Topic of the Week: What do publishers get wrong?

One more time, I am here in lieu of @Acacia (a little late b/c we went to the movies last night and I was so excited about Dune 2 I completely forgot everything else).

We already have threads on some of this. But maybe there is more. What are your pet peeves with how games are published?

A game is so much more than just the design. And all of those things are important, too.

  • The manual
  • The type of playing cards
  • Design of cardbacks
  • Are the components wood or plastic
  • Is there an insert
  • Game art
  • Size of the game on your table
  • Fitting box size?

Which games are less good because of some of their components? Do you over look any such issues and just enjoy the design at the heart?

If you need some inspiration, I recently watched the second installment of Tom V‘s „A Plea to Publishers“ (1:, 2:



And it’s not that I blame them necessarily – I recognise that it is not easy to write a good manual – but to a significant extent I think they tend to be lacking across the board (as it were).

(Not that there’s even an obvious “correct” way to explain things for audiences generally, but we can all agree that at bare minimum no one wants spelling and grammatical errors, or rules ambiguities.)

Those who can afford it should leverage the community more – offer the equivalent of a bug bounty for identifying problems with the manual before it’s too late.

Crowd-funded campaigns could offer pledge upgrades to anyone who improves the manual. A lot of those people are already invested.

(I’d quite like to see a big community poll on “games which got manuals right”, and for some analysis to be done on why they were good, and extract as many common elements as possible, and for everyone to learn from that.)


I complain a lot about manuals, and have done something about it in a few cases (the “Roger’s Rules” project). Another problem is a game that’s had several expansions over the years, so looking something up starts with working out which booklet it’s in.

I like the idea of FFG’s “learn to play” and “reference” books, but I want the reference book to be organised in the shape of gameplay, not an alphabetical listing.

I tend to bin cardboard inserts unless they’re really good (especially when I want to fit expansion content into the core box). Plastic ones may get kept for a bit longer.


The problem with that, of course, is that many people are wrong =P

For example, I have often seen FFG manuals praised, for having comprehensive glossaries, highly-illustrated playthrough guides, and I don’t know what else. Whereas I have found that the complex FFG games I have played suffered greatly from having the rules split up between the rules, the playthrough, and the glossary, never knowing which will actually have the information I need. Worse, it’s all too common that the answer can’t be found in any of them! So yeah, that’s one example of a serious disconnect in what people consider to be good rules. I have often encountered the reverse too, where rulebooks I found to be more comprehensive and airtight than most are widely criticized for being “bad”, perhaps for lacking the same things that FFG rulebooks (for example) get praised for.


My latest complaint about manuals is that not only do the expanded ones get split over multiple booklets but the format itself. The big square box format barely fits on my table next to the game. If I have to reference it because I am still learning, I can’t even hold it up right (just like a newspaper) and it starts to wear and tear quickly.

  • I like a few illustrations in manuals. Especially for set up.
  • I want a complete component list–ideally with counts of components and illustrations so I know what is what. Especially important: what are the per-player components
  • I want a comprehensive one with expansions included and marked which rules are expansion only (some modern manuals really do this and it does not help readability but that’s a compromise I am willing to suffer)
  • I want player aids–ideally separate from the rulebook but at least on the back of the rulebook if nowhere else.
  • Please explain your iconography somewhere, it is really part of the glossary !

Besides the well known box size complaints, another component that is sometimes lacking is cards.

The card quality of some very good games is so bad that sleeving is the only way to go. I am looking at you Imperium: Classics/Legends/Horizons. How can someone make such a HUGE card game and then skimp on card quality like that?

Another (much less important) one is cardbacks. This is mostly due to having seen the incredibly beautiful cardbacks of Pandemic: Iberia. Other games should take note!


Hmm, I find the Imperium CLH cards all right, but I’ve come to think I’m a much gentler player than many people.

Something that may be a personal quirk: I can see the value in pure iconography (e.g. "2 :ear_of_rice::man_beard: " or whatever), but I like to have a standard term for each symbol so that when I’m teaching the game I can read it out loud.

Separately from that, Imperium CLH is clearly not using symbols for internationalisation (there’s a huge amount of text on the cards as well as the symbols) but I still have to shift registers while I’m reading the card to change between text and symbol.


Those cards are hard to shuffle. I need the sleeves for the shuffling, especially when setting up the market deck. If it was only a worry about cards being damaged, I don’t think I’ll ever play the game that much that I would worry about that. But the cards are pretty thick and I tried to shuffle the different stacks into a deck once and… meh.


Very few box inserts are any good. Those that are well planned really improve my feelings about the game as a product (shout out to Parks, but a big WTF to everything by FFG).

Also, the Quacks “Big Box” didn’t need a full 50% of the space it takes up and will fit on precisely no normal shelves, so booo.


On the other hand if you’ve printed some special holders for the bits they just about fit in the Big Box. :slight_smile:


Also (and I forget which one this was) if your game JUUUUUST fits in the box when it ships with unpunched sheets, but has no chance at all once I’ve punched out the cardboard tokens and they’re in bags instead of absolutely flat, you didn’t do a good job of planning it.

Edit: This may have been Forests of Pangaia.


