"All players go through these steps simultaneously.
The active player goes first in each step."
HUH???? I kid you not, the above rule is from a game that I have spent the last three days trying to figure out how to play.
In the past month I have read the rules to three new games. None of these games are particularly complicated. None of them were translated from another language into English.
One set of rules was clear and understandable.
One set of rules had about a half dozen instances of ambiguity, and one out right contradiction. It required three trips to the publishers web site, and a print out of the errata and the FAQ's to clear up the confusion.
The last set of rules read like they had been run through babblefish. After reading them three times, visiting the publishers website several times, printing out the new revised rules and reading those through twice, and printing out the eight pages of FAQs and reading those, I'm still not clear on a couple of points.
Poorly written rules are inexcusable. Hire a technical writer for heaven's sake. Hire a proof reader. At the very least, hand the rules to someone who is completely unfamiliar with the game and see if the person can understand the rules well enough to play the game. I'll volunteer. Send me a copy of the game and the rules and I will gladly tell you how friggin' awful they are. God, I miss the old AH rules with the cross referenced, numbered paragraphs.
Things in Game Rules that Piss Me Off
- Grammatically incorrect sentences. All a publisher has to do is pick up the phone and call the nearest Catholic school and hire a nun to proof read the rules. While the publisher is at it, they should hire that nun to teach a workshop on ambiguous reference, general reference and weak reference. "Take the top card from the deck and place it face up in front of you," means "Take the top card from the deck and place the deck face up in front of you." In this case I know that the writer's intention was that the card should be placed face-up, not the deck; however, grammatical mistakes of this nature can make more complex rules incomprehensible. Futhermore, I don't want to waste my time diagraming sentences, and argueing with rules-lawyer friends over the strict gramatical meaning of the rule vs what the author really meant to say.
- Rules written by someone so close to the game that they leave out what is obvious to them. In one of the games mentioned above, a player has to move one of their pawns onto a "challenge space" to attempt a "challenge." The opponent player can increase the difficulty of the challenge by playing cards out of their hand. What the rules fail to mention is that the opponent must have at least one of his pawns on the challenge space in order to be able to play those cards. This one omission makes the difference between an interesting game and a stupid game.
- Rules that attempt to be funny, or that are written in a conversational tone. Extra verbiage is annoying, confusing and just makes the rules longer. The babblefish rules mentioned above contain the following gems:
"Yep. Another two-player passing thing."
- Rules with a section entitled "Sequence of Play" where every third line is "see page xx." If you are going to include a sequence of play, write it in sequence, damn it!
- Important rules that are buried in a paragraph of a section that is about something else, such as healing rules buried in the section entitled "Movement."
- Rules that don't define words that have specific meanings in the game but have other meanings, similar meanings or multiple meanings in the English language. The most common examples are games that have "turns," "rounds," "phases," and "steps," and games that have "skills," "traits," "attributes," and "talents." Games that have thematic names for things like points and money are also guilty of this offense.
- Rules that use "player" and "character" interchangeably. My favorite example of this error is, "You can do X to the player next to you." The intention of the rule is "you can do X to the character whose pawn occupies a space adjacent to your character's pawn," not "you can do X to the person sitting next to you." How about "You can attack a player that occupies the same space that you occupy."? I claim that this rule breaks the laws of physics, however my husband claims this rule means that if I sit on his lap, he can attack me.