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Darn Rulebook!

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Traz
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I don't know about my first 10 games, but my ability to write good rulebooks definitely sucks! [well, Euro games anyway - my wargame rulebooks rock] Here's a tale of two games -

Self-published a great train game, but the rulebook was so bad I had to publish a Sample Turn pamphlet after sending out 25 copies. Then I had a guy over on BGG start to to redo the rulebook so he could get a copy, and the first two pages were so freaking awesome it made ME want to sit down and play it again! Unfortunately, he ran out of gas and left me hanging. :(

My newest offering, GODS ALONG THE NILE was recently looked over by a large publisher [at their request]. I sent them my lavish prototype - and had it sent back. 'Not enough fun' was the only response. Extremely frustrating since I have taken this game to a couple of Cons and had players almost mug me trying to take away my prototype because....

Wait for it....

THEY HAD SO MUCH FREAKING FUN PLAYING IT!

Arrrggghhhh!!!

I am left with the conclusion that - once again - my rules writing sucks. When I'm there to explain it, people LOVE this game [not just the friends and family - gamers at the Con come back later asking if they can play again]. When I'm not there - no love.

The difference is, I don't seem to be able to 'explain' on paper what the game does as well as I do in person. Which leads to the question -

Where do you guys go to get your rules written? I'm VERY interested!

scifiantihero
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I imagine . . .

. . . you would go to someone like me. I love games. I'm a class away from a B.A. in English, and will probably pursue a Masters in education. I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a living-- teach probably. Working in game design somewhere or screen writing would be something I'd do if the chance arose (heh!). Anyway, I think that whatever field I go into, my ability to communicate ideas well will be central to my livelihood.

I remember when I was studying engineering, there were classes for technical writing and scientific writing. I've taken a bunch of courses in fiction/ poetry/ screen writing. The point is, there are tons of people out there who have plenty of instruction in taking themes, ideas, abstracts, concrete math, etc,. and translating it into readable, enjoyable material.

Finding one of them to work with might be just what you're looking for!

:)

InvisibleJon
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Can you bottle the magic?

Traz wrote:
I am left with the conclusion that - once again - my rules writing sucks. When I'm there to explain it, people LOVE this game [not just the friends and family - gamers at the Con come back later asking if they can play again]. When I'm not there - no love.

The difference is, I don't seem to be able to 'explain' on paper what the game does as well as I do in person. Which leads to the question -

Where do you guys go to get your rules written? I'm VERY interested!

I write my own, and sometimes it's really hard. Also, my wife is an amazing writer, proofreader, and editor. I have three ideas that might help you, though.

1) Record a video of you explaining the rules of the game. Put it online. Direct potential publishers to it.

2) Watch the video of you explaining the rules. Make a flowchart that lays out the steps (or "phases") you go through in when explaining the game.

3) Take your flowchart and use it as the outline for writing your rules.

simpson
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Quote:I don't know about my

Quote:
I don't know about my first 10 games, but my ability to write good rulebooks definitely sucks!

Guess what, your first 10 rulebooks will suck. Personal experience, for every game I've design, I expect to make 6-14ish rulebook iterations (most being complete re-writes).

If you feel that you can verbally explain the game better, then record yourself and transcribe what you said to paper. Use that as a stepping stone to outline your rulebook.

simpson

Traz
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watch the learned....

I'm a bit leary of the 'learned'. I had sent my EXPRESS LINE rulebook to an English teacher at a British College [long story] who wanted to take a shot at it. She told me she had successfully showed her version to students who liked the game, and so I used her format. That would be the format for my train game mentioned earlier. :( I got better response from the Sample Turn I did myself.

That's not to say I'm not interested, it's just to say that next time I'll run anything I get by some folks I know before I put it in print. ;-)

As to taping a session where I explain it - that's actually a pretty good idea. I think I'll follow up on that if I can't find someone who knows what they are doing.

As to my first 10 sucking, I read that thread with some amusement. My games mostly do all right, I just can't seem to write [certain] rulebooks well.

That being said - I know some games out there I have a hard time with when it comes to rulebooks, but lots of folks love the game anyway. CALUS comes to mind. I've played it twice and love the game, but the rulebook doesn't make any sense to me and I can't play the game without help. I often wonder if some of my rulebooks aren't like that for other people and it makes me crazy.

So, Mr. Antihero - you offering? :-)

scifiantihero
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Not sure . . .

. . . if I should realistically 'offer.' I'm not even sure how I'd begin writing rules for a game I haven't seen. I've only ever written things based on my own ideas, and certainly never anything that's been published. I play more card/ war games than euro games, also, so I might not be the best one to help. (Getting a copy of settlers this weekend, though, I think!)

