Playing by the Rules

Not only is it hard to design a game, it’s hard to describe how to play it once it’s done. No one likes to read a novel when sitting down to play a game, so the rules have to be short yet comprehensive.

I spent a good chunk of the weekend refining my board game and writing out the rules. Now, I may be able to spit out a blog post in a matter of minutes, but this was an entirely different beast.

Organization is key in writing effective game rules. You have to lead players through the rules, objective, and examples in a logical order so they don’t have to read and reread the rules over and over.

Recently, one of my classmates and I tried out a pirates game in which you steer ships through a grid to get to the treasure and return it to your home dock. Sounds pretty simple, right?

We skimmed through the rules, set up the board, and started playing. Soon, we ran into a barrage of questions. Can we move diagonally? How many spaces do you have to move in one direction? How do you capture another ship?

In the twenty or so minutes that we attempted to play the game, at least 15 were spent flipping through the pages of the rule book. Lots of text, lots of pictures, not much clarity. Ending the game prematurely was an easy choice.

With that non-example in mind, I set out to write my game rules, making sure that important information like objective and board set-up was front and center, followed by concise gameplay steps and rules and a sequence of sample turns.

The true test will come when players who have never seen my game before try to play it with only the rules in hand. Scary but inevitable. We shall see.