Ok, this discussion is going to cover several ideas, they may yet get further exploration later on, both exploring how they interact, or just each of them on their own.
The core issue, what it’s all about, is the ability to play games. A “game” does not exist when it is not played. There is no Settlers of Cattan “play” inside the box. There is no D&D Campaign inside that setting book. You only get play when you have people using the thing, when people are engaging in play.
That above theory is one thing, but one thing that is clear is, the focus should be on people playing the game. You want to make it easy for people to play the game. Easy is sometimes more important than good.If it’s easy, people will pick it up and play, and then it should be good. If it’s good, but no one ever plays with it, then how will they know it’s good? And even if they will “know”, will it be worth more than farthing, seeing as it’s not played?
This post follows a discussion on Story-Games, first in this thread, where a discussion on constraints led me to muse and opine on why people can play one board-game after another, though each is focused in scope, but people are loathe to do so with RPGs. My observation was that the main reason is how long it takes from when you pick up the game and how long before you can begin playing, which was spun into this thread, where Joel Shempert uses the term Fluency Play to describe this (or the result).
Well, many of the modern story-games are pretty small games. They run ~80-120 pages, and these pages are more along the lines of 6×9″ as opposed to most traditional games that are 8.5″x11″. Reading such a book usually takes me about 2-3 hours, which may not be as bad as say, 6-8 hours I need to dedicate to traditional games (usually considerably more..), but it’s far from good enough.
Ok, so it took me 2-3 hours from when I picked up the book to “knowing” the game, now I have my friends with me. I know the rules, we can play, right? Oh, how I wish this were so. If I were to impart them with all the rules it’d take them about 20-30 minutes to learn. Now this brings to mind two questions:
1. Reading is faster than speaking, so why did I need to read it for 2-3 hours when 20-30 minutes were enough to begin playing?
2. Do you think people can sit and listen to you explain the rules passively for 20-30 minutes?
In my experience, people can spend 5 minutes listening attentively, 10 minutes listening, and at 15 minutes they’re ready to rebel. If you are talking for 20 minutes, you are often not going to play the game at all.
Now, it’s true that it’s possible each one of us had spent 2-3 hours learning the rules, but that is both unlikely, and you want as someone who makes a game to assume it is not so. You want to make it easy on people to play your game, remember?
So, we have one person who knows the rules, hopefully it didn’t take him long to know them. But now, what of his friends, the people he wants to play with? This issue is also very acute for game-designers who are looking for playtesters in general, and myself in particular. I just don’t know how to teach a game as I go along, and feel the need to info-dump. This also makes it harder for someone who is looking for playtesters, to just find some people and begin playing. If you need them to read the rules, that’s another hurdle, and at a convention it’s just not feasible.
This is the first part of two, the next will be posted tomorrow, and discuss some methods to address this.