When Devs Break Their Own Rules

“Sorry about the mess.” — Han Solo It’s been a while since we’ve delved into any of the broad concepts surrounding rules interpretation.  And, honestly, this is one that I would rather not have covered at all, or at least not needed to cover.  But with several elements of the recent FAQ rather directly contradicting […]

Profile photo of Kevin By Kevin On July 29, 2013 Posted In X-Wing Miniatures Game

“Sorry about the mess.”
— Han Solo

It’s been a while since we’ve delved into any of the broad concepts surrounding rules interpretation.  And, honestly, this is one that I would rather not have covered at all, or at least not needed to cover.  But with several elements of the recent FAQ rather directly contradicting the rest of the rules set, it’s a subject that’s worth broaching.

The Example
Even though I think there are at least three examples of this in the current FAQ rulings, I’d like to focus on what I hope will be the least controversial one.

Proximity Mine: When a ship executes a maneuver, if its base or maneuver template overlaps this token, the token detonates.
Q: If a ship barrel rolls or boosts onto a proximity mine token, does the token detonate?

A: Yes

I think the problem with the ruling here is pretty obvious.  Boost and Barrel Roll are not maneuvers; they do not trigger effects which depend on maneuvers.  But in this case, they do.  The ruling pretty directly contradicts the rules and card text as printed.

How To Play It
Let’s get the important thing out of the way first: this is the right way to play it.  Whether we like it or not, whether it follows the rules or not, the FAQ tells us how to play this particular interaction.  It is a binding rules document, and I expect that no TO in the world would find you very persuasive if you tried to argue that it should be played otherwise.  If you want to argue it, it’s always your prerogative – but don’t credit me when you do 😛

Rise of the Problems: Precedent and Interpretation
So if I say to just play it as printed, why does it matter if it’s right or wrong?  We know what to do when a ship lands on top of a proximity mine token after a boost.  What’s the big deal?

The problem with this sort of “Because I said so” ruling comes into play when we try to extrapolate it to other parts of the rule set.  The question of what to do may be obvious, but the question of why we do it remains unresolved (if it has an answer at all).  We know this ruling doesn’t match with the printed rules and our understanding of them, but we don’t know where the difference emerges.  That opens the door to all sorts of problems.  Different people will identify different causes, and take different steps to try and reconcile those issues.  Some players will attempt to exploit the ruling as precedent for advantage in unrelated cases.  Others will bend the rules into pretzels to try and make the ruling make sense, then apply that pretzel to other parts of the rules.

In short, the bad ruling erodes the foundation of our understanding of the rules.  Depending on the rules in question and their ability to be used as precedent this may have more or less impact, but it will always be there.

This is especially bad in a game like X-wing, where so much of our understanding of the rules is derived or implicit.  We don’t have strong definitions of timing, or the difference between “when” and “after” or what “Immediately” actually does when it’s used on the card.  Most of our understanding of these abilities are derived based on abilities.  Strange rulings can dramatically shake our understanding of the entire rule set.

Dealing With It: The Player View
So how do we, as players, deal with it?  I think there are two parts to it.  First, we have to recognize a bad ruling when we see one. That’s why I picked the proximity mine ruling, since it’s easily the most obviously wrong one in the FAQ.  Second, and more importantly, we have to be cautious in allowing odd rulings to propagate into our understanding of the larger rule system.  Does the proximity mine ruling mean that any ability that triggers on “after executing a maneuver” will trigger after a boost?  Does it mean that barrel roll is now considered a maneuver?  While I’m sure some might go down that road, I think that’s a mistake.

We, as players, have to be capable of recognizing these sorts of rulings and putting them in their own little box, walled off from our understanding of the game system.  Play the proximity mine like the ruling says, but that’s it.

Dealing With It: The Developer View
As a message to developers, the only plea is to please not do this.  If a particular interaction isn’t working the way you intended to, then make appropriate errata; don’t just drop a ruling that conflicts with our understanding of the rules.  “If a ship’s maneuver template overlaps this token, or a ship overlaps it at the end of its Perform Action step, the token detonates” would be perfectly reasonable errata that accomplishes what seems to be the intended goal, and does so without leaving the many questions about the players’ understanding of the rules.

