Podcast #139 - The ManualCast



In this butt-clenchingly 139th episode of the Shut Up & Sit Down podcast, we’re talking all about manuals! Do not try to escape, you have been warned! Thrills abound as Matt and Ava jungle-gym their way through a forest of Adobe products, kerning, and intriguing observations - all centered around RATS: High Tea at Sea - the roll and write that we think is quite good! No need to ask for any other opinions, we are the professionals, after all.

Have a lovely weekend, everybody!

00:00 - You cannot escape the manualzone

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This was an interesting episode and most fortunately timed for me as I’m in finishing writing a rules document for a game which I then have to convert into a usable manual. I’m sure it will take far longer for me to complete than for Matt though as it’s been even longer sine I last used any publishing software.

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I’m about half way through but I don’t think visual design is the most important thing. IMO a manual ought to work as plain text, and then be made to look good.

(I’ve done several manual rewrites, often to combine manuals for expansions into a single document, e.g. for Firefly and Flash Point.)


What’s your opinion on examples @RogerBW ?

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  • should absolutely not be necessary to the understanding of the game: you don’t ever define a rule only in an example.
  • should however be added where they help to clarify things

Having now listened to the rest, I think that “manuals for simple games for casual gamers” and “manuals for complicated games for experienced boardgamers” are very different things, and my experience is much more towards the latter.

I quite like the style I saw in Race for the Galaxy and Keyflower: the main text, about ⅔ of the width, gives the detail, and sidebars per paragraph give the quick summary which (a) can remind you of key sequences and numbers and (b) helps locate the section of detail that you’re looking for.

There’s a tension in manuals between learn-to-play and check-the-detail. For some people videos can take over learn-to-play. I think the FFG approach of a learn-to-play book and an alphabetical reference book is generally regarded as having failed; but replace the reference with something that happens basically in game order rather than alphabetically by arbitrary term, and that could work pretty well.

(There is nothing wrong with numbered paragraphs.)

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One aspect of that which wasn’t explicitly mentioned is the problems that an alphabetized reference completely falls apart with translation into other languages.

Also regarding translation, it certainly used to be the case that English-language board game rulebooks were commonly translations from the original German (of varying quality). Not something that us anglophones living in an Anglo-centric world are used to!

My main problem has been that if my query is anything other than “I wonder how [term]” works I’ll never find it. Unless I skim through the book as I have just now (FoD 4E), I’d never think of looking up “Dracula Errors” or “Hidden Information”.

So, has anyone reported issues with their Rats: High Tea at Sea rulebook? Because first read I found two minor ones.

Firstly, well done team. This is definitely one of the better manuals to read. My issues are even just minor ones that could be me getting the rules wrong OR the example just not being super clear/transparent.

  1. Page 4 - “An Example” section. Baubles image and straw image. Because fluffy seems to add to their straw, their total straw is now 7 BUT in the straw text no numbers are used, so my mind goes to the image where Ratface seems to only have 6 straw…? Less than 7 so fluffy should have more…?

  2. Page 5 - “An Example” section. Very bottom explainer, it says Victoria had the fewest awards - but she had 10 and fluffy had 9…?

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Welcome @Dragmah !

The quickest way to give the team this feedback is by email.