Author Topic: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?  (Read 756 times)

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Offline Cyrano

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Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« on: July 05, 2017, 09:41:27 AM »
I'm going to confine this rant to the friendly confines of this much-beloved zoo.

I suspect few others want to hear.

And maybe most here don't either.

But I'm saying it.

I'm reviewing "Sovereign of the Seas" at the moment and finding it a basically solid, if simple game.  I think I will end up liking it a lot as a Napoleonic Age of Sail nerd and recommending it with caveats for the broader audience.

That said, its rule book has proved a hate-box filled with cat hair, wire, and rusted razor blades.

I will leave to the side the rules that contradict one another.

I will leave to the side the rules that the game's author indicates should have been deleted from the final version but weren't.

I will leave to the side the general imprecision and near-opacity of the prose.

I will speak only of cases where I just could not, without the assistance of the designer himself, determine either what I was supposed to do or what the author intended when he wrote a particular phrase, paragraph, or sentence.

Now, to his credit, the author has been making regular appearances at BGG to clarify what he meant by different things.  Often enough, I will note, he has surprised folks who had no clue he had meant THAT.

Today, however, he posted this:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1807278/clarification-battle-results

Read all the way through, please?

Since when, borrowing Doug's usage, did war game designers start offering us "kits" or collections of parts from which to fashion a game?  Of course I can house rule everything.  It's my game.  I paid for it.  If my foe and I agree, heck, we can run submarines into the Bay of Biscay and deal with the Victory once and for flipping all.  That's hardly the point.

Read for a moment the rules linked to in the front page article by Banzai Cat.  Yeah, the front page.  Here at Grogheads.  Yes there is one.

Those rules were hammered out in 1981 without any of the technological blessings of the present and are far tighter and more precise than a lot of the junk that's being floated out there right now.  Perhaps we're spoiled.  Maybe it's just too easy now to shove your errata onto BGG's forums -- or offer them as an update pack (shame on you DVG).  Perhaps we've got too much of the "hey, let's be like Euros" and chat our way through the rules.  I honestly don't know.  But not being willing to accept your responsibility to deliver a complete game to your customer base is poor form.

Of course the rules of my youth were far from perfect.  Nothing is perfect.  But I can recall no designer proffering defenses of this type.

Own your stuff.  Own your mistakes. And, once having done so, put in the effort to ensure they're not repeated.

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Offline Barthheart

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2017, 09:54:52 AM »
Feel better?  ;)
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Offline mirth

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2017, 09:55:45 AM »
I would not be happy about those kinds of rules issues with a game that retails for $110 (I know the current pre-order price is 'only' $82). Not happy at all.
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Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2017, 09:57:05 AM »
oy vey
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Offline Nefaro

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2017, 03:01:49 PM »
I think you touched on part of the issue at hand; the foreknowledge that they can 'fix it later'.

Between attempting to push new titles out ASAP, and the convenience of the internet, I don't think the printed material in the official release is getting enough scrutiny.

Ofc, the writing has to be faulty in the first place.  None are perfect, but some drafts are worse than others. 

Rules with any small amount of sophistication requires numerous sets of eyes to proofread and clarify.  I've seen numerous examples of KS projects which released early drafts of their rules so future players could check them.  In every case, they needed multiple wide-ranging revisions before going to print.  They wouldn't have got those revisions if those early drafts weren't released to the public, and the end result would've been a damn mess. 

Hell, they still come out with some issues even after public proofreading.  But far fewer than most quick in-house jobs.

Offline Capn Darwin

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2017, 05:20:52 PM »
Other than using the word "could" the rules seem pretty clear to my non-sailing game brain. Disabled with 0/1 damage that ship heads to the closest friendly port. Disabled with 2+ damage that ship heads for the closest non-enemy controlled port (Neutral or friendly).

Did I miss something?  :arr:
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Offline Bison

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2017, 06:25:46 PM »
I'm surprised that rules aren't "play tested" to correct errors or confusion.  If they are then this wouldn't be the only instance of confusing or incomplete rules.

