The week before last I sent two copies of Codename: Vacuum to my friends Paul in York and Terry in Bedford. In both cases the games arrived in time for their Thursday Games Night, and that Thursday Vacuum got played at my Games Night - I was excited that it could be getting simultaneously by three groups at the same time!
Paul, who had played it once before about nine months ago, emailed me to let me know he'd received it and it all seemed fairly self explanatory, he just had one query - the rules contradicted themselves - which bit was right? It was an artefact of me creating a new 'simpler' version of the rules at the last minute, I let him know which bit was right and fixed the other bit straight away so the next printing wouldn't have the problem.
A week passed, still no word from Terry. Then last Friday I got an email from Andrew (who plays games with Terry, was also one of my key Reiver Games playtesters in my Bedford days and who accompanied me to my second Essen show in Germany). It turns out that my attempt at writing the rules had been an epic fail. Terry, Andrew and Stewart (all three very experienced gamers who regularly learn new games from their rulebooks) had set up Codename: Vacuum to play the previous week, read through the rules and then put it away! After reading through the rules, three very experienced gamers were so confused that they just packed up and played something else instead. That is a legendary rulebook failure. In the end, Andrew took the prototype home and has tried to work through it solo to get his head around it enough to explain it to the others.
Clearly, the rulebook needs a lot of work. The fact that Paul had played the game once before gave him enough of a frame of reference for the rulebook to work for him, but for both playtesting and game sales, the rulebook needs to be clear enough that you can learn the game from the rulebook. This was the first attempt at a proper rulebook for Codename: Vacuum, and the first attempt at a blind playtesting, where you learn the game from the rulebook. The rulebook as it stands fails to pass muster. I need to restructure it to give a better sense of how the game is played, what you are trying to achieve and how to achieve it. The rulebook was a fairly last minute thing done when trying to get the prototypes out the door. It needs more effort than that!