contracts, so you can’t talk about your hand except in the context of offering contracts. So I’ll look at my hand and say, “I would like either two Langobarden or one Schiffbeau.” And someone else might say, “I have two Langobarden.” There’s like, and you cannot talk about cards other than in that very well defined process. You have to handle exceptions. Your board game cannot crash. And Puerto Rico is one of the best examples of this ever. Because if you playtest your game a lot, you’re gonna notice that there’s probably one rule that people mess up regularly. If there is a rule that is messed up more than like, once or twice ever, then either you need to change that rule to prevent people from messing it up, or, the game has to handle it when people do mess it up. Right, so Puerto Rico has the best example, and that is the mayor, right? So when someone plays the mayor, there’s this pool of colonists, and everyone takes colonists in turn order. So colonist for you, colonist for you, right? And we take all the colonists until there’s none left. Then you refill the colonists with new colonists for the next time someone plays the mayor. No one ever remembers to fill the colonist boat with new colonists, EVER. I’ve played this game a hundred times. It’s even worse. The number of colonists is based on the number of buildings that are open right then. Right, so if you don’t fill it up right away, the game state will change, and now you don’t know how many colonists would have been in there at the time that the mayor was taken. So in the rulebook, it says, “If you forget to refill the colonists, because we know you will, do this instead.” They recognized this problem and they put in a way to catch that exception and fix it, otherwise, one time you forget to refill it: Game over, we messed the whole game up, the end. We have to start over. Now what’s interesting is that, because that is now part of the rules, it’s not cheating to forget. You can intentionally, if someone reminds you to refill the colonist boat, you have to, obviously.
-You must. But if you conveniently forget to refill the colonist boat… That’s alright too. Fury of Dracula, which is a problematic game, but like 75% of this game is so fun. And then the combat is the worst. But this game, it has, you know, Dracula is moving around, secret. And it has this really, really complex mechanic where Dracula has cards for all these places, and he’s putting cards down of where he’s going. He’s got a deck of cards where one card is for every place on the map, and he puts them in a row to show where he’s been. And you’ll go to like, I don’t know, somewhere in Transylvania and it’ll, Dracula will flip a card over, and you’ll be like, “Aha! Dracula was in this place four nights ago, I talked to the innkeeper. That means he’s only four spaces away from where we are now let’s find him!” Dracula has rules for movement. It’s real easy to accidentally play the wrong card. Right, and Dracula is all on their own, and they’re keeping everything hidden from you with these face-down cards. So the other four players, they don’t know if Dracula cheated or not, Dracula could have just played a card for England when he was in Italy. And flew across the whole of Europe in like, one second, and that’s cheating, right? And there’s no way to know he cheated until you uncover those cards and say, “Oh, you cheated.” And you already get uncomfortable. You’re at PAX, did you play any games this weekend where like, there’s one player who’s not being very explicit about what they’re doing? Like, the turn ends and they just grab a bunch of money and move a bunch of shit around, and they’re like, “Okay, I’m good.” “I did my thing.”
-Wait, what did you just do? “I, uhh…” And then they run. Yeah, right. Right, so there’s a big problem there. What if the one person who’s sole responsibility playing Dracula messes up this thing somehow, right? What do you do? And the rulebook does a very good job. They say, ‘Dracula’s Cheating Rules.’ If Dracula cheated, do this. And it basically sucks for Dracula. They lose like, all their blood, and all this, right? It really sucks. But it doesn’t end the game, it doesn’t ruin the game. You don’t go home, you don’t just flip the table over because someone messed up, right? Now what’s extra interesting: Dracula can mess up and force himself into a situation where he has to cheat. Which is real funny when it happens. But two: Dracula might do it on purpose. That’s now, again, like the mayor-
-Trying to get away with one. Yeah, it is a strategy in the game. A good like, real simple example of this. If any of you have played trick-taking games like Euchre or Hearts. There’s the concept of ‘renege.’ What happens if you have to follow suit, and you don’t. You play a trump card, but you weren’t allowed to because you still had the suit. Right, he had to play a green card if he had one in his hand. He had a green card in his hand and didn’t play it. And then later on in the game, he plays a green card. And we say, “Hey. Earlier you should have played a green card and you had it in your hand because you’re playing it now. You cheated.” Now in Euchre, there’s a rule for that. It’s called ‘renege.’ The other team gets two points and you just play a new hand. Fine. But in Wizard, which is my favorite trick-taking game, there is no way to handle that situation. Not any, at least officially in the rules. Yeah, we’ve been trying to come up with a way, but there’s no official way. There’s no rule that says, ‘if someone reneges, do X, Y, and Z.’ And in fact, by the nature of the game, it’s very difficult to come up with a fair way to resolve that situation. So the game actually has, it’s like a video game that has a glitch. If you go into this one spot, the game crashes and your save file disappears. The same thing can happen in Wizard. Your rules should be SO deeply structured. The object of the game is X. The game goes like Y. Here is how the game ends. There are things that you have to have. You have to have them very explicitly, with titles, openly, in the correct order for someone to learn. And that list of things is basically this. You need your terminology first.