Offline mirth

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2017, 06:28:07 PM »
I'm surprised that rules aren't "play tested" to correct errors or confusion.

In theory, I think they usually are play tested. Oftentimes you're left wondering though.
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Offline Bison

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2017, 07:05:41 PM »
Yeah I guess that's my question/point.  If you are having people volunteer to play test why not push a draft version of the rules at the same time to play test for clarification or simple editing. 

Offline Barthheart

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2017, 07:21:07 PM »
I think part of the problem is that the test groups are too small. Once a team knows the rules, new eyes need to be brought in to read the rules with fresh eyes.
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Offline Bison

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2017, 07:32:41 PM »
^ Good point.

Offline mirth

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2017, 07:35:26 PM »
Once a team knows the rules, new eyes need to be brought in to read the rules with fresh eyes.

This.
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Offline Cyrano

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2017, 08:51:28 PM »
@Cap'n:  He was able to clear up that bit, but my concern was about the Pondicherry piece.  The rules explicitly state that you cannot capture a non-grey port.  Pondicherry is blue (French).  But there's a special rule that says you can take Pondicherry.  The British are supposed to be able to take it only after they've controlled the appropriate adjacent sea area for two consecutive turns.  But the British don't usually control sea areas -- it's their job to prevent the "European" power from doing so and, as a result, there's no way to mark British control of any sea area.  But then he went on in that same forum to say he doubted whether you should be able to take Pondicherry, even though the British did have a go at it historically.

That's not an insubstantial rule about which to be uncertain.

And, I'm sorry, I cannot imagine play testing this game even once and not having the British player have a go at Pondicherry at least once.  It's the only French base in the British backfield.

Weird thing with all this, I really, really like the game...

Driving me nucking futs...

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Offline ArizonaTank

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2017, 10:41:15 PM »
I'm going to confine this rant to the friendly confines of this much-beloved zoo.

....
I'm reviewing "Sovereign of the Seas" at the moment and finding it a basically solid, if simple game.  I think I will end up liking it a lot as a Napoleonic Age of Sail nerd and recommending it with caveats for the broader audience.

That said, its rule book has proved a hate-box filled with cat hair, wire, and rusted razor blades.

.....
Today, however, he posted this:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1807278/clarification-battle-results

Read all the way through, please?

Since when, borrowing Doug's usage, did war game designers start offering us "kits" or collections of parts from which to fashion a game?  Of course I can house rule everything.  It's my game.  I paid for it.  If my foe and I agree, heck, we can run submarines into the Bay of Biscay and deal with the Victory once and for flipping all.  That's hardly the point.


I am OK with the designer's seemingly cavalier attitude toward rules.  "House rules" are the very stuff of wargaming as far as I am concerned. 

Still, while I love Compass games, I have noticed that some of their games could use the services of a good tech writer to check for clarity...and as already mentioned, a good round of play testing should shake out much of problems as well. 

Having had a brief fling with recent play testing (for another company), I guess that part of the problem is reliance on volunteer testers.  Some folks are really good at pointing out issues with the rules, others are not... 

But even the most re-published and revised rules still have issues.  I play a great deal of GboH.  And in some cases Berg's venerable rules are on their 3rd revision.  Take the Great Battles of Alexander for example.  After all the eyes that have been on those rules over the years, I still find sections that leave me scratching my head. 
"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden."   Grantland Rice, New York Herald Tribune, October 18th, 1924. 

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Offline bbmike

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Re: Rules Writers Write Rules, Right? Or Have I Gone Mad?
« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2017, 06:11:34 AM »
In this case, I agree that's a pretty big error/oversight in the rules.
That said, I was playing 1754 Conquest - The French and Indian War at Origins with this dude that was complaining to the Academy Games guy that the rules needed to be changed in certain parts. He went on to say that he loved 1775 Rebellion but had shelved it permanently because of one rule he didn't like. To me that seems a bit crazy. If you love a game that much then house rule it to your liking and keep on playing.
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