My Organization and I, from time to time, have reviewed various products created by players and for players.
Today, two of us will share our impressions of a new product.
Today’s product is Road of the King, by Patrick Hoban.
(This is not to be compared with Road of the King, a popular and esteemed online blog – nor with Road of the King, the in-universe movie from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s about Jack Atlas’ origins.)
The page count is near 500, and the price is near $25 USD. It isn’t a tiny text, nor a bargain book, but at least the page count tells you that the author has tried to give you your money’s worth.
The question is, has he succeeded?
I’ll start off with my own personal review of the book. It’s a long review, but the book itself is very long too, and it’s important for me to justify my review of the book.
There are lots of things to consider when reviewing a book.
Who is it meant for? What purpose does it serve? What went through the mind of the author as he developed and refined his work?
After reading this book and ruminating on it, I feel I have some worthwhile answers to these questions.
It is, as the author claimed, an attempt to illustrate what the author knows about the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game as he himself has experienced it over the years. It is meant both for readers who seek to improve their capabilities and for readers who are curious about the personal history of one particular Duelist. It aims to serve those purposes, and I am confident that the author had benign motive in writing it.
How does this relate to the reader, though? How does this make a read enjoyable, or good for a reader, or otherwise valuable? Why should or shouldn’t one part with one’s hard-earned cash?
I want to answer those questions too, and that’ll be the meat of this review – Why should or shouldn’t you get this book, and at what price?
Between frequent quotes of well-respected philosophers and professionals, the author obviously feels comfortable in relating the substance of his education to his hobbies. Whether or not this is something a reader will value or understand remains to be seen: while I can deal with Nietzsche or Sinclair on a whim, not all readers will want to, and we have to keep in mind audience when producing a work.
Sometimes the quotes – and even the lone poem – can feel a little hamfisted or out of place. We want our reader to stay engrossed, and while things like that can make me laugh, and while those things feel clever to me, I can’t say that the parts of the book using this style of presentation are something everyone would enjoy.
I’m not even sure if most Duelists would give it a chance – and it’s not their job to be ridiculously forgiving to aspiring authors, either.
Most Duelists play the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG for the sake of their personal enjoyment and leisure, and the same goes for most Duelists’ non-educational reading habits.
If this is meant to be an educational book and nothing more, there’s little room for the portions that can come across as self-aggrandizing: if it’s meant to be a memoir of sorts, most Duelists have no reason to want to read the memoir of another Duelist *just because* he’s motivated to win tournaments where and when possible.
I liked parts of its presentation, but I’ve got uncommon sensibilities, and I don’t feel certain that this would fit most tastes.
In terms of being organized, the book lays out its goals very quickly, and gets right to business in trying to accomplish them all. In this sense, the book is edited quite well, though some typos and homophone errors may make it difficult to understand what is being said from time to time.
It can sometimes wax verbose. Now, my friends know I’m the most unintentionally verbose person they know. So when I say it can be verbose, I mean it. This issue is one of the things that might separate a good editor from a divine one, and I’m willing to forgive it, because I commit the same sin every day.
One thing I am grateful for is a distinct lack of obvious bloat via elements like unnecessary photographs. There’s one point where color photos are used, and while not needed, it’s acceptable. Everything else in the work is either text or infographic: these pages at least TRY to be low on fluff and high on data and storytime, which is more than I can say about a lot of text media these days.
However, the book’s first two sections after the intro really feel like a long slog, even for me – and those sections, focusing on how people think, are filled with content that I should love. (I’m a Philosophy student, the first two sections are right in my wheelhouse, so those sections feeling like a slog for me is a big surprise to me.) The book becomes a great deal more engrossing as you get deeper within it, and this relates to why I worry about people enjoying it or not.
So, unless this book wants to tell people who aren’t as patient and charitable as me to go away, the pacing and style can grind on a reader a bit, at least in the earlier main sections.