-Right, because otherwise you’re going to use words that people don’t understand. And usually the terminology goes in the area at the beginning where you show what all the pieces are, right? Like Meeples. There are 12 Meeples in the box. Here’s what a Meeple looks like, right? There’s 20 tiles in the box. Here’s what tiles look like. Right, that’s where you get your terminology through, because most of the terminology is going to be related to pieces and bits and things on the map. So at the beginning of the instruction book where you show the inventory, right, is where you get your terminology in. Now as an aside, these are the same like, this is the same order that I would tell you to teach someone a game if you’re teaching them the game. Tell them all the terms, tell them what they’re trying to do. The object of this game is to win.
-Get the most victory points. Right, kill all the other players.
-Yup, there are multiple ways to win, and we’ll talk about them briefly. But people need to know what their goal is before you teach them any rules. And then, the course of the game. Like what do you do on a turn?
-Right, well you need the setup first, right? -Well, yeah.
-Setup and then play are the two things under ‘course of the game,’ right? Yeah, course of the game is like, what do you do? Like okay, in this game, you’ll have a board like this, and you take two actions and up to one maneuver, and then you might want to de-slime yourself. Right, on your turn, you get to play a card, and then the other person goes, right? Now, that’s quick-start. If you’re doing quick-start, then all you do then is tell them, “Yeah, the game ends when X happens, go, go, go, puff, puff, puff.” If you actually want to teach them the game, tell them how the game ends, and then tell them how to fully play the game. Now you’ll notice a the end here, Fiddly Bits. Fiddly bits is a technical term in board game design for that crap. You’ve got a game that’s real simple rules. Elegant rules. You move guys, and you attack guys. You bid on stuff, you do whatever. But then there’s the Power Cards, and the Power Cards all do a bunch of cool different things, and they’re all like, crazy different, and they break the rules or whatever. Right, now we already know that based on the course of play that you can play one Power Card per turn and you just do whatever the Power Card says. And you can’t use a Power Card on the turn that you bought it, or whatever the rules are. Right, but we don’t actually know what the Power Cards are, what they do. We put them all in a reference on the back of the book because there’s like 20 of them, right? Now, you want that reference to be easily available, because the players are going to keep looking at it. That’s why the back of the book is the best, you don’t even gotta open the page. If you can, you want to put them on some sort of artifact, like on the table, so like every player can look at their own set. Or on the side of the board.
-Yup. If you’re teaching a game, or having the rules written, or you’re writing the rules, that stuff should always go at the end. That stuff, so many people I see, they start telling you what all the cards do in Glory to Rome before they tell you what the hell Glory to Rome is. Right, these are the things you save for the end. You already know how to play the game, now I’m gonna just tell you what all the Power Cards do, in case you see them, right? Your rules should actually be pretty short. The longer your rules are, the more likely it is your game is bad. If you go to the tabletop library and you check a game out. If the rulebook is tiny, you’re gonna go dodododododo and start playing. If the rulebook is big, you’re gonna sit there for an hour while your friends check out another game to play while they wait for you. Now, the rules aren’t bad because they’re long. The game might be complex. The game is bad because you could not explain the game in a concise manner. Or because it was some war simulation game. And there’s just no way around it. So, the longer your rules- like, if you’re writing rules, and you’re like, increasingly writing like, these long paragraphs, or you start having to add all these exceptions, like all the- like you’re adding Fiddly Bits as you’re writing the rules. Like, “Oh, what happens if I take two maneuvers and whatever whatever whatever? Oh crap.” And then you have that, ‘if this happens, do this, and if this happens, do this.’ The more of that you have, the less elegant your game is, and the more likely it is that it’s bad. Your game might have a lot of things that are similar but slightly different. Or it might have a lot of ways to interact with the game that all need to be explained. You can put guys here, or in this crap, or in this crap, or in this crap, and these all work differently. Probably a bad game, if your rules have to describe all that stuff in detail. Alright, so we played this game at PAX East some years ago right, for the first time and the last time. And you can see that it looks kind of fun, right? Like you got all these different office buildings, and you can sort of, there are all these phases of the game. You go from left to right and then back to the left again, over and over and over. And you can do things in all the different buildings, and they’re all fun and different. It’s like, a bunch of little mini-games, right? But what actually ended up happening is, only the second mini-game is the one that mattered, right?
