I am tired of boring rulebooks

[warning: this post contains strong language. If you don’t accept such language, please, don’t read this post, visit me next week when I’ll have a new article. Thank you and sorry for the trouble.]

On Monday I posted a short article explaining how the Neuroshima RPG book came to life. It’s sort of a preface for today’s article, so if you have a moment please, head to my other blog post and read it. It’s a 3minute read, a really short story. It’ll give you a good background for today’s article.

Link to Monday’s article.

***

There were plenty of reasons why the Neuroshima RPG was a tremendous success. It was because there was no other post-apocalyptic game on the market. It was because of its rich and immersive world. It was because of a huge marketing campaign I created.

And it was because it read like no other book on the market.

Let me just give you a few examples.

How did we describe the Abilities of Player Characters in the Character Creation chapter? More or less like this:

Dexterity
You need this to be high to shoot well. If you can’t shoot, you’ll die. You need this to be high because you will need to escape from ruined buildings that have just collapsed, or to drive a motorbike and try to escape from mutants. You need this to be high or you’d better start creating a new character because this one is already dead.

Perception
You had better focus. There is death [to be found] in every corner of the ruins… in every bunker, old shelter… everywhere. If your perception sucks, you’ll wake up with a gun next to your stupid head and ‘boom!’ will be the last thing you’ll ever hear. Have too few points of Perception and you won’t even see that fucking tomahawk that is coming to cut you in half.

Charisma
Yeah, sure, invest in Charisma you dumb-ass. It’s super helpful when you are surrounded by 10 pissed-off villagers who want to kick your ass and your ammo is gone. Yeah, sure, I bet Perception will save your ass when you need to interrogate this ganger to know when his gang is going to attack your hideout. Let me just ask you one question. Have you ever hear of a dude who dodged a bullet when he had a gun next to his head? Because I tell you this… I did hear about a guy who was able to convince people to put the fucking gun away.
So low Charisma? I don’t think so…

Intelligence
Sure, you might be agile like a gorilla. You might have the perception of damn Jessie James. You might be a charismatic bad ass like Tommy Lee fucking Jones, but you’ll end up dumb as shit if you don’t invest in Intelligence. Guess, what…

And it went on and on in that manner. Every single sentence in the book was written for the player, and by saying “player” I mean a gamer who loves RPGs, who wants to create the best character possible and he wants to enjoy this process. Lots of jokes, lots of meta-stories, lots of bantering with player so he knows that we – authors of the book – know what we are talking about.

It’s not [merely] a boring rulebook that just includes all the how-to-play rules. It was an amazing, engaging, funny guide that told players how to survive in the world of Neuroshima and how to create a cool character. This is true for how we wrote the whole Character creation chapter and  this is true for how we wrote the rest of the book.

A chapter describing Europe in the Neuroshima RPG? It goes more or less like this: “Europe, mate?! I have no fucking idea what’s 10 miles away from the shithole we are in now and you ask me about Europe? Are you kidding me? There is no radio, no TV, no Internet, and you want to know about Europe. What’s the next thing you’ll want to know? What’s my opinion on the weather on Mars? Wake up, dumb-ass. No one knows a shit about Europe.”

And that’s all about Europe you’d find in the rulebook. That’s how we rolled back then.

***

I’m writing about the Neuroshima RPG because I strongly believe that the revolutionary approach we made regarding the language in this book… the way we wrote it… was an extremely important part of its success . Players loved to read it. Players immediately got engaged in the game and its world. Players would – they really would! – quote the book like some movie one-liners. They were posting ‘the best of’ quotes and sentences from the book. It was a blast for so many players.

Board game rulebooks are a whole different animal. They have much more in common with technical manuals for your new DVD player than with RPG books.

And yet, I’ve been struggling lately with the idea of making them more reader / geek friendly. I wonder what if instead of writing: “Each player draws 7 cards, chooses one to keep and passes the rest to the player on his left. Players repeat this process until every player has one card remaining. This card is kept along with all previously chosen cards.” I would just simply write: “Draft 7 cards. Friendly advice – choose the best of them and then crush your opponents.”

Wouldn’t it be cool to read rulebooks that are fun? Rulebooks that provide important information but don’t spend the time on explaining every stupid detail we all know? I mean, do we really need to read sentences like: “Put the board in the middle of the table so every player has a comfortable reach.”

I don’t know.

I have a well-earned reputation of a guy who was involved in extremely terrible rulebooks. I know that. I messed a lot. I am probably the last person who should talk about improving the way we write rulebooks. And yet, yes, I am struggling with this topic. And yes, I am trying a different approach. And yes, I want all of us to have better and better rulebooks.

I might try doing something crazy with the 51st State rulebook but before I do this, I’ll probably post some fragments on BGG and ask you guys for your opinion. Would you be interested in telling me that I should or shouldn’t take that route? Would you like rulebooks to be fun and engaging to read or you just want them to be extremely precise and you don’t care that they are boring as shit?

Please, give me your thoughts. Meanwhile, I’m going back to experiment with the 51st State rulebook…

Edited by Piotr, thank you.

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Offensive language, part 1

220px-Neuroshima

Neuroshima RPG game is the most offensive book you’d ever read in your life if I ever went crazy and decided to translate it into English.

Don’t worry. I am not that crazy. I won’t translate it. Let me tell you a story, though. Its first part comes today, the second will follow on Wednesday…

***

So I was in my twenties and I had serious financial problems. Portal Games was a small company struggling to survive. I was in debt, I had bailiff problems, I had no money in my account and I had a ton of debts a ton of creditors to pay off. I was in serious trouble. We were publishing a magazine about RPGs, we were publishing some small indie RPG games, we were trying our best to earn money in the RPG industry but already owed printing houses a lot of money, and piles of unsold products were piling high in our storeroom.

