Hey everyone! While this post shares the same title as my previous series also called “Rulebook Reviews,” it is different in a major way: this game has been published and available to purchase. In fact, I have decided to rename my previous series to “Rulebook Previews” as they are mostly meant as spotlight articles. For this review, I plan to follow stricter guidelines and be more critical in my opinions, as the rulebook is finalized and not something the game designer can easily change before publication. Please keep in mind that this review is concerned with the quality of the rulebook and not the gameplay. A great game can still receive a low rulebook score, and a poor game can receive an excellent rulebook score. I purchased this copy of the game and am not sponsored by Doctor Finn’s Games.
Edit: This Rulebook Review was reposted onto Board Game Geek, which you can find here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2171345/rulebook-review-institute-magical-arts
Organization – 3/5
How easy is it to look up a rule? Can you easily find the section you are looking for? Is the rulebook organized in a logical order so that everything makes sense during the first read-through?
When playing this game, I struggled at times to find the rule that I needed in a short period of time. The main rulebook is 23 pages, and it lacks a table of contents so that you can find the page you need quickly. Each major section is underlined in yellow and written in red, but it can be difficult to differentiate “additional rules” sections which are also underlined, and subsections that are not underlined but still red in color. Part of the difficulty of flipping through is the weird size of the rulebook: it is the size of the cover of the box.
That being said, I really appreciate a couple of things that this rulebook does to make finding rules easier. Most sections come with examples of gameplay and have “additional rules” subsections. Also, the game comes with an Institute Card summary booklet that is separate from the rules. It goes over the layout of an Institute Card and lists the rules for every card in the game. I did think the (X3) was confusing since it could be interpreted as how many times you can use the ability, but it quickly becomes clear that this is actually just the number of copies of each card.
In terms of presenting the rules in a logical order, the rulebook did a fantastic job. Except for one minor gripe:
Introduction > Components > Overview of Gameplay > Setup > The Player’s Arena > Playing the Game > Phase I > Phase II > Phase III > Phase IV > Phase V > Game End > ?Using the Powers of Institute Card? > Variants > Win a Free Game > Game Summary > Link to Website > Thanks
I completely understand why they chose to tack this section on in the end: it is a long 3-page section and would break up the flow of the rules explanation if they put it at the start of the rulebook. That being said, it felt really weird to find this section after the Game End section given how the entire game revolves around claiming Institute Cards for VP. It would have made sense to put this section in the Institute Card Summary booklet or to put it after the “The Player’s Arena” section. From reading the rulebook through the first time, I almost missed 2 very important rules because they were hidden away at the very end: That permanent powers cost 1 power stone to use each time, and that powers cannot affect the Ethereal Plane or Portal.
Page number issues
The page numbers are offset by 1. Here are a couple of examples:
On page 7, the rulebook says ‘See “Using the Powers of Institute Cards,” p.21′, but this section is found on P.20.’
On page 20, the rulebook says ‘See “Rules for Immediate Powers,” p.23′, but this section is found on P.22.’
Clarity – 6/7
How easy is it to understand the rules? Is the rulebook needlessly complex or not detailed enough? Could the rules be interpreted in multiple valid ways? Were there plenty of examples and images?
This rulebook errs on the side of being too detailed at times, and it repeats itself a lot. I do feel that some of this repetition could be cut down a bit, as it is part of the reason it can be difficult to find what you are looking for. Despite this, I’ve decided to give it near perfect score for clarity because I felt it did a great job of explaining the rules and it would be very difficult to interpret things multiple ways. I also thought that the inclusion of the graphics was very well done. For example, while the graphics were from a birds eye’s view, it still gave depth to the dice, cubes, and tokens so that they didn’t just look like squares and circles. It also labeled everything very well. I really appreciated those small details because it was clear that every graphic was carefully designed. Sections such as “The Player’s Area” were not strictly necessary, but really helped make things easy to keep track of, especially when I was playing for the first time.
“No Turn Order”
There was one area where I felt there was not enough clarity: one time powers and Assigning Action Cards to Dice. The rulebook says, “There is no turn order for triggering one-time powers. A player wishing to do so simply stops play, triggers the power, and performs the corresponding action.” And in the Assigning Action Cards phase, it says, “There is no turn order for re-rolling dice.”
I personally felt like this was kind of lazy, and basically just leaves the players to figure it out. This was especially troublesome because there are 3 copies of the card “Apprentice Wand,” which has the immediate ability to shift 2 power stones.
Like, what if I used Ring of Influence to remove my opponent’s Power Stone from location 5, but my opponent then “stopped play” and shifted it somewhere else? And what happens in the re-rolling dice example where there is a standoff between the players: both players want to re-roll the dice, but neither player wants to be the first one to re-roll? This is one area where the rulebook could have said something like “Players may stop play at any time, but not while another Institute Card Effect is resolving” or “players may agree to re-roll simultaneously”.
One more thing, and this is a minor gripe, but I would have liked the player count and time it takes to play the game to be printed on the rulebook. It may have also been nice to explicitly state that there is no “first player” even though this becomes clear if you read through the entire rulebook.
Teaching the Game – 3/3
Does the rulebook help returning players to quickly relearn the game and explain it to others? Is it easy to determine any changes to the game based on player count? What about player aids?
There isn’t much to say for this section since the game is strictly 2 players, and is relatively a straightforward game. The game comes with 2 player aids that list the phases, which are extremely helpful for new and returning players. The rulebook has a game summary on the back, and while I didn’t personally need to use this, it would be very helpful a few months down the line when I forget some of the rules in the game.
This is technically not about the rulebook or the game, but I thought that there were too many bags included in the game. Seriously, it was basically a Russian Doll: there was one large ziplock bag that contained multiple smaller ziplock bags, and some of those smaller ziplock bags had ziplock bags inside of them too. I ended up throwing out all of the smaller ziplock bags because honestly, just the one large ziplock bag was enough for me.
Overall – 12/15
A score of 0-6 would be an unintelligible rulebook. A score of 7-9 is a rulebook that is mediocre and likely requires further research to learn all the rules, such as watching a how to play video. A score of 10-12 is a rulebook sufficient to stand on its own legs. A score of 13-15 is an excellent rulebook that has next to no issues and has admirable qualities that go above and beyond that add to the game, theme, or overall experience.
The rulebook was fairly strong! I was able to play the game from just reading the rulebook. That being said, I had to read through a few of the sections a couple times to get a solid grasp on what was going on. Also, there were a lot of “additional rules” and edge cases to read through. A lot of these were not intuitive, like the rule where you have to discard an Institute Card if there are 20 or more power stones on it after phase V. While that is simply a property of this game in particular, it made the rulebook at times difficult to get through. I admire the rulebook writer(s) for writing great rules to a game despite so many of these edge cases. They did a fantastic job and so I am comfortable giving this score.
Thoughts on the review? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!