Do you have a lot of illustrations? Pictures really are worth thousands of words in a situation like this.

Do you go for some flavor first? I love reading a rulebook that gives me some appealing background info. I think the original magic rulebook had, like, a short story at the beginning!

Are there maybe too many rules? I'm just kinda brainstorming here, so excuse me. Like, maybe when YOU explain it, you present what they need to know, and there's some intuitive things that you have to explain in a rulebook . . . but don't really need to be there . . . I'm not sure where this is going.

The videotaping Idea is a good one. There used to be some axis and allies videos back when revised was just released by a guy, explaining good opening moves for the different countries. I was very impressed with the quality, and the presentation, even if time proved some of his ideas to be not the best. Also, he had messed up a rule at least once! I don't know if those would still be locatable, though.

:)

ReneWiersma
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Writing a good rulebook is

Writing a good rulebook is hard. Using correct and clear languange is important, and an English major can certainly help you out here, but the structure of the rulebook is the most important aspect. It's also important to really understand that it is hard to explain even the most simplest of things, and that you can't cut corners. It seems superfluous to use a quarter of a page just to describe what a "discard pile" is, and what happens when the last card of the deck is drawn, etc, but even this basic stuff has to be explained carefully, lest you confuse your reader.

Some other points:

- Be consistent. Don't call something a "soldier" on one page and an "infantry" on another.
- Use simple words. Use short sentences. Use short paragraphs.
- Don't use flavortext throughout the ruletext. Ruletext is boring, but it's better to be boring than to be confusing.
- Use a lot of examples, preferably with pictures.
- Find the easiest way of explaining a rule. Sometimes you find you have to alter a rule slightly just to make it easier to explain. Sometimes you can even ditch a rule comepletely. Rulebook writing is a great way to get rid of superfluous little rules and clean up your game.
- Make a flowchart of your game. Don't use this in your rulebook, but it gives you a sense of what's a good order to explain things in. If your flowchart is really complex, perhaps the game needs some extra streamlining.
- Start explaining the broad strokes of the game, then refine. Don't go into the nitty-gritty right away. Put exceptions and special rules at the end.
- Don't give strategic advice in the ruletext. You might give a hint in example text, for example "Amy doesn't want to buy the more expensive Locomotive card here, because that would leave her without any money for the auction later on". Otherwise, save strategic advice for a special section later on in the game, if you really need to.
- Don't overexplain the obvious. This might lead a reader to think they missed something.

Finally, I want to stress again that you shouldn't underestimate ruleswriting. My Gheos rulebook, which at the surface looks like a fairly straightforward game, still needs 12 pages to explain properly. We took great pains to explain some tricky concepts in a clear and non-ambiguous way. Having a fun game is nice, but if you cannot communicate it's rules properly, it won't ever go anywhere.

Traz
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now what?

ReneWiersma wrote:
Finally, I want to stress again that you shouldn't underestimate ruleswriting. Having a fun game is nice, but if you cannot communicate it's rules properly, it won't ever go anywhere.

You didn't lie! :-)

I want a rule book that makes me WANT to play the game! My problem is, this seems to be a talent I don't have - so where can I go to 'git er done'?

simpson
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Quote:so where can I go to

Quote:
so where can I go to 'git er done'?

Start a thread here or on the geek.

Just say that you want to hire a rulebook writer, give an offer so people know that you expect a certain level of professionalism. Game details are nice but not needed. Finish with a deadline and a way to contact you.

simpson

...
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Don't hire an english major,

Don't hire an english major, hire a mathematics or computer science major with a flair for the literary. Their understanding of logical structures will be a boon to composing clear instructions.

moonprints
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simpson wrote: Start a thread

simpson wrote:

Start a thread here or on the geek.

Just say that you want to hire a rulebook writer, give an offer so people know that you expect a certain level of professionalism. Game details are nice but not needed. Finish with a deadline and a way to contact you.

simpson

Also, be sure to link that thread on this one, so people who are reading this thread know where to go if they are interested in discussing this with you. (Me, for instance.)

scifiantihero
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O.o

... wrote:
Don't hire an english major, hire a mathematics or computer science major with a flair for the literary. Their understanding of logical structures will be a boon to composing clear instructions.

I'm just going to raise my eyebrow and apologize for the post that contributes very little.

Sorry!

:)

Traz
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new thread? nah.....

"New thread? We don't need no esteenking new thread!"

