What gets your goat?

A few weeks ago the founders on the Secret Cabal Gaming podcast talked about their pet peeves within the world of tabletop gaming (Episode 215), and I found myself agreeing with all they said. This prompted me to start a list of my own and I was rather surprised just how long it became.

So, I thought I would share it with you all to see if you agree with me, or not (surely I’m not the only one who thinks this way?). Many of them are niggly little things to be sure, but one or two, well, they really get my goat!

That new game feeling

Getting a new game is a hands rubbing, exciting time (maybe not for you, but it is for me, okay!), but there are several things that can put a dent into that excitement within a few moments of lifting the lid.

Where is everything?

You have this massive box in front of you. You gently prize off the lid and what do you find? Plenty of space, that’s what!

Legendary Encounters: X-Files
Just to be clear, the foam blocks and cardboard are definitely not on the component list!

Why do companies insist on doing this? Why not make the box the right size for the components?

Part of it is that they want their game to stand out on the shelf. Not your shelf at home, but the shelf in your friendly local game store. Nobody notices that new game hidden in a tiny box on the top shelf, but place it in a box six times too large for the stuff inside it and all of a sudden it becomes noticeable, or at least that’s the theory.

Sometimes the box is purposely oversized to fit the games expansions in, which is a bit froward in terms of expectation, but if you do buy the add-ons it is a welcome addition to be able to fit everything in one box.

What the f*#*!

Excuse my French, but this one really gets my goat and is inexcusable in this day and age.

You lift that lid only to find the contents scattered all over the place. A total jumble, a mishmash of cards, tokens, whatever, all strewn together like nobody cares.

U-Boot The Board Game
Yep, this is what one game looked like when I lifted the lid!

Fortunately, this hasn’t been a common occurrence for me, but when it has happened it instantly gets my back up. You pay good money for games and expect them to be in mint condition. Failure to put an insert in is inexcusable. I don’t mean that there’s been a production error here, but an actual design decision/overlook not to include one.

So far I’ve only ever come across this with kickstarted games (which is a topic all of its own a little later) and they quickly learn their lesson after having to replace so many damaged components.

Wrap rage

Wrap Rage (go on, click the link, it’s an actual thing!) for me, is something that I almost rise to when trying to open the cellophane wrapping that some companies use to seal their card decks. Now, some nice people include a little tab, which you pull and off comes the wrapper, but some don’t… Grrrr!

Do they not try to open these damn things themselves? A tightly packaged deck of cards can be a nightmare to open, and I’ve got nails!

I know a short walk to the kitchen will bring me within range of a number of utensils that can help with the job. But I’m not in the house. I’m at a convention, and I want to play my game – “Care Bear to launch pad, can the Care Bear please come to the launch pad!”

Punch, pop. Punch, pop, Punch, tear!

I bet we’ve all had some experience of this one – Punch board inadequacy!

I accept that there will be the odd punched out token that doesn’t come adrift properly when pressed, but when you get a board that just doesn’t want to give up its blessed contents it can be really frustrating. I’ve known people order replacement punch boards because they can’t stand playing with partially torn or delaminated tokens.

I’m not that bad and will put up with it, but there’s something to be said for the feeling you get when you pick up a punch board and the tokens practically throw themselves to the ground!

It’s all in the rules!

Is it really? Well, I can’t bloody find it!

A simple thing an index. An alphabetically organised list of words with reference to the pages on which they are mentioned. It’s a simple thing to do, isn’t it?

There are a lot of rulebooks that don’t require such a thing. They’re the ones that are professionally written, concise, and not overly complicated. But then you get the ones that are twenty pages plus and contain lots of annoying little rules; these games usually feature miniatures!

It’s a natural thing to do, turn to the back of a book to look something up in the index, and it’s the place I look when I’m chasing down a rule. The amount of time I’ve wasted searching through rulebooks, trying to find some reference to what I want, well, I could probably have rewritten the damn thing!

That’s because it isn’t actually in there!

Yep, no index, so you trawl through the book, skimming page after page, and then you do it again, a little slower this time because you must have missed it the first time. Then you pass it around, as obviously, you’ve become word blind with all that skimming. Finally, after four people have spent the best part of twenty minutes trying to find out what happens when you draw a card with an unusual keyword on it, you give up and resort to BGG.

