Writing a rulebook is one of the hardest aspects of game design. Teaching a game in person is one thing, but creating a comprehensive document that anyone can sit down with to learn a game is a very daunting prospect. Enter Rulebook Cookbook. This series will guide you through this difficult process one step at a time.
Each article goes into detail on one section of a rulebook, but if you don’t want to read all the particulars, this recipe will get you started. When crafting your rules, just write each of the following parts in order, paying attention to the key suggestions, and you will be well on your way to a delectable final product.
Basic Rulebook Recipe
- Tell the story of the game
- Describe the setting: Who, What, Where, When, Why?
- Use exciting, compelling language
- Do NOT use game terminology
- Outline the flow of the game at a high level
- Very briefly and generally tell the structure of gameplay and what happens on a turn
- Define the objective, how to win, and what triggers the end of the game
- Do NOT describe details, fringe cases, or minor exceptions
- Give complete, detailed, and specific inventory with quantities
- Ideally, include pictures of all components
- Either here or at the start of Gameplay, define component terminology and general usage (diagrams help)
- Do NOT include rule details
- Separate one-time setup from every time
- Show exactly what to put where
- Tell exactly what to give to each player
- Be explicit; remember sorting and shuffling
- Include all actions required before standard play, including choosing the first player
- Do NOT include any recurring actions
- Work from general to specific, giving the reader context
- Describe play in the order things happen, avoiding excessive page flips and cross-referencing
- Use call-out boxes and typography to help organization
- Whenever possible, write in simple imperative sentences (commands)
- Distinguish clearly between mandatory and optional actions
- Conduct many blind playtests to find ambiguities and missing rules
- Do NOT give new rules in examples or use game terms before they have been defined
- Tell what triggers the end of the game
- Explain who plays how many more times before the actual end
- Detail all sources of points in a logical order
- Include tie-breakers, so there is always a winner
- Do NOT tell players to “rejoice in their shared victory”
- Extended example of play
- Table of Contents, Glossary, Index
- Strategy hints
Hopefully this recipe is enough to get you started. Then as you refine each section, read the accompanying detailed article to ensure the best rulebook possible.
What do you think? Are there other parts of rulebooks that you like to see? Any key suggestions missing from the list? Leave a comment below.
Rulebook Cookbook is an ongoing column dedicated to helping you write better rules. Each article will take an in-depth look at one aspect of rule-writing, elucidating best practices and providing positive and negative examples.