The heavier portions of the intro begin with an analysis of Patrick Chapin’s “Theory of Everything”, a commonly known theory about playing collectible card games. In this analysis, the author seeks to build a new theory, a “Theory of Influence”, while critiquing and endorsing various parts of Chapin’s theory. At points, the understanding of Chapin’s theory seems a bit shaky in subtle ways relevant to the context in which it was made. Further, the rejection of parts of Chapin’s theory sometimes rely on reading it in a way that seems to invent flaws that aren’t necessarily there.
Some cursory research into the rejected theory, and the game which it came from, left me with a puzzle: the context in which it was made was a sound context for that theory, thanks to different game rules about tiebreak calculations. If you obtain a Match Win in Yu-Gi-Oh! by going undefeated during a Match, you get the same reward as someone who obtains a Match Win despite being defeated at times in that Match. In the game Chapin’s theory comes from, that’s not the case. This fact undermines a hearty chunk of the initial critique of Chapin’s theory for me, because that critique felt very focused on Chapin’s lack of advocating the option of choosing to take a Game Loss as means of helping increase one’s own chances of securing a Match Win. The critique focused perhaps too much on the concept of a tactical surrender being left out of Chapin’s work, and felt like it was using that lack as a springboard into implying the author’s new theory is superior to Chapin’s.
This isn’t to say that Chapin’s work was perfect, or to disparage the author’s work: the core point of the author’s new “Theory of Influence” is to view gameplay, event, and format performances from a broader perspective that Chapin’s approach outright ignores, and picking up on something Chapin didn’t talk about IS something that needs to be done; this book undoubtedly merits respect for trying to do that and doing well at times.
However, this tome’s critique of Chapin’s “Theory of Everything” feels well-meaning but slightly misguided, especially given how Chapin’s prior work applies better to its source game than it does to Yu-Gi-Oh!. Rather than come across as “Chapin made something worthwhile, but we’re gonna make it better”, I feel it comes close to insulting Chapin’s theory despite valuing it as a building block. Building one’s introduction on this sort of thing is a poor hook unless done extremely well, and I can say that it was a bit of a turnoff for me as a reader because of how it wasn’t done as well as I’d have liked. It would’ve been more effective as saying “Chapin gives us a lot of useful frameworks that can be adapted, with some important tweaks, to help us win not just games but also matches, tournaments, and entire formats.”
To adapt a theory from another game to Yu-Gi-Oh!, and then make a better version of the first theory specifically for Yu-Gi-Oh!, it helps to take into account how differences in game rules can make actions that’d be poor choices in one game be better choices in the other. I didn’t see that sort of care being taken here.
Between that and how obvious some elements of both theories felt to me, I questioned the point of why this first part was being writ and explained to me so. Was something obvious being treated as something profound? I couldn’t escape that feeling as I read the introduction.
So, between the approach to Chapin’s work seeming off in both a rule sense and a value sense, and occasionally asking myself why such obvious things were being said, I felt the intro for the Theory of Influence fell flat. It gets its message across, but it doesn’t do it with the flawlessness I expected.
Regardless, the goals of the book are quite ambitious. I kept reading, because the book’s stated goals can still bear good fruit for the reader, and the ambition of those goals are part of why it can bear that good fruit. In spite of being a bit anecdotal and kitschy and verbose, there’s still some good solid stuff in the early sections on how one can think rationally and logically.
The second section goes on to describe matters about how one can cooperate with others to achieve grand results, such as through playtesting. This section is perhaps the most personal of all.
While the section has some good info about how to make your testing and discussions more productive and more insightful, it may well have the entirely unintentional effect of alienating readers for a very, very sad reason.
The educational element felt very light in section two, especially after the bookish slog that was section one. For some, this might be a good decision regarding giving folks some time to relax after heavy lifting, but section two’s shift to a heavier personal focus unintentionally teaches the reader that environmental factors can be a nearly insurmountable part of achieving meaningful success in this game by popular competitive standards. There’s no dream-killer quite as effective as learning that skill and capability are products not just of a will to work but also having the right to work a meaningful amount on the game at all.