This is very similar to the time when you did find a particular rule you were looking for only to be presented with some obscure description that doesn’t make sense; again BGG.

There are very few games that I’ve played that hasn’t suffered from one of the above, usually the latter, and I know it isn’t just me. BGG is littered with this kind of thing in the forums, lots of gamers asking for rules clarification, and it’s the place to look for answers. But why is this so?

I think there are a couple of reasons. The people who write the rules are too familiar with the game, and so they fully understand what they’ve written, but the proof in the pudding is getting someone not involved with game design in any shape or form to interpret it, and then someone else, and again, and again…

Secondly, there’s the hidden pressure of wanting to condense everything. It can be mighty off-putting to open what you thought was a simple game, only to find the rulebook is thirty pages long. So, everything is condensed into as few words as possible; it probably saves money too. Personally, I’d prefer to be able to get a good understanding of the rules from the book, rather than the internet.

In fact, there isn’t a rulebook at all!

This one ranks right up there in terms of frustration, even possibly bordering on HATE!

It’s becoming a common thing just lately, especially with skirmish games. You’ll find a quick start guide in the box, just to get you going, but the real rules are in the living rulebook available online.

I like the living rulebook idea; it keeps everything up to date in one place. Games like Star Wars: Legion has a multitude of expansions and they inevitably bring their own rules with them, so it’s easy for the company to keep on top of things, especially for tournament play.

But… for me the annoyance is that the online rules will be long – Legion’s (21 Aug 20) is 92 pages!

If you’re like me, you’ll prefer to have a book to flick through during play, rather than trying to scroll through immeasurably small writing on a phone or tablet, so you’ll print it off. This, of course, is done at your own expense – paper and ink – which is wrong when you think about it… You’ve just bought a game that didn’t include the rules, and so you had to pay for them too!

But the really, really annoying thing for me is when they update it.

‘The rulebook for such-and-such game has been updated to version 50.1.2.4a!’

Okay, what’s changed? You may never know, because half the time they never tell you and so you have to trawl through the book looking for what’s changed, at least you do if you just want to print of the amendments, otherwise you just reprint the whole thing… again!

In my mind they should include the version of the rules currently available during production within the box. Next, when they update a rulebook, they should have an introductory note highlighting the changes, and better still should have a downloadable file that just includes those pages with changes. That way you can simply replace like for like – simples!

What’s what!

Why, oh why can’t all games have a decent component list at the front of the rulebook? One that shows pictures of the decks so you can distinguish between them.

There’s nothing worse than when the rules tell you to put this deck here and that one there but gives you no inkling of what these decks actually look like. Usually you can figure things out by looking at what’s in the decks, or by reading ahead to see if it gives an example somewhere, but when it’s your first play it can be really frustrating.

Components, components, components.

Blinded by the light.

This is one I suffer from a lot and my playing environment is more to blame than the actual components, but every time I open a new game and see cards with a glossy finish, I give out a large sigh.

We usually play in the kitchen, at the dining table, and we have down-lighters in the ceiling. No matter if we dim them or not, we just can’t make out what’s on the cards for the glare.

It’s actually quite amusing; you’ll see us bending down, holding our head in some strange position, or cowling our hands around our play-mat like we’re sitting a school test – all because the reflective surface makes everything unreadable.

Blinded by the Colour!

Two things to mention here and the first is something that appears to be improving across the industry, and that’s allowance for people who are colour blind.

I’m not, but I know people who are, and the colours used can make a big difference to their enjoyment. As I say, most producers of games have jumped on this and ensure their games are fit for all, if not by using colour blind friendly colours then by using symbology on the cards and counters, it makes a real difference.

Secondly, and I don’t know why this happens, but some insist own using two colours that are almost identical – I’m looking at you Arkham Horror 3rd Edition.

Yes, let’s talk AH3. We’ve played this a fair amount over the last few weeks and kept making the same mistake – drawing the wrong encounter card. The colours are far too close to each other and it’s instinctive to draw a card by colour than read the name. This was easily solved, though, by making sure the decks were right next to their neighbourhood, but we still ended up putting clue cards in the wrong deck; one gets carried away in the midst of a good game!