Conclusion
When I started this blog series, I did it on the “Teach a man to fish” theory.  Sure, we could keep telling people over and over that they don’t lose a Stealth Device when they overlap an obstacle, or that Elusiveness goes before Han, but we’re all better off if players understand the why of things.  Tell a man that Elusiveness goes first and he’ll be back with a question about Sensor Jammer; teach him about attacker/defender order during the Modify Attacker Dice step, and you feed him for…  well, it’s not as elegant as the fish parable, but you get the idea.

Developers should strive for the same thing when they’re creating rules.  We play complex games and it’s not always going to be perfect, but “Because I said so” rulings that contradict rules in obvious places will only increase the number of “I guess FFG has to answer this one” questions.

Sadly, few developers seem to share that view of the rules they make, and FFG certainly isn’t turning out to be one of them.  So in the mean time, it’s up to us as players to recognize the out-of-bounds rulings when we get them, and make sure that we aren’t breaking our fishing poles in the process of trying to understand them.

 

  1. A re-written card for Proximity Mine would be helpful. The bad language goes away, replaced by better language that includes Barrel Roll and Boost as possible ways to trigger the effect. It doesn’t help all those people with the old card directly, but it keeps new product from spreading misinformation.

    And of course, the FAQ should just formally re-write that text rather than contradict the card with FAQ answers. I’m actually pretty sure they’ll get around to that as of next FAQ, but just wanted to get the answer out there since the player base was starting to get the grumbles about no FAQ coming out for so long.

    I imagine that Proximity Mine has ALWAYS worked the same way, but that an oversight occurred as they finalized text for different cards. Something tends to slip through when you have one person in charge of small details like that, but they also have 350+ other things you’ve told them to do as well. We’ve just been informed of an error, nothing more. I don’t think the answer contradicts the rule so much as FFG admits that the rule is incomplete.

    1. It would have been nice, if their intention was ‘fix it now, explain it later’ if they’d just said as much. How hard would it have been to tack on a line in the ruling that just said “we realize this contradicts the card as currently written, and are addressing this in an upcoming errata, but wished to get the card working as intended in the meantime”?

  2. Very helpful. I was wondering about this as well. It’s a little confusing teaching new players that barrel rolling can be measured before committing, and then telling them they hit a proximity mine before they’ve technically committed to the action.

    I do hope you’ll discuss the other two rules contradictions as well, or at least a passing mention.

    1. At least one of them is going to get a full post in the near future. But it’s still a controversial one, and I’ve found that when I say “I’m going to mention this but please don’t let it dominate the comments” it will almost invariably be the only thing talked about in the comments 😛

      So I’m not even going to mention it this time, but stay tuned next week :)

    2. Oh come on. If they are pre-measuring a barrel roll the mine only goes off if the template or ship base touches WHEN the ship moves. There is a grey area in whether a pre-measurement should require the player to commit if there are no obstacles that prevent the manoeuvre. However, for learning players I think it’s fine if they notice a move would trigger a bomb to back out.

  3. My take is that this comes from FFG’s efforts to have their cake and eat it, too. They want a game that’s quick to set up, plays fast, and is fun more than fiddly. The problem is that by incorporating a growing universe of CCG-like cards and effects, their system really must adhere to strictly defined keywords or before long it’ll be a mess of rulings and statements that contradict the rules more than they follow it. Monpoc is another example, although maybe less egregious, of a system that started to grow beyond the confines of it’s own keyword system and started getting ruling issued that didn’t always comport with what the system would otherwise dictate.

    1. While this was obviously springboarded off of X-wing and FFG, it’s hardly unique to them. I’m not sure I’ve ever played a CCG-like system that hasn’t fallen into this trap on more than one occasion.

      1. What frustrates me about X-Wing’s issues is that the CCG format is not new…it’s been around for 20 years. It’s alarming that a game coming out two decades after the format became popular is still having issues with the system right out of the gate.

        And it’s not like X-Wing has a huge base of upgrade and ship abilities to worry about. The fault is that the base system plays a little fast and loose with the keyword and definition system, trying to be both a rigid set of rules, but not putting in the work to define the sharp edges where later conflicts will happen. When the set has thousands of cards to combine, you expect some things to slip through: There’s currently some 18 Rebel and 23 Imperial pilots….and not all of them have a special ability. And about 40 different upgrade cards? Less than 100 total cards through 3 release waves to coordinate, in a mature game format, when a standard big M;tG release has over 300 cards (or did last time I looked, which admittedly was a long time ago).

