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"Would You Buy a Rulebook Without Art?" Topic

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11 Jul 2018 3:38 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Personal logo David Manley Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2017 4:53 a.m. PST

I don't think anyone is really saying that a set of rules should be devoid of pictures. As mentioned a few times they are handy in filling out white space that would otherwise be wasted if a sensible pagination was to be followed. There seems to be a consensus that excessive illustration, what could be seen as padding, is not popular with the readership. Perhaps a trio of questions approaching the subject from a different angle might help?

1) If a set of rules was available in a £10.00 GBP version with minimal illustrations or a £30.00 GBP version with full colour throughout which one would you personally go for?

2) Do you think the £10.00 GBP of the £30.00 GBP would be more appealing to the "general" wargaming public?

3) Do you think the £10.00 GBP of the £30.00 GBP would be more appealing to newcomers to the hobby?

BobGrognard21 Dec 2017 5:46 a.m. PST

Actually, reading through I think several people are suggesting precisely that not only should rules be devoid of pictures, but also that rules with no pictures are sensible and worthy, whereas rules with pictures are for simple folk who have been suckered into purchasing rules which haven't been developed properly and are, in any case, simply rehashes of older rule sets with nothing new or original in them.

I may be wrong, but I think this is exactly NM's point about snobbery and generalisations being made by some people.

Personal logo David Manley Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2017 6:16 a.m. PST

Ah, OK, I probably missed that view. The perils of speed reading.

grahambeyrout21 Dec 2017 6:16 a.m. PST

It is a pity that the Yahoo Group formed for the play testing of the Honours of War has been deleted, because if I remember rightly at least once in the discussions, the rules author explained that he was unable to clarify or fine tune particular aspects of the rules because there was no space to do it. Osprey had a fixed format which he was obliged to work to. The publisher wanted a fixed number of glossy illustrations which were simply eye candy.A case of the tail wagging the dog, resulting in rules being compromised.
That is one reason I am suspicious of lavishly illustrated rule books. Another is the stupid prices

Yellow Admiral21 Dec 2017 3:51 p.m. PST

I think Northern Monkey didn't say anything wrong.
Really? Nothing? He's harped repeatedly on the point that high production values contribute to commercial success, but completely ignored the counterpoint that commercial success is not the only definition of success in wargaming rules. Nearly everything he's posted (here) has been hyperbolic in tone, and sometimes outright insulting. He's injudicious about addressing specific statements and authors, so it's very hard to understand which specific person or statement he's addressing with any particular sentence, and as a result his posts seem to combine all dissenters together into a straw man who hates progress. He flits from one defensive exaggeration to another without sequé, so his posts just sound confused and lacking a thesis (except the theme that PRETTY RULEBOOKS MAKE MONEY – and I think we all got that right away).

I don't have anything against Northern Monkey, I would just prefer he moderate his tone a bit, and get down to lucidly addressing specific arguments point by point. His last post seems to finally be getting closer to that.

We're a grumbly bunch, but I don't think the cynicism about high production value rulebooks is unwarranted. There are a lot of valid points in this thread about higher production values elevating the cost of rulebooks, interfering with the utility of the rules, sometimes hiding mediocre personalities behind pretty faces, and being used by some publishers as extra horsepower for the upgrade treadmill. I wouldn't personally state any of those points as an absolute rule – there are plenty of exceptions to each – but I can find examples of all of them on my own bookshelves.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral21 Dec 2017 4:34 p.m. PST

FWIW, Sam Mustafa made some statements about rulebook production values back in 2010-2011 that are still pertinent:
TMP link
TMP link

- Ix

Personal logo Frank Wang Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Dec 2017 5:30 p.m. PST

Relax, Admiral. We have complicated a simple question.The answers to all the questions are obvious.Does arts get anything to do with rule quality? No. Do you like eye candies? I think everyone like them unless they don't worth the price. Will you buy a rulebook with candies? Depends on the rules not the candies. Right?

Yellow Admiral21 Dec 2017 5:49 p.m. PST

Northern Monkey said:

"Pictures make rule books harder to use". Where is the evidence for that? Name one set of rules where that is demonstrably the case.
First, evidence isn't needed, that is a subjective evaluation. If I think steering wheels make cars too hard to drive, my opinion isn't invalid just because most people disagree with me and there aren't any alternatives on the market. I can just keep riding buses, trains and taxis until cars drive themselves.

