Skip to Content

Instructions/Rulebook Writing

11 replies [Last post]
mikedrys's picture
Joined: 11/13/2008

I have been designing a game without having written the rulebook at the beginning or as I've gone along. My wife and I have just kept the rules in our heads. Now I'm attempting to put it all down on paper and am having a pretty difficult time. This should have been done from the beginning, but I'm a beginner and now that I've been reading what other, very accomplished designers, suggest, well, I'm learning. I've been looking around for some guidance in this venture of rulebook writing, but I haven't had a whole lot of success. I did find one very short document, but it didn't provide a whole lot of help. Does anyone have any suggestions that might provide me with better guidelines for putting the rulebook together?
I thank you in advance for your help.

benshelmars's picture
Joined: 10/03/2008

I would first suggest open a text editor or document, put the name on top, from there start with steps as you play recording the information along the way.

It is a lot of work and a lot of editing, I am still in the compilation and editing phase, you'll make a lot of mistakes in the beginning and even later but it will get done a little by little.

Outside Lime
Outside Lime's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
Break it down into sections,

Break it down into sections, then start filling those sections. Here's the format that I generally follow, then I bend it to suit the specific game needs as required:

• Title
• Game details (players, time to play, ages)
• Introductory themed blurb
• Overview of the game system and objectives (not in rules-speak just yet. Conversational but using in-game terms.)
• Components with basic descriptions of the elements of each
• Setup
• Description of the game structure (how do turns/rounds/phases flow into each other?)
• What happens on a turn (step by step). Concepts explained as they are introduced, or referred to the Special Cases section afterward ("Special Cases" is not the name of the section; if you want to explain "Rewards for capturing a strongpoint", call the section that) if it would be too interruptive to explain in the main turn text.
• Special Cases sections
• End of the game and victory conditions
• Appendix of elements such as card text, role powers, etc, if applicable and reasonable to include.

You want to include examples of basically everything.

Hope this helps... it's a bit basic but the template works.


Dralius's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
As a guideline you could take

As a guideline you could take a set of game rules you think are easy to understand that has about the same complexity level and use that as a guideline. Also refer to other sets of rules for help.

Personally I like to start with the statistical information; Title, Designer, Date, Number of players, Suggested age, Average length and a list of components. These points are of particular interest to publishers. Next a short overview of game play leading up to the rules which usually are organized something like this.



Round summery
1. Collect opportunity cards
2. Invest
a. Casino
b. Stock market
3. Discard

The actual rules come next

1. Blah, blah, blah
2. Blah, blah, blah
a. Blah, blah, blah
b. Blah, blah, blah
3. Blah, blah, blah

Then a repeat of the objective with details like tie breakers and examples when needed.

This will vary from game to game depending on how the game flow is but the basic idea of presenting the information in the order it is used in the game still stands.

mikedrys's picture
Joined: 11/13/2008
Thank you all. I appreciate

Thank you all. I appreciate your help. As it's just about Thanksgiving break, I'll be working on it over the break and I'll definitely be using your suggestions.

ReneWiersma's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
* Use plain language and

* Use plain language and short, simple sentences.
* Your game is probably more complex than you think!
* Assume your reader knows nothing about your game, or even other games, but don't treat them as if they were dumb either. Know your audience.
* If something is tough to explain, it is probably tough to understand too. So if you encounter a section that is tricky take some time to word it very clearly and unambiguosly
* Don't overexplain the obvious, this will confuse the reader too!
* As you write the rulebook you might encounter a lot of small rules and inconsistencies that have little real effect on the game. Sometimes you might want to change such a rule or even remove it entirely just to make it easier to explain.
* Be consistent in the usage of your terms. Don't call something a soldier on one page and an infantry on the next. Don't mix up the usage of terms like "phase", "turn" and "round". This can become very confusing.
* Use plenty of examples!

Use a structure such as OutsideLime outlined. It is important to gently suck the reader into the rules without overwhelming them with information. Start with an overview of the game themewise, before delving into the object of the game (how do you win?). Give an overview of the components and what they represent in the game and how to setup the game. Then explain the turn structure, and start filling in the details. Explain how and when the game ends and what happens at game end (any additional scoring?). Finally, explain some finer points, exceptions and special powers (if applicable). Each non-obvious section should have an example to accompany it.