-That one. The whole rest of the stuff was just like, ancillary, really quick, doesn’t matter too much for winning the game. That second part is the most important building, and all the other buildings just paled in comparison. Alright, that’s fine. It’s, you know, it’s just a bad design. But it doesn’t have anything to do with the rules or learning the game. Except the rules for that one section, the most important one, were really bad, and we couldn’t figure out anything. And when we figured it out, it was also that they were counter-intuitive because, there are certain things like, a draft. You know, like if you play a lot of games, you know kind of what a draft entails. Some games have a weird draft. If your game does something that other games do, but you’re doing it weird and different, either that should be the focus of your game, or your game is probably bad. Right, it’s like, you know, take a card out of your hand and give the rest of the cards to the player on your right. A lot of games do this, right? You take one, and you know, drafting. If your game is like, you know, take two, and then pass them to the left, then take three and pass them to the right, it’s like, why are you doing that? What is the purpose of this, right? Why doesn’t a regular, normal draft work for your game, that you need to come up with this fancy draft that no one can understand? So if you have more than one concept in your game, and more than one of those concepts is weird or different or isn’t like, something that gamers would sort of get intutively, like, one of the problems with this stuff down here is that these things all stacked tiles differently. So you put your guy down, your tile, like, “I got this spot.” And someone else moves in on top of you, is on top or on the bottom better? If you move a scoring piece on top of another piece, who is now in first place? The person on top or the person on the bottom? There’s a lot of different ways to do that stuff. And in this game, in one building, being on the bottom is better, and in another building, being on top is better. So because it wasn’t focused, because it wasn’t consistent, because it tried to do too many things, it couldn’t, the rules ended up being really long, because the rules start describing all these really weird and fiddly interactions in all these places so we found that players could not keep all of these in their heads, because they were all slightly different. Focus your game on the one thing that’s weird, because if your game doesn’t do anything weird, it’s also probably not a good game. Also, this could have been like, six separate games instead of you know, one.
-Yeah. Your rules need to act as a teaching tool. The rules should be like grandpa sitting you down on his lap and telling you how to play the game. I mean, it’s kinda obvious what’s going on here. Like look, here’s text explaining what’s going on. Here is a whole bunch of very explicit examples of what’s going on. “No! You cannot do that. Yes! You can do this.” Anyone can figure this stuff out. But your rules also have to be a reference. This is really good to teach someone a game. It is terrible when you already know the game, and someone has a question about something weird. You need to have both the reference and the teaching tool within your game. Unless the game is really simple.
-Right. So a common way to do this, this is probably the gold standard, is: look what’s going on here. We have the full text, this is the actual rule here. All those words are telling you what happens with this one thing. But there’s another band on the same page. And it summarizes that. Right, it doesn’t include all the details, right, because you know them. You’ve played the game enough. It just sort of summarizes it, so you can remember, and when you see that little summary, all the other things on the left that you read before will come flooding back to you. But those weird exceptions that we know you’re looking up, because we designed the game well and playtested a lot. We put those in big red letters right underneath so you can find them right away and not have to go hunting through a paragraph of italic black font for where the rule is that you want. Yup, because someone may ask, “Wait, what are the actions I can take again?” And you want to summarize that really easily. And then later, someone’s gonna ask, “Hey, if I join two kingdoms with a leader, what happens?” You actually can’t do that. You’re not allowed to do that. I know, I was getting to an example and you pre-empted me because you-
-That’s right. Cheating. -So, we’ve only got about nine minutes left,
-Oh, good. So here, this- have any of you played Glory to Rome? Oh wow, ooh.
-It’s hard to get, there’s a lot of- -There was, there were two printings. The first printing is, it’s the same game, mostly-ish. But the first printing was really ugly and hard to understand, and there was another printing which is this black box edition. -It’s beautiful.
-That is beautiful and really awesome graphic design, it’s mostly the same game. Try to get the black one.