Arkham Horror 3rd Edition - Event Cards
In certain light these are almost impossible to tell apart.

It isn’t the only game that suffers from this kind of thing, but it is the one that instantly springs to mind, possibly because it’s the worst offender!

I just can’t get a grip!

Tiny, disc shaped playing pieces, need I say anymore?

Anyone who’s played Tokaido will know the kind of thing I’m talking about. Every time you try and move your point marker on you end up chasing it across the table, just trying to grab hold of the damn thing.

Tokaido Point Markers
These things are a lot smaller than they look here!

If you get it wrong, you’ll see your piece shoot off in some random direction, usually ricocheting of everyone else’s piece so nobody actually knows what the scores were.

Tiny pieces in general are a pain and I haven’t even got pigs ti…trotters for fingers. If it’s smaller than a Pandemic cube then it’s too small, and if it’s a disc, then it needs to be at least 4 or 5mm thick.

It’s in the bag… or not!

“Place the tokens in a bag.”

What bag? Where is it? Is there something missing?

…. consult rules for component list…

Argh! They haven’t included a bag, now I’ve got to go and hunt one down from another game… This is wasting my time… I just want to play the game!

Yep. This frustrates the hell out of me. If you need to put tokens, dice, or any other part in a bag to play the game, then it should bloody well come with one! AAARRRGGGHHH!

Obsession - What's in the box
Need a bag to play – provide a bag to play – simples!

Add it on to the cost, I don’t care, I just want a bag. I used to have three or four spare token bags, but now they all reside in boxes for those games that the manufacturers couldn’t be bothered to include one with.

And whilst we’re on the subject of not including things…

Dice!

It’s a ploy to make money, it must to be. Nearly every game I have that sees players rolling dice for some form of encounter or other, doesn’t come with enough of them. And, to make matters worse, most of them use customised dice, so you can’t use any of the trillion dice you have from playing RPGs for last thirty years.

Time of Legends: Joan of Arc - Dice
Time of Legends: Joan of Arc – nowhere near enough dice!

For most games, I stubbornly refuse to buy their extra dice packs and put up with having to make multiple rolls. My only concussion has been Time of Legends: Joan of Arc, unfortunately I’m still waiting for the Kickstarter to be fulfilled to get them.

Funded by the crowd!

Crowdfunding has become a massive thing in our hobby. Boardgames, miniatures, RPGs, fancy dice, card sleeves, dice towers, you name it, you’ll find it all on the likes of Kickstarter.

But it isn’t all rosy apples, at least in my opinion…

Components, components… hang on, we’ve already done that one!

Lol! All too many crowdfunding campaigns fall foul of this: (Imagine the voice of Homer Simpson) ‘Look at all the wonderful goodies you’ll get when you back me, oooo!’

You’re lured in and back it. Then, when you finally receive the game, you find the actual gameplay is a pile of something smelly…

Back to the Simpsons, cue Nelson, ‘Ha-Ha!’

Look at some of the campaigns for tabletop games, and especially those that contain a large amount of miniatures. Many will throw all the goodies at you as you scroll down… you’ll get this, and this, and look at the size of this, and there’s a hundred of these… it can go on for pages and pages until, finally, you find a small paragraph detailing how the game plays!

Time of Legends: Joan of Arc
When it came to miniatures Mythic threw the kitchen sink at it, fortunately, the game turned out pretty good.

Hate to see it, and unfortunately there are too many people who allow themselves to be drawn in, and all too often a case of style over substance.

I don’t want to be searching for how the game plays, what mechanisms it employs, how many people can play. It should be right up there at the start. For me, gameplay first, goodies second!

Backed this great game… Oh, you already have it!

Out of everything on this list, this is the one that I think is just plain wrong!

When you back a game, or whatever, on Kickstarter, you’re giving your support to that campaign. Backers are responsible for making it happen, for the idea seeing the light of day. Many follow the campaign religiously, anticipating the big day when they’ll receive their pledge. Others like to actively take part in the process, giving feedback to the designer/producer. And then there’s people like me, who tend to just sit back, wait patiently, and try to ignore the hype.

But then there’s that update…’What’s this? The game is going to retail BEFORE all the pledges have been sent out. I’ve still got to wait another three months, NO!’