Anybody that would like to talk to me can contact me directly - I'm not shy. :-)

cehendrix@sbcglobal.net

530-741-1177

I'd suggest Carrier Pigeons, but I hear they're all gone.

metzgerism
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Traz wrote:"New thread? We

Traz wrote:
"New thread? We don't need no esteenking new thread!"

Anybody that would like to talk to me can contact me directly - I'm not shy. :-)

cehendrix@sbcglobal.net

530-741-1177

I'd suggest Carrier Pigeons, but I hear they're all gone.

I just drove through your entire area code (not the long way though). I should probably see this new game in action (I wish I had stopped by or something).

And actually, I somewhat agree with the math major part - there is a difference between literature and instruction. After all, your teachers in school weren't usually Dostoyevsky or Heller, but you certainly had to read and respond about those authors.

Bullet points are your friends - here are some real-life examples of why "your major" doesn't necessarily translate into the type of writing you want:

- English majors read and respond to literature.
- Math majors read and respond to numbers.
- Pre-med students scribble on notes and expect your pharmacist to read that shit.
- Art majors may convey message, but will leave out important details, like words.
- As a broadcasting graduate, I can attest to the fact that our medium usually doesn't translate well to paper.
- And finally, as a potential law post-grad, I can safely say that the people that write the rules for the game that ALL of us play all the time (government) are pretty terrible rule-writers themselves.
QED.

I'm totally serious about the law part - the most critical cases in this country are two lawyers arguing about the rules to a set of referees...if that was a board game it'd be pretty nuts - think ProTour Magic: the Gathering getting stalled on a technicality for years.

Also, don't meander (like I've done in this post right here).
QED.

scifiantihero
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Mmmm

Definitely don't hire politicians to write your rulebooks!

Traz
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knucklin' down...

OK - I'm going with the 'try to write it as you explain it' option. What have I learned so far?

I talk too much. :-)

Anyway, I uploaded pg. 2 for your evisceration.. errr... evaluation...

http://www.bgdf.com/node/1801

Interested in your critiques - NO HOLDING BACK NOW! Talk to me...

simpson
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My impression of the rules

My impression of the rules are that you are giving me (the player) information but I have no idea what is important or not. This in-turn is blending all the information together into a dense mass of "wait, what?" for me.

What I am noticing is that the sentences carry too much in them. Let's look at one:

Quote:
"Each player starts with a Temple Card where he or she will place cards during the game and Scarabs which can become Jars at the end of each round of play."

- You introduce several game terms (Temple Card, Scarabs, and Jars) without any reference to what they are. You know the game terms inside & out but a new player doesn't. Don't move on to the next game term till you have explained what the last one means.

- You give several examples of game tenses (will place, which can, at the end). From the example sentence, I don't know for sure if Temple Cards become Jars or not. I can guess but as a player I would rather know.

Advice: Give each idea its own sentence to breathe.

Quote:
"In Gods of the Nile, games are played out on action area cards, called Temple Cards. Each Temple Card is used by its player to place additional cards into the game. A Temple Card also has an area to hold Scarabs."

The usual outline I use for writing rulebooks
===============================
Game Overview
This is the HOOK, or what will be seen on the back of the game box to "sell" the game.

Gameplay
This is the game simplified into a sentence or two. What players do and how they win.

Playing Pieces
This is an introduction to EACH game piece so that a player is acquainted with what the pieces are BEFORE setup.

Setup
This is directions to WHERE playing pieces need to be setup (you are setting up the game NOT the player).

Basics
This is basics of game play -- telling players HOW game pieces can be used along with mechanics with the game. You DO NOT SUGGEST how to play but you may include exceptions to the rules at the end of basics. This is where you use lots of visuals and examples of game play.

Winning The Game
This is an explanation to the players on the end conditions of the game (so they know when to quit) as well as scoring conditions (so they can track and tally their scores).
===============================

simpson

metzgerism
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I need page one.

I need page one. You can't just upload some page and expect us to make a good judgment on your rule-writing capabilities.

USE AN OUTLINE - you can find a proper one in just about any "drugstore" boardgame...here is what I want to see, in order:

1) Overview (including theme, this does not have to be a separate section.
2) Game specifics (Number of players, play time, contents)
3) OBJECTIVE - the most important part, and this is why I am interrupting this list to say something about it:
- This is your thesis statement. It tells the reader where the rest of this rulebook is going and how the game is anchored.
- It should be 1-2 sentences, IMO: how you play, and how you win.
- It should have only the necessary game-specific "jargon."

Here's one for Rugby Union:
"By passing, kicking, and running with the ball, two teams of 15 players each attempt to advance the ball across a 100m long field in order to score points in various ways. The team with more points after 80 minutes is declared the winner."

