Why I Hate Video Tutorials for Board Games

"STOP!"

"Huh, my board game comes with a warning sticker."

"BEFORE YOU PLAY THIS GAME..."

"Is this board game seizure-inducing, somehow? It's not even Lazer Ryderz."

"...watch US play it! Go to YouTube to see our video tutorial!"

"What? No."

Why I Hate Video Tutorials

First: it isn't that I hate the tutorials themselves. It's that video tutorials come associated with a very specific side effect.

Some people learn best while watching and listening. I get it. But I personally learn best by doing. The easiest way for me to learn a game is to read the rules and then try a round. Nothing really "clicks" to me until a practice round has been played. Once I've played a round, everything falls into place.

The core of this is that all I really need to get started is a cursory look at the actual rules. I need to be able to scan a few pages and know where to find information, rather than having to digest the information itself; for instance, I need to know where the turn actions page is, or the win conditions page is. Once I have all of that, I'm good to go.

The problem with video tutorials isn't that they exist; it's fine that they exist. I understand why they're being pushed so hard, too; a video means that your players are going to look you up on YouTube and hopefully follow your channel, leading to better marketing efforts in the future. The problem with video tutorials is that once a video tutorial exists, people give up on trying to explain the game in the actual manual.

The Art of Writing a Game Manual

I can't count how many manuals I've seen recently that are either 20 pages too long, or a single sheet of paper that has virtually nothing on it. There are so many games out today that are coming out with manuals that are strangely vague (One Deck Dungeon) or needlessly complex (First Martians).

Writing a game manual is not easy. You're distilling a lot of complex, foreign concepts into an easily digested format. Game manuals have to be written for users of any experience level. They need to be just as comprehensible to a beginner as to an experienced player -- while not adding extraneous information that will put an experienced player off. It's a balancing act that requires a professional.

And it's easy to see why video can make this act easier. Instead of having to explain turn order, you can simply show it. Video is memorable. It's fun. Game designers often have a lot of information on how the game is played, but they haven't always thought to distill it into specific sections; they just know how to show someone how to play the game.

But the game manual is still absolutely critical, because no one is going to be skipping around a YouTube video trying to track to the point where they explained tie breakers. There are so many things that could simply be accidentally omitted from a video and that may not have any clarification in the game guide if no one has paid any attention to it.

A manual can be skimmed into "playable" condition within a few minutes, but a video tutorial is likely to take ten to thirty minutes of your time. Many of us are not opening up and learning games alone in the quiet of our homes; we are opening up our games when we are around the people we want to play it with. 

So again, it isn't really the presence of video tutorials that bothers me -- though personally they aren't useful to me -- it's that game developers are now starting to feel as though a video tutorial is all that they need.

Manuals are an art form unto themselves, and they can truly make or break a good game. They are, for many of us, the fastest and easiest way to learn the game, and they serve as a reference manual moving into the future -- something that a video simply cannot. By all means, developers should continue to add them, but I would be wary of developers over relying on them moving into the future.