I’ve been thumbing through a lot of rule books today, thinking about what’s good and bad about each of them and why the designer or publisher made certain decisions. As a result, I’ve made a wishlist of things that I hope rule book writers either start or continue doing to help communicate with players. Although I know some people might disagree with some of my points below, I’m just mainly trying to start a discussion about what makes for a good rule book. Here are my points in no particular order:
1. Pictures drive the text not the other way around. Graphics are central to understanding key concepts. Graphics are becoming a major (if not dominant) form of communication in the 21st century.
2. Less formal register and style of writing. Mixed registers (jokes, song lyrics, etc.) should be used more often. Reading imperatives over and over again gets very boring very quickly.
3. Rules are Ways of Doing Things. The organization of rule books should be based on processes and mechanics rather than descriptions of unit capabilities, counters, etc. Players should be able to set up and play the game as they read the book.
4. “Chunking” of rules. Chunking refers to breaking down difficult concepts into simpler components for ease of understanding and explanation. This also makes it easier to commit rules to memory.
5. Active Voice. Writers should use the active voice and acknowledge people playing the game as “players” or “you”. They should avoid using the passive voice as this tends to decrease readability.
6. Online Rules Supplements. The rule book should contain all essentials needed to play with tons of detailed explanations also available on the web as a supplement. There’s just no excuse for not providing online support for your game after it’s released as most people immediately turn to the Internet if they can’t find an answer in the rule book.
7. Interactive examples of play People should be able to play through a few turns of a game on the company’s website both to see if they like the game and to gain a better understanding of key concepts.
8. Different mediums require different media. Digital versions of the rules are not simply a PDF of the paper rule book. They use totally different modes (audio, video, slideshows, etc.) to teach the game.
9. Less background knowledge is required to read and understand the rules. Military jargon, acronyms, and old school game mechanic references (e.g. CRT or ZoC) are either explained or they’re not used at all.
10. Rules are organic. A game “evolves” over time from fan input and new ideas from the designer. Alternate variants of rules are provided in updates and incorporated into the existing rule set or provided as optional rules. New rules allow for different levels of complexity and ease. There is no one “correct” way to play a game but several possible ways.