I adore Fantasy Flight Games and they are the most prevalent publisher in my collection. I own too many of their games. I love Android: Netrunner, Cosmic Encounter, Twilight Imperium, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire and many, many more of their titles. I love they they produce big, thematic games and I like their popularisation of the ‘Living Card Game’ format.
My gaming groups enjoy Fantasy Flight titles as well, but the same concern gets raised by all players, regardless of whether they are relatively new gamers or more experienced players of designer board games. Simply put, Fantasy Flight Games have not historically produced really clear and straightforward rules manuals that make their games easy to pick up and play.
Now, part of the problem is that FFG do produce quite complex games with a lot of rules to cover in a relatively small rulebook. This means that you usually will end up flipping back and forth in the book to find specific rules and clarifications. That said, it’s really frustrating when rules for the same phase of the game are scattered throughout the book. Android: Netrunner is a good example of this and I found that I had to consult online sources and video to get a grasp of the game when the rulebook just failed to explain it to me. Also, to be fair, some of those videos were the ones that FFG themselves put online.
Another good example is the game, Red November. This is a cool little cooperative game where you play as one of several gnomes trapped on a submarine. The game is relatively simple, but it’s hard to tell that from the scattered, nonsensical manual that FFG provided. The rules were scattered and, in places, unclear. We had to fudge things a little on our first playthrough to make it work, as our only other option would have been to go online and find a solution there, which would have ground the evening to a halt whilst we looked. The game itself, once we grokked it, was actually very good, but the manual actively worked against us arriving at that conclusion.
More recently, Fantasy Flight seems to have taken a new approach to the their rules manuals. This is notable in Star Wars: Rebellion and A Game of Thrones: The Card Games (2nd Edition), among others. They have started packaging in two rulebooks. The first is a relatively simple ‘Learn to Play’ manual, which walks you through your first games, presenting the rules you need as you need them. This is great for games like Star Wars: Rebellion which, given the sheer amount of stuff in that box, can be intimidating for new players. The second book is a ‘Rules Reference’ manual. This gives a clearly organised list of all of the rules. This is very useful as it covers more advanced concepts that may not be covered in the ‘Learn to Play’ book. The ‘Learn to Play’ book is also presented in an almost narrative style, tackling events and rules as you would encounter them, giving examples and generally following the flow of play, as it should occur. This can make the book quite difficult to navigate when looking for a simple rules clarification in future games. This is where the ‘Rules Reference’, with a clearly indexed structure, shines.
I’ve read some negative feedback online from some sources about the manuals for Star Wars: Rebellion, but I found the criticism unfair, and often coming from sources not known for board game coverage, such as Kotaku, a video game website. As someone who is accustomed to rules manuals and who gets frustrated with Fantasy Flight’s manuals, this is a great step in the right direction for the company.
On a final note, and as a ringing endorsement, the more user-friendly presentation of the rules made it easier for my wife to get into Star Wars: Rebellion. As someone who usually stays away from complex big-box or war games, she was encouraged by what she saw, gave it a go and really enjoyed it. This new system works, and I hope they keep it going.
Now, any chance they could go back and give me the same type of manual for the original Android board game…