The contents and format of player aids vary, but always aim at limiting to a minimum reference to the rulebook, and ensuring a fluid gameplay.
Most player aids contain, in the form of a chart, a table or a list, elements such as:
A summary of the sequence of play, available actions, or various scorings
A description of icons and symbols used in the game
Features of characters, locations, resources or terrain
Important rules or rules that are specific to each player
Skilled publishers know how to use every inch of cardboard to make for a simpler, more enjoyable gameplay. So, a well-designed main board will contain useful reminders. Still, individual player boards or a few extra cards are often the best-suited components to serve as player aids. Heavier games, however, often require dedicated player aids.
That said, most player aids out there are fan-made. Producing and sharing all kinds of reference material for games is a well-established tradition among board gamers and, indeed, almost a hobby in itself. Some would see that as a sign that the overall quality of rulebooks is poor, but it is fair to say that even excellent rules have something to gain at being properly, convenientl summarized. In any case, it is an excellent opportunity for the fans of a game to share their expertise, as well as to put forward their graphics or technical writing skills.
A few Boardgamegeek users have earned a solid reputation as player aid producers. One of the most prolific and well known is probably UniversalHead, who has made a few hundreds of player aids highly rated for their quality and reliability.
The File tab, in Boardgamegeek’s game page, is the place to go to find all kinds of player aids, for any kind of game. Even for lesser-known games, you are likely to find a variety of player aids, in several languages, and under popular printable file formats, such as JPG, PDF, or Office (Word and Excel).
But quantity doesn’t imply quality. Fortunately, every file offered on Boardgamegeek has its own page; versions, comments and ratings are there to help us choose the player aid that’s right for us.
Player aids come in all shapes and sizes. Some fit on a single playing card, and most don’t exceed both sides of a single sheet. Longer and more complex games, namely historical games, often require multiple-page player aids. These are called flip books.
Strategy guides and various accessibility adaptations, while they do help people to learn or play a game, are not called player aids.
References and Further Browsing
- Player aids by UniversalHead
- Player aids by Major Sholto, on Boardgamegeek
- Sterling Babcock’s Player aids, on Boardgamegeek
- Official player aid booklet for Lisboa (Lacerda, 2017)
- Fan-made player aid for Washington’s War (Herman, 2010), by Major Sholto
- A flowchart player aid for Pax Renaissance (Eklund, 2016), on Boardgamegeek