Last time around, I shared a few of the reservations I have about tutorials - those favoured means of explaining rules in video games - and how many people are interested in transposing them into the wold of board games. I would like to continue my analysis here, and see if there might actually be some lessons to be learned from tutorials, an if we can possibly import some of their elements to board games.
Tutorials can be integrated in different ways and to different degrees in board games.
- On one end of the spectrum, there are games with what I would call "complete" tutorials, meaning that they tell you precisely what to do, and are obligatory: This War of Mine, and the Fast Forward series (Fortress, Fear, Flee, and Fortune), Mechs vs. Minions.
- Next in line, we have games in which tutorials are proposed without being an essential element. Root is a noteworthy example of this, as each player plays with a different set of rules.
- There are also many games that take advantage of their scenario-based structure to flesh out the rules for players over a series of plays. Examples of this method include Memoir 44 (in which the first game - the first scenario - only offers a small portion of the game's possibilities), Space Alert, and Magic Maze. These are all games in which the last scenario represents, perhaps, the designer's 'final, complete' vision of the game. I get the strong feeling that these games are successful at what they do because the first plays are interesting to play in and of themselves.
I should also mention Legacy-style or 'evolutive' games like Pandemic Legacy and our own Zombie Kidz Evolution. The first of these two is less of a 'tutorial' style game, because we are only adding and replacing elements, which results more in a transformation rather than a game that is gradually revealing itself. The other game, Zombie Kidz Evolution, can be considered a long tutorial, even though the 'final' state of the game was never, in our minds, the 'real' game. And in fact, we often heard parents say, "our child would never have been able to play a game with so many rules right at the start," indicating that this kind of game provides a 'superior' kind of learning approach.
And finally there is a 'hybrid' category, which, for me, is the most interesting one, in which learning is part of the game's development, incorporating partial tutorial elements, without the designer or publisher even thinking about it.
Many worker-placement games, like Caylus or Agricola, have actions that only become available later in the game. This allows rule explanations to be shorter, and speeds up the process of getting the game underway. As soon as those actions become available, new players will understand them much more easily because they will have already played a few rounds, allowing them to absorb all the ins and outs of the gameplay.
There is another lesson to be drawn from the excellent Aeon's End. In this game, the card decks are put together in such a way that the setup for your first game - the most important one! - is almost instantaneous. Instead of grouping all the pieces by type, and asking the player to identify Marker A, Token B, and Card Whatever, and then putting the correct amount of those various things on places X, Y, and Z, Aeon's End organized the game's elements by how they would be used in the first setup for the learning game. You don't have to look for anything; everything is already there, in the right order, in the right quantity. And for your next game, you'll know what each of the components are used for, without even having had to 'learn' it.
In light of these reflections, we've modified the way we put together the rules for Zombie Teenz Evolution. Next time, I will explain the strategies we put in place to minimize rules errors as much as possible.
As a board game publisher, we still have a lot to do; there is lots of room for improving the way in which our games are picked up, which, I am convinced, is the greatest barrier for the propagation of our wonderful hobby. :)
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