Price of Admission: Rulebooks Matter!
There’s a lot of excitement that comes along with a new board game purchase. Between unwrapping the box, unpacking the components, taking in that new game smell (is that just me?), and setting up your new game for play, bringing home a new game can be an absolute joy. But before you are able to begin playing, you need to learn the rules.
Ah, the rules, that last lamentable roadblock before diving in.
The rulebook can often make or break a game night. A well written and thoughtfully laid-out book will ensure a smooth experience. A poorly devised book, however, can derail a game as you spend minutes looking up a rule that has been called into question. And, as this is your first experience with the game in question, it is assured that you will have to consult the rule book more than once during the game.
You’ll definitely want to familiarize yourself with the rules before dropping that box on the table, but preparation can only get you so far. Speaking from experience, it will take only minutes for the other players to pull some otherworldly situation from the nether, and put a kink in what you thought was going to be a smooth evening. That’s when a well-organized rule book comes into play.
A good rulebook will have lots of examples, be organized in a way that makes sense with the flow of the game, and be clearly worded. There are times where translations from one language to another will cause a bit of confusion, but if it’s organized properly a book will leave the players with a clear understanding of the game. It should only take a few seconds to find the page and rule you’re looking for.
It’s a little esoteric, but Splendor, Concordia, and Blood Rage rank high on the “List of Games with Great Rulebooks” chart.
Blood Rage in particular does a great job of laying out all the game concepts in an easily digestible package. The layout makes sense to the flow of the game, and describes things in turn order, a practice all rulebooks should emulate.
On the other hand, there are some terribly-written books. One of my favorite examples is Agricola, Uwe Rosenberg’s farming classic. There are some things the book gets right, but it falters in the late pages by presenting you with this incomprehensible wall of text. Nobody wants to spend an hour deciphering this code wall.
A game can score some bonus points by including historical background for thematic purposes (as in The Manhattan Project) or player aids that serve as reminders of turn order or scoring conditions (as in Macao). It’s always handy to have something at your fingertips that you can reference at any time without disrupting the flow of the game.
In the end, your group’s enjoyment of a game will not be determined by the rulebook, but a good book will go that much further in helping move things along at a respectable pace. It also helps to make like Scar and be prepared. Read that rulebook ahead of time and you’ll ensure a pleasant experience.