20: Rules

20: Rules

What are your advice, tips and tricks for writing rules?

 

 

Write in short sentences and short paragraphs. Use simple words, punctuation and formatting. Start your sentences with verbs. Address the reader as “you”. Pick names for things and actions carefully. Make them distinct. Use them consistently. Tell people what to do! “Do this. Don’ t do this.” Tell them directly. Tell them once. Tell them how not why. Use repetition very sparingly. Use headings to add signposts, structure. Never use jargon. Include examples. Never hide rules in examples. Write rules early. They are the foundation of your design. Love your rules! It’s your job to make your game make sense.

Brett J. Gilbert

I use a lot of profanity when I write rules. It makes me laugh which helps to free up blocked thoughts when writing as well as to write faster. Plus, it absolutely forces me to proofread the $@#€ out of them!

Kathleen Mercury

I use the same format for most of my prototype rulebooks. With each game it evolves and improves. It was originally based on an existing rulebook from a published game but the document no longer resembles any one rulebook. I believe that publishers need to prioritise rulebooks more – and get them finished earlier in the process to allow for plenty of blind testing and proof reading of the rules. Too many games are produced with poor rulebooks, and this makes it very difficult for players to find the fun in a game. I suspect it seriously impacts on sales.

Adam Porter

Simple: Get Paul Grogan to do it.

Tony Boydell

Write rules early. They are the foundation of your design. Love your rules! It’s your job to make your game make sense. — Brett J. Gilbert

There are so many! A big one is to think about the audience and write in a way that helps them the most. There are 3 different audiences: the new player, learning the game for the first time; the experienced player, using the rules as a reference; and the rules lawyer, looking for fine details and edge cases. Make sure your rules work for each of those audiences!

A few other general tips:

    • Start coarse grained, then get more detailed, not the other way around.

    • Give context to help readers grok your rules – coherent theme is excellent for this!

Seth Jaffee

Read the rules manuals from well-known, well-produced games, e.g. Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop. These rules have (almost) always been playtested to death and are a great resource for learning how to layout rules in a way that make logical sense. And remember to make it very clear how players can actually win your game – placing it in large text on the first page normally helps.

Sam Illingworth

Start with a glossary! No really, even if it’s not published with the rules. Define round, turn, phase and use them correctly. Remember, if you confuse us, we’ll never know we’re wrong! Be consistent. Kill ambiguity.

Adrienne Ezell

I always open my rules with a thematic overview of the game (who you are and what you’re doing), followed by a mechanical overview of the game (how you win, what a round looks like) – it gives everything else a broad context, a skeleton on which to hang everything you’re about to learn. I try to design games with the rules in mind; if I can’t write a mechanic out in words, it probably doesn’t belong in my game. Beyond that, my rule-writing philosophies are just the same as my design philosophies: as few rules exceptions as possible, and try to ensure that everything is represented on a component somewhere (no “floating rules” you are just relying on players to remember).

Peter Hayward

There are 3 different audiences: the new player, learning the game for the first time; the experienced player, using the rules as a reference; and the rules lawyer, looking for fine details and edge cases. Make sure your rules work for each of those audiences! — Seth Jaffee

I strongly recommend starting small with player aids instead of full-blown rulebooks. Player aids should contain all the information needed to play the game and can be changed quicker. Write from the “you” perspective, using an active voice and simple, imperative sentences when possible. Include an example round of play with annotated graphics. Represent the full spectrum of pronouns and cultures when you have people in your examples. Remember: singular “they” is 100% legit! Put rules in the sections of the book where people expect to find them, even if this means repeating. Appendices are great references for larger games.

Sen-Foong Lim

To make writing rules easier for new games, I keep a rules template in Google Docs with the headings:

Designer: My name, phone # and email; Mailing address: My mailing address.

Title; Tagline; # of players; Age: Duration.

Contents; Overview; Set up; How to play; Scoring; Winning; Tiebreaker.

Pam Walls

Everyone else will cover basic UX rules of writing lean, clear copy so I’ll just go with this:

DO inject character. Loads of people tell you to keep flavour text and humour out of rules, the reason being it’s so hard to do well. But done right, it makes reading, digesting and remembering rules so much easier and more pleasurable. (Just don’t do what we did in edition 1 of ‘War on Terror’ and crack a joke about WMDs taking 45 minutes to launch and then spend the next 5 years answering email queries about how this should be monitored in the game).

Andrew Sheerin

Never forget that:

    • The same ACTION must always be named with the same VERB

    • The same GAME COMPONENT must always be named with the same WORD

Bruno Cathala

I strongly recommend starting small with player aids instead of full-blown rulebooks. Player aids should contain all the information needed to play the game and can be changed quicker. — Sen-Foong Lim

If possible, write the rules following the same logical order you would use when explaining the game to players in real life. Find a thread and unroll it. Use simple and short sentences. Be specific and do not let a breach for possible interpretations, because players will use it and it will change the gameplay experience and possibly, opinions. Please, avoid appendices, it makes the rules look extra long and unfinished.

Doria Roustan

I’ve been told very often by publishers that among professional game designers, I am the best at writing short and clear rules, and that’s why they are always willing to look at my prototypes even when the odds that the game will be for them are not that high – they know they won’t lose time trying to make sense of the rules. Anyway, I wrote a long article about this issue recently, you can read it here.

Bruno Faidutti

Scribble down everything you need to know, then have someone else do them. Preferably a professional. Sure, you may know your game inside out, have all the edge cases laid out in your head, but I guarantee that someone else who’s experienced in rules writing can take what you’ve got and streamline it, making it better. I like to think I’m OK at writing rulesets, but I’ve certainly fallen down plenty of rabbit holes when putting them together. A second person taking what you’ve written and improving on it can make a good game great. Just make sure you pay them!

Michael Fox

I’d suggest to write rules as soon as you can, even in the early stages of your prototype. Update them frequently using an easy doc editor that keeps versions (Google Docs for example), so you can always review any old versions. Be consistent keeping the same names and verbs for the same items and actions across the whole text. Identify the rules that could be more problematic to understand and try to be as accurate as possible, adding examples when needed. Don’t forget to add basic sections such as Introduction, Objective, Components, Setup, Gameplay and End of the game.

Eloi Pujadas

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