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Start with the rulebook first. Change my mind.

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DraconicParagon
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I am new to the board game design world but so far I've seen a trend of approaching board game design by NOT writing any rulebook until late in playtesting.

In my opinion this makes no sense...

The first thing I do when I have a new idea for a board game (a solid board game idea, not just fleeting 'oh this could be a cool mechanic' type of idea, but a solid board game idea) is create a blank Google Docs document and immediately begin writing the rules (sometimes I even *GASP* spend a good 15 to 20 minutes thinking up the name of my game). I have gotten to the point where I will have pre-titled sections such as "Set-Up, Turn Order, End Game, Additional Rules" etc.

I try and flesh out as much as the rulebook as I can, sometimes this is not a lot, sometimes it is almost the entire first version of the game, but most importantly is now I have a live document that I can refer to on my phone, and edit on the fly.

The rulebook IS NOT SET IN STONE, it's constantly being edited, and as I just stated, can even be done so on my mobile device during the middle of a playtest.

The reason why I think it's important to have a rulebook first is because it allows you to have a live document you can refer to on rulings during playtesting. Rule doesn't work? Change it in the document live. That way, you know the next playtest you will be playing with the updated rule. You can also track your changes in the history of the document, this helps avoid problems of implementing old rules you changed in the first place (unless those old rules turned out to be better)

Also, added bonus: by the time your game is ready to take to kickstarter or to publishers, you already have your rulebook written!

Anyway, this is just my opinion, and yes I used the Change my mind meme for my title... so, change my mind!

gxnpt
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agree

I lack access to playtesters, so all my game designs reach "ready for blind playtest" stage with rules and a print-and-play and sometimes a Vassal module as their first stage in development. (Rules are often critiqued and modified along the way.)

let-off studios
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Keep On Doing It

Unless you expect to have others read it on their own, then your method doesn't seem to be a problem. The fact that you use it as a "living document" makes it very useful during playtesting, in my opinion.

Personally, I'd want to move it quite a bit further than what you describe if I was going to refer to it as a "rulebook." What you refer to as a rulebook sounds like what I refer to as "notes." I do not constantly edit what I consider a rulebook. And I personally do not have a rulebook put together before I use my notes to extensively playtest what I've put together.

But it's not a big deal to me. Whatever helps your idea make its way out into the rest of the world, I say go for it. I reckon I won't change your mind here.:)

harmon89
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I'm work the same way. Notes,

I'm work the same way. Notes, rulebook, whatever you want to call it. Thinking through every aspect of the game helps me think of potential flaws before I even get it to the table, making the first playthrough with others a little more smooth.

Of course I don't bother with diagrams and gameplay examples, that will come much later when I'm working on the final rulebook.

DraconicParagon
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let-off studios wrote: What

let-off studios wrote:
What you refer to as a rulebook sounds like what I refer to as "notes."

That does indeed change my mind a little bit, I hadn't thought about this. Maybe I'm just referring to my document as a rulebook but really it's more of a notes on the game. Ultimately the document will be used for what the Rulebook will be made from, so I guess that's why I title it a rulebook.

DraconicParagon
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harmon89 wrote:Thinking

harmon89 wrote:
Thinking through every aspect of the game helps me think of potential flaws before I even get it to the table, making the first playthrough with others a little more smooth.

Of course I don't bother with diagrams and gameplay examples, that will come much later when I'm working on the final rulebook.

Yeah, this is definitely a good point. It would certainly be a waste to have diagrams and stuff showing the play when the play could change significantly.

Tim Edwards
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Although I also work from

Although I also work from notes for ages rather than trying to write an early rule book, I do occasionally 'test write' a potential rule idea as if I were draughting a rule book. As someone with very little game design experience, I find this process quite useful sometimes. Sometimes trying to write a rule in neat exposes inconsistencies etc that weren't apparent before. Sometimes a rule that seemed pretty straight forward is exposed as horribly convoluted. Just sometimes a rule feels and looks right in neat - it's short, it doesn't require the introduction of any new terms, and it reads clearly and simply.

So, I'm a proponent of 'test writing' rules in addition to test playing.

Also, if I can explain a set of rules to my wife without her eyes glazing over, I feel it might be a keeper!

Nytician
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Notes

Interesting approach!

