Watching People Use Your Rulebook

Watching someone miss a rule in livestreamed game of Lanterns gave me insight into how rulebooks are used as references.

One of the challenges in writing rulebooks is that people use them both as tutorials (to learn the game) and as a reference (to look up specific rules in specific situations). I find it most natural to write the rulebook as a tutorial, but I recently had a great opportunity that really drove home the importance of the rulebook as a reference.

Charla and Justin from Sweethearts or Rivals live-streamed a game of Lanterns, and in that game a few questions came up about the rules:

  • Who goes first?
  • When does the game end?
  • Can you make more than one exchange on a turn?

They went to the rulebook for all three of these questions. They found the answer to the first two, but for the third one they did not come away from the rulebook with the correct answer. Let me walk you through what happened and show you the change we will be making in a future printing.

[Note: This video shows an individual failing to find the answer to a
question in our rulebook. This post is a critique of the rulebook, and
in no way should be interpreted as a criticism of the individual.]

The “Gameplay” section begins on page 6, with this text:

The active player may perform each of these actions once per turn in this order:

1. Exchange a Lantern Card (optional)
2. Make a Dedication (optional)
3. Place a Lake Tile (mandatory)

It then continues with detailed explanations of each of the three actions. Here’s how the page is laid out:

Lanterns Rulebook, Page 6

Lanterns Rulebook, Page 6 (Click image to see larger version)

Late in the game, Justin is planning his turn while Charla is placing her last tile. At 23:10, he picks up the rulebook, flips through it, and then says, “Hmmm.” After Charla places the tile, at 25:50, Justin explains that he looked up whether you can make multiple exchanges in one turn or not. Take a look at these two short clips:

Justin Looks At The Rulebook (22 seconds)

Justin Explains (28 seconds)

He concludes, “It doesn’t say you can only do it one time,” and he makes a second exchange.

It was so enlightening to watch this happen. When using the rulebook as a reference, Justin only read the detailed descriptions of Steps 1 and 2. He did not read back up to the overview section. Even though the rulebook clearly says you can only perform each action one time, it does not say it where someone would look for it if they weren’t sure of the answer.

I think there’s a simple change that can fix this. Instead of saying …

First, the active player may spend two Favor Tokens …

… we’ll change it to say …

First, once per turn, the active player may spend two Favor Tokens …

When the rulebook is read as a tutorial, this sounds a little redundant. But when it is used as a reference, this will keep an important rule from getting missed.

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3 thoughts on “Watching People Use Your Rulebook

  1. Pingback: Rules for non-readers | Oakleaf Games

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