How reading the rules can help me pick new games

How do you know if a game is worth buying if no one has played it yet?

So I have posted in that I think rules up front for Kickstarters is an essential part of a successful campaign. Having a feel for a game goes a long way to deciding if I want to back a game. It also gives a good indication of how developed and playtested it is as well.

Of course, especially with the Kickstarter example, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. When part of the campaign is raising funds to allow the people time to develop the game, I look more at the designers take on feedback and the magical ‘gut feel’. Games like Samhain and Sunset Over Water (which I got in the mail last night!) are good examples of leap of faith pledges.

Then there are campaigns like Fireball Island from Restoration Games where the rules are complete. With all of the revisions and knowing the fan reaction to this game, you know the Restoration Games is up to the challenge. I am already a massive fan of Restoration Games, with only one of their games not in my collection. Nothing against Indulgence, I just wasn’t a fan of Dragonmaster, and I don’t know anyone with a copy to try it.

Fireball Island New Box Cover

Fireball Island is one of those games where I think it’s probably better in memory than the game deserves. Looking through the rules though it seems like enough ‘game’ has been added to make it fun for all. Fireball Island still won’t be a heavy gaming experience, but even just the change of turning Vul-Kar into a mini dice tower with multiple paths for the fireballs adds a sense of player agency to the game.

The Kickstarter page gives you a feel for the modular construction of the new island, but the rules also give you a better feel for just how big this will be. There are going to be a lot of parts to setting up the island – more so if you include all the expansions. It doesn’t look Mousetrap level crazy – everything has a spot to sit. But taking seven trees in and out each game will probably get annoying, especially as these trees alter the paths of fireballs and I am worried about them breaking.

So that’s an example of what I look for in a rulebook before purchase, now we can compare this to another game that has piqued my interest. Plaid Hat Games has been slowly teasing Starship Samurai, and a couple of days ago made it available for preorder and included the rules on the product page.

Now I already didn’t know anything about the game except for some very pretty miniatures as playing pieces. Looking at the product page, the first thing I thought of with the ‘board’ was Dead of Winter. Isaac Vega designed Starship Samurai and co-designed Dead of Winter, so this made sense after a second. The modular board design works, it was just an initial layout impression from an image. So I shake it off and start reading the rules.

Starship Samurai Game Setup

And honestly, I probably shouldn’t have read the rules pretty much straight after reading the rules for Fireball Island. It’s a chalk and cheese comparison, and I am not trying to make Starship Samurai sound bad, but after reading a more complex game manual where I don’t feel I know what the actual game is still isn’t a great first impression.

The art is outstanding, and no rule seems to contradict or confuse. The manual is well laid out and overall concise. There aren’t any issues over and above a ‘manual’ that I can point to other than I don’t know why I want to play Starship Samurai. Again, this isn’t something that that by itself is a negative – it’s the same for many mid-weight and above games. The purpose of the manual is to teach you how to play the game, and Starship Samurai does this.

Dead of Winter teaches you how to play the game (more or less, Starship Samurai’s manual I would say is better without putting it to a playtest) but the manual doesn’t get you excited about playing the game. The possible betrayal and crossroads mechanics are what got people excited, even before they knew the rules. And this is what Starship Samurai lacks – the different ‘something’ that you can point to marketing wise and build a buzz around.

Starship Samurai looks to be a solid game, and honestly, I would be tempted to back it if it were a Kickstarter. I would probably have already pledged it if it was a newer designer or company. But this is a full retail game from a known designer and publisher, and after the massive information push that was Stuffed Fables (that I still want to play!), I would like to see more information before thinking of preordering. A single whole game run-through video would do it – I don’t need spoon feeding, I just want to see it in action.

It’s a grey area, but as I said I want to see videos of Starship Samurai because Plaid Hat has done them before and recently. Fireball Island has been under wraps, but it’s simple enough that I can all but see a game from the rules reading so I don’t need to watch a game to picture the gameplay. This is the ‘gut feel’ factor. Don’t treat Kickstarter and retail purchases as different either. If you would cut a new publisher a break on Kickstarter, do the same for a new publisher at your local games store.

So hopefully with those examples, this gives you a bit of an insight on what I look for when assessing new games. Kickstarter is an amazing platform for creators, and for gamers has evolved into almost a retail machine. Hopefully looking at your purchases this way, you can spend more time playing the games you want. And spending your money on such titles will encourage publishers to lift their game even more in the future.

Until next time,

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