In this case, it was actually the ABSENCE of a rule - empty spots in buildings aren't filled in with gray citizens unless an event causes them to be placed (or when you place them during setup)! I had assumed all dice should be in the game and, therefore, all the spots should be filled in the buildings when 'Assembling the Workforce'. DRAT! I HATE getting rules wrong.... :( It really bothers me, even if I know it might not have impacted the game much. I know some people might write these off as unintentional 'variants' (ok, sometimes you do this and end up with a better way to play, or at least a different interesting way to play) but it just irks me to get it wrong from the original rules. The absence of the rule along with an assumption is what trapped me here.
So, it got me thinking about some of the traps that Game Explainers might fall into.
Here are some common traps that I have (or seen others) fallen into:
TRAP: Forgetting to teach important rules.
Danger of the trap: Well, this one is fairly obvious - if you forget a rule you can completely change the game, perhaps even breaking it. Also, when you remember it later and let everyone know, they can think you were holding it back on purpose until the moment you 'remember' it and it's to your benefit. Or worse, it can completely ruin someone's strategy and take them out of the game. I have been on the receiving end of this before where I thought one thing and it turned out to not be allowed or something due to a neglected rule.
Example: Caylus - In a 2-player game I played a while ago, the rule not taught to me was where the worker in the Inn can be removed voluntarily the next turn when the Inn is activated or be left there if the other player has not pushed him out. Actually, this doesn't apply just to 2-player. I didn't realize I could remove that worker on subsequent turns - I thought it had to be forced out. I mentioned this and the person I was playing with seemed to confirm it would stay. On the first turn I had placed a worker there and NEVER got him back for the rest of the game as the other player never used the Inn to force me out. So, I was basically 1 guy short the ENTIRE game. The plus side was I never had to pay more than 1 Denier after the other player passed...so at least I had some benefit from it.
TRAP: Not teaching all the rules up-front.
TRAP: Making an assumption about the game play that is incorrect. (aka: mis-applying a rule to an incorrect situation)
Example: Monopoly -Yes, the old standby for this trap. When did YOU learn that Monopoly had auctions? I had NO idea when I was growing up playing it. I loved the game anyhow and didn't care it could go on for hours and hours. In fact, that's usually how I won because everyone else grew weary of it so sometimes I 'won' by default. Not that Monopoly is the end-all, be-all with the auction in it, but it certainly improves the game.
Example: Troyes :) The reason I started this list. Yes, I assumed there was a need to do something when, in fact, there was never a rule that said so. It seemed implicit, but I have seen this sort of thing before in other games and you have to be careful about reading into game rules. If there isn't a rule to do something DON'T DO IT. The tricky thing here is you would think there would be a rule or something stating that 'you might not use all dice every round as a spot can be left open in the buildings' or something like that, just to make it clear. However, what is clear now may not have been at all clear that such a 'rule' or comment was necessary to the game designers or play testers.
Example: Shipyard - When I first learned this the game explainer had 'skimmed' the rules beforehand. Ugh! It took at least 1-1/2 hours with 2 people (not me) trying to figure out the rules by the time we got the game set up and taught. The game took 3 hours to play so I had invested 4-1/2 hours in the game, on a day with limited time for more gaming. Once we got into the game I really enjoyed it but having taken so long definitely detracted from my enjoyment of it. THEN, I discovered later that several rules had been explained slightly incorrectly. Also, part of the setup was incorrect. I have since written up my own reference sheet (which took me several readings to get completed and I STILL got a couple of things wrong).
Now, in the game explainers' defense, the rules to this game were overly complicated in my opinion and also were confusing because 2 player rules were mixed in with the regular rules (which, I have found to often be problematic - keeping 2-player differences in one section near the end of the rules is a much better way to write rules in my opinion).
Still, my lesson learned was to never learn a game cold if it's an overly complicated game to begin with. Do the learning BEFORE offering to teach it, or don't teach it at all. This is why I didn't break out any of my new games @ Gamestorm - there are plenty of OTHER games to play, I don't want to waste precious gaming time trying to puzzle out the rules. You are under pressure and you're going to make too many mistakes and eventually ruin the game for at least some if not all those involved.
Another story along the same lines direct from Gamestorm -- one that REALLY bothered me and I'm glad we took action as we did. Rog wanted to learn the new Resident Evil Deck Building Game - I wasn't really interested but I thought I'd go check it out with him and decide if I wanted to play. Well, when we got there several people were already sitting there and they were going to make room for us, but as we were working that out they were mentioning no one had played it before (including the person running the demo!?!?) but it was 'Dominion -like' and should be easy enough to figure out. And, at least one of the players claimed to never have played Dominion. I said I was going to just watch and Rog had a terrified look on his face like "let's bail". So we did. Best decision we made at the convention I'd say. Man - I can't believe they had someone there running an official 'demo' of the game (presumably someone being compensated in some manner) and hadn't even played it before! That's a disaster waiting to happen....
- If you've never played a game before, review the rules AHEAD of time, set up the game and play a mock turn or two, most especially for more complicated games. This will save time for everyone involved. If you get caught in this trap as a player, cut off your hand and run away to find another game (or rather, just excuse yourself politely).
- Spend time reviewing the rules to games, even if you've played dozens of times. Even just skimming through the rules right before won't hurt if you can catch yourself on something right from the get-go. Some games also have player boards/sheets/screens with information on them and reviewing those can help as well.
- Create or print a player aid ahead of time. Having a summary of the rules helps give the game structure and people can read it themselves between turns to get up to speed faster. It also makes teaching the game easy as you can just follow along (and if it's well made it can help remind you of the smaller niggly rules). I almost always try to have a player aid for more complicated games, especially when teaching to new players.
- Check the BGG forums and ask a new question if necessary. BGG is rich with information and full of knowledgeable people that answer most questions in a very timely manner (often a matter of minutes). Don't hesitate to look something up or pose your question if something is questionable, ambiguous or otherwise doesn't seem right. No one is going to think you're an idiot (well ok, someone may - but most people on BGG are polite at least, even if you ARE an idiot) and your game learners will be happy you made the extra effort.