Some of that is unnecessary, but it gives you context. You know generally HOW the game is played, WHAT the field of play is, and WHO the winner is. Now you need to know the details of the play, the field, and how to win (notably, how to score points).

4) Details
5) Exceptions to any rules given in details.
6) End of game/Winning the game.

That really should be it - section 4 is going to be the meat (and I can't really start to tell you what to do with it), but the Objective is clearly the key.

I need page one.

EDIT: In reading simpson's post, I agree that objective should come before contents in almost every case. In a game with a small number of differing pieces (like Carcassonne, which has 72 tiles, 5 sets of 8 meeples, and a scoring track), you might WANT to put contents first, in order to give the player perspective. In a game with a lot more moving pieces, you'll want to anchor the player with the game's objective first.

metzgerism
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http://www.iggamecenter.com/info/en/rules.html

http://www.iggamecenter.com/info/en/rules.html

Go there.
Read some rules, including the ones for games that I have made (Shintai and TriGo).
I am NOT perfect, but these rulesets are outlined well and Arty does a pretty good job (sometimes translating doesn't work out, but I have fixed that in the past).

Whenever I make a new ruleset, I copy and paste what he's done. Making the rules can be the most tedious part of game design, even when your game has only like 2 rules (like Shintai).

Traz
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OK, OK! pg 1 is up!

Awesome feedback, guys. I will update and report back. By popular request, I have uploaded pg 1.

http://www.bgdf.com/node/1803

Looks like the rest of my day will be spent with short people, and it will definitely take me a few days to incorporate changes, but I will be back with suggested changes for your approval ASAP. Thanks for all the feedback! I hope this is being helpful for others.

ReneWiersma
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OK, here are some comments.

OK, here are some comments.

Page 1.
* Start with number of players, playing time and game contents.
* The thematic blurb should be shorter. I lost my interest halfway.
* The game overview is too long and goes into specifics too much. Stick to what the game is about in general terms. What are players supposed to be doing and how do they win? I don't yet want to know about active boxes, new boxes and when I can play cards there and when not, etc. I have read the game overview several times and I still don't know what the game is about. This part needs some serious rewriting.
* Don't put "[player card]" after "temple card". Use one term and stick with it.

Page 2.
* Setup. The first line belongs on page 1. The second line "Each player..." can be shortened to "Each player receives one Temple card and places it face up in front of him". What this card is for can wait until later, just stick to setting up the game for now.
* The deck of remaining cards becomes a drawing pile, I suppose?
* The second paragraph doesn't belong in "set up". It needs its own header: "Game Play". Also, I want a bit more in-depth view of what the game's structure looks like. Something like: "The game consists of three rounds. At the start of each round there's an auction for the Seth-card. Then players take their turns in clockwise order. A player's turn consists of three phases: draw, place new, active to jar and new to active".
* I'm wondering if the phases need more descriptive names. Draw cards, that much is evident. Place new what? What active to jar? And what kind of new things go to the active what?
* Is the bidding once around? If not, what happens when a player doesn't bid, can he re-enter the bidding again later on?
* Does a round start with a single auction, and then each player in turn take their actions? Or is there an auction round before each player's turn? I suppose the former, but I can't be sure.
* Draw and place new. I would rewrite this as follows: "At the start of your turn you draw two cards if there are no cards on your Active Box (see picture), otherwise you draw just one card". It follows that this is mandatory so you can leave that out. By the way, what if the draw pile is empty? Reshuffle discard pile and this becomes new draw pile?
* Draw and place new. I would leave out the part about there not being a hand limit. I would move the part about returning all cards to a later part of the rules (clean-up at end of round). This is the "draw card" section, so stick to that.
* I would seperate the "draw" and "place new" sections, because they are different phases. They need their own paragraphs, for consistency.

Traz
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arewethereyet?arewethereyet?

OK. Check the two newest PAGE 1 and PAGE 2 arts-

http://www.bgdf.com/node/1812
http://www.bgdf.com/node/1813

I'm not saying this is the final draft, but it's been driving me crazy and I've finally decided to bite the bullet and do it myself. I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate all your in-depth critique. I may not use all of it - but all of it IS getting through. I'm going to continue this through to the end, adding each page as I go along - then showing the entire finished product at the end.

If nothing else, hopefully this whole thing will be able to serve as a primer on how to / how not to write a rulebook. Cause I know you guys'll keep me honest! ;-)

simpson
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Game Overview: Still too

Game Overview: Still too long. Trim it to 2-3 sentences. Focus on WHAT ROLE the player will take during the game. As it is right now, its hard to tell if you play a god, a pharaoh, a funeral servant...