Second, I am one of those who thinks improperly applied art can make a book harder to read, so I'll give you some examples:

General de Brigade, Deluxe Edition. I thought the simpler format of the GdB second edition was almost ideal: soft binding, enough art to help identify sections at a glance or illustrates mechanics with diagrams, high contrast black printing on white paper in an easily readable font. I was forced to buy the Deluxe Edition to get the improvements in the rules, and it came with hard covers which are clumsy and take up too much space on the table when open, pages that are harder to flip because of perfect binding, and graphical flourishes and color backgrounds obscuring the text (especially the cheat sheets) with a "busy" look and reduced contrast. I *think* there was also an increase in the number of pictures that take up space without contributing to the clarity of the rules, but I didn't actually do comparative counts – all I know is that the pictures are more distracting, which may just be because they're in color. To add injury to insult, the Deluxe Edition also cost quite a bit more – maybe double? It was a lot extra to pay for a less usable book just to get a few useful tweaks to the rules mechanics. I would rather have paid for a cheaper PDF or black-and-white softcover in the manner of the second edition.

Rank and File by Crusader Games. I like this game, and would probably play it more if my horse & musket life weren't already dominated by RF&F games and a full queue of Napoleonic rules sets to try, but I find the rulebook unnecessarily difficult to use. There are pictures on nearly every page, sometimes in every section; about half are usefully demonstrating game mechanics, but the other half are just superfluous decorations taking up space. Between those and some layout problems (large margins, oddly sprawled tables, thick headers), the printed copy comes out thicker than the simple rules should justify, and the extra length makes it harder to look things up rules during play. I feel like the book could have been drastically reduced in size by removing photos and tweaking the layout. I also dislike the fancy psuedo-cursive font for headings (chapter, section, table); it's difficult to read, forces my eyes to linger for a few seconds parsing the letters, and occasionally causes confusion.

I'm sure I could think of more if I spent time going over my bookshelves, but I think I've made my point, and probably bored everyone half to death doing it.

- Ix

Northern Monkey21 Dec 2017 7:42 p.m. PST

I'm tired of trying to debate on this thread and just being abused because my views differ to someone else's. As stated on numerous occasions, I have attempted to present evidence to support my comments at each and every step, but apparently disagreeing with Yellow Admiral means I am "harping repeatedly".

To be fair, Yellow admiral gives two excellent examples of what he dislikes, as does grahambeyrout, however, that dies represent a somwhet different position to that being made earlier by the likes of UsaCha who was saying categorically that ALL colour was superfluous. I totally agree that badly laid out rule sets, or books of any kind, can be difficult to read. Conversely, well laid out books which use colour illustrations cleverly can enhance and aid the reading/learning experience. This has been my consistent poin throughout: you cannot make carte blanche statements such as "all colour is good" any more than you can say "all colour is bad".

Frankly, I am happy to debate in a positive manner, but what always ends up happening on TMP is that if you dare to challenge the views of a few people you get shouted down.

UshCha22 Dec 2017 1:42 a.m. PST

NM I feel justified in my statements. NONE of the US field manuals have found need of colour even on the covers (examaple FM 5-102 Counter Mobility). These are the real versions of what we are trying to achieve with models, QED. My staement is fully validated. Many of the thesis used to describe enemy tactics do not use colour. So if you see wargames rules as about the rules and rules alone, then colour is an uneccessary divertion of time and money (our money) from the desired aim. If you produce rules sets for any other reason they err on coffe table books, not practical rule sets as has been noted by others on this thread.

toofatlardies22 Dec 2017 8:51 a.m. PST

Interesting discussion. Looking through several of my father's training manuals from the RAF in the Second World War, several use colour illustrations, as do many German manuals. Indeed, working with the British Army on the battlegroup command level wargame they are currently rolling out, they again use colour. These are real versions of what we are trying to achieve with models. Q.E.D.?

My own experience, having published rules in black and white and in colour, is that the majority of customer want colour, Indeed, I avoided making the shift to colour from black and white, despite a lot of pressure to do so. I insisted that the content was more important than colour illustrations. In the end the first publication I published using colour was the 1824 von Reisswitz Kriegsspiel Rules. The reason for doing this was that the constant references to red and blue in the text were much assisted by illustrations where colour was used. In fact many of the original kriegsspiel rules were hand coloured to make the illustrations therein more clear than had they been in black and white.

After that I went back to publishing only in black and white for several years until it was clear that we were selling less rule sets than we could if we went with colour. Over the last seven years we have gone exclusively with colour throughout.


1. We sell a lot more copies. Despite comments here.

2. More importantly, we try to use colour images to show examples of play rather than simply 'eye candy". In our rules the vast majority of images are top-down shots of a game in process, showing things like lines of sight, what constitutes a flank or rear, rules for firing from or into buildings or other examples of play. With all rules we attempt to have the rule described in text, shown on an illustration and explained with an example. We do that because different people learn in different way. Some read the rules, some appreciate the visual illustration of the point and some like to have it played through as an example.

