Paper or plastic?
Chicken or fish?
Mulder or Scully?
And… digital rule books, or hardcopies?
These are the questions that have tried the patience of thinkers and geeks alike for millennia. And, honestly, there’s no straight answer to any of them.
Take the debate on whether digital rule books or physical hardcopies are better. It’s a complete toss up.
Personally, if you asked me straight up to choose between one or the other, my immediate response would be hardcopies. Not only do I like the heft and feel of a book, and the ability to turn pages with agility and facility, but it’s just easier to collate your information between books when you can have them both in front of you. Most of us don’t have multiple iPads that would allow us to have two rulebooks open at once.
BUT then, I have to make this admission: On my iPad right now, I have rulebooks for more than 50 different wargames, skirmish games, card games, dice games, roleplaying games, and board games. And the reason is simple: If I want to review the rules for a particular game before I pick it up and play it again, it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to pull out my iPad, open iBooks, and read the PDF of the rules, than digging out the game box in my basement and retrieving the rules. Plus, I can read it in the dark when the rest of the family is asleep without getting out a flashlight.
Let’s face it – even for those of us who, like me, who are dyed-in-the-wool acolytes of hardcopy books for gaming, it’s impossible to deny that frequently digital copies are more convenient much of the time. I mean, if you can have a device that stores scores of rulebooks and keep it with you in your backpack, why not? It’s better than carting your whole library of gaming volumes around with you.
But, at the same time, there are complications to the full ascension of digital rulebooks into the pantheon. First, there’s the little matter I mentioned earlier where, if you need to look at two books at once, you can’t really do that easily on a single digital device. Secondly, pricing for digital rulebooks is rarely set to incentivize us to purchase digital over hardcopies.
While some Kickstarter projects and a number of smaller gaming companies offer their digital books at a decently reduced price (after all, you’re paying for bits and bytes, not for paper, ink, and whatever the heck else books are made of), others don’t, and the cost of a digital copy from more well-known companies is often just about equal with its hardcopy counterpart. Which, honestly, is maddening. If digital was cheaper I’d be tempted to buy both a hardcopy and a digital copy to have. But for a hobbyist on a budget, like we all are, that’s just not in the cards the way things are set up right now.
I think part of the issue simply is that some companies have come relatively late to the digital revolution, and aren’t especially sure how to make their products competitive in the landscape. Which is understandable, and things will likely work themselves out at some point. Maybe. Hopefully.
For me, I’m going to keep my hybrid workflow for my gaming. Digital copies for review at my leisure, hardcopies for when I’m actually at the table and need to flip through things fast and find the exact rule I need. Plus, the pictures look better.
That is, until they can make fully digital holographic rulebooks with turnable pages and interactive images. Then I’m going fully digital. No question.
About the Author;
Peter Kuebeck is a writer, gamer and award-winning mini-painter living in the Midwest. He wages a constant battle against the ever-growing tide of unpainted minis in his basement, and occasionally GMs role-playing game sessions with friends. Catch his hobby shenanigans on Twitter at @popculturecube