Gameplay: Too short. Focus on WHAT MECHANICS the player will use during the game (set collection, hand management, area control, etc...).

Playing Pieces: Not bad but a description for each would be better so that a player can reference it as he's reading the game instructions.

Setup: You don't have one.

Basics: Go through a player's turn that happens normally -- no more, no less. After a player action, use an example. At the end of basics, go through rule exceptions, using examples. Use a recurring example to keep it simple and flowing.

Design Advice:
Keep rules in a non-fancy sans serif font.
Italicize examples and keywords.
Use headers.
Two-column layout are prefered.
Only headers should be Bold or UPPERCASE

Editorial Advice:
Never include "Notes:".
Add a definition when you use 'quoted term'

simpson

Traz
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ACK!

OK - it's way too late.... I couldn't leave it alone. I finally finished the 'OVERVIEW', but it seems like what I've done is give the all the basics if the game in three pages. That seems excessive. But I have done it from the perspective of how I normally explain it to newbies. I'm off to bed, but in the morning I'm going to take all the suggestions along with the first three pgs with me to work... guess what I'll be doing at lunch? :-)

Thanks for keeping me going guys.

pg 3 is here-

http://www.bgdf.com/node/1817

metzgerism
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Alright, it's beginning to

Alright, it's beginning to look a little better to me. I have one major piece of advice now: SUBDIVIDE YOUR SECTIONS. The meandering storytelling method DOES NOT WORK. Use blank space or big font to emphasize points (also, you may want to use a different, less stylized font - a Roman-style one might work with the theme properly).

Let's go back to objective:

"The player with the most pharaohs at the end of three rounds is the winner."

There you go. Jargon, duration, and the word "winner."

Hit return twice and start the Setup section.

Don't even start to explain how to get pharaohs because it's part of the details - people just need to know 'hey, I need pharaohs.' In other words, pharaoh = VP.

ReneWiersma
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Page 1 So much better now!

Page 1

So much better now! It's amazing how just a few pictures of the playing pieces make things so much clearer. Just a few remarks... I would move the line "Gods of the Nile is a game for..." to before the thematic blurb. Also most rulebooks state how much of each playing piece there is so players can check if they miss a piece or not.

Page 2 and 3

The overview is meant to give the player a basic idea of what the game will look like. You should not go into too much detail yet. The overview should be a short paragraph of just a few lines. I think you should stop after the line "Scarabs are earned...". Up until that point everything was quite clear, but then you go into the details of gameplay and I got confused.

I like the picture of how a set of four jars make a Pharao, though. That's a great way to visualize that concept.

I think I would also like a line explaining the thematic link of what we are doing in the game. Are we Gods leading dynasties through the ages?

To summarize... "The players are xxxx trying to yyyy. During their turn players play cards on their Temple to earns Scarabs. A set of Scarabs translates into a Jar. A set of Jars translates into a Pharao. The game lasts three rounds. Whoever has the most Pharaos at the end of the third round, wins the game."

This should give the player enough info to get an idea of what he should try to accomplish during the game, without overwhelming him with too much detail yet.

Did you notice I summarized things in exact the opposite order as you did? I think that is a more logical flow.

After the overview I would explain the game setup, and the round/turn structure. Then I would explain each phase of the game (auction of Seth card, the four phases of a player's turn) in detail.

Traz
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pg 1 - again...

Well - that was interesting. Once again it's been a long nite....

I took 4 rulebooks with me today along with the comments - and felt like kicking myself. I can't believe I never STARTED OUT with some of the rulebooks to games I love - RA, SETTLERS, ALHAMBRA and STONE AGE. Together with comments from here and looking at the published works, I'm feeling pretty good with what I wound up with.

Couldn't find a font I liked - everything else seems to take away from the flavor - but I'll keep looking... later. For now, I think I'm getting further towards what I envisioned it should be. Check the new pg 1...

http://www.bgdf.com/node/1829

ReneWiersma
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I like it. :)

I like it. :)

scifiantihero
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I just got . . .

Traz wrote:
SETTLERS

That rulebook is terrible! (At least my 2007 ed. is)

Glad to see you're getting help, though, Traz!

:)

simpson
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So much clearer now! I feel

So much clearer now! I feel like I know the gist of the game with just that one page and the parts I don't know encourage me to learn more about them.

Also, I don't mind the Papyrus font anymore now that the text is outlined. Before with the underlining and the red, it just felt like a minefield of information.

You kept plugging away at it and its working.

simpson

Dirg
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Someone should email this

Someone should email this thread to fantasy flight games. Every game of theirs I have ever played had rules written by 2 trained chimps on an all night bender.

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