It’s pretty safe to say that a “40+ hour workweek” for one’s in-game ambitions is a rather fortunate way to spend one’s time: being able to have this game as a hobby is in and of itself a happy and fortunate thing, but making as much time for the game as the author claims to have made is an entirely different beast, one that I imagine most players will be unable to do because of more important concerns tied to personal life. The author has juggled family, employment,, school, travel, and game time, and that’s good, but it’d be unrealistic to expect readers to do the same, especially given the personal context the author provides about his own story. His personal life does not strike me as a common one, and it offers him opportunities I expect a common Duelist would not be able to match.
The book doesn’t intend to be judgmental, but at the same time, there are very few ways to preach the virtues of success in gameplay this strongly without implying that people who play the game more casually for any reason at all are somehow doing it wrong (even if those other people have much more demanding personal lives). The book is all about “doing it right”, but here it seems “doing it right” might not be an option available to a number of potential readers.
The author knows he is a very fortunate person, but I don’t feel he did the nature of his fortune justice. He acknowledges how fortunate he is to have the support he has, but his work doesn’t seem to recognize how that fortune is fundamentally vital to how a player can gain or lose extra opportunities to improve and grow.
If one of the book’s aims is to inspire readers to pave and walk their own “Road of the King” through being a better player, this section can kill some of that inspiration stone-dead by implying that a lot of readers will be stuck on dead-end roads for reasons partially or completely out of the reader’s control. Readers might not see a POINT to improving as players if they don’t feel they’ll be able to rival players with more money and more free time, and that can really hurt any educational value the book has.
Part of knowing your audience includes having ways to adapt your message to the needs of others, when possible. If you can’t adapt to an audience’s idiosyncracies, you might not have that audience at all. I’m not sure if section two is all that adaptable to the common Duelist.
Section three is where I found the best and worst parts of the book. It focuses on gameplay and inter-player behavior, and is where we begin to get into the meat and potatoes of the work. Here’s where everything really begins to come into its own, and original content that isn’t based as heavily on anecdotes as much as the author’s own way of looking at gameplay really takes the stage.
I didn’t learn much, but the largest part of what I did take away from it all was a different but understandable way of viewing the purposes certain cards fulfill in gameplay, a more complex and detail-focused system than most. Rather than serve as a simple system and then let the details fall where they may, I valued the greater sense of caution and care taken in matters of deckbuilding and in-game behavior. This is, perhaps, the greatest thing the book offers to Duelists and fans – not any sort of story, but a well-wrought and well-explained approach to how the game should be viewed and analyzed, from fundamentals like deckbuilding all the way up to potentially shaping the future of a format through one’s decisions.
It isn’t a perfect section, though.
There is one passage here where the author probably doesn’t intend to come off as purposefully deluding himself to psych himself up before an event, but does come off that way anyway, and it is this humble reviewer’s opinion that self-delusion is always to be rejected in favor of calm, gleeful, mundane knowledge of what is true about what one can and cannot control. One should not need to psych one’s self up, and for a number of players, lying to one’s self is a recipe for worse performance, not better performance.
There are also portions in this section that fly contrary to what passes as relaxed, casual behavior: one player’s persistence in a request may be another player’s harassment. One player’s drive to gain an edge may be another player’s weaponization of small talk. One player’s refusal to side out Vanity’s being met with continued request can come across as desperate. This can make the reader enjoy the read more, or less – depending on what sort of person the reader is.
There is, in a sense, a certain decorum about gameplay that some elements of this can violate: not everyone is here to have fun in the same way. The author’s honesty about that is welcome, even if the reader might find his behavior to defeat the point of going to a competitive event – why would one want to work hard at winning, when one can’t respect one’s opponents? The fact is, the author’s not concerned with whether or not you find his methods sickening, he’s concerned with whether or not you find his methods practical.