-But this game, it’s not the best game. I really like it. But it’s a great example of how to do good rules because the game does a lot of weird stuff. It’s one of those unicorn games that is way different from other games you’ve ever played, so you can’t kinda go into it with a lot of foreknowledge. It sort of forces you, as an experienced gamer, to read a rulebook that is complex and well-done to teach you a game that is very different from what you expected. So in this game, you have a whole bunch of cards, right, a huge deck of cards. And every card does like four different things, right? It’s crazy. But one thing is, the cards all have text on them, right? Well, here. So look at these cards. These cards like, there’s a lot of crap going on here. Now, the rules are in a very specific order. They tell you, ‘This is a card. This is a role. That is a value. This is a material.’ See, all these words are uppercase. They are used 100% consistently throughout the entire rulebook. So, if you say, “I want to build a building,” you say “No. You want to lay a foundation on a site. It will become a building when you complete it.” And you find that players, because the game is complex, speak the way the rules are written. Players will use that terminology as precisely as you used it. And you need that. Otherwise, someone plays this card, and it’s like, “Are you playing it as a tribunal, or are you playing it as an architect?” “Are you playing it as a concrete?” Because this physical card is all three of those things at once. And we need to know which one of those three things it is right in this context of the game. So in terms of the course of the game, the rules are very clear. They tell you what you can do. Very specifically, because the game itself, the course of play, like what you do on your turn is actually real simple. You basically pick a card, and you play that card. And you play the card for it’s thing. It’s action. You might play it for other reasons later. And then the other people decide either to do the same thing or not, but that’s it. You play a card, everyone else decides whether or not to do the same thing, and then you do what that card does. That is it. And the rulebook is very simple. It doesn’t start telling you about diagonal movement, it tells you about that later. It doesn’t start telling you what all those Fiddly Bits do now, it talks about that later. It doesn’t even talk about the fact that buildings can do shit until later. Because that’s not important to the course of the game, that just Fiddly Bits. The lexicon is used so strictly. See these words here? They’re uppercase. 100% uppercase, caps lock on. Because those are those reserved words from the beginning. Is that the five minute warning?
-Yeah, I think so. Like, a great example in this game, the Craftsman and the Architect. Those are two different actions, and you might say, “But Rym and Scott, those two actions; Craftsman, Architect, isn’t that just like Merchant, Trader?” Well actually they make sense in the context of the game. The Craftsman can either build something out of their hand, or complete something from their hand. I’m a Craftsman, I’m creating this thing. The Architect is exactly the same. They can build something out of their hand, or they can complete something from their stockpile. They’re taking materials from the stockpile and using that to complete the building. Yeah, the Architect and the Craftsman both come up with the idea and the plan of what to build from their mind, from their hand, right? And they play it, but the Architect tells someone else, “Put that over there.” And they go and get the materials from the storeroom. The Craftsman, who’s all alone in their own workshop needs to use their own materials from their own hand in order to build things. Now the fact that the names are similar and in the same context makes sense because these cards are actually 90% identical, these actions when you take them. And actually, they’re the only way to build buildings, so if you say, “Oh, I want to build a building,” It’s either Craftsman or Architect. It’s one of those two things, they’re just flavored slightly differently. And look at these rules. It shows you like, all these diagrams, I couldn’t pull up like, a million slides here. Showing arrows like, ‘put this here, put that there, slide that there.’ There’s very specific rules about when and where to place objects. And they give you a play card that shows you where to put all the objects, right? And everyone has a play card. And even though we’ve played- You don’t really need the play card, but we’ve played so much, we still use the play card. There’s reminder text. So, these cards are all Fiddly Bits. And they do crazy game-breaking crap. The sewer is actually one of the only bad graphic designs in the game because the water splits the text in half. Yeah. If I was going to remake this game, that’s the only thing I would change.
-Yeah. Right there. That line there.
-Yeah, change the art on the sewer, please So, the cards are all crazy powerful, and the text of every one of these cards just breaks the game in some ridiculous way. These cards do exactly what they say they do. You know, we were talking about consistency before. So, in this game, if you have a card that says, ‘Double the number of Patron actions that you get,’ You have another card that says, ‘For every Patron action that you get, get 10 bafmodads.’ Does that mean that I get 20 bafmodads because I doubled my Patron actions?
