I play a lot of different board games. On average, I need to play 3-4 new games a fortnight to write about.
At Boarding School events I teach dozens of people new games to try out. And given we have a decent amount of return players I like to keep things fresh and bring along a couple of new things each time.
So with the word “new” being used three times so far this article, you’d think I’d be good at reading rulebooks and learning new games myself.
You’d be wrong.
Ah! Rulebooks are so dull! Sure, you get the occasional one like 51st State Master Set which is actually enjoyable to read. Gives me a little chuckle as I go through it which encourages me to keep going. But the majority of rulebooks are either too boring to read fully, or they leave out some pretty significant rules (looking at you Portal Games).
So what are my ways around this? How do I make sure I’m reviewing the game as it was meant to be played?
I’ll let you in on my top 5 methods.
1. Don’t expect to get everything right the first game
It’s more important to have a general gist of the rules before playing your first game than it is to know the complete details of every action you can take or situation which may arise. We’re playing games here, not studying for an exam.
The thing people sometimes forget is it’s okay to pause a game and take a quick flick through the rulebook. Especially if someone is going to the bathroom or breaking for other reasons. A good tip here is if you’re gonna take a couple of minutes to find the rule and wrap your head around it, divide and conquer. Someone check the rulebook, someone check the online FAQ, and someone else make cups of tea. (I sound British there, but I drink Australian Afternoon Tea… like an Aussie).
It’s rare the enjoyment of a game will hinge entirely on a small rule. It happens, but once you’ve got the basics down you’ll be able to correct things for future plays.
2. Consistency is more important than accuracy
If you get a rule wrong PANIC! YOU’VE TOTALLY WRECKED EVERYTHING! YOU HAVE SHAMED YOUR FAMILY AND HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO COMMIT HONOURABLE SEPUKU.
Oh wait, hold on. May have overreacted a little.
If you’ve been playing a rule a certain way, I generally think it’s important to keep playing it the same way for the rest of the session (unless everyone at the table agrees to change it). Because it effects people’s strategies.
3. Reread the rules once you’ve played
Once you’ve taken the game out for a spin (roll, shuffle, whatever… this cliche got away from me). Now’s a really good time to learn the nuances.
Maybe it’s the sort of obsessive personality which leads you to start a website about board games, but once I’ve tried a game out I hungrily consume every detail about it I can. Which makes wanting to go through the rulebook again a bit better. The basics are cemented enough for me so the minute details become much clearer.
4. Watch YouTube
I’m not even meaning my channel (although you totally should if you haven’t). But there are so many awesome channels out there. Two off the top of my head would be Watch it Played and Shut Up & Sit Down.
I find watching videos with rules more interesting. Like a friend introducing you to a new game (shut up, they are my friends! Just because they don’t know I exist…)
5. Engage in the community
Specifics about games are often overlooked by companies. It’s actually really understandable. There is an almost incalculable number of combinations of moves. And each person playing the game brings a unique perspective.
In order to counteract this, having access to the brilliant and unique minds of the tabletop community, or even a community formed around a specific game, can help to interpret any rules overlooked by the designers and publishers. And if a question gets enough attention by a community then it might appear in an FAQ or receive an official answer.
And look, if we mess up a fundamental rule there’s no reason we can’t restart (and I click ‘ignore for statistics’ on BG Stats).
I get the mentality about rules being important, and being there for a reason. I value the structure and believe limitations make games more interesting. But you can’t lose sight of the fact games are designed to be fun.
So don’t be afraid to get things wrong. I know I’m not.
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