Books are a trap

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If your game should wonder into book it will be snared and few will ever play it.

Enthusiasm is a precious resource. It is spent leaping over every hurdle between the moment someone wants to play a game and the moment the game actually hits the table. Putting your game into a book burns much player enthusiasm.

Play is my objective. If my games and toys sell but do not get played I feel they are a failure. Play happens to be the number one way to grow the market potential of your game. The act of playing a game is a strong recommendation of it’s draw and prof of it’s relevance. If someone keeps playing one of my games it is a complement that can not be invalidated.

To publish a game as a book is a trap, even if you put your book into a box and fill the box with all sorts of toys and cards. If the game is still in the book you are missing the point. The book lures you with it’s “cheap” production costs and massive room for “content”. Why try harder, books are hard enough.

Books are a necessary Evil for board and card games, they are expected and convenient when better teaching tools can not be found. But I will tell you a board game is not contained in it’s rulebook, the rulebook is just a teaching aid. A board game is a conglomeration of systems built in a player’s mind and expressed through components on a table. These components give the mind anchors and constant reminders of how the system functions. Most people learn board games orally from someone who already knows the rules, these people may also have learned the game from someone else. So in reality very few people even read the rulebook for a popular game. This is because rulebooks are terrible!

Ultimately a game is that conglomeration of systems and these things rarely act in liner fashion. Books are liner, rule books are the square peg in a round hole, rulebooks start at terrible and then get worse if written poorly.

If you are selling a rule book you are selling a terrible thing. Most board game companies give the rulebook away for free because no one in their right mind would pay for such a thing. Much of a typical RPG book is not rules. It is art, fiction and prose. These things live well in books. They immerse us in setting, experience and aesthetics. These things are the bait for the trap.

Board games are bought and sold around the perceived value of their components, if a game plays well and finds it’s audience it will continue to sell for generations, even when it has become so terribly dated. But that first purchase is about toy value. This is similar for RPGs but the first purchase is based on book value. Book value is the art, fiction, and prose. We think to ourselves, well I will probably not play this game but at least I will find the book enjoyable to read, that is worth a purchase.

The insidiousness of this is not to be doubted, the best books make terrible games. Or the values of a good book are in opposition to teaching a game this is why I put the words “content” and “cheap” in quotation marks, it’s a poor source of content for a game and a costly investment for players to use. Mixing prose and rules makes for poor prose and poorer rules. Art is a wonderful source of inspiration but for a game to use it , it can not be hidden in a book. A complete and detailed setting is not healthy if you want to tell new stories. You need the barest of details. All you need is to plant a seed.

Thanks everyone who is still paying attention to me! I promise to spend it wisely. Your support helps me focus and get things finished. If you are a publisher I would be happy to share more with you. If you have a game you want me to work on I am available for design, consulting and collaboration.

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2 responses to “Books are a trap

  1. This is my opinion too. One thing I’ve come to dislike about RPGs is the number of pages you need to read to even start playing the game.

  2. You should write more often. 🙂

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