Predictably, having made a blog post about how I wanted to discuss more ideas, I went quiet for three weeks. Let’s try something simple: a thing, my opinion, and what do you think.
A thing: over the last few years, Games Workshop have changed the way they release rulebooks. They used to be softback; now they’re hardback. This trend started with their main rulebooks – for 40K, the first hardback was fourth edition, so nine years ago; for Warhammer Fantasy, it was at latest seventh edition, seven years ago. Over the last three years this has spread through all their army books, of which now more than half are available in hardback.
We could be cynical about the motive if we chose: hardbacks are considered a better quality product than paperbacks, so GW can charge more for the books. But let’s not be cynical. Cynical leads to comments like ‘this is why we can’t have nice things!’ – and in GW’s defence, it’s full-colour, it’s filled with illustrations and heraldry and all the things their rulebooks are known for, it’s a high quality thing and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have nice things.
(This said, back in third edition when 40K had just been revamped and everyone needed a new army book quickly, the codexes were far shorter – and less expensive – than they are now, but by golly they were packed with stuff and steeped with character. I’m fond of that era of 40K.)
Here’s the real problem. Hardbacks may look nice on a shelf, but for actual gaming purposes they’re too fancy. I’m expecting to use a rulebook during a game. That doesn’t mean poring over the rules at leisure or soaking in the artistic detail, it means being able to find the page with the rule I need as efficiently as possible.
And hardback covers are not made for flipping.
Let’s take the subject off GW. Recently, there’s been an uprising in interactive fiction. The ilk of Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure and stuff have made their way into digital forms as ebooks and apps, and good for them – but through the magic of Kickstarter, they’re also being made into high quality dead-tree editions. All the eighties artwork, or new artwork based on it, or the artwork coloured in, or whathaveyou; the maps are laid out, the producers are making a real effort to make collectors editions of these out-of-print nostalgic tomes.
Good for them. I approve. I’ve bought a couple, they’re very nice; I’ve also hesitated to buy others, much as I’d like them, because I don’t have quite that much free cash.
But here’s the thing: a lot of them are in hardback, too.
I’ve heard some justification for this: a gamebook, even more than a codex, might expect to have dice rolled on it. Rulebooks in wargames contain the rules, but the focus of play is on the miniatures and the strategy; a gamebook is the centre of its player’s focus, so having it right in front of you and rolling dice on it might be a good thing. And again, I suppose, you might say this is a leisure activity where taking your time over the tome is something to experience.
But in my opinion, a gamebook is even more likely than a rulebook to have its pages flipped (not just during the telling of the story – also, when checking your character sheet). And a hardback makes that less efficient.
So, for me paperbacks are better and we should go back that way. What do you think, though – are hardbacks here to stay?