"Trogdor!! the Board Game Rulebook" is an album that you can listen to on Spotify
An unconventional delivery mechanism for a board game rulebook, but a welcome one
I’ve just discovered the musical album/board game rulebook that is that is the “Trogdor!! the Board Game Rulebook.” It’s a collection of 12 tracks, most of them around 1 minute in length, available on Spotify/YouTube Music/whatever music streaming platform you use.
Presenting a board game rulebook as a 13-minute musical album is kind of brilliant for several reasons.
For the uninitiated, Homestar Runner was a series of web videos in the early days of the web (the site launched in 2000), back in the days before streaming video where online video was delivered via flash. Many people (myself included) grew up on the funny cartoons that felt cutting edge for the way they depicted the world we were growing up in; one of the most popular segments involved a character (named Strong Bad) checking his email and responding to messages from fans, something that felt incredibly novel in the early 00’s.
Being that this was in an era before Google AdSense and other common ways of monetizing what was to become as “online content,” and the fact that online ads were tremendously uncool back in the day, Homestar Runner’s creators instead decided to monetize their creation by selling products directly to fans. Some of this came in the form of merch — t-shirts, mostly — but there was some content that you had to buy, like the “Strong Bad Sings” musical album. (Of course the music is delivered via a plastic disc being shipped to you in the mail; how else would one purchase music in 2003? Sure, that “iTunes store” did launch several months before the album launched, but if you went for that option, how were you supposed to get the songs out of your computer and into your car, apart from borrowing a friend’s CD burner to transfer them to a plastic disc?)
Now, the kids who grew up on Homestar Runner in the early 00’s are all grown up, many of them now being gainfully employed adults with more expendable income, and plenty of nostalgia for their old favorite web cartoon. Enter Trogdor!! the Board Game, a 2018 Kickstarter project featuring a series favorite, which went on to raise $1.42 million.
And to accompany the release of the game in 2019, we have “Trogdor!! the Board Game Rulebook.” Which, again, is quite brilliant.
First off, this basically functions as a Homestar Runner “album” in the vein of previous song collections like Strong Bad Sings and the soundtracks. My general take on all of these albums is that each track is “amusing enough”: each track is around ~1 minute in length, none of them overstay their welcome. They get in, give you a premise, give you the closest thing that you’re going to get to a punchline, and then they’re over and it’s onto the next track. Sometimes, the “joke” is just that it’s a style parody of Weezer or [generic hair metal band] about something inane, which is funny for the same reason that it’s funny to hear Weird Al turn songs by Michael Jackson or Joan Jett into ditties about food. They’re always fun, even if they’re not always exactly “funny.” So, getting “another Homestar Runner album” makes this a great value-add for fans. I enjoyed the album/rulebook, and I don’t even own the board game! And if you are the kind of person who pledged $40 to the Kickstarter campaign for Trogdor!! The Board Game (or $60 if you want the version with painted plastic sculpted minis as an alternative to the wooden meeples in the base game), you probably have a lot of affection for the Homestar Runner IP, and while the board game might deliver on the visual component, having an audio rulebook “album” gives you a chance to hear all of your favorite Homestar Runner characters.
This album serves as a “moodpiece” for the actual game. It gives you a feel for what kind of game you’re going to play: it’s a lighthearted co-op romp. And apart from that general vibe, the content of the musical rulebook makes it clear that there’s plenty of decision-making involved in this game, but the mechanics aren’t too complicated.
Second, this “album” seems to actually function well as a companion piece to the printed rulebook. Board game development has reached a level of maturity where I think most designers have started to realize that people use the rulebook for two things: 1. as a guide to teach them how to play the game after they open the box for the first time, and 2. as a refence guide to refer to 20 minutes into the game when there’s a question about the rules. Consequently, it makes sense to just separate this into two documents: instead of having a single “rulebook,” have both a “how to play/starter guide,” and a “rules reference” book. If you’re looking for the latter, the printed guide (also available online as an easily searchable PDF) has you covered; the musical album’s main function is to introduce you to the basic concepts of what you can do in a turn and how basic movement works:
Now here’s a problem Boardelectrix had to contend with:
How you make a five-by-five grid seem endless?
Can’t have the bad guys stuck in the ground
So whaddaya do? You give ‘em wraparound!
Wraparound! From the east to the west!
Let’s wraparound! From the right to the left!
Got to wraparound, north to south
I’m rappin’ wraparound with my invisible mouth!
Let’s say I’m a peasant on the far left of the board:
I want to move west, but I can’t be ignored!
How am I supposed to reach my desired destination?
Wraparound the map around with no hesitation!
Oh, wraparound! Archers and knights!
The wraparound! All the peasants unite!
They do the wraparound, sisters and brothers
Let’s wrap around the map from one side to the other!
It makes the basic rules “sticky” in a way that’s easier for your brain to retain. Is it a waste of time to deliver the rules in this sing-songy way? Well, the track is only 1 minute and 6 seconds long. I suppose that you could probably learn this rule in about 20 seconds just by reading it, but the increased retention for everyone at the table (plus the entertainment factor) is probably worth the extra time.
It bears repeating: one of the best things about this “album” is that the tracks do not outstay their welcome. The entire thing is over in less than 13 and a half minutes, and two of those minutes are the outro ballad, which as I understand it is meant to be saved until after the game is over.
There’s a real sense in which the suckiest part of the board gaming experience is onboarding: it’s fun to play board games, but it’s significantly less fun to spend 20 minutes sitting around a table listening to someone reading from a rulebook and giving you an explanation of the game’s rules that will go in one ear and out the other. The greatest gift of the album is that it takes the suckiest part of the game (going from “someone who doesn’t know how to play” to “someone who understands the basic rules”) and makes it fun. I mean, apart from hearing the voices of your favorite characters, they’re all speaking in rhyme! That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and some people might find it annoying, but those people are probably not Homestar Runner fans to begin with.
Lastly, there’s another level on which this album functions, which is as a piece of marketing for the board game. (This makes it similar to most of the music on Spotify: streaming royalties are, from what I understand, miniscule, so the real benefit to having your music on Spotify is that it’s a new place for people to discovery you and go on to buy concert tickets or merch or other items that you can actually make money from.)
I wasn’t really aware of the Trogdor!! board game before today. (I think that if you had asked me, “Hey, remember that Homestar Runner board game that got Kickstarted a couple years ago,” I’d probably respond with something like, “That seems like the kind of thing that those guys would do.”) I stumbled upon the “album” Trogdor!! the Board Game Rulebook because I was on a bit of nostalgia binge and looking up classic Strong Bad Sings tracks, and if you click on the artist profile, one of the albums that pops up (alongside Homestar Runner OST volumes 1, 2, and 3) is the Trogdor!! rulebook. And now, not only am I aware that the board game exists, but I have a basic familiarity with it’s rules, which is already more investment than I have in most board games that aren’t already on my shelf. It’s a Kickstarter game, so the only copies available are on the secondary market at a significant markup, but I’m now following the Homestar Runner Kickstarter account so I’ll get an email notification if they ever do another Kickstarter campaign for another print run of the game. Of course, there’s never any guarantee of a second print run, but given that there are numerous recent completed ebay listings for double the 2019 Kickstarter campaign price, and the fact that the game raised $1.42 million during its first Kickstarter print run, I’d guess that a second print run would do quite well!
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