Personally I’m more a notepad guy myself as no matter how hard I try my game idea goes through hundreds of options and revisions way before things start to become consistent additions. Although having rules in place early is a good idea as it means you can actively test quicker than concepts. Different approaches I suppose. :)

Nyt.

DraconicParagon
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Tim Edwards wrote:Although I

Tim Edwards wrote:
Although I also work from notes for ages rather than trying to write an early rule book, I do occasionally 'test write' a potential rule idea as if I were draughting a rule book. As someone with very little game design experience, I find this process quite useful sometimes. Sometimes trying to write a rule in neat exposes inconsistencies etc that weren't apparent before. Sometimes a rule that seemed pretty straight forward is exposed as horribly convoluted. Just sometimes a rule feels and looks right in neat - it's short, it doesn't require the introduction of any new terms, and it reads clearly and simply.

So, I'm a proponent of 'test writing' rules in addition to test playing.

Also, if I can explain a set of rules to my wife without her eyes glazing over, I feel it might be a keeper!

Yes! This is definitely something I do but didn't realize that's part of the reason I'm so keen on writing the rules out, this is definitely part of my process.

X3M
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Excel

If you are good with excel, you could start writing rules in there.

Simply work from top to down as if this is your rule book. Only using 1 cell per specific rule. What you get is a column of cells that each contain a rule.

The very first cell above could be the version and date if you like.

If you want to change rules of your rulebook. You can insert an entire column. Give it a new date. Copy/paste those rules that you want to keep. And rewrite the rules that need a change. Maybe even colour the older rules the the previous column with green=ok, orange=changed, red=discarded.

Not only do you change your rules in a orderly fashion. You can keep track of how the rules have been changed in the past. Perhaps you want to go back to another rules that you first had. Or you can easily add columns with try outs. First adding the new or change a rule. And copy paste the rest later in if the few changes plus additional changes where good enough.

DraconicParagon
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Good idea!

Good idea!

questccg
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Hmm... I think you need a PROTOTYPE first

Because what if all your "rules" sound good... But when you playtest that game... it's "crap" (sorry for the term but you know what I mean).

I usually find that "Game IDEAS" sound REAL COOL. And you can get lost in the romance of a design UNLESS you "playtest it" FIRST. And that doesn't mean spending days in Illustrator (as I have done in the past), you can BUY blank Poker cards from "The Game Crafter" for $0.09 each ... you can get like 50. And then buy a pack of sleeves for $1.25 (the el-cheapo brand that is visible from both sides).

Next all you need is a Dry-Erase Marker and you're ready to create YOUR prototype... That may take 1 day to figure out all your cards (giving you an example that I would work on).

Lastly you PLAYTEST this "idea" ... because like I said, most Game Ideas seem to be pretty cool... But can be BORING when you make a prototype. Does the idea merit more time to WRITE "rules" or not?!

So I would say, that you need a PROTOTYPE "first" and then if it's moderately GOOD, then you can write down rules... But I would probably still wait, I would use Excel to copy the design from "prototype" to some kind of reference doc (in Excel) and then work on a prototype in Ilustrator...

I would do all of this BEFORE writing down rules. But that's my process, I understand everyone is different.

Cheers!

Note: I also write down notes for the game too... Like the components, and basic gameplay ideas, turns, etc... But that in my book is still not a "rulebook". Rulebooks have a specific FORMAT to follow (Victory Conditions, Turn Sequence, Combat, etc.) My notes are usually just paragraphs of text "resuming" the general idea of how the game is to be played.

And once I have my Excel, I have a referencing document too... That I can refer to giving the many iterations that my designs go through...

Note #2: I'm in the category of "Fail-Fast" prototyping until you have something which is sufficiently "fleshed-out" that it has enough depth to the game and it's something worthwhile to continue developing/designing.

Because EVENTUALLY you will NEED a "Rulebook" for "Blind Playtesting"... This is an important step in any design/product/game. Without it, you can't be certain that your rules are comprehensible by gamers who have never seen or played the game.

Tim Edwards
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I don't think anyone would

I don't think anyone would suggest that writing rules was an alternative to play testing. :)

But I wouldn't know what my prototype should consist of until I had a provisional set of rules in mind first. The question really has been, can writing the rules sometimes be helpful to that initial process of rules development. For some people (and me) it's "yes". For others it's "no". I think this isn't about good practice vs bad. It's about the different ways people tackle the epic task of creating a game.