-Yes. The answer to every question like that is, ‘Yes.’ Do exactly what those words say. This will be important later when we talk about some other aspects of why this game is good. And there’s a summary of what these cards do. You know, before performing a Thinker action, you may discard cards from your hand. That kind of stuff. In the book, every card has a section that explains the rules in excruciating and painful detail. And then has a list of how that card interacts with every other card it could interact with. Right, so there’s the rules for the Forum Romanum, and then there’s the rules for the Forum with a Stairway, the Forum with a Storeroom. They went and found, there’s so many cards in this game, but they found every possible way that any two buildings could interact with each other and explained it with a whole paragraph for every single combo in the whole game so that you never have to go on Board Game Geek ever. Now, you rarely ever need to look at those rules because the game is very logically consistent. And you don’t build too many buildings in one game. Yup. But because it’s so consistent, you know to just follow the rules. And if you just say, “Well that doubles this, and that doubles this 4 X, I guess I get 400 actions!” The answer is: Sure, go nuts. That’s how this game goes. This exists solely to deal with Mordor guy again. Because Mordor guy is gonna say, “Hey, I want to interpret this card in a stupid way because I get more points if I do that.” That’s the only reason Mordor guy ever bothers you. He’s just trying to win. And this stops him in his tracks. He can’t go into Mordor. A lot of times that jerk wins, even though he’s not cheating. Artifacts. The table reference. Look, on the table, this summarizes everything you can do in the game. The whole game is right there. And in fact, if you don’t like that summary, on the back of that thing, I don’t have a slide for it- -Is the better summary.
-They have a different summary. It’s the same rules. The exact same rules. With the exact same words. But it shows arrows linking them all together. This interacts with that, this interacts with that. So if you want it to be word based, you can play with this side of the board, or flip it over and get the graphical representation of how the game works. Now, there’s also something, you can’t see it up here, and I actually didn’t have a slide for it, but basically, so, these are victory points at the end of the game. But victory points are also used for other stuff. Victory points are used to cap how many things can go underneath these two side bits. You start the game with two victory points. Now, that might seem weird, why would I start with two? I can’t spend victory points. But because the game uses victory points to also count these other things, it makes logical consistency to start with two victory points. If the game was written like Ghostbusters, it would say, ‘You can have two plus the number of victory points here,’ and have all this extra text. The game is elegant in its rule construction. Right, at the top of the board, you couldn’t see it because it was cut off, are actually two victory point symbols built into the board. So you just start with them. They are just there already. Remember how I said the game is super consistent? It’s consistent to a degree you can’t like, A lot games have fiddly setup. Like even Puerto Rico, even great games. ‘To start the game, put 55 of these bits on the board if you have four players. If you have three players, remove the Craftsman and the Architect, and add…’ You know, all this kind of nonsense. This game doesn’t have stuff like that. This game is very consistent. And game end happens immediately. Not at the end of my turn, not at the end of Scott’s turn, not after every player goes around. If someone plays something that ends the game, it ends that nanosecond. Full stop. That removes so much, I’d say a good page of most board game rulebooks is explaining all the nuance of how to end the game. Oh well Scott will get one more turn because of X, but Rym won’t get one more turn because he flipped over the thing that ended the game. No. Also, the fifth way to end the game is the best. ‘All players may agree to surrender to a player for any reason.’ E.g. bribery, intimidation, etc. That sounds dumb, but thats- sometimes a game sucks. If the game has a rule that lets all the players who aren’t having a good time end it, that avoids the situation where four of you are having a bad time and one of you is having a great time. So, remember I said ‘consistency?’ That consistency is slavish consistency. If you do a crazy combo in this game, it just works. And because the rules are always like that, the rules are always like, “Yeah, just do it! Yeah, the game just ends.” It’s just, follow the rules 100%, do whatever it says no matter how broken it seems, you rarely need to look at the book because the rules are consistent. You have an idea of how to interpret everything because the game has been very consistent in how it interpreted things. It doesn’t have ‘ands’ and ‘ors’ in different places. So the moral of all of this, because we literally have 20 seconds left in this panel. And this is the last slide, so I’m actually very proud of us for putting this together.
-Timing? Does anyone know who that is? Alright, so I’m not going to tell you now.
-That person knew.
-Oh, one person knew. Reiner Knizia’s games probably have the best written rules of almost any games I’ve ever seen. And his games are also by and large, some of the best German-style tabletop board games ever made. He’s made a lot of them. It is very telling that the person who wrote the best rules also tended to write the best games. So if you’re going to design a game, I would do more playtesting on the rules. Like, handing rules to your mom. Handing rules to your dad. When you’re playtesting, don’t teach the people how to play. Give them the rules and then just step back and let them play the game, right? They you’ll learn, you’ll not only be playtesting the game, but also the rules of the game as you wrote them. And of course, we are out of time. We cannot take questions. I hope that was enjoyable. *applause* Alright, Rym is getting on a plane, I’m gonna go play some games somewhere. If you want videos of all of our other lectures, that QR code goes to our website, which also has the slides from this panel. These QR codes go to our YouTube channel that has 40 or so videos of our other lectures.

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