Creating a game is a wonderful feeling. Having other enjoy what you’ve enjoyed creating is an artist’s or designer’s greatest accomplishment. Getting you newly developed game(s) out the public is nothing to shake a stick at, but the real nitty gritty comes with explaining how the game works. This is where some designers may not have the vocabulary chops to get players through the learning curve before enjoying their creation. I can attest to this as I’m a very wordy individual. I’m also very technical with every aspect of my life, so simple convos or tutorials tend to stray into premise and concepts that aren’t necessarily required for the layman to get the job done. That being said, and this linguistically loaded lead in brings me to the point of this post. Getting to the point.
Came across a very insightful article on my devlog posted by a blog I follow, CardBoard Edison. I have shared some of their posts in the past and I wanted to share this as well. This hit home heavily as I’m in the process of creating a lot of final drafts (hopefully) for several of my games. These are to ready for several conventions and shows next year. As the author illustrates in this post, he’s both a writer and a designer as am I, and the struggle between providing as much and as little information relative to the game is an undertaking.
Practice being Concise
Just so summarize some of things the author has pointed out practice makes perfect. One needs to practice being concise. It’s a great exercise and not just for game design but can be applied to any writing one would do in their life, especially when communicating ideas to others where a length explanation isn’t necessary.
“Social media isn’t usually viewed as practical experience for anything, but think about how much information you try to squeeze into a tweet or text. Use that same mindset when writing rules. Look for common or unnecessary rules you can remove but still convey the same meaning. Also look for parts of speech you can remove, even if the grammar suffers. Opportunities could include card text or bullet lists. You may get called out for it, but ultimately gamers are trying to get to playing the game and will generally overlook your word choice.”
Removing text and playtest
Designers can agree that when putting on a playtest, be it publicly or with friends and family, one would be eager to try and explain everything and then some. Partly to explain how you intended them to play the game and talk up your reasoning for said ways to play. It’s a thing I’ve noticed I do a lot and other designer games I’ve playtested.
“The written text needs to convey everything the players need to play properly and, arguably most importantly, have fun. While it sounds like you should just throw everything and the kitchen sink at the rules, there’s an upper limit to how many rules players are willing to sit through depending on the complexity of the game.”
It’s hard enough sitting back and watching them read the rules, then break the game and look at you for some type of explanation. Either a lack of understanding or a lack of clarity can be to blame. Usually it’s a little column A and B. So what do you do? The authors states to iterate the rules during playtest and not just the mechanics. Play around with the way the rules are written, inserting and omitting things and testing with each test group is a good way to get a feel as to how people/players interpret the rules written. Even during the same playtest, have your rules written in 3 different ways and observe those who question or have trouble with information before or during game play. If certain things explain themselves and players pick on particular parts of the rules or play organically then you can leave it out.
Move rules to components
Now this is a popular format for delivering rules, especially with the rising insurgence of micro and mini games. Game components are already meticulously crafted to fit a restriction and who’s to say your rules don’t have to follow suit. Placing the basic rules on the back of cards that match the game sets’ size or on the back or below of the actual game components is a great way to practice short and sweet. Again, it comes back to how players absorb the game through little info and a couple play through.
“While not a full replacement for written rules, these cards or boards can help fill in gaps that you could leave in the rule book. Again: rule book for generalities, components for specifics.”
Give the article a read and take what you will from a write up about practices to consider when writing rules. The full article can be found at http://designingcardboard.com/how-to-write-concise-rules.
If you’d like to find out more about formatting rules and creating rules for your games, here are some other game designers that have a lot more info in store.
Ryan MacKlin – 11 Rules for Board Game Rules Writing
BBG Forum – Rule book writing
StackExchange – Organizing a rule book