Requiem for a Game Designer: My Journey Towards Creating My Dream Solitaire Game

Come along with me as I work on my second (and first truly serious) solitaire game - I don't know where the journey will lead, but I'm sure we'll all have some laughs and learn some lessons along the way!
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I don't make the rules, I just write 'em: Game Manuals For Gamers

Steve Hawkins
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First of all, welcome back, BGG!! We've missed you. Today, I want to talk about rules. In my opinion, bad rules can absolutely ruin an otherwise good concept. This is not a particularly earth-shattering observation, but what are exactly 'bad rules'? Are they complex? Are they poorly written? Are they redundant? Or are they simply... inefficient? To illustrate, let me present one section from the Falcon Ace rules that I feel are particularly illustrative:

Quote:
4.3.6.17.2. FALCON ATTACK PROCEDURE. If your Falcon is eligible for attack, proceed to the ACTION TABLE – FALCON ATTACK MODE and roll against the enemy’s class and piloting skill. Make an Action Roll to resolve. The red die determines their fire range. If you have not already, roll for the enemy’s ATA rating and loadout on the AIRCRAFT LOADOUT TABLE to determine their maximum engagement distance and place the enemy’s missiles in the short and long range weapons boxes on their respective bogey slot. If the value rolled is equal to or greater than the current range between the Falcon and the enemy, move to the ATTACK SEQUENCE described below. The white die is the speed roll. If the result is ‘FULL’ use the highest WHITE value from the AIRCRAFT SPEED TABLE for that model plane and replace the speed value on the BOGEY STATUS DISPLAY. If the result is ‘AFT’ use the highest BLACK value from the AIRCRAFT SPEED TABLE for that model plane and replace the speed value on the BOGEY STATUS DISPLAY. If the enemy is not in attack range, move the enemy towards the Falcon using the special movement described in 4.6.3.13.3. When complete, proceed to the next enemy is applicable; to the Ground Attack Phase if not.

4.3.6.17.3 ATTACK SEQUENCE. Roll 1D10 on each non-blank column to determine the Actions the enemy will take in the attack sequence. The total Actions for the enemy depend on their Piloting Skill and type. The first Action will always be considered ‘TGT’. No roll is required for the first Action. If the result is ‘TGT’ make a targeting roll, using the most applicable weapon in regards to range, with those values and the appropriate table. If the weapon is infrared, use the INFRARED MISSILE LOCK TABLE and if the weapon is radar, use the RADAR MISSILE LOCK TABLE with all applicable modifiers. If the lock is successful, place an ‘ENEMY IR LOCK’ or ‘ENEMY RADAR LOCK’ counter on top of your Falcon counter for the respective type of lock. If the result is ‘FIRE’ without a prior successful missile lock then the Action is treated as a snap fire missile launch. Place the missile on top of the enemy counter and place a ‘NO LOCK – SNAP INFRARED FIRE’ or ‘NO LOCK-SNAP RADAR FIRE’ counter on top of the Falcon, else treat as a normal missile launch. If the result is ‘TURN XXX’, the attack is considered ‘broken off’; turn the enemy in that bearing and complete the enemy move. After a break off of attack, reroll for new pilot mode on the BOGEY PILOT MODE TABLE using the +3 modifier for prior ATT mode. When complete, proceed to the next enemy if applicable; to the Ground Attack Phase if not.


Wow! Are you slavering to shoot down a MiG now? I know I'd be running away if I had a rulebook with 47 pages of rules like that above - but as the designer, I couldn't see that when I was in the middle of writing the rules. It was hard enough just getting them onto paper and grammatically correct and complete that little things like readability and usability got thrown out with the rest of the bathwater. Taking some time away from FA and coming back to the game after a year or so really made me realize how much of a disservice I had done to my idea and to my game by making the rules so impenetrable. Which is not a mistake I intend to repeat with Star Requiem: Humanity's Last Stand. Here is a snippet from the game setup section:

Quote:
SETTING UP A GAME
So enough reading background, let’s play the thing already! OK. Assuming that you have prepared all your materials and counters for play, first lay out the star map. This is the big 24” X 24” map with all the ‘DEEP SPACE’ boxes on it. Put it in the middle of your play area and place the ‘XYL CONFIDENCE LEVEL’ counter on the 0 space in the ‘SCOUT’ track on the right-hand side of the board. Next, take out the ‘HUMAN BUILDS TRACKER’ and place the two BP tracker counters on the ‘0’ boxes in the ‘TOTAL BPs’ section. Next, place the ‘HUMAN SCIENTIFIC PROCESS’ board and place the 5 category ‘TECH LEVEL’ counters on LV1 on their respective categories. Set aside the 5 category RESEARCH PROGRESS counters for now.

