Game Design

Write your own rules

In the last article, we discussed the types of questions you should be asking your playtesters and how to get more effective feedback.

Once you’ve run a number of playtests and your game is running really smoothly, the next step is to ensure that your game will be just as engaging and as well understood when you’re not there.

Yes. I’m talking about your rulebook.

I know what you’re going to say. You hate writing rules. They are the hardest part of game design.

You’re not alone. Most game designers find that writing rulebooks is the bane of their existence.

But it doesn’t have to be that difficult or time-consuming. You just need to follow a process.

So, let’s talk about how to write your rules with ease.

Document the steps in your game

First, you can start out by documenting the steps needed to get your game set up, followed by what players do in your game.

I suggest using the following order:

  1. What your game is about and the roles of all players (intro and theme)
  2. How to win (goal/objective)
  3. Set up (including pictures of the layout to get players started)
  4. How to play (including examples and visuals)
  5. Things to keep in mind during the game
  6. Exceptions (“weird” scenarios and clarifications)
  7. Scoring and endgame
  8. Notes for easy reference (a reminder section for players to refer to for key points)
  9. A legend, including icons, terminology, and anything else of importance

Add visuals

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. It may be a cliché, but it certainly is extremely helpful to see exactly what a game looks like in action so that you know you haven’t missed anything.

Make sure to include the visual layout of how the game is set up so that players can see exactly where everything should be when they are starting. This should indicate what all the components are and where they are placed.

Include other visuals throughout your rules as well to make them easier to understand.

Include examples

Examples can also be incredibly helpful.

When players can understand what happens and when, especially under different circumstances, this will ensure that the rules are followed properly, and that nothing is missed.

If a player can choose from multiple options in different situations, show the players what this looks like.

For example, if they decide to explore, show them how they may place the tile in one of these specific locations (but also note where it cannot be placed).

Read it over and follow the steps to make sure it makes sense

Once your rules are written, try to set up and play your game following these rules. Note any places where you missed any steps and go back and update these sections.

See if there are any places where more examples or visuals would help a new player get started and make sure to include these in your rules. You don’t want your rulebook to be too long, but at the same time, a short rulebook that doesn’t explain your game well enough for players to learn your game properly is no benefit either.

Have others read over your rules (who have and haven’t played)

Once you feel like your rules are in pretty good shape, ask others to read them over to see if they make sense.

You can do this with others who have played your game so that they can help identify anything that may have been missed, as well as with new players, to see if they understand how the game is played.

You can ask someone who’s new to your game to read over the rules and explain them back to you to make sure your rules make sense when you hear them explained.

Anything that is unclear or previously left out should now be updated in your rules.

Take action

Okay, as if you couldn’t see this coming, I want you to write out the first draft of your rules. Then read them over and see if there are any improvements you could make. Have others read your rules over and identify any further changes necessary.

Your next step will be to blind playtest your game with people who’ve never played before, which we’ll talk about next week.

Is there anything you struggle with when it comes to writing your rules?

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