I love the wargame Less Than 60 Miles from Thin Red Line Games (2019). I love it because it is a very interesting look at command and control on the battlefield. I will also say it is a hard game to learn. I attribute this difficulty to the rule book. No, I am not criticizing designer Fabrizio Vianello for his English skills but the rule book for Less Than 60 Miles is both difficult to read and difficult to follow across the game because of the layout and organization. In the latest game of the C3 Series, The Dogs of War, the original rule book format was carried over. Now, thanks to a dedicated community member, there is an alternative.
Old Dog, New Trick
Lionel Martinez took The Dogs of War rule book and revised the layout and organization. This new rule book is available both on the Thin Red Line Games website and on BoardGameGeek. As Mr. Martinez writes on BGG under his “lacm” name:
This new version contains revision of the layout. It contains also a complete change in the order of the rules. No rules has changed but known errata or clarifications have been incorporated. Some rewording was also necessary but was kept to a minimum. The rulebook has been totally reorganized to follow more closely the sequence of play: some separate sections have been transformed in subsections. The intent is to enable the player to find a rule more easily and to ease somehow the learning process.
Looking through the revised rule book, my first take-away is that it is very GMT Games-like. That’s a good thing; GMT Games is certainly a leader in graphics and layout (thanks in large part to guidance from Rodger MacGowan and his RBM Studios). I won’t go so far as to say that what I am calling the “GMT-style” should be the industry standard but it certainly is an excellent example.
See Spot Wargame
For the most part, I learn games by reading the rule book. I know this clashes with the modern age where all the rage is to do a video tutorial. I have seen a few excellent How-to-Play videos (a personal favorite are some of the Harsh Rules series by Ben Harsh) but at the end of the day if I am going to be playing a boardgame where the players are manipulating the system I learn better by actively reading about it than passively watching it be explained to me.
I note that the hobby boardgame world often faces similar problems in learning where “conversational” rule books clash with more “procedural” or, for Grognards, “SPI-style.” Root (Leder Games) took on this problem by publishing two rule books: Learn to Play Root and The Law of Root. Other companies, like Stonemaier Games, leveraged community members to publish a compendium of rules (as in the Scythe Complete Rulebook). Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.
All of which is a roundabout way of me saying that writing a rule book for a
wargame game matters. The hobby gaming community is very fortunate to include members who care enough and take the time to make materials that can enhance playing games. At the same time, publishers maybe need to step back and pause a moment to consider if they are leveraging skills and community support as best able. I’m not saying I want all my wargame rule books to look like they came from GMT, but if concerted efforts are made to make them easier to understand, well, that’s definitely not a bad thing!