It’s wrong, wrong, wrong. The people who parted with their hard-earned cash to help get the game made, who showed their support by doing so. They should all receive their pledge before it hits retail.

Even more annoyingly, it can often be the case where it costs less at retail than what people pledged, especially when you consider the delivery charge. You might not get the exclusives, or all the add-ons, but you’re getting it before those who’ve paid and waited for months, often years, for their game.

I’ve stopped backing games if I’m only interested in the core game, and I know it’s going to retail, because I know it will save me money and I may even get it before the backers!

And then there’s this other stuff…

Time to wrap up with a few odds and ends…

You can play it on your own, honest!

I’ve several games that fall into this category. They state that the game includes a solo mode, but really, it’s something someone made up ten minutes before it went to production and never got tested, and it’s rubbish!

Look. Solo modes should be given the same amount of time and dedication as the rest of the game. If it isn’t, don’t add it, lower the cost of the production and hence the retail price, and make everyone happy.

Which leads me to…

If it says on the box it plays 1-5, or 2-4, then that’s what it should do, and well. Many games are sadistic if you play them at maximum player count. They’ll drive you to the edge of despair with their bloated game time, repetitiveness, or send you to sleep with sheer boredom.

Alternatively, you come to play with two players and find you must use two dummy hands, because the game really needs four. And sometimes, the game just doesn’t work at certain player counts. It doesn’t have the same excitement or doesn’t give the same level of complexity as it would with more/less people.

This won’t really matter to some people, those who can get games to the table regularly and with varying amounts of players. But for those of us, like me, who look for a certain player count (I usually only buy games that can be played solo, but there are a few exceptions if I know it will be a hit with the family), they want the game to work at that count. If it doesn’t play well at five, then just cap it at four, is it really too much to ask?

Testing, 1,2, testing…

This is something I’ve come across mostly with crowd-funded games. After a couple of games, you start to get an inkling that something isn’t quite right. Maybe the balance is off, and one faction or character keeps winning no matter what, or the game doesn’t play right with a certain number of players. It could be that you find an unbeatable strategy. It could be totally the opposite and if you make a certain decision early on it becomes impossible to win.

I reckon playtesting is possibly the most important part of developing a game, it highlights all the things that don’t quite gel, that need a little tinkering, or perhaps throwing out altogether.

Many a fully published game, which has undergone hundreds of hours of playtesting can still fall foul of a perfect strategy, but it usually takes many hours of dedicated play to find it, at which point you’ll probably be quite happy with the return for your investment. But, when you’re on your first or second game and things just aren’t going well, you’ll probably do what the majority of us do, resort to BGG.

It’s here that things will become clearer. Either you’ve been playing a rule wrong, easily done, or the game’s flawed. You can tell the latter by the way everyone on the forum is complaining about the same thing.

I think the problem stems from the way playtesting may be conducted. Maybe the same groups are used all the time – each time the designer makes a change he/she gets the group to play it through, see if it works. But familiarity isn’t one’s friend here and complacency can creep in. In other words, the group is already familiar with the game and so they don’t see it through fresh eyes. Using the same groups probably has the benefit of speeding things up, and is ideal for just checking a mechanism change or similar, but when it comes to checking the understanding of the rules, and how they translate from the book to the board, then testing needs to be done with a varied and fresh group of people, and as many times as possible.

I’ve had games come through from crowd funding that have only been on the table two minutes and they’ve released the third version of rules because the original didn’t cut the mustard. Likewise, I’ve had to print off pages of errata before I can properly play a game that I’ve only just received. Surely, if the game had only been play tested to destruction, then none of this would have been necessary?

Picky, picky, picky!

That’s what you’re thinking about me at this point, isn’t it? And you’d be dead right. Most of the things I’ve mentioned are easy to live with, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a good moan about them now does it.

To be honest, it’s very rare that anything crops up with a game that spoils the experience, and most are soon forgotten about anyway. Yes, I’ve been a bit picky, and I had to think long and hard to come up with some of these, that’s how rarely they occur, and I’m sure some of the things I’ve mentioned annoy others far more than they do me. Plus, I haven’t even mentioned what annoys me about other players, like sticky fingers or bending cards, that’s a whole other ballgame best saved for another day.

So, let’s hear about what annoys you? Do you agree with anything here, or have you got your own little grievances? What gets your goat?

