Pick and Play! Part 2: A “Solution”

Posted: June 29, 2010 by Guy in Editorial, Musings, Playing, The Tribal Game
Tags: , ,

In the first post, I discussed the issue: How long it takes you from picking up a game to playing it, or from gathering some friends to playing it, is far too long. Here I’ll address a solution. And ramble some more!

Discussing a Solution:

So, those 2-3 hours, while they may be ok in general, many of us want to play a game in 2-3 hours. I think an organizer would be willing to spend 30 minutes, but if you can do without, it’d be even better. This is why a game where you create the setting (but this must be play, and not pre-play), or better-yet, use Earth, is often a good thing. Another world everyone knows (The Middle-Earth amidst fans) can also work.

There are many games I’d have played, or tried to play/run, if I had known how to transmit them to people who did not, and will not read the rules. I think designers should, or people who run their games at con should (for their benefit), come up with exactly how they teach a game, what they teach before play begins, and what they teach as they play the first few scenes. Andy Kitkowski said this might be best achieved via video-demos, or audio-recordings. I think he’s right.

Because yes, that’s what should happen, and why people can play so many board-games so rapidly. Someone talks for 5 minutes, often with pointing at specific tokens, at specific sections of the board, moving things to engage the other players. After 5-7 minutes, people begin to play, but the teaching of the game doesn’t stop. The person running the game explaines more complicated things that always come up, as they come up. The turn order, the combat/purchase or what have you is usually understood after 10 minutes or so. Some things are not explained, because they never come up, but that’s ok.

Another technique people who run board-games employ, based on the table’s preferances, is that after those ~15-20 minutes of having taught the rules and people playing a bit without guidance are concluded, they clean the board and begin a proper game. In Role-playing scenes, people often teach in specific scenes but also carry them onward, which is better than it being during potentially fatal action; examples include “Initiation” in Dogs in the Vineyard, and “preludes” in most World of Darkness games.

I am currently working on a game, code-named “The Beast Witch” (though it may also be code-named “The Sacred Hunt” or whatever, “The Tribal Game” category). And while talking to Paul Czege I’ve had a thought*, later shared on the afore-mentioned threads: Have a bunch of cardboards, like quick-reference sheets you get in board-games, at the center of a table. At the top of each such sheet write a “Situation” that comes up in the game, and then list on the card what to do, in order. I suggest the player who picks up the card reads the card. This is not easy, because it means you should be able to follow each stage as you reach it. If there are tactically “full” choices, you might want players to read the whole card before they begin following it.

Originally, I thought you’d list each “Sub-system” on the card, but that’s a bit backwards, as you don’t know whether to follow it or not, but something like “My character made another character laugh” or “I thought that other player made a good contribution to the story” tell you exactly when to pick them up.
I also think this will be a fertile ground for ritualistic phrases, or even actions, because you can tell people to make an oath, or perform an action, and the mere act of following such an instruction-card is sort of a ritual on its own.

Some more thoughts I’ve had: I am certain many games could be written, and then you could come up with such quick-sheets for them, and many games come with quickstart rules (but not enough). Also, quickstart rules, and the whole way we write our books might need to be reversed. We put the summaries at an appendix, where they might fit in the beginning, with the “main book” which just elaborates should go on later. I quite like how board-games do it: On the back-cover which avoids page-flipping we have the bare-bones overview, in the first 2-3 pages we have each stage, with a paragraph describing it, and then we have 6-20 pages which describe each stage in (often excruciating) detail.

Likewise, if we have quickstart rules in a hardcover book that’s heavy to lug around, and we might want to flip from the quickstart to the main section, or pass the quickstart rules around… it’s just not a good fit for them to be in the book. Unless you just want to train someone at how to teach the game, but not actually use this document as they go along. For that, I suggest the quick-start rules to be in a small booklet, separate from the main book.

So, to jump a bit back, while I believe most games can have such resources created for them, I wonder if it’ll affect the game’s design if it were designed from the beginning with the plan to make use of these things. We should find out.

For my upcoming game, I both plan to use the “The Big Bang shape” I discussed before, and to make each character sheet contain as much information as the player will need and I could fit on it. I’m taking a page from some of John Harper’s designs. You want the character sheet to contain as much information as possible, and that reading it and then being taught the rules for 5 minutes more should be sufficient.

Of course, giving players pre-generated characters, situation, and even enemies will cut drastically on preparation time, but it will also limit what most people will play in the beginning to just that. I might discuss that in a future post.

* The thought came in a slightly different context, of a game where each sub-system is completely different, with no unified mechanics.

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  1. Joel says:

    Nice stuff, Guy! I like the cards on the table idea; it combines the teaching tool of “wait until someone wants to do a new thing, then teach that procedure” with the benefit of having physical cues sitting out that everyone can be aware of, without having to learn them all at once. It even caters to the “want to know everything up-front” crowd, ’cause they can see what all the cards are and be ready for what’s coming!

    I think how we arrange our “quickstart” and “reference” rules is a big deal and ground in need of more exploring. As you say, we don’t want the guide to playing quickly shoved in the back, or even part of a thick and heavy rulebook at all; at the same time, you don’t want to present them as “the optional quickstart booklet” vs. “the REAL game, that all the smart and experienced players may just dive right into.” I mean, sure, some people will do that regardless, but presenting the quickstart as just as “real” as the big game is central to my approach. With The Dreaming Crucible I even went so far as to publish JUST the quickstart with expanded rules to follow someday, and I’ll fight any sonuvabitch that says it’s not a complete game. It might not yet be a POLISHED game, but incomplete? Not on yer life.


  2. Callan S. says:

    From what I’ve seen, RPG designers don’t make quickstarts because they are avoiding making their game understandable and to be fully grasped, like you can fully grasp the rules of chess.

    When it’s not fully graspable, it becomes this mystical object – a status much adored, apparently. While if you can fully grasp it, someone might so ‘oh, it’s not mystical, it’s a word exercise, some point allocation and that’s it’.

    Like take this example: If I said describe an apple without saying the words apple, red or round, would you find it a strange, mystical experience? Or simply a word exercise?

    Could you bear for your own game to lose the RPG mystique that so surrounds roleplay culture – and for it to just be described as a word exercise, or something similarly mundane?

    A lot of designers just don’t want to leave the mythic age of roleplay design.

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