Aug 6, 2011

GenCon 2011 - Rules Seminar

I attended a seminar on writing rules and laying out a rulebook by Hasbro's Mike Gray. Now, obviously, because of whom he works for, his advice was slightly geared towards making a rulebook understandable for the mass market. However, I believe his advice is still generally sound to apply to the Eurogame market. Here are my notes on his all-too-brief lecture. Sadly, I coldn't capture his interesting and funny anecdotes. I've also included a scan of the outline he gave us to use in our rulebooks.


Three must-do's for rulebooks
1) clear: I understand
2) complete: it's all there
3) logically organized: need to be able to read straight through and flow naturally

date rules versions during development or you will mix them up

age affects a lot of things
-how simple or complicated it can be
-size of components for safety
-bluffing games don't work for under age 8
-winning/losing affects under-8 emotionally too much, better to go coop

number of players affects math of the game
-waiting for turn (scrabble not fun with more than two)
-trading (monopoly/risk worse with fewer players)

Don't put a number of players or age on the box if you haven't really tested it.

object of the game
-if you don't know where you are going, how you get there is superfluous
-put goal at top so that rest of rules have context

game contents
-important in case there are missing pieces, alerts players

game assembly
-this is only for when it is first unboxed
-it is not as obvious as you think to assemble a game
-if labels, put warning on label sheet to read rules first
-if necessary, have drawing of pieces snapping together
-batteries: size, location

game setup
-have an actual picture of game setup instead of just text description
-Tasty Minstrel Games rulebooks are good at this

game play rules have two purposes:
1) primarily for helping game owner explain to friends how to play
2) secondarily for reference during game

For second purpose, make things easily findable Don't leave important exceptions as picture captions; people won't read them when trying to reference

Defining terms cannot go at the end. You have to define them at the start.

turn sequence
-give rules to a teacher to read
-make sure to also give components for review
-people won't want to read, because it isn't fun, but important to do anyway

Don't use "may", "can", "should", "could", etc. if you can avoid it. They are ambiguous and confusing to people.

Point-of-view is a problem. Instead of he/she, use "you" and "your opponent".

Humor is very important, even in little doses.

Special Conditions
-don't assume special conditions obvious, make sure to specify
-be careful about having myriad of combinations, there might be situations that come up which you didn't anticipate
-even if you think it can't happen, it will eventually
-don't fall for the odds trap; either cover it or fix it

board spaces
-better to have no language on cards if you want to sell worldwide
-cleaner board is nice, but if people don't want to keep going back to the rulebook every turn

-don't like ties
-is exact count necessary?
-does it end immediately or equal turns?

-fine for hobby game market
-bad for mass market

for any number other than four players, think about the mathematics of the game. with numbers other than four, player interaction changes.

strategy tips
-good thing

add color

best rulebooks:
Tasty Minstrel's Belfort - throrough, lots of illustrations, well laid out
Jamaica - rules done like treasure map
Days of Wonder

Rulebook template by Mike Gary of Hasbro

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:32 AM

    One thing I really like is how Rio Grande often publishes rulebooks with a column on the edge of the page that summarizes the rules. So if you want to know the exact wording of a rule with examples you go to the main body, but there's also a quick sentence there in case you are just refreshing your memory or want it as a reference.

    Another thing that is important is PICTURES OF THE COMPONENTS! Almost all rulebooks begin with a list of the components involved, and they often use in-game jargon to refer to them. (instead of "20 white cube" they refer to "20 sheep") This is fine, but there should be a picture to help players figure things out the first time they read the rules. Also, don't say things like "many small green discs." Specify an exact number. I've seen rules that do this and it makes it quite difficult to inventory a game for trade, for instance.

    Examples aren't mentioned either, but I think they're important as they can often clarify things.

    Navegador provides a quick setup/rules page that is separate from the regular rules, and everyone seems to love that. So there's that too.

    Anyway. There are a lot of bad rule books out there, I'm glad you are trying to write good ones.