I picked up a copy of The City of Kings recently. I tasked my son with punching out all of the components (fortunately, he’s still young enough to be enthusiastic about this!) and I sat down to read the rulebook.
I got a couple of pages in though, past the thematic intro and the list of components, and it said, “If you prefer watching videos to reading rulebooks, then you can find a series of how to play videos on our website.”
You bet I do! So I went to the website and watched Frank West (the designer) explain how to play his game. Is it possible to learn the rules this way or do you need to read the rulebook really? Here’s my experience…
Frank’s rules video was actually great. It’s very difficult to do a rules video and he did so well. It was clear, well-presented and covered all the important stuff in an easy-to-follow way with plenty of examples of play.
So I took the game down to my local boardgame café, set it up with a few friends and explained how to play with nothing but the understanding I had gained from the video. Now you might be feeling a bit for my friends at this point – how smoothly is that likely to go?
I should perhaps preface this by explaining that ordinarily I try out all my games at home first (usually with my son, who’s ever so patient), before attempting to teach it to others. However, in this case a couple of people had expressed a keen interest in playing the game and were, in their words, “prepared if the first run through isn’t smooth”.
“Awesome!” I thought. “Forget the rulebook!” So I explained everything and we started playing. Much of the game involves moving around the map, revealing tiles and taking actions to acquire resources and fight monsters.
The video helpfully explained that you could look up the rules for individual tiles as they appeared without having to be familiar with them all beforehand. The game very sensibly provides two rulebooks: one teaches you how to play and the other is a rules reference for looking up rules while you’re playing.
We flipped over the first tile, I looked it up in the rules reference and it allowed you to trade in resources for a benefit. Okay, cool. The next tile we revealed was very similar: you could trade in a different kind of resource for a different benefit.
At this point I started to wonder. “How were we supposed to obtain these resources in the first place?” Theoretically, there should be resource tiles like mines and lakes that allow you to get resources like ore and fish. We had just randomly selected a bunch of tiles from a massive stack at the start of the game though. What if there weren’t any resource tiles in the ones we had selected?
So I called a halt to the game, people went to get cake and drinks and I furiously skimmed the rulebook looking for the setup instructions for the tiles. Nothing stood out. Then I remembered that the game was scenario based and the specific setup instructions for this scenario were on a card.
I looked carefully through the card and there it was: in the fine print above the map layout, it said, “Tiles 1, 2, 3”. A quick check of the tiles revealed that they were numbered and I realised our mistake! “Sorry everyone! I think we need to start again!”
I sheepishly explained what had happened and we setup the map again with the correct tiles and started over. The other players were very gracious about it and fortunately we didn’t run into any other major hiccoughs. There were just a few nervous moments where I thought one of us was going to die and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what should happen in that case. Fortunately, we kept avoiding death by the skin of our teeth!
I did work it out in the end, but I spent a good chunk of the game looking things up in the rules reference in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the players. I would see something was about to happen and think, “Argh! I don’t know how to deal with that!”
Since playing, I have sat down to read the rulebook properly and now I feel much more confident about all the little rules. Aside from the issue with the tiles though, it went pretty well overall. We certainly all enjoyed ourselves. Actually, I thought the game was great!
Would I learn a game like that by watching a rules video again though? Hmm… not sure. If it’s a short, party game with just a few rules, then a video is probably a great way to learn the rules. Although if there aren’t many rules, you can probably just read the rulebook as quickly.
If you just wanted to jump in and play the game – maybe playing solo to get the hang of it – I think the video idea works really well. I would definitely want to read the rulebook (the how-to-play book at least) thoroughly before playing with others again though.
Although our playthrough went fine (more or less!), it was rather a stressful experience for me! I felt like I was covering a lesson at school for a subject I didn’t really know. “Alright kids, today we’re doing… Zoology! I’ve watched the Discovery Channel and I think I’ve got the hang of it!”
Have you ever tried learning the rules to a game by watching a video? How did you find it?