Thoughts on Gaming – The Importance of Clear Instructions

Isaac and I recently went to St. Louis to visit friends, and while there, we had them test out our new Battle Decks: Multiverse 1953 game (Thanks, guys!). The goal was to see how easy the rules were to follow without our intervention, as well as to make sure the game played as we intended based on those rules. Think of it kind of like beta-reading… you want to make sure your readers are getting the information and the meaning you intend. Where there is confusion, there is trouble.

It quickly became apparent that our rules could use some tweaking for clarity, namely in the form of pictures and diagrams explaining how to read the cards. The back of the box has a diagram showing the set-up of the game, but that was it. When we offered the diagram found in the trial version of the game, which allows players to play the game with a couple print-outs and two decks of poker cards, we found that the rules were a bit easier to follow. Especially if the player has played similar games, such as Magic: the Gathering or Pokemon. I haven’t played the latter to be able to say how close those rules play, but that was the comparison one of our friends made.

Battle Decks Basic Card Game Setup

The first version of the picture instructions for the trial version of Battle Decks.

As you can see in the picture, it tells what each card is, but not how to read them. Also, from using this picture, we found that it was confusing to have notes on both the opponent’s playing field and your playing field. We’re considering limiting the text to the player’s side of the field, that way players don’t have to feel like they’re reading the cards upside down (especially problematic if the player hasn’t had much sleep).

Isaac and I are also considering creating a diagram of the basic card types to explain how to read each card. For example, we’ll point out the HP, DEF, ATK, and DMG information and what those numbers pertain to, along with where the point cost of a hero card is and where abilities can be found. We’ll add pictures of counter tokens and explain how to use them (something we neglected entirely in the text-based rules).

Beta-testers are important!

We learned from our testing experience that being able to verbally explain the rules made the learning process go much smoother. Players understood the game much faster when we showed them how to play through a round. And once they figured out the rules, we got to see them effectively using abilities (the bodyguard ability in this case) in a way that we rarely used in our own game play. We also found where a certain young dragon character card had a potentially game-breaking trait, which we intend to remove before publishing the final version of Battle Decks.

Though we had entertained the idea before, we now know that a video explaining the rules and showing a round of the game is crucial. With a video, potential players can see how the game is played without having to wade through a lot of text rules… and we can include supplemental videos which explain the different cards’ abilities. Our goal is to make the game easy to understand and play. Otherwise, someone who chooses to give it a try might decide the game is too difficult and set it aside.

For example, when I first tried picking up the Star Wars: Miniatures game with my dad, it took a while to figure out since we didn’t know anyone else who played. We started out with simpler cards and ignored rules that didn’t make sense to us, and eventually, we figured it out. Later, I began playing the game with Isaac and we moved on to more difficult characters with bigger abilities.

We kept this in mind when creating Battle Decks. We included characters who only have a few abilities, along with characters who have several. That way players can ease their way into the game. We’re also considering creating “campaigns” with set characters for each player, or a limited S&R deck to vary game play.

Overall, I’d say this first round of beta-testing was successful, and we have quite a few ideas of how to improve the rules and improve a player’s experience.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you ever found a game to have really difficult rules to understand? What did you do about it?

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