This is a good point. An unwieldy book fits perfectly in the box. I wonder if there’s a saving to be made by having less big pages than more smaller pages? Potentially if the printing costs about the same but you save on putting the book together which could be more expensive as it may require labour. That being said more pages allow better zoning of rules to cut down on look up time. In addition seeing the game and table while checking a rule is often useful for context so let’s call it wrong.

Something I find annoying is lots of rule books don’t have component lists with pictures. Particularly if there are many decks of cards all with a silly name. A name of the deck a picture of the card back for that deck and a number of cards in the deck. Saves so much confusion and time when getting the game set up initially and for learning.

The disconnect between my wants as a board game enthusiast and the commercial considerations of a publisher hoping to sell in retail is still annoying. Sure a big box may well draw the eye and increase sales but as I own many it’s just annoying to over stuff my shelves. As these are niche products I think the non mass market games should be like Clans of Caledonia and prioritise shipping savings and my shelving.


Re: Manuals. It really irks me when there isn’t gender neutral language in a rulebook. Too manys still use he/him for the active player, not they/them.

Re: Boxes. I get boxes need to be a certain size to fit the punched sheets, but after that the box could be way smaller. I’d like to see a cheaper ‘shipping’ box wih a smaller ‘shelf’ box inside. Of course that would increase costs though

Also call a victory point a victory point, not ‘glory’ or ‘attainment points’ or ‘fish’. I see through your theme. On a less serious note, all money is space bucks.


The only attempt I’ve seen to do a display box and a storage box is SJGames’ Castellan. On the shelf it looks like this:


but when you’ve unpacked it it ends up as this:



Manuals are an interesting case. Board games are the only entertainment product which relies upon a reference manual to be enjoyed. Video games used to be, but now all tutorials are built into the game.
Generally reference books are very hard to learn from. That’s why I’m paid to teach students, rather than just giving them a book. And those are expensive books designed for students written by professional educators with all the diagrams and examples required. When you get to reference manuals for utilities you can forget them being useful, people just turn them on and try to get to grips with them, or phone someone.

Given all this, I’m amazed at how successful boardgame manuals are in general at making a game understandable, teachable, and even covering almost all edge cases. Yes some can be improved, and some just aren’t very good, but I’d say they’re some of the best exemplars of reference manuals we have.


I find learning complex games a real pain and usability of some manuals is an issue that makes things worse. I have abandoned games because of their manuals f.e. Tindaya and (soon) Planta Nubo.

I don’t disagree that writing good manuals is hard.

But there are some easy things that are still neglected that have been mentioned here: Component lists. Glossaries and names for iconography. Formatting issues. All of these have nothing to do with how hard it is to write down the rules for a game.

I really need to go through my games at some point and figure out which have the best manuals just so I can hold them up as positive examples. Because I have seen some that are really doing a good job of teaching complex games and/or providing a good reference once you’ve learned the game.

PS: I love it when I am being taught a game by a person and don’t have to learn it for myself. It is a rare but much enjoyed luxury.


One thing I dislike is that when someone tries to sell a game and it’s basically all mechanisms. There is no game (imo) that succeeds because it is worker placement/drafting/set collecting. I think thought we’ve crossed the worst of this and it’s getting better.

I noticed in the river valley glassworks kickstarter allplay say things like “you’ll want to play it again instantly”. That might be cobblers but it’s definitely suggesting there’s a magic between the actions you do and how you feel as a result of them. What crosses the gap between drafting and me wanting to try again - that’s the sell I think.

In the worst instances of the mechanisms are the sell you end up with things where the design is completely informed by this. This game has ten mini games (and that kind of thing).

The cousin of is when theme is oversold too.

“You play as a Druid (done in trailer voice) arranging arcana to become the top wizard in the universe”*

*try and align these poker chips into a straight line.

I have never ever felt like a Middle Ages Prince of Europe. never.


As a quick comment, I add myself to the list of Manuals, I wonder why not more designers/publishers go down the YouTube video route of complementing their manuals with. I guess there are already plenty of YouTubers out there doing that, but you would think that more publishers could take that opportunity.

Box insets: already covered. Some are a joke, which lead me to…

Box sizes. I think it has been amply discussed in the forums, larger boxes can give bigger shelf appearance, but I reckon there should be some sort of limitation. Splendor could nearly be the size of an Oink game, but there we go…

Player number recommendations: Instead of a range, have a range and maybe a best at? It’s easy enough to go and check BGG, but you would think that some guidance could be added in the box?

Length (in time): time per player should spread, plus an indication of an average length of teach?

Better solo: I understand the pandemic made this nearly a must, but many games have solo modes that are clearly an afterthought, completely and some should be, well, banned.


Due to playing a game? No. But in general…


This will never happen. Publishers want to sell a game, so the wider the range it works with, theore likely someone will buy it for their group. If games started saying “For 2-5 players, best with 3,” you will see a lot fewer sales to couples and groups that usually have 4 or more players. Why buy something that’s not at it’s best when played by your group when you could get something else that is?

See above. Not that I disagree with your point, but again, being able to put that “1” on the player count opens up the game to a wider market. Though I do think if a company publishes too many games with an obvious afterthought solo mode, that will get around and people will stop buying them for solo play. That belief is one reason I have always argued against the notion that all games should come with a solo mode.


I agree with you on the fact that some of these will never happen, but still does not make it right. As with the box sizes. Larger seems to be better for them, and that is without getting into KS games…