Beyond the Box – Player Aids

You’re in the middle of plotting your elaborate combo-heavy turn, and then all of a sudden, you think to yourself, “Wait, what does that symbol mean again?” Just like that, your game screeches to a halt as you flip through a 20-page rule book trying to find the meaning of “Ω↔♦.” Show of hands, who has this happened to?

We’re living in a world where more and more people are discovering how fun and engaging modern board games are. The Industry recognizes this and people are putting out games designed to attract newcomers. Oftentimes so much attention and detail is given to the graphics, art, and good components, which is great. Yet, the one place where progress has stalled, is the rulebook. To my chagrin, many rulebooks are unintuitive, unwieldy, or just too damn long. That’s when a good player aid comes in handy.

What is a player aid? It’s a guide that helps simplify the game, for new players and experienced players alike. Think of it as a reference sheet. There’s no one right way to make a player aid. For example, in a symbol heavy game – a good player aid will focus on explaining the symbols. While in a worker placement game, it might briefly explain every spot on the board. Regardless of the type of player aid, it should always be concise, efficient, clear, and easy to read. I’ve regularly found that having one handy when teaching a game to new players is really helpful because they have something to follow along with when rules are being explained. Which is great for visual learners.

When I first discovered player aids, I started printing them out for every single game I owned. Which, to be clear, is overkill! As much as I love them, player aids aren’t always necessary. They are very much game dependent and group dependent. If you’re playing a game that has about five rules, do you really want a player aid taking up table space? Probably not.

“Where can I find them?” you ask. My first go to source is BoardGameGeek.com. Under the game’s page, go to the Files section, and most of the time, some awesome people have uploaded player aids. My favorites have always been the ones that incorporate the art of the game into the player aid, and I regularly choose those over a plain word document. But it’s whatever you prefer. Personally, one of consistently best player aids I’ve found have been created by The Esoteric Order of Gamers.

Since I’m a little extra, I often laminate my player aids so I don’t have to worry about them accidentally getting bent or torn.

In the end, the purpose of player aids is to help your game session run more smoothly and quickly, especially for games you’ve never played before. Whenever I’ve gifted games to friends, I generally include my favorite player aid for that particular game – laminated of course! Once, I gifted a friend Castles of Burgundy by Stefan Feld, along with a player aid. I was later told that the aid was a, “life saver!” Music to my ears.

Which ones do I like best? Like the previously mentioned Castles of Burgundy, I often recommend player aids for the following games: Blood Rage, Concordia, Inis, Great Western Trail, 7 Wonders, Endeavor: Age of Sail, Raiders of the North Sea, and more.

Increasingly, games are including ready-made player aids. Most of them have been great and are invaluable. For example, the player aids in Petrichor, Brass: Birmingham, and Five Tribes, are all fantastic.

Do you have a favorite? Let me know what player aids you can’t live without!