Hard to learn games?

So I usually teach myself games from the rulebook because in most cases it falls to me to teach the rest of the table because I am one of the two people among our local group who buys a lot of games.

With online gaming this has become even more pronounced.

But sometimes I struggle to learn games. I have even failed to learn some games of which I have physical copies, despite multiple attempts: Teotihuacan and Bios Genesis. I also have a much harder time learning a game without physical components–so the whole “play before you buy” is really difficult while I cannot go to Spiel or FLGS to try out games in person.

What games did you struggle to learn?


Bios: Genesis is horrible to learn. And compared to other SMG/Ion games, I don’t think it’s worth it at all. I much prefered the other two Bios games as well as the few Pax games I have played so far. With those there is also the significant benefit of the availability of Heavy Cardboard teaching videos, which were immensly helpful in learning these games.


I needed to resort to third-party play aids for Thunderbolt: Apache Leader (and a video helped too). It’s not actually desperately complicated, but the rulebook makes it hard work.


Sometimes the rule book is bad like Keyflower that the best way to learn it is to watch Rodney Smith’s video


Weirdly, the Red7 rulebook makes the game seem about twice as complicated as it really is. There’s all this fiddle about the exact order in which you do things which doesn’t affect gameplay at all, when what it really comes down to is “you can play one card to your tableau, one card to the rules pile, or both; at the end of your turn, if you don’t have the winning tableau according to the rules in force, you’re out”.


Brass Birmingham took a good few plays to get all the fiddly rules down and I’m not convinced I have all of them. I’m finding online implementations that enforce the rules of games are very handy and often quite eye opening.


In my teens in the mid 80s it took my schoolfriends and I several weeks to get to grips with Avalon Hill’s Statis Pro Football, even though we knew the basic rules of American Football. We got a couple of rules wrong for the first few months but still loved it and played it for years.


Mottanai was easily the most difficult one for me. I think it took 3 full reads of the rulebook to start grokking the flow of the game and the structure of a turn.


I have that sat in the house waiting for a first play.


It did take me several reads to learn it while two-handing and then it went to the “omg my partner will hate me if I pull this out” stack :frowning: Obviously, now I have forgotten the rules again.

The amount of games I played on the Lancaster app before even remotely grokking what was going on was staggering. But it is the kind of game that I am glad I played before jumping for Brass B :slight_smile: After figuring out how not to get destroyed by the AI through trial and error, Brass B was not that hard to learn. And I had several “Oh, that’s the reason the app makes me do this?” moments.

This reminds me that sometimes I try to learn a game simply by playing the app or a scripted version of it. This is how I learned Dominion or more recently (on BGA) Tranquility. Of course that one will fail quickly if you do not at least once look into the rulebook because why would anyone start the numbers in the lower left corner when all civilized people want to start in the upper left corner?

That reminds me that one I really struggled with was Black Angel which has one of the most disoganized rulebooks I remember.

I haven’t played that many of their games, for a number of years I simply avoided them at Essen because the local boardgame guru loved them and back then his recommendations had failed me a number of times. This changed in recent years… my tastes have grown more similar to his.

If I didn’t play in a demo game of Pax Transhumanity in Essen, I would never have been able to learn the rules from the rulebook. When we gathered for a huge game night shortly after, it took me half the running game to teach all the rules to the players–they were very generous with my sad teaching skills. It’s all nice to have games in a small package but when the rulebook suffers… especially when half the rulebook is footnotes.

The Heavy Cardboard Teaching videos are too long for me to sit through them. I like to sometimes have one of their playthroughs run while I am doing something else.

Honorable or rather dishonorable mention to the automa rules for Gaia Project. I relearned them yesterday to be able to teach them and while the automa is pretty good, it has too many fiddly bits and the rulebook doesn’t even do a card anatomy thing.

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Yup, having some trouble with this one myself. Watched a video, which seems clear, but its just not sitting in my brain.


The rules of Napoleon’s Triumph are extraordinary. The game has very simple components, and a very simple basic idea: you control one of two armies, and you are trying to lower the morale of the other army enough to make them surrender. There’s some asymmetry, but mainly just in the makeup of the armies and the number of orders you’re allowed to issue each turn. It doesn’t look hard.

But even after reading the rules multiple times each turn produces a new ‘oops I didn’t realise that’ moment. I don’t even know whether it would be possible to rewrite the rules to be clearer. But I do know that it’s bafflingly hard to achieve any sort of sense of familiarity.

Here I Stand has famously convoluted rules, and it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you play, there’s always some obscure reason why you can’t do something you thought you should be able to. But even the designer of the game has been known to get the rules wrong, so it’s easier just to sort of go with the flow and not worry about all the details.


I couldn’t think of any, but Napoleon’s Triumph is a good call. Very precise rules, written with clarity and skill, but also seemingly written with a laser focus on keeping the page (word?) count down. Simple things like how artillery, cavalry, and infantry are different from each other needn’t be so hard to piece together. A little repetition can go a long way.


Aye, Dark Overlord - I read the rules multiple times and I couldn’t understand how it was actually a game, so I never played it and eventually got rid of it.

Clacks: A Discworld Game - I read the rules and tried the solo mode a couple of times, but found it impossible. Tried going through them again to see if I’d missed something, but it didn’t seem like it. Eventually gave up and got rid of it.

Not Alone - I read and understood the rules just fine. Played it once as a 3p game and lost easily (as the alien). Then forgot all the rules. Did the cycle of re-reading and forgetting them a couple of times but not having a chance to play it, before just giving up and getting rid of it. There were just too many fiddly parts/phases to remember compared to other similar games.

The same can be said for Crossfire and Rebel Nox, but I never got around to playing either of them.

Mr Cabbagehead’s Garden - I’ve read the rules and didn’t understand them and haven’t gotten round to trying again yet.

X-Men: Mutant Revolution - Tried reading the rulebook but it was so dense and I was tired, so I ended up falling asleep after a couple of pages. Still have it because I like X-Men and I’d like to play it one day … (The 3-4 player count is also a bit of a barrier to getting it played.)


Had a bad time retaining the rules from Napoleon’s Triumph with Benkyo. I even watch a “how-to” video on YT. I dont know why I couldnt retain the info in that game.

But that game is excellent tho


Don’t laugh…

I could not for the life of me get the rules for cockroach poker fit into my brain. I think I must have been very tired.


The rulebook for Not Alone is ATROCIOUS. Working out how and when aliens can play tokens took watching a video. It’s a long list of things you can do, but barely anything about turn structures and limitations for how things work.


My wife plays Cockroach Poker without looking at the cards. Very hard to bluff her!


I was like that with the V-Commandos rule book for the first few times but managed to get through it eventually.


I think I agree with @Benkyo in that my problem was that the rules seemed to begin with ‘this is how you do things with your forces’ and then introduce the differences between the types under each category (move, attack, whatever). I imagine I’d find it easier to be given the rules for infantry, then the rules for artillery then the rules for cavalry.

It’s a bit like being taught chess with a set of similar-shaped pieces distinguished only by markings, starting with a set of rules that apply to all pieces equally, and only then treating each marking as introducing a different exception to that general rule.