Further, there are parts that may merit disclaimers: remember, the author never promised to be absolutely objective, just to share his sentiments and experiences. Part of that includes elements that to some may seem self-aggrandizing and therefore unconvincing. It is perhaps regrettable that the enjoyable and intelligent portions in pages 213-215 are pinned between these less flavorful entries.
However, this pales in comparison to the biggest flaw the work has: at one point, it suggests a course of action that is regarded as bribery. On page 233 the book proposes a certain behavior that would constitute a UC-Cheating infraction, which carries a penalty of Disqualification from Official and Sanctioned events. Further, all Disqualifications are reported to the game’s Penalty Committee for review: players may be Suspended from all events for their behavior at times.
Literally, a book partially about gameplay has stumbled into potentially getting players Suspended in the future. There is no greater way to fail at playing a game than to be Suspended from that game for a perceived inability to follow that game’s rules: and this book has just suggested a course of action that, if taken, would show an inability to follow the game’s rules.
This flaw cannot be forgiven.
So, essentially, section three may leave a bad taste in your mouth if you expect the author to have a perfect command of obeying tournament policy, or expect the author to have any typical concerns about social mores and how they relate to mutual enjoyment of gameplay.
However, there’s also a good amount of plausible content being advocated, when the book gets out of the weeds of inter-player behavior and gets back to play decisions and deckbuilding.
The work beginning on page 284 is perhaps my favorite element of the whole piece, and although the work as a whole isn’t perfectly convincing, I don’t need it to be. The lesson on page 430 is also a very nice touch, telling some hard truths about when to play or not play certain cards.
A shame that on page 431 it gets mired in the weeds of self-perception again! Make no mistake, the author has something worthwhile to say, and he gets most of it across okay. But, if the book has a cardinal sin, it’s in replacing points of calm awareness of one’s own ignorance and knowledge… with certainty in how all events are going to unfold. It can unintentionally shift in tone from cool, respectful confidence to implicit claims of omniscience at the drop of a hat. It’s a shame, really: the solid components of the book, which really shine in section three, are occasionally marred by proximity with self-aggrandizing muck. I don’t think the author intends to hinder his message at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if readers are probably going to find page 431 a little silly. The author has something to share, and page 431 is an example of how the way he comes across only serves to diminish what he might share instead of complement what he shares.
I find it a little sad – make no mistake, the author has some insightful and cunning thoughts to share, and at times he does it well, but sometimes other factors in his writing worsen the good things he’s trying to share.
At the end, the author acknowledges the motives behind the work – he at the very least pays due respect to those he ought, and his almost-otaku-like devotion to the things he cares about – his friends, this game, himself – shines through.
So, should you get this book, or not?
Some, but not all, players will enjoy this. I feel it’d be harder to enjoy it than to learn something from it, in part because of how verbose and educational it is at times, and in part because of how certain elements of the book could be quite a turn-off. I think most people might learn at least one useful thing from it, perhaps more, despite how a chunk of the content can be quite obvious.
I do feel the work has some redeeming value despite its flaws, so I won’t say that no one should buy it at all. The Theory of Influence is, at its core, well-made and poorly-presented. Its goal and scope are admirable, and its effectiveness at accomplishing those goals really depends upon how closely it hews to what it needs to say instead of what it wants to say. When it sticks to talking shop about the actual game in terms of deckbuilding, card interactions, and how to effectively think about games, matches, tournaments, and formats, it’s fantastic. When it wanders into the weeds of personal stuff to justify the theory, it often but not always gets worse, and the flaws in presentation begin to run rampant.
However, if I catch people committing UC infractions because of this book, I will begin to see red. If you’re going to ask players to spend their money on something you make, it had BETTER be something that will help them. This book tries to help, and it definitely can help, but it also makes the beyond-inexcusable mistake of stumbling into penalizable conduct. It also has other factors that can easily turn a reader off or otherwise waste a reader’s time. The good in it is VERY good, but there’s a lot of “eh” points, and some extremely bad points too, and the book ends up way worse than it could’ve been.