PS: Beware the difference between "writing the rulebook" and "writing rules". That might be causing some misunderstandings. Obviously no-one is worrying about page layouts until all the playtesting is done.

ElKobold
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"Rule-book first" sounds like

"Rule-book first" sounds like a great way to waste a lot of time.

Minimize the time between the idea and a first raw concept-proof prototype as much as possible.

I don't remember any of my games at all that would survive the first play-test without some major changes from the original idea.

Taking notes is a different thing though. I would normally use a google sheet to note down things like turn structure and what not. It's not a rule-book though.

At this stage I don't bother about proper wording, formatting, potential ambiguities etc. All that's required from the notes is that I myself understand them. This is the opposite of what a rule-book is.

Take a few lines of notes down, maybe a working title - and get to testing.

X3M
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Right. I used the wrong word

Right. I used the wrong word in my previous post. I said rulebook. But it is "as if it is a rulebook". Or just, rules.

But then again, you could consider it as an advanced way to take down notes. Because that is all there is to it.

Jay103
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Obviously you shouldn't be

Obviously you shouldn't be doing formatting.

But you should be writing everything down.

And, after the very first proof-of-concept play, you should be thinking about the ordering of the rules to make sense to players (see my comments on that new Chesslike thing from a week or two ago). If playtesters aren't testing the same game you think you made, it's not going to do you any good. And having the rules written clearly makes it much easier for you to spot places where there are exceptions, holes, contradictions, etc.

Speaking of which, I just finished the full formatting on my 24-page campaign book, and I'm tackling the real rulebook (which has little icons and whatnot sprinkled around) next.

ElKobold
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Jay103 wrote:I just finished

Jay103 wrote:

And, after the very first proof-of-concept play, you should be thinking about the ordering of the rules to make sense to players (see my comments on that new Chesslike thing from a week or two ago). If playtesters aren't testing the same game you think you made, it's not going to do you any good.

I`ll disagree on this one.

"After the very first proof-of-concept" and even after several play tests it's usually too early to unleash it on poor unsuspecting playtesters even if you are present, let alone to blind playtest it.

Most of the early play tests you will be changing and adding rules on the fly. Since many things won't work, and you'll have to fix it during the same play test, rather than cancel after 10 minutes of play or force players through a broken mess.

Jay103 wrote:
I just finished the full formatting on my 24-page campaign book, and I'm tackling the real rulebook (which has little icons and whatnot sprinkled around) next.

My condolences :)

gxnpt
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depending on your situation

The difference between my process now (no local playtesters) and back in the 70s is one of playtesting.

------------
Back then, my old space wargame board was markers on a (3 inch hexes) vinyl sheet and chits were hand cutout blanks with felt tip pen markings and rules were a few handwritten sheets when it got playtested with people I saw every fri-sat at the local game store.

After that the rules were redone in an organized format and examples added.
------
Now, with no local playtesters, I run through it all myself multiple times from various angles and then organize the notes into what makes sense to me as a rulebook and put together a basic PnP version and sometimes a Vassal module.

Then the whole thing gets slapped around in several forums until the rules make sense to other people to get them into blind playtest ready state.
------------

There is a big difference between "ready to playtest" and "ready for blind playtest" rules.

But if you have the playtest capability, test the mechanics and fun as early in the process as possible once you think the rules are ready (provided you are there to explain them).

ElKobold
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gxnpt wrote: There is a big

gxnpt wrote:

There is a big difference between "ready to playtest" and "ready for blind playtest" rules.

But if you have the playtest capability, test the mechanics and fun as early in the process as possible once you think the rules are ready (provided you are there to explain them).

This.

Tim Edwards
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X3M wrote:Right. I used the

X3M wrote:
Right. I used the wrong word in my previous post. I said rulebook. But it is "as if it is a rulebook". Or just, rules.

But then again, you could consider it as an advanced way to take down notes. Because that is all there is to it.

