Play a Better Game: Know the Rules

July 22, 2009

For anyone that has worked an IT help desk you are probably intimately familiar with the abbreviation RTFM. And like a frustrated computer user, I was all ready to rail against the Space Race in Twilight Struggle until I popped open the rules and read the following section.

6.4.4 Special abilities are granted only to the first player to reach the space [on the Space Race track]. The special effect is immediately canceled when the second player reaches that box.

Apparently, John and I have missed the last sentence about the special action going away. Instead it always was played that it sticks around, so whoever got an animal in space first had a huge bonus and much easier time of dodging bad cards and landing on the moon.

While I’d like to declare my three losses to John null and void (I’ll keep the two wins!), part of this is my fault. I relied solely on John to teach me the game and never went and read the full rules myself. Suffice to say, this has taught me a valuable lesson never trust John know the rules yourself and have them available at the table.

But sometimes even the rules aren’t enough to clarify the situation, so what should you do?

  1. Check to see if there is an updated version of the rules. For example, going to GMT’s website, I find that Napoleonic Wars is up to version 1.3f of the rules. If you have an older first edition box, you’re playing with old rules.
  2. Search for a FAQ or clarifications document. Some of the strange scenarios John talks about in his DEFCON conundrum post are explicitly identified in the excellent Twilight Struggle FAQ. A US player that has read the FAQ is will know better than to play Lone Gunman when DEFCON is at 2.
  3. Ask at Board Game Geek. BGG has a number of excellent forums where rule text can be explained by experienced players.
  4. If all else fails, go with the interpretation that best seems to fit the theme of the game. For example, if the game is about building railroads, choose the interpretation that errs on the side of building more railroads.