I'm pretty proud of the rulebook I made for Gheos, with a lot of help and input from OutsideLime. Gheos is a tricky game to explain, but I think we did a pretty good job. The Gheos rulebook has a lot of examples of play, which was a great help in getting Z-Man games interested in publishing the game, so you might want to give that a look. I also think Alea usually has good rulebooks, so you could give those a look as well.

gameprinter's picture
Joined: 08/06/2008
Rules Guide

I just posted a rules guide to our web site as a result of getting one too many unplayable/unreadable sets of rules. The guide is based on a handout from James Earnest and a piece on by Frank Branham. It's similar to what people have posted above, but in handy PDF format. :)

DeLano Rules Guide Page

As suggested above, use clear language. Never use "may" when you mean "must" and that sort of thing. Have fun over the holiday writing it all down! It beats watching the Lions get pounded into oblivion again.

grubby's picture
Joined: 12/11/2008
More tips

I'm working on my first board game and my rules are fairly complete as a first draft. I'll venture a go at offering tips that have helped me...

First of all, follow the above posts, and create an outline, then start filling it in.

1. I try to get the thoughts down as completely as possible. To help with this I have a "brainstorming" section at the end of my document so I can jump there and type anything I want, if I have an idea, but don't quite know where it fits or how to present it yet. Later I'll rewrite it or cut and paste bits and pieces from "brainstorming" to the actual sections.

2. Use placeholders. You may know your game inside and out, but it may consist of thingies, tokens, points, etc. which you haven't yet though of terms for. So rather than get hung up on it, just stick with generic/temporary terms you know will eventually get replaced. If you are going to have 6 types of something then you can just call them type1, type2, etc. until you are ready to settle on the details. What you call elements of your game is secondary to the raw mechanics that you are trying to explain in the rules. Right now the name of my game is one such place holder. Make sure you are still consistent for ease of replacement later.

3. Once you've got 90% of the details in your document, start re-reading everything and carefully condense as much as you can. Simplify sections but don't drain them completely of their colour and theme.

4. Look at the rules of other games that you play to gauge roughly how long your rules should be based on comparable complexity, size, components, etc. This will help with point #3 so you don't go too far with cutting it down.

Hope this helps!

Sundog's picture
Joined: 12/09/2008

My 2 cents...
While play testing, I often make notes of special situations which arise during game play. Game testing notes would certainly help to clarify otherwise "hard to explain" situations or events in your game. Also, as important as playtesting is; having the playtesters read your game rules as part of the testing process can be very valuable. Good luck.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Writing the rules is the core of the game design

The way I am currently designing game makes the rule book a priority. It is especially important when working on multiple projects and going back and forth from a project to another. The rule book solidify the current state of the game and it's much more easier to get back into the design by reading the rules than consulting notes you have. So I always try to have an up to date rule book all the time.

Having teachning skills is also important to write good rules. For course, it's a matter of talent. It happened recently that some players wanted to play an home made game where the designer was not there and could not simply play because they did not understand a lot of things.

So other people should read you rule books and play the game by themselves and see if they understand the game correctly.

Taking notes on special situations that can occur in the game is important because it is the kind of stuff you want to clarify in the rules.

When you encounter elements difficult to explain, it might say that there is an easier way to implement this in the game.

Fantasy flight use this rule structure:

A: Explain the components
B: explain the turn order steps
C: other rules
D: optional rules
E: reference information.

Joined: 04/04/2009
A course on writing rules

I have just opened an online audiovisual class about this topic.

"How to write clear rules"

You can see the video promo on YouTube

And the "What you'll discover" video also on YouTube

No, it is not free.

Lewis Pulsipher, Ph.D. (military and diplomatic history, Duke University)
·designer of Britannia (1986, 1987, 1991, 2006, 2008), Dragon Rage (1982 and 2011), Valley of the Four Winds (1980), Swords & Wizardry (1979), Law & Chaos (forthcoming from Mayfair), Eurasia (forthcoming from Worthington), Germania (forthcoming from Clash of Arms), etc.
·Author of "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish", August 2012

Joined: 01/15/2014
Check out Victory Poont

Check out Victory Point Games' website. They have a section about game design that has a step-by-step guide to writing a rulebook. It's VERY helpful.

Syndicate content

forum | about seo