Writing Good Rules

So having talked about how to learn games last week, it is only fair to talk about how to write rules. For some of you game players this post may not be the most relevant to you but may instead be an insight in how rules are written and how hard it is. Now as someone who has released a game (and working on a few more) I want to take some of my experiences with rule writing and share them with you.

The Challenges

As anyone who has played a game can tell you, it is easier to explain the rules that you already know instead of reading a rulebook. However, the rulebook IS in several ways the game. Without the rules, there is no game and thus all of the designer’s and publisher’s hard work would have been for naught. If a set of rules is especially confusing then the game may not be played at all or misinterpreted thus giving the players a experience that may not be designed well. If someone is there who knows the game then it can be explained easily as was described in Teaching Games. So what is the designer and publisher to do? Well the best thing to do is to explain the rules in a clear, concise, and definite manner so that players can easily learn and play their game.


Every designer and publisher has different tools to write rules turning ideas in a journal into a polished booklet. The first of the tools is to use a word processor. The most common ones are Word, LibreOffice Text, and Google Documents. Each of these has its benefits ranging from its robust number of fonts and error checking to the ability to edit documents on multiple different computers without worrying about saving on a computer. After getting the wording sorted out you might want to organize the the rules. To do this there are a number of tools that can be used ranging from Adobe Illustrator to LibreOffice Draw or even Word. Personally, I like to use Google Docs, LibreOffice Text, and LibreOffice Draw. The reason for these tools is that they are free (something that is good when starting up a business) and can be converted to PDF documents of almost any size. This last part in important to make sure that the rules will be readable in their correct size and are formatted optimally.

Common Problems & Solutions

With rules there are a few common problems that can make a game difficult to play. These problems can be broken down into wording issues and presentation issues. Wording issues can range from simple spelling and grammar mistakes to confusing terminology. Spelling and grammar errors can be fixed easily with any decent word processor and having other people read the rules purely for these errors. To fix issues in terminology, you should use common words and try to avoid using overly custom terminology. If you are using custom terminology then you need to be consistent with it and should have a glossary or FAQ to help remind players what the terms mean. Also there are times where your rules have a lot of edge cases, these should be addressed after the major rules have been addressed and again in the FAQ section. At every stage of rule writing and all the way to production, you should read, reread, and have other people read your rules to check for clarity to ensure that there are no errors.

The problems that can arise from presentation issues should be addressed by someone with a understanding of page layout and design. If you don’t have access to someone with that background however, then you should keep a few things in mind. First you need to have your text large enough to be readable and have a clean background to avoid text clutter. Second, you should make sure that the information on a given page is related i.e. you focus on how to play a turn you go over the different actions a player can take and you don’t mention how the endgame is scored. Third, a picture is worth 1000 words and you should definitely utilize images to help explain some of the rules including setup, turn actions, and scoring. Also you should utilize examples of turn actions and scoring (with images ideally) so that your players will have a example to work with. Finally, you should consider if you are using a foldout set of rules or a booklet. With a foldout set of rules you will want to have the different sections clearly bordered so that people can easily discern what information goes with what part. For a booklet, I like to keep different sections to a few pages  and complementary information on opposite pages so that players can see that information at the same time.
Final Notes

As you develop a game it is important to keep track of the rules; making sure that they are readable and error free the entire time. Having briefly gone over the Tools, Common problems, and Solutions, the important part is that someone who is not familiar with your game reads your rules. The first reads can be for errors and then for wording and finally for the layout. At every stage you must strive for clarity because (you hope) that more people will play your game than you do. One of the best ways to test for all of this is blind playtesting. I have some friends that I ask to play my game without me there and tell me about any questions or concerns that they have. You can also utilize tools like Steam’s Tabletop Simulator and groups like the Indie Game Alliance to have people you do not know play your game and give feedback. All of this is to help make sure your games are clear and I hope this has given you some food for thought today.