Overall, I slightly disapprove of the book’s overall content, and I feel it may be overpriced. I’m about 55% on the side of telling people not to buy it, and 45% on the side of telling people to buy it anyway. Keep in mind: if the book didn’t have some very good, very solid thoughts and writing in it, I would say with 100% certainty that no one should buy it. The fact that the author was able to give the book enough quality stuff to almost make me say “you should buy this in spite of the big and small flaws throughout the book” is proof that the author CAN create books worth buying, and almost did this time. Further, a second edition of this book devoid of the first’s flaws would DEFINITELY be worth buying.
The oath “first, do no harm” is a good oath to take in nearly all things in life. This book makes the mistake of carelessly breaking that oath. The idea of players getting in trouble because they did something that they read in a book that they spent money on is intolerable. Therefore, it’s an author’s responsibility to avoid leading people toward breaking a game rule. The writing was irresponsible and careless in ways that can’t be forgiven easily, both on the reader enjoyability level and on the policy following level. I’m sure the author didn’t mean to do that, but that doesn’t change the fact that it devalues the work.
I’m disappointed. I expected better.
Next up is Dan’s review. He was sure to keep his brief, for those who don’t want to read as much.
When reviewing a book, the first thing one asks themselves is, ‘how much of it will I read before passing judgment?’. All too often I see book reviews that only cover the works first 100 pages, and I never feel such a thing does the work justice. We don’t evaluate a movie by its first half hour, we don’t evaluate art by the top 20% of the image, and we wouldn’t evaluate Ocarina of Time from just the Kokiri village.
With that in mind, I tasked myself, and Earl, with reading the whole thing.
It’s a good thing we did, because in the first 100 pages, this book had absolutely nothing to offer. It does however, offer quite a lot to the player base in my opinion.
Earl’s review will go over quite a lot, in excruciating detail, so I’ll keep mine short for the interest of giving our readers two versions of a review to use. I recommend reading Earl’s review though, because if you can’t, then this book – clocking in at nearly 500 pages – is absolutely not for you.
The books first 250 pages all talk about philosophy, intent of action, and what Hoban and his circle call ‘Jedi tricks’. It’s also about Hoban and his circle. I personally disagree entirely with the notion of a circle, as internalizing information, doesn’t better the game as a whole. It will help individual success, but only on the short term.
You become the best goaltender in the world, by practicing against the best shot in the world. By limiting the improvement of the player base to just a circle of friends, you can win tournaments up front, but overall put a ceiling on how good you as a person can actually become by having a better pool of opponents to improve from.
This book relishes in raising ceilings, and even takes note of how Europeans are better at the game than Americans, and then encourages the very behavior that lowers the ceiling of the USA and almost aims to supply the gap with more fuel.
It also has sections that have spelling mistakes, incorrect terms, and even one that both condones and encourages full-on cheating. The first half of the book is pretty bad. It drags on, it’s almost nothing but paragraph based definitions of terms, and self-aggrandizement.
All that behind us, the latter half of the book is extremely good. It teaches a lot about deck building, the typos stop, and you can really tell he knows what he’s talking about. It also then finishes with a ton of appendices that are all REALLY useful. Those appendices also contain 100% of the useful information in the first half of the book.
I’d say the book is worth your time, especially if you just start from the deck building section and read to the end. I’m not sure if it’s worth your $25, but it’s definitely worth your time.
Our two reviewers are in agreement: the product has good points and bad points, and they cannot recommend that customers buy the book without being warned ahead of time of its flaws.
Patrick Hoban’s Road of the King is a deeply flawed piece of work with some great points. If you do choose to buy it, we hope you enjoy it. We enjoyed parts of it.