3. Where we do use 'eye candy' is where we have white space. Now that could be a shot of a game i progress, or an image of a pertinent figure. So, for example, if we have a page and a half of Army Lists for the French, we might fill the remaining half page with a shot of a French tank accompanied by infantry. Is if necessary? No, not really, but people do like to see nice pictures. That's why newspapers and magazines have photos in them rather than just text

Does this use of colour turn a set of rules into a coffee table book? I don't think so. The sole purpose is to guide players on how to use the rules to simulate action on the tabletop.

As to cost, David Manley makes an interesting point about price comparison. I think we'd all prefer to pay a tenner for some thing in one shop when it's £30.00 GBP in the shop next door. But I think that is dependent on the product being the same, or a very close likeness of similar quality. Where people will purchase the £30.00 GBP option is where they perceive that that product is superior to the £10.00 GBP one. What their decision is based on is always subjective; it could be that they think the product looks nicer, or it could be that they have heard good reviews of it.

Many years ago, when I attended wargames shows my main purchase would be rule sets which back in the 1980s could range from a pound up to a fiver. These were largely spontaneous purchases as I was interested in rule mechanisms. I ended up reading them but playing very few.

These days, rules tend to be less of a spontaneous purchase as the price has increased with the advent of colour. hence the more informed purchasing decisions made by customers. We certainly find that most wargamers purchase based on three things. Firstly, many gamers purchase rules written by game designers they are familiar with and whose work they like. Secondly, they buy rules after either playing them with a friend or after a recommendation. Thirdly, increasingly we are seeing people make purchases because they have seen positive things about a game on social media, such as a blog, podcast or video posted on the web.

Personally, I think the downside of colour is that the front end cost of colour means that there is a limit to what rules you can actually publish. With a rule set like Sharp Practice of Chain of Command the money we spend on publication with all the trimmings like counters or tokens is around £25,000.00 GBP to £30,000.00 GBP That means we can only publish rules like that for periods which have mass appeal. So ACW, Napoleonics, WWII, Ancients etc.

However, we balance that out by publishing smaller interest rule sets in things like our two annual e-magazines. For example, I published a set of Second Boer War rules in the format last year. They were well received by people who are interested in that period, but we could never have made that rule set a commercial success, even in black and white, as the numbers of people interested in that period is very slim. Using the magazines in that way allows us to still cover the less 'sexy' periods which we are still interested in playing.

I would also say that I refute the claim that all new rule sets are based on old ones and are simply re-hashed systems. However, I would, wouldn't I.

I actually think that there is a tendency in the hobby to simplify rule sets to give them mass appeal, but I do not identify that in what we try to do which is to create enjoyable games which also hold true to the history of the period and are decent simulations of warfare.

As noted above, poor use of illustrations can be distracting and unhelpful. However, good use, can be helpful. My own experience is that people generally like them and appreciate a set of rules which is well laid out and nicely illustrated. Indeed, increasingly that is what they are demanding and will not consider a black and white set as an alternative, even if it is £10.00 GBP as opposed to £30.00 GBP


Andy ONeill22 Dec 2017 10:07 a.m. PST

Excellent and interesting post, Richard.

One thing I find particularly interesting.
(I don't doubt your logic.)
If rules purchases are less likely to be impulsive due to price one would imagine a lower priced offering as more likely to sell.
If they don't then maybe people really do associate illustrations with quality.


toofatlardies22 Dec 2017 10:52 a.m. PST


Thank you. I was, frankly, dubious about dipping my toe in here, but I did feel that having been very much a flag wagger for black and white rules who then took the leap to colour under pressure, that I had something to contribute.

I actually think that most people play what their mates play. With any set of rules there tends to be a snowball effect as it picks up new players as it gains momentum. However, publicity is very important and by that I mean that a game needs to be visible to get people playing it. In the old days (20 plus years ago) that meant getting reviewed and written about in the hobby press. As the internet has evolved, it means being spoken about here on TMP and other forums, on podcasts, on blogs, Twitter and, in the last five years, Facebook which has become a big social media hit for wargamers.

My experience is that where we have released a PDF only rule set for a lesser period, that tends not to be treated as a "proper' rule set and generally picks up much, much less coverage. We had precisely the same issue with black and white rule sets. We had a review in one publication where our game was up against another set covering pretty much the same size game and the same period. We got five stars for the rules, but one star for presentation; they got four stars for the rules but five stars for presentation. As a result readers of the magazine saw that product rated as 4.5 stars, whereas ours was 3 stars. (Those are imprecise figures as I honestly can't recall the right numbers after ten years, but that was about the size of it.)

Personally, what concerns me is that in the old days of cheap rules we had lots of ideas floating about, some good, some bad, some possibly ugly, but the great thing was you could afford to buy them, read them and then pick what you liked. Nowadays, purchasing every rule set you come across would need deeper pockets than mine.

