I’ve been saying for a while now that I need to write this post, and so the time is now. Because we’ve hit yet another example. Because one by one, the Indexes are going away.
Where are the Indexes going?
By which I mean, the Index section of books. What I’ve been running into has been with gaming materials. So, disappearing from the end of board game rules. Disappearing from the end of strategy guides. When you’re going to take the time to produce a large, written document like this, for people to turn to as a reference, you need an Index! You’re competing with the Internet, and if you make your products hard to use, you will lose people. And they will turn to free alternatives online.
So I’ve seen a few examples, so let me talk you through them, and why it annoys me so!
Some board games are easy to play. You don’t need many rules. Card games too. Some are just front and back of a sheet. We had a Scrabble box with the rules printed on the inside of the box.
However, we really like those complicated games: the ones where there’s a lot going on, lots you can strategize on, ways you can overcome the luck aspects. Lots of cooperative games end up very complicated, as well, because you tend to be playing against the game, and all sorts of things can happen.
And some games are trying to capture an experience, and are a licensed product a show or movie. And these games, likewise, are complicated; sometimes overly so. Because they’re trying to include everything from the show into one game.
Firefly: The Game
I mentioned in my review of the game that its major downside was that it lacks an Index. There are a number of rules, and many are just described by a single descriptive word or phrase, like “Bribe” or “Warrant Issued.”
And these rules are great – they make sense, they fit in the world and the show and the system. However, when this single phrase comes up and you want a refresher, where do you turn? Not to the Index, because this game doesn’t have one.
Nope, you leaf through 19 pages of rules trying to find what you are looking for. And some rules, like the “Warrant Issued” rule I mentioned, come up in multiple places, with only part of the rule explained in any one place.
This is what an Index is for – so you can cross-reference these multiple locations, and let someone find everything they need to know about the rules.
Because there’s a lot to this game. They did a fantastic job of adapting the elements of the show into a board game that is faithful, playable, and remarkably balanced. And yes, it was a Kickstarter. But does this give them a pass? Or does it show a more frightening trend – that people don’t know how to use Indexes anymore, or how to make one?
Level 7 [Escape]
So then the other night, Holly and I were playing the cooperative game Level 7 [Escape]. This game moves through seven levels of a prison, where aliens have invaded. You play each level as a “Scenario”, so you can play the game bit at a time, as part of a larger campaign. We successfully escaped two levels, which puts us still squarely in the prison.
Each Scenario has its own rules, and the Scenarios in general have their own rulebook. However, they also reference a whole bunch of specific rules from the main rulebook. So these rules apply to some, but not all, of the Scenarios, and there’s no reason to try to learn them all in advance. For instance, in the first Scenario, you don’t get any items, so they’re one less thing to worry about.
However, it would be nice as you hit new scenarios, and come up against new rules, to be able to find those specific new rules quickly. Right? So you go for the Index.
Having a game like that, where you don’t play all of the rules every game, is really just begging for an Index, for any effective presentation of the information. Otherwise, you might get fed up with it really quickly. And given we have the game because someone else got fed up with it…
But hey, maybe it’s just with board games, right? They don’t feel a need to make an Index for a 20 page book. We’re on our own. Something like that. Everyone else is still doing Indexes, right?
Say, for 400 page strategy guides?
That’s what we ran into recently when Holly was playing Ni No Kuni. I was watching the story (so we only had to play through once, right? We’re playing catchup on games) and I was helping with the strategy guide. So I got the job of flipping wildly back and forth between various sections.
Flipping wildly, because you guessed it, no Index.
400 pages! Lots of specific terms and names for things. There a specific contents list for the upgradeable monsters, at least, but even that was alphabetical so you had to know what you were looking for, so it was only occasionally useful.
This, to me, seems crazy. Game guides are so readily and easily and freely available online. And they’re so very, very searchable. Many sites break up the information topic by topic, and you get through by searching – especially anything Wiki-based.
The makers of guides need to fully understand what they are up against. Yes, they add all sorts of fancy art now, and interviews with the developers, and other unique content. That’s great. I like that stuff. But before we had hyperlinks and control-F, we had Indexes, and the idea is similar. You find where the information you want is, and you get to it.
So What Does It All Mean?
I don’t know if I know the answer. Why would these content creators skimp on something so essential, something that makes their work useable?
It reminds me of the appeal of shows like TableTop. Being able to watch someone explain the rules, and then play the game, is nice. And sales of the various games that are featured on the show have soared. But I shouldn’t have to watch a YouTube video to know how to play a game – I should be able to consult the rules. And that should be a quick and painless experience.
The board games we have on our iPads have had pretty good tutorials, as well, and they show you the aspect they’re talking about, interactive sometimes. And you can go back through and reference rules as needed. But all of a sudden, the virtual board games are even doing a better job of the rules than their tabletop analogs. And when I can buy the virtual copy for under $10, or the tabletop version for over $40… Don’t they have a vested interest in making the tabletop version as accessible as possible?
Because we can comment and give feedback so easily now online – and with how expensive board games are, I know we tend to go for reviews first before we buy. Or better yet – we wait to see it on TableTop.
And strategy guides! I’ve already said what there is to say about them. They are a dying artifact, and if they continue down this trend, and make longer guides with more fluff, and no easy navigation… they’ll be gone really soon.
But what does this all tell us? Is it a willful exclusion of the Indexes? Do they mean to not include them? Meaning, do they figure no one will use them? That they serve no purpose? Or do they not use them themselves – maybe don’t know how? Or did they just completely not think of it because they never use them themselves?
Whatever it is, this is a dangerous trend in general for print materials. People who defend books, and want them to still be printed – instead of being replaced by e-Books – should pay attention to trends like this.
But if we’re stuck printing unusable books, I don’t think I will back them. I’m going to think real hard before buying another strategy guide, that’s for sure. And I don’t know about upgrading my iPad board games into their tabletop equivalents.
How about you? Have you run into a lack of Indexes, or maybe Table of Contents? Are we forgetting how reference works work? Or am I crazy? Let me know what you think in the comments below, and thanks for reading my rant!