I completely agree with your post. Be assured I wasn't quibbling over anything you wrote. :)

Mine was a response to Questccg's. And I would add for clarity with regards to that, I didn't imply a rule must be good if it looks good on paper. Playtesting will alone will tell. But I certainly think a rule (or system of rules) might feel good in your head, where it has probably been incubating for months and where it seems perfectly logical, intuitive and consistent, only to become much less attractive when you actually bring it into the light of day - whether by explaining it to a playtesting relative or articulating it in a Microsoft document.

questccg
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Test first — Rules later

Tim Edwards wrote:
...PS: Beware the difference between "writing the rulebook" and "writing rules". That might be causing some misunderstandings. Obviously no-one is worrying about page layouts until all the playtesting is done.

I understand what you mean... Yes I write some notes down. But since most of "my" designs revolve around cards, I'll just have prototypes to look at and continue to playtest with.

But before I start writing anything down, I usually try to PLAY the game a few times to see if it's cool or not.

Like with "Crystal Heroes", I have a bunch of ideas (in my mind). But I'm waiting for my "The Game Crafter" Blank Poker Cards to arrive to temporarily write out the cards and do some first-round playtesting.

I had a version of the game that was "okay-ish" ... but still want to test a NEW "mechanic"... It's got to do with Combinatorics... But too involving if I need to actually sit down and use Illustrator to do all the possible combinations for the graphs to work.

As I said, I prefer to TEST out the design first and see how to PLAY the game and THEN write down notes about the "things I like" and then think about how to "remove the parts I dislike". Or "what needs to be added", etc.

jonathanflike
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I can see that working

I can see writing the rule book first as a good way to catch mistakes over a long period of time, but mainly I'm mentally theorycrafting and explaining theorycrafted rules for play tests (internal not blind) for a very long time before putting anything on paper. That's partly because until the mechanics are frozen in place, it is just a ton of revisions that are not worth updating word files over and rule books for me are a chore, even with the games I purchase. Much easier to update brain files, but there is something to be said for having something early on that can evolve (hopefully for the better) over time.

Tim Edwards
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questccg wrote:Tim Edwards

questccg wrote:
Tim Edwards wrote:
...PS: Beware the difference between "writing the rulebook" and "writing rules". That might be causing some misunderstandings. Obviously no-one is worrying about page layouts until all the playtesting is done.

I understand what you mean... Yes I write some notes down. But since most of "my" designs revolve around cards, I'll just have prototypes to look at and continue to playtest with.

But before I start writing anything down, I usually try to PLAY the game a few times to see if it's cool or not.

Absolutely. Me too. And even when I do write something down in full, that's just part of my development process. It's sort of experimental. It in no way signifies a milestone towards finishing. I think my process is quite cyclical. For that reason - and price factors - I have never written a rules-idea in stone. :)

questccg
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I'll give you an example

Someone posted their "thoughts" on a "cool mechanic" which involved ROTATING cards by 90 degrees. Each side of the card would have a stat and one would be some kind of "special ability".

Reading this, I thought: "Hmm... that sounds super interesting. I can picture rotating the cards to the stats that I want, etc."

So I decided to TRY this mechanic just to see if it's as cool as I thought it might be...

Well ... it wasn't.

Firstly because you rotate ONE (1) card means you have to counter-balance with rotating a second (2nd) card. Because you could not have, for example, two cards with a "Strength" value. So if you had 4 cards, you would need to rotate 2 each time.

Well the dynamism of the mechanic (because you needed to rotate 2 cards) just fell flat because it wasn't all that it was supposed to be.

That's one example. And in my own designs there are a ton of games that I've shelved, re-worked, shelved again, etc. Each game has SOME merit... but as a "whole" it doesn't work. So when I get fresh ideas for one of the designs, it's back to playtesting to see if it's a good idea (is this next iteration of that design worthy of more attention)...

So for me to write out all those "temporary" ideas would just be a lot of time figuring out details that I'm not even sure that they make sense together. That's why I use Notepad++ to jot down some details... but I avoid writing "precise" rules until AFTER I have determined "how much I like or dislike the design in question"!

Tim Edwards
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questccg wrote:Someone posted

questccg wrote:
Someone posted their "thoughts" on a "cool mechanic" which involved ROTATING cards by 90 degrees. Each side of the card would have a stat and one would be some kind of "special ability".

Reading this, I thought: "Hmm... that sounds super interesting. I can picture rotating the cards to the stats that I want, etc."

So I decided to TRY this mechanic just to see if it's as cool as I thought it might be...

Well ... it wasn't.

