Rules! Writing Rules For Your Board Game

Rules!  More like “ugh, rules…”.

Writing Rules

Is there anything less sexy than working out the rules for your game?  I don’t think so.  Your brain is your worst enemy here because you already know how to play.  It means you leave out little bits of vital information leaving your eventual audience going, “wha? who? What the heck does that mean?!”  I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation yourself when trying to play a game.  It stinks!

So to help you avert this potential disaster I’ve put together a few pointers below that I’ve found really helpful when writing the rules for Ventures in the Void.

 

  1. Decide on terms. Example: This type of card is the _______ card.  For Ventures we kicked around “market”, “trade”, “commerce”, and “supply/demand” for one of our cards.  The first draft of the rules had all these and more in it.  How confusing!   Decide beforehand what each of your mechanics, pieces, and phases are called and stick to it.  Bonus – if you are writing in a word processor or layout program you can “ctrl + f” to find and replace all instances of that word. So later if we decide to call the “trade” cards “market” cards, we can easily replace every instance of the word in the file.
  2. Tell players what they are trying to do first, at the beginning of the rules. The object of Ventures is to make the most money.  With that in mind it frames all the rest of the rules.
  3. Put your rules in turn order. If you can move first, then explain movement first. If there are exceptions to turn order be sure to point that out in the appropriate sections or at least state that there are exceptions and point them toward where they are listed in the rules.
  4. Give examples! If something can potentially be confusing, give a written example – identified by italic or different colored text.  Some people learn games by examples (I found out after talking to a lot of hobby gamers) while others “get it” after reading the rule.
  5. Create info graphics that explain cards/mechanics. This is especially important if you have “busy” cards or cards/boards with more than a few sections (like health, stats, flavor text, rules exceptions, mechanic changes, or special play times).  Highlight the sections and give them titles in the info graphics that correspond to the rules.
  6. Have someone that has never played your game read your rules. Then take a turn in front of them.  A rules lawyer or very analytical friend is good for this.  Have them stop you every time you do something that’s not in the rules.  Add that information to the rules or put it in a more appropriate place if it was buried somewhere else.
  7. Use simple words. We had “utilize” all over the place when “use” would have worked just as well, translated to other languages better and saved on character count (I dread long rules!).
  8. Write for a non-gaming audience. Why?  I may not play the same games you do and thus do not have the same frame of reference.  What you think is a standard mechanic may never have come up in a game your audience plays.  Just because your audience plays games doesn’t mean you can just gloss over terms or play structure in your own game.  So it’s easier to assume you are writing for a non-gaming audience and explain everything.
  9. Leave flavor for last.  Make sure your structure is good and everything is explained BEFORE going back and adding flavor to the rules.  Again, make sure the flavor does not compromise the clarity.  We decided to have flavor in the intro and use “plain speech” everywhere else.

 

Ventures in the Void Public Private Trade Graphic

I hope these tips will give you a start on your own rules. They are by no means exhaustive.  I am learning more every day.  My first rules were atrocious, incomprehensible!  Now I have real rules, and it was hard work.

Bonus: PROOFREAD – send it to 20 people to proofread!  I just found a typo in one of the graphics I was going to post here… we proofed the rules but didn’t pay attention to the info graphics!

What are your best tips for writing rules?

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