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Rules: The long and the short of it.

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Dralius's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008

I just finished the first draft of rules for a project i am working on a few days ago and did a word count, it came up as 1035 words. This got me thinking about rule length and efficiency. I would like to hear everyones take on this subject.

As for myself i like to cut as close to the bone as possible.

Joined: 08/03/2008
Rules: The long and the short of it.

I think that rulebook writing is only really important when you're at the point that people are going to be playing/learning your game without you being present at the table.

That said, I think brevity is good, but short for the sake of short is bad. One of the best rulebooks of all is that of Acquire, only the front and back of a small sheet! But, that game is explicable in such space. We shouldn't aspire to such a short rulebook unless you can exhaustively explain how to play your game with such little verbiage.

On the other hand, consider "Mare Nostrum", which got attention recently because it was a Civ game with only 4 pages of rules. However, many people, once they got the game, didn't think this was a good thing; the rulebook was unclear on some points, and some essential rules were found only in examples.

So, I think make your rulebook exactly as long as it needs to be for someone to clearly understand how to play your game. And if it comes in at 20 pages, chances are your game may be a little too complicated. But saying "my rulebook is 1000 words!" is, to me, neutral. It's only a "good" thing if people can, from that short book, learn how to play your game without your help. If so, congrats, you're much more concise than I'll ever be! (or, you're just designing games with fewer rules!)


Joined: 10/02/2008
Rules: The long and the short of it.

I think it depends on the game. I definately don't want to read a novel for a rule booklet. I definately like the settlers approach, or the seemingly common approach taken by CCG's and Mini's, which is a start up rules set for beginners, and then an advance one for those who want it.

Looking over the WizKid's new game for collectable baseball mini's, I noticed that they had a beginner's set of rules, and then 3 more advance sets of rules, that built up on each other. I think that is a novel concept, that I may use as well.

Also I see in a lot of mainstream american games optional rules (included in the box, not online) with different ways to play, but I haven't seen anything like that with the nonmainsteam games (maybe because some of them are already really tight.) I think this is another thing I may do as well.

This may look off topic, but I think those go big into how I write rules up. I try to write the rules as concise as possible, without making it too wordy (which I've found is impossible one way or the other.)

The baseball game ran 16 pages of rules, and I think for a moderately complex game, 12-18 pages is good. A simple game should have 1-4 pages, and all other games in between the two. With beginner's rules, a player can learn the basics, play a game to get use to the rules, and then go back to learn the rest.

Rules: The long and the short of it.

Sure we try to keep rules to 4 page signatures for printing reasons but that being said the rules are as long as they need to be to explain the game.

Writing your rules is an often overlooked skill. It is in your rules when you get to "make friends" and set the tone for your gamers. Your audience is almost always friendly. (They DID buy the game didn't they?) They want to like the game and feel justified in spending their hard earned cash.

So talk to the player. Organize your rules so they are easy to read and to reference later on. Repeat important points throughout the rules so they have a chance to stick. Offer a forum where they can post rules questions.

Too many designers look at rules as a chore. Try to look at it as an opportunity to let your personality shine through. I know if I can't get a few laughs when I see folks read our instructions I feel like I haven't done a good job. (Of course if you have a bad personality then you should find a friend that's a bit more entertaining to help you out. Hmm..but if you have a bad personality you might not have too many friends...I see the problem.) :)

(Now don't get me wrong. I've written some REALLY BAD rules in my day.) But for the most part I try to enjoy the opportunity the rules provide for me to talk to my players one last time before they jump into the game. (And they realize I've taken them for their money and they hate me forever!) :)


Ed Evans, Partner
Alien Menace

Torrent's picture
Joined: 08/03/2008
Rules: The long and the short of it.

I answer this with a paraphrased quote from my high-school english teacher and almost every college professor I've had.

"Make it as long as it needs to be to describe what you are talking about, and remove everything else that is confusing."

Now, that is really annoying to a student who just wants to write the minimum in 12 point Times New Roman to barely make the page count so he can go out with his friends. However, from the game design perspective it is more useful.

Rules need to be long and involved enough to explain the game. ANy less is not helpful. However pages of convoluted prose in rhyme is also not useful. Personally I like things that fit on about 4-6 pages that are nicely spaced with plenty of pictures and examples in the generous margins. If it takes me longer to read and understand the rules than it does to play the game, I will 'probably' not play it, atleast not often.


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