Firstly because you rotate ONE (1) card means you have to counter-balance with rotating a second (2nd) card. Because you could not have, for example, two cards with a "Strength" value. So if you had 4 cards, you would need to rotate 2 each time.

Well the dynamism of the mechanic (because you needed to rotate 2 cards) just fell flat because it wasn't all that it was supposed to be.

That's one example. And in my own designs there are a ton of games that I've shelved, re-worked, shelved again, etc. Each game has SOME merit... but as a "whole" it doesn't work. So when I get fresh ideas for one of the designs, it's back to playtesting to see if it's a good idea (is this next iteration of that design worthy of more attention)...

So for me to write out all those "temporary" ideas would just be a lot of time figuring out details that I'm not even sure that they make sense together. That's why I use Notepad++ to jot down some details... but I avoid writing "precise" rules until AFTER I have determined "how much I like or dislike the design in question"!

Agreed. I wouldn't try to write them all down.

Tim Edwards
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https://boardgamegeek.com/thr

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1018707/brief-crash-course-game-design-...

With particular reference to point 2 C.

I also recall the blog of a successful game designer (sadly, I forget who now) which described the difficult decision to cut out a whole rule or set of rules because, although they DID make for a better game, it turned out that they weren't worth the extra load in the rule book.

In other words, they were good mechanically but proved too cumbersome in the execution as written rules to justify their existence.

Good to catch those problematic rules earlier rather than later if there's any doubt. And there's only one way to do that.

I'm not advocating writing the rulebook before any playtesting takes place. Not one bit. But I did see an interesting aspect of the OPs approach - which is that there ARE certain advantages to writing out particular rules to see how they look/ read on paper. There might be a compromise to be made, and it strikes me, as a person with no design experience to speak of, that it would be as well to realise early so that the rest of the game can accommodate it harmoniously.

pelle
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Where is the line between

Where is the line between notes and rulebook?

I definitely write everything down (in emacs with org-mode and git). It usually starts to take a form vaguely like a rulebook before first solo playtest/prototype.

Would never want to leave anything undocumented, and to be able to read about something what works in the final rulebook is likely to be similar to what works to remind myself exactly what rules were used in the first prototype. Something that happened at the table with a prototype is wasted if it is not well documented. It can be a delay of weeks or months or years before next time I work on a game and I sometimes pick up an old project almost knowing as little of it as a blind playtester would.

curby
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Audience

pelle wrote:
Where is the line between notes and rulebook?

In a word, "audience." Notes are for you or your fellow designers. A rulebook is for the public. As for my first game idea, I started with notes, and that's evolving into a rulebook with embedded notes.

I have highlighted regions which are brainstorming ideas, potential opportunities to balance and evolve the design, links to related documents like spreadsheets and pnp files, etc.

I find the layout and organization of a rulebook to be helpful to organize things. I have a separate document that's full of random thoughts and links relevant to the project, but it's harder to find anything in that jumbled mess. I put "the good stuff" in the prototype rulebook both so it gets more eyes on it and also so I don't forget it.

Speaking of audience, a prototype rulebook (or snippets of it) could be used as a sell sheet of sorts as you start to recruit playtesters. At the top of mine, I have a 2-short-paragraph summary that I refine and evolve over time. If anyone asks what my game is, I can paste that summary instead of having to come up with something on the fly. If they're interested, I send them this prototype rulebook so they can learn a bit about the game before they begin, or they can refer to it during gameplay.

Jay103
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Yeah, the opening/cover page

Yeah, the opening/cover page of my rule book is essentially a summary and intro. No rules on it. The text in it became the top part of my Kickstarter page, which is basically a sell sheet..

kpres
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I do it differently

I use a WORD document instead of a Google Docs, but that's just personal preference ;)

When I get a game idea, first it percolates for a bit but if I have pen and paper handy, I write "New Game Idea" at the top of the page and the date and then start writing about what I envision. There are rules in there, but also notes about what the board looks like and how the players will interact and what I want to be attractive about the game.

Nailing down the rules happens naturally as the game goes through the design process, and man it takes a long time to edit and make perfect.

MattyT
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I guess it really depends on

I guess it really depends on what works best for you. I work on a rulebook first only when I don't really have a very strong graphical direction for a project, and even then I'm not married to whatever I take down. Sometimes it's just best to get the juices flowing any way you can.

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