It was 2002, for three years I had been facing constant financial problems, three years of enormous stress, sleepless nights, unpaid invoices and working 24/7 without a single break and without a single dollar in my account. It was September 2002 when I told my closest friend, Michal Oracz, that I was tired and I was ready to try one more time to live our dream but then I was done. We decided that Neuroshima RPG will be our last try.

“It’s going to be a success or we are done here.”

***

We were working like crazy. I was writing like a madman. After 16 weeks of working all days and nights long, with almost no sleep, we wrote a book of over 500 pages. Never before had I written so much great stuff in so little time – and I’ve never done it again. With the amazing ideas and imagination of Michal Oracz, with the amazing faction chapters by Marcin Blacha and with me being the best fucking RPG writer on this planet, we compiled an amazing book and finally, at the end of that year we had a printable version in our hands. It was unbelievable material, funny, provocative; full of ideas, adventure hooks, jokes; the way it was written made it different from each and every other RPG on the market.  It read like a damn good novel, you started reading page 1 and couldn’t put the book away until you finished the last page.

Trust me, I know how to write. And these were my best writing days. I fought for my dream come true.

I had no money to print it, though. We had the material, we did not have the money.

Do you want to know how people dealt with this problem before the KS? I had an honest heart-to-heart conversation with Michal Oracz. I told him that we’d print 3000 books. Back then, it was 3 times more than an average print run of an RPG book in Poland. We both knew that I had no money to pay for it and that the sum stated on the invoice will be too large to somehow just wriggle out of it. The plan was simple enough – I’d just order the books and pray for a miracle to happen. Either we created a bestseller that would be going like hot cakes, or we would be fucked, Portal Games would go bankrupt and our dreams would be over.

In late January I sent the files to the printing house knowing that that was it. I paid them a small amount of money in advance and didn’t tell them that it was all I had. That and my hopes. I knew that either this was going to be the best RPG out there, or I had just screwed up my whole life.

***

Guess what! Neuroshima RPG was a huge success. People were buying it like crazy. Within a few months we did a reprint. Over a couple of years it became the most popular RPG in Poland superseding D&D, Warhammer RPG, Cyberpunk and Call of Cthulhu. We wrote the best RPG in Poland.

I didn’t screw up my life. I have lived my dream.

to be continued…

edited by Piotr,

thank you Piotr!

I said it!

If you have listened to or read any of the interviews I gave in the previous two or three years, you’ve probably noticed one thing. This one thing was – I was sending a message: ‘It’s just a beginning. It’s not started yet.’

I have a unique perspective – I am active here in the U.S., and I closely observe how the market grows and at the same time I work in Poland and I observe and analyze the Polish market. I run businesses in these two countries. It gives me a pretty interesting angle.

I know how many copies of Neuroshima Hex, Robinson Crusoe or Imperial Settlers I sell in Poland. I also know how many times the U.S. is bigger than Poland. And I also know how much more people earn here than in Poland.

In all interviews I am going to give this year I could repeat it over and over again. “It’s just a beginning. It’s not started yet”.

But actually I won’t. I have pretty exciting news for you. It’s started. Mark the date. January 2016.

We all saw it coming. Asmodee is the biggest company in our market. Lately it has been acquiring companies one after another. What is most important for all of us, Asmodee also acquired the rights to two titles: Spot it and Catan.

Does it mean Asmodee will come to Gen con, fight for customers with Portal Games, Strongold Games, Plaid Hat Games, and destroy us? Or does it actually rather mean that they are gathering forces to fight for new customers? To go to Target, Barnes & Nobles or any other sale market and bring new people to our hobby?

That biggest company in the hobby sent a clear message: “We are ready to bring new people to the industry. We have Catan. We have Spot it. We have Ticket to Ride. We have all these amazing gateway games. We have the knowledge and resources, and we will use them in the best way possible.”

I can’t wait to see what is going to happen in 2016. I know we geeks are super excited about the second season of Pandemic: Legacy. I know you can’t wait to hear about a new game by Stefan Feld. Hopefully some of you are also eager to see what game Mr. Trzewiczek is going to announce on 23rd January during a Portal Games convention. But these will be only small, minor [insignificant] releases of 2016 compared to what will happen in the whole year.

In 2016 boardgaming in the U.S. will explode.

I said it. You may quote me on this.

 

edited by Piotr. Thank you!

Ultra fans

Hunt_for_Decimator___GenConHaul__SundayWithSon

It came out of nowhere. I was in the kitchen making dinner for the kids and he just began to talk. I mean my son, a 12-year-old kid. A hardcore X-Wing nerd. It was about 10- or 15-minute-long monologue without a single break. He managed to explain to me in detail all the ships from the new wave, pointed out in which movie (a Star Wars Rebels show) one of these ships is present, what skills it has in the movie and then what it means for the X-Wing rules. He told me what we should expect from this ship when we buy it. He also mentioned what other ships he expected in the next wave – all of that based on the movies, shows and a pretty detailed analysis of the FFG releases so far.

I didn’t understand a word of it.

I was terrified. Not because my son is going to kick my ass in the next 100 X-Wing games. Not because he visits the FFG page more often than the Portal Games’s site. Not because making dinner for four kids is a quite a task.

I was terrified because he showed me what true hardcore fans of a game look like. And without a doubt there are hardcore fans of Imperial Settlers there somewhere. Some hardcore fans of Robinson Crusoe. And of Stronghold…

It may be the case that at some point they will know more about the game than I do. Admit it. A terrifying feeling, huh? 😉

edited by Piotr, thank you!