Sometimes breaking them? Or sometimes breaking them unintentionally? Yes.

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Except, no. You may be thinking of eggs. Or the speed barrier perhaps.

Rules are what make games great or not so great. Rules define how mechanics work. Rules define how you win or lose a game. Rules define whether a game is a 4x or worker placement or tile placement or deck building, etc. Rules are the foundation of this hobby. So why are they so easy to mess up? Lots of reasons but let’s talk about that in a minute.

In one of our group’s text threads, I mentioned that in our last game of Great Western Trail (which happens to be a great Western themed game) that I had scored it incorrectly. And scoring incorrectly was a result of missing a rule the first time I played, which meant I missed the same rule the second time we played. Which led me to think about other games in our group where we have missed an important rule…

A partial, certainly not comprehensive, but honest and potentially embarrassing list:

  • Dominant Species – Every time any player uses the Wanderlust action, all players with a species adjacent to the new tile can move onto it.
  • Coup – if you are forced to show a character card to prove that you have it, you are allowed to immediately draw a new card.
  • Brass – this was more of a forgotten rule as no one built on top of anyone else’s building.
  • Great Western Trail – when building on top of one of your existing buildings you’re allowed to use the previous building’s craftsmen but you need to remove the previous building from the board entirely. Also, we messed up the shipping rules during our first play.
  • T’Zolkin – The acquisition and use of skulls.
  • And on. And on. And on.

So why does this happen? Notwithstanding the title of this post, it’s always unintentional. As you’ve seen on the blog we are running through Pandemic Legacy and we ALWAYS follow the rules as best as we understand them. Have we missed some? Yes, but we’ve lost 3 games in a row at this point which would be simple to avoid if we reshuffle a deck or take back one turn. I’m happy with our group and how we’re working through the game. That said, we continue to break rules.

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It’s all German to me.

Why? Here are a few reasons – some of which apply to every group:

1 – Too Many New Games. We are constantly playing new games. We talk about how we’d like to repeat plays and then in the next breath talk about how many unplayed games we each have. It’s tough to know a game well if you only play it once or twice. From the rule breaking list, Coup is the only one I’ve played more than twice and we have STILL never gotten it right.

2 – Rulebooks. It’s tough to find a good rulebook. They’re either too short or too long or written too poorly or too cute, etc. Essen should give out an award for best rulebook. I think part of this challenge is that the authors of the books – and designers of the game – know their games too well. It’s easy to miss your own assumptions or have language that lacks clarity when you know what it means.

2a – It’s awesome when rulebooks have appendices or glossaries which define every card or action in the game. I think that the biggest game publishers should have eBooks accompanying every game that are interactive – searchable, clickable Table of Contents, linked references, videos and anything else that makes our lives easier.

3 – Player Aids. Player Aids are a component either missing or lacking focus and quality in many games. Player Aids should be required if you’re going to charge more than $30 for a game. And they should inform you on in game play and end of game scoring.

4 – Complexity. This one is obvious and its part of the price we pay in order to create games that move us well beyond Monopoly or Life and even Risk and Axis and Allies. However, all of us have read posts lauding a game for how easy it is to learn but how complex the game play can be. Complexity and quality are not synonyms. Neither are complexity and fun. Complexity should not be a substitute for thoughtful game design.

5 – Speed. We all just wanna have fun. It’s human nature. Delayed gratification may be more valuable but, I mean, come on! We’re literally here for fun and games. And so we cut some corners, skip some rules, watch a quick video and start to play. Plus, it’s a game! It can’t be that hard, right? Right?

5a – We Don’t Read. Not that we can’t. A corollary to the quality of rulebooks. Even the best rulebooks need to be read and read thoroughly in order to be valuable.

6 – Counter-intuitive. Even if a rule is well written, if it doesn’t make sense to frequent board game players, it’s not going to stick. Wait, what? Read that rule again? One more time? I’m pretty sure we’re doing it right. Are we doing it right?

7 – Different, but Rational, Interpretations. Especially with deck builders where there is a new rule on every card. And the more mechanics in the game, the more interaction between the rules and the more possible interpretations. Hard to solve without making things more and more verbose.

I’d be interested in anyone’s ideas on this topic. Either examples of games or rules that fit this list or other reasons that your group sometimes, unintentionally breaks the rules.

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Or not. Your choice.