Next, take out the ‘HUMAN FLEETS TRACKING BOARD’ and place the two CP tracker counters on the ‘0’ boxes in the ‘COMMAND POINTS’ section. Take the BATTLE BOARD and place the ‘HUMAN INITIATIVE’ counter on the ‘0’ box of the CURRENT ROUND INITIATIVE track. Take the XYL FLEETS TRACKING BOARD and place it nearby.

Now, the star map needs to be populated. Shuffle the Xyl system decks and the Human system decks, separating out each side's green dot systems, the red dot systems, and the yellow dot systems. Place the capital system card for the humans "New Terra" in the lower-right system box (“10”) and depending on your game scenario, draw 2 green systems, 2-3 yellow systems, and 2-3 red systems. Place your green systems face-up in boxes 8 and 9 (your choice). Next place your yellow systems face-up in boxes 5, 6, or 7. Finally, place your red systems face-up in boxes 1,2,3, or 4. You may place your systems wherever you wish on their row; the only rule is that there must be at least one direct path to each system – in other words, you may not go through ‘DEEP SPACE’ boxes; each system must have a hyperspace path.

Now you will set up the Xyl worlds. Draw as you did for the human systems; equal number of cards per color. Xyl systems are placed face-down so that the ‘?’ side is showing. Place the capital system in the upper-left system box. The placement rules are the same as for human systems and in addition the red Xyl systems are placed directly across from the red human systems. In other words, they will be placed in the boxes directly above the existing red systems.

Almost done! Now you’ll set up the fleet draw cups for the Xyl. Place the ‘Grand Fleet’ counters, the ‘Major Fleet’ counters, and the ‘Minor Fleet’ counters in 3 small opaque cups. Place the ‘Scout Detatchment’ counters along with 5 ‘NO RESERVE FLEET’ counters in a separate cup, away from the other fleet cups. This is the reinforcement cup. Leave a 5th cup empty for now – it will be the Scout Detatchment draw cup. Separate the Xyl Seeker ships, Size 1, Size 2, Size 3, and Size 4 Grand Flagships into 5 draw piles.

Finally, set up your starting situation. As the Humans, ensure that your ship types are separated into unique draw piles. You will only need the Scout and Size 1 Warship piles to start. Draw your starting shipyard by taking the shipyard counters and randomly drawing one. Place the associated shipyard card and place it on the Human Builds Tracker in its designated area, and place the shipyard counter in the ‘SHIPYARD/STARBASE’ section in the New Terra system. Draw 2 Size 1 warships randomly from your draw pile and place them in the ‘PHOENIX FLEET’ fleet box on the Human Fleets Tracking Board. Place one ship in the FLAG section, but if this is your first game don’t worry too much about which one. Place the ‘PHOENIX FLEET’ counter in the SYSTEM FLEETS area on the New Terra system card. Draw a Scout from your Scout draw pile and place it in any red (frontier) system in the SYSTEM FLEETS area on the system card. Finally, place either a Level 3 Resource Installation or a Level 3 Science Lab counter on New Terra, and place 5 more points total of installations on any planet, provided that the level of Resource Installation does not exceed the System Resource Level OR that the total levels of placed installations in a system do not exceed the System Infrastructure Level.

Now that you’re set up… it’s time to save humanity!!


So, in a little less than twice the length of just 2 subrules in Falcon Ace, I have completely walked a player through how to set up a game for play, ready to start. You'll see no sub-sub-sub sections here - just sections in bold, easy English (like, um, Setting Up A Game) that I hope will make it much easier to get into Star Requiem - and be able to appreciate