9 thoughts on “What gets your goat?

  1. Wow Justin , that was a good long read!.
    I can sympathise with many of your listed gripes and some I have simple work arounds.

    For sealed card decks I always have a handle little retractable olfa knife handy , that makes opening easy as it has a small sharp Stanley knife style blade on it that I can knick a corner with.

    I have found most rule books have no decent index , so I download the rules to my iPad and thankfully a lot of them now have searchable PDF’s, so writing in a couple of words or singular word will bring you to all the entries in the rule book.

    I tend to steer away from the mini heavy games ( not always ) but many of them don’t actually have much substance as a game .

    Kickstarter – yeh , being very, very, very selective is the key. Have a limit of one a month or something that suits your wallet and be VERY selective.

    Punch boards , tokens not punching properly has happened to me only a few times, my real pet hate is “off centre” printing on the tokens. You know, you punch tokens in a beautifully illustrated game and many of the tokens have crescent moon shaped white parts on them and some tokens even illegible .

    Poorly constructed base game boxes I have had a few that the top part of the box breaks at one or two corners because those corners have no reinforcement underneath the wrap on them.

    Not listing all components and their count is annoying . How do you know your game is complete?. Particularly nice to see a full component check list in the rule book for a game you have purchased used.

    My real pet hates while playing games are:

    A player messing around on their mobile phone during game play or even while it’s not their turn. Not being invested in the game play as much as everyone else at the table is plain bad manners and rude. REALLY GETS MY GOAT !.

    We have a no drinks on the gaming table rule. Amazes me how many people I see at a game club or convention who have an expensive game in the table and several open topped drinks on the same table . Cardboard and liquid do not mix well! .

    Only ever encountered this a few times, cooperative game where an alpha player attempts to play everyone’s turn for them . Arghh!! , just no!.

    Those are my varies get my goats and work around solutions .

    A good solution ( and a cool one) for you all sat around the kitchen table is to wear shades! ( sunnies as they say down under!)
    Such a Great topic Justin 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mark, especially for the work-arounds – I like the idea about downloading the rulebook, why didn’t I think of that!

      Lots of good points there, one wonders how we actually manage to enjoy games with this many quibbles, lol!

      Yeah, no phones or drink at the table, and limited food.

      Haha, I can see us now, shades and sun-hats, it’s the way forward!

      For some reason I found your comment in with the spam. no idea why it keeps doing that. If you do put a comment up in future and I don’t respond, ping me on Facebook and I’ll hit the spam folder (I only check it every now and then).

      Cheers Mark.

      Like

      1. Will do, thanks Justin. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You could have saved yourself a lot of time, Justin, by just putting “Picky, picky, picky!” first and then not bothering with the rest, although it would maybe lose its impact! 😉 I don’t do many boardgames, but I did agree with the rules and dice points you made (and I enjoyed the read)! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol, yeah, thanks, John, that would have been too easy!
      Actually, I started out thinking I’d only have three or four things to write about, but in the end I had to cut some from the list as it was getting a bit lengthy… but most are quite picky, though, aren’t they?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll be honest here, Justin! I’m well picky meself! 😉 My biggest gripe is books that include photo captions that are just plain wrong when I really would have thought the authors would have known better given that they’ve written the books! Rant over!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lol, that was a short rant!
        I think we’re all a little picky in our way, and rightly so I say.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, it’s hard to find anything to add to your list! Personally, I can’t imagine playing any game that won’t fit on a 3′ square table – who’s got the time to set it up? But that’s more a matter of personal preference than a criticism of complex games. I don’t think that wanting well-written rules can be considered picky though – surely that’s a fundamental requirement. Maybe with your end-user insights you should consider getting involved with game design and/or play-testing?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol, I never even considered that. Now you’ve fired me up – games that are needlessly far too big for a normal table… maybe I need to go back and amend my post!
      It surprises me how many games’ rules are questionable. You only have to look at the BGG forums and the amount of rules related questions that are asked. I suppose one persons understanding and way of learning can be very different from the next, and that’s the challenge, to please all of the people all of the time!
      I’ve done a little play-testing and would love to get involved more, but so far the opportunity hasn’t arisen 😞

      Liked by 2 people

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