One exercise I remember from high school was to write instructions for how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Other students would then stand at the front of the class with bread, a knife, and jars of PB&J, then try to follow our written instructions as literally as possible, not making any assumptions. This was an activity we were all obviously familiar with, but it was amazing how poor most of the instructions were, omitting all kinds of details.
Another field that has the same problem is the writing of laws. National legislatures have lots of expert highly trained technical writers. How could there be any doubts about the meaning of laws? Yet trained experts (lawyers) can never agree about the meaning of any law. There is a need for courts and for a supreme court. So why can’t they just hire better technical writers?
[...] in tabletop games [...] we are the interpreters and facilitators of the experience and the social context of that is impossible to replicate. We’re the ones that take the rules and convert them into mechanisms. We’re the compilers of fun – we take the instructions and execute them for the benefit of all.
And that’s why we play board games right? For fun? If that’s what board game critics are to be judging then I think we need to seriously work out what we mean when we use that word. Our default mode is to let fun be a personal and visceral sort of thing. It’s not something you can define or get a hold of. You just feel it, and different people feel it for different reasons. If that’s the case, then board game criticism will probably remain what it is now—publicity and rules explanations.
When you compare the information contained in this game [A Distant Plain] and how it’s presented to the firehose of disjointed, contextless words and images that came out of coverage of the war in Afghanistan, you can see the potential contained within one of these games for someone to educate themselves on the complexities and nuances of this conflict.