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Rules and Instructions Blog

Rules and Instructions

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Jamie Collins

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We ran into an unexpected problem when debuting the much-anticipated Animal Crossing on the Wii: who goes first? We'd usually reach for the rules at this point, but realised videogames only really offer instructions - two very different things.

When playing a board game this is rarely a problem, because like everything else it is prescribed in the rules (as opposed to instructions). Often, the youngest player goes first, meaning of course that the family elder will never open in those games. For some games the starting order is fairly stable but no immutable. In Aquarius, the person with the longest hair goes first and some serious split ends about a year ago saw the younger sister take the lead.

Sometimes, though, the official rules don't help in choosing just one player to start. In Ticket to Ride Märklin Edition, the person with the best collection of Märklin model trains is supposed to go first (thankfully a tie breaker -- youngest player -- is also specified). In Fresh Fish, the player who most recently dined on fresh fish goes. But all the family had plaice and chips by the sea during the local switching on of the Christmas lights in our local town. Who was last to finish their meal.

It pays to think ahead with these things. When a walk took us over a pair of weirs on the Thames, I drew to everyone's attention the fact I was the last to cross. Why? Because I'd remembered that in Forbidden Island the last person to visit an island goes first. And surely that structure between the two weirs should be considered an island, no?

I mentioned in passing the fact that the rules to a board game do not constitute its instructions. They tell you what you can and can't do, perhaps suggest things you should and shouldn't do, but they tend not to tell you how to play.

Some provide example turns but they are generally quite dry. Happily, when debuting a game our family needs merely a basic rules outline, say five minutes' worth, then we get stuck right in. Admittedly, this can be a high risk approach: first impressions are everything and we've had quite a few board games that never made it back to the table for a second outing.

In the last couple of years the availability of online video tutorials for board games have been a game changer. We recently invited friends round for some drinks and nibbles with the intention of playing the board game Pandemic.

Beforehand, I email the URL to a YouTube overview of the rules, pointing out that it was only five minutes in length. The guests arrived not only enthused by the game but ready to start playing immediately, with detailed rules clarifications made along the way of course. None of that coy, "Do you fancy playing a game..?" malarkey for us.

Unlike board games though, videogames offer compulsory instructions and often neglect to actually tell you the rules at all. Video reviews help identify games we are likely to enjoy but the idea of using a video walk through to actually learn how to play a game is frankly ridiculous. No, in videogames, it seems, the tutorial is fully integrated into the game itself.

Little Kings Story has a long learning curve but it is a gently, cleverly done. First, the kingdom is small and the goals are modest (dig up enough turnips to afford to train grunt soldiers) but you are eased into aiming for world domination very nicely. For us, the tutorial for Zack and Wiki -- effectively the first 45 minutes of play -- was the most enjoyable part of the game because we got hints to solve the puzzles without having to ask. After that it all got a bit tricky for us, really.

We all sat down as a family to experience the first session of Animal Crossing because nobody wanted to miss out. Eventually, the matter of who goes first was resolved: I convinced Aurora (age 9) to let us younger sister Iona (age 6) go first on the basis that she could learn from her mistakes. How wrong I was.

The Tutorial in Animal Crossing is barely recognisable as such. Rather, you simply converse with the cute characters who are more than keen to give you the information you need to get started.

When you first arrive in your new city you are accompanied by Rover, a friendly cat who seems genuinely concerned for your well-being. I worked out that the first Mission in the game, after a house had been chosen, is to meet all the other residents. The kids didn't need this realisation: they naturally want to wander into other houses, talk to the inhabitants and -- shocking for me -- try out all their gadgets and furniture, even their beds.

Within minutes they had decided who their best friends would be and were working out how to interact with them, using emotion in their conversations. I was really surprised and please how quickly they 'got it'.

After they'd each take a turn playing for half an hour they both declared it was their best Wii game ever and that's not something they take lightly, I can assure you. They instantly started talking about what they would do next time they had screen-time. Oh dear, what have I started.

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Guest review by Jamie Collins

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Jamie Collins wrote this Board Gamer article under the watchful eye of Ed Stephens.

"In a world of ever advancing technology, where gaming is often synonymous with consoles, I'm here to take a different approach and look at board games."

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