      2. The fault is that the base system plays a little fast and loose with the keyword and definition system, trying to be both a rigid set of rules, but not putting in the work to define the sharp edges where later conflicts will happen.
        This is what frustrates me, too—and why I was hoping part of the reason for the FAQ delay was a re-written “Advanced Rulebook” to complement the Core Rulebook.

        The investment of effort on their part to compose a tight and self-consistent set of rules ahead of time would have paid off by now, had they done so initially. Instead, they have to play catch-up with a hundred small rules issues (and one or two big ones). It’s not that FFG’s designers and developers aren’t working hard, but I feel like those decisions at the start are going to continue to cause extra headaches for everyone involved for years.

  4. “If a ship’s maneuver template overlaps this token, or a ship overlaps it at the end of its Perform Action step, the token detonates”

    Would this include ships that boosted or barrel rolled after being given a free action or someone like Turr who did so after firing? It might be better to word it something like:

    “When a ship executes a maneuver or performs a boost or barrel roll action, if its base or maneuver template overlaps this token, this token detonates.”

    1. Realized that it would miss that at some point… That would work, but would be too limited for potential future actions. New thinking is “If a ship overlaps the token after executing a maneuver or performing an action, or the maneuver template overlaps while executing a maneuver…”

    1. It could also be fixed by including boost and barrel roll within the term maneuver by writing their cards/descriptions along these lines:

      Barrel Roll: Add “this action counts as a maneuver.”

      Boost: Start the action with “Perform a 1 (left, straight, right) maneuver.”

      Both actions still count as actions, but now they also both include the keyword maneuver, so any effects impacted by that keyword are clearly wrapped into their execution. No need to create a new term, as the existing structure already exists to allow these actions to fit within the current rules without creating a one-off exception to the standard rules.

      1. I think that would create a lot of unintended consequences though. For instance, Lando with Nien Numb boosting forward would trigger Lando’s text and hand out an extra free action. It would also blur the distinction of something like Daredevil intentionally functioning as a maneuver where the others don’t.

      2. It might create additional changes: Lando’s ability could be limited to functioning only during the maneuver phase, or prohibited from functioning during an action. And in instances where a distinction is intentional, there’s ways to make that clear as well.

  5. I mean, it seems like if they coined a term as a catch-all for anything that moves your ship but is an action and not a maneuver (hence, “movement action”) they could change the wording pretty simply to let you know that any maneuver OR that moves you onto a proximity mine detonates it. It’s not rocket science. So yeah, I’m not sure why they would simply break the rule as written, rather than rewrite the rule to make sense.

  6. What are all y’all’s opinion on using errata stickers for this game? Those cards don’t need to be shuffled, only chosen pre-game and merely displayed on the table. Because of that, I see no issue with it. The main problem, however, is to make it so all these cards get to the right players. If you create a sticker for proximity mines and include it in a subsequent box, it creates a consumerism malaise. If you release it on print-by-demand, it’s going to pack a sizeable cost punch to FFG.

    1. So far the errata have been really light, so I don’t think the stickers are needed (yet). Most people playing competitively will already know the two or three things that have changed, and most people playing for fun don’t really need to worry about the changes.

      If they do it eventually, I’d expect to see a printable PDF.

    2. I actually don’t like the idea of stickers or otherwise changing the cards. It’s just as easy to know/reference the FAQ, and at the point where changing cards becomes generally acceptable it opens the door for people adding “mistakes” to their cards.

  7. I actually found that errata to be one of the least problematic corrections in the FAQ. As I wrote in the FFG forum: a mine only cares about your “closeness” to the mine, not how (or as Karl Pilkington would say it: “the howness”) you got there. And really I don’t see that much of an issue with it. If one has a big “problem” with BR/Boost action being able to trigger a Prox Mine, then you should (IMO) also have a problem with the fact that you are using “Movement Templates” to measure the BR/Boost Action, shouldn’t you??

    1. It would make more sense as a dog-fighting game if you committed to the action, but then it was handled a certain way if you hit something — damage for asteroids, incomplete movement for ships. I can only think that intentionally causing a ship collision was too powerful as a defensive tool, so it was handled a different way. Why are asteroid included in that? I don’t know. I’d have let people hit them by accident, the same way they do when maneuvering.

  8. “When a ship executes a maneuver, if its base or maneuver template overlaps this token, the token detonates.”
    Would it work with this instead:
    “When a ships base or maneuver template overlaps this token, the token detonates.”
    It’s short and it covers both maneuvers and boost/barrel roll.