Having said that, there are many more sources of reviews that I can consider now before making a purchase. I actually sponsor one podcast because of the in-depth reviews they do of games. Lots of magazine reviews are somewhat cursory but podcasts can take an hour to really look in depth at games and specific mechanisms. I certainly get a lot of people tell me, and our web site analytics also confirm this, that they are making a purchase because of such reviews online or they have seen a game being played on line at somewhere like Beast of War. We can see where they come from and it is often the site where they have seen a review.

Now (probably like you) I am old enough that I would not hesitate to buy black and white rules If I thought them interesting. However, the honest truth is that I rarely see anything that takes my fancy. I suspect that is because they aren't getting the same level of exposure as the colour stuff. I actually thought the comment from the gentleman who worked in ski-wear retail was interesting. The packaging needs to catch the eye of the potential purchaser.

Now, cards on the table. I write rules for a living but it is also my hobby. I want people to play and enjoy the games I design and since I went full colour more people are inclined to do just that. Before, when we published in black and white, I had people constantly asking/advising me to change to colour. Since we went to colour I have had nobody ask me to go back to back and white. Frankly, I think I'd be mad to consider it.

However, that's just my view point from my very odd perspective. As an indication, we sell about £150,000.00 GBP worth of rules a year and that is growing every year.



Wolfhag22 Dec 2017 1:58 p.m. PST

I think that if you do want a commercially successful set of rules you need to have a good marketing plan and survey players who will be your potential customers. It seems TFL has a pretty good formula.

I'd be willing to bet the people at Osprey pubs that run the show is the marketing people. They have a successful formula and duplicate it. They know what their target market wants and continually provide it. Imagine Osprey with sparse black and white pictures.

If you have the attitude of "write it and they will buy it" you'll most likely be disappointed. You need to position your product to give that mental image picture to the potential buyer that he'll be able to duplicate and have a pleasurable experience using your system. It's the buying experience that people are already conditioned to use when making a purchase. If done correctly he'll get a little jolt of dopamine that will motivate him to buy with the anticipation of deriving the pleasure that he is picturing in his mind. It's almost impossible to do it without images. But just like anything else it can be overdone or not accomplish the intended goal.

If someone could come up with a system that is able to integrate these top rate graphics and pictures in the book into a playable version of a game that may be a recipe for success – if done written and marketed correctly. Maybe in 2018?


Yellow Admiral22 Dec 2017 10:36 p.m. PST

Richard –

No offense, but you have no standing in this argument. All the TFL rules rock! grin

Seriously, it's nice to see the opinions of someone with a lot of experience on the producer's side. This discussion could use more of them. Thanks for choming in.

- Ix

toofatlardies23 Dec 2017 3:27 a.m. PST


A pleasure. And thank you for your kind words.

Just to add a little bit more, one of the great joys of black and white printing is that you get a consistent unit production cost, whether you print 100 or 10,000. With colour, you get a huge variation depending on volume. You really need a print run of 1000 minimum and 3000 is where cost becomes attractive.

Actually, this is not particularly a problem when you do your first print run. After 15 years of being in this game I have a pretty good idea what volumes we will sell and try to print enough for the first two years of sales.

The problem comes when you sell out and want a second print run. Now, at this point the rules have been out for a reasonable amount of time. You are not going to get a surge in sales, so I may well find myself having to make serious decisions about whether a game remains "live" (i.e. in stock in hard copy) as if I only get a print run of 1000 my unit cost will double. If I go with 3000 sets I keep the same decent unit price, but that it a LOT of cash to have tied up in stock.

I'll give you a real example of that. We ran out of IABSM two months ago and that is now a relatively old rule set. However, it's an iconic Lardy rule set and I was keen to keep it in print, so I went with a short run. If I sell that trade, I make around £1.00 GBP a copy on a rule set that retails for about twenty odd quid.

If that rule set was in black and white, I could have gone with a run as low as a couple of hundred copies and the unit cost would have been the same as the initial big run.

The net result of the use of colour is that new rule sets are still viable (if you can reasonably predict demand) but the life span of a rule set is often reduced as there comes a point where restocking is no longer viable. I know that is why some publishers prefer single print runs and then go straight to PDF. That does have the rather unfortunate effect that some good rule sets disappear much quicker than they would have done in the old days and, frankly, going to PDF only just about kills a rule set. I try to allow for at least three print runs on any rule set to ensure that they are in stock for six years plus.

As I say, I am old enough to feel very sad about the demise of black and white rules, but I am also a pretty shrewd businessman with thirty years of running businesses behind me and I know when the writing is on the wall.

Anyway, Bleeped text to all this boring stuff. Have a happy Christmas


UshCha23 Dec 2017 8:57 a.m. PST

well that about sums it up. The wargames community in general has become yet another group of style over substance crowd. Richards testiment is perfectly credible and he is doing the right thing. You have to provide what the public wants no question if its how you make yor living. It does reflect poorly on the public however. Little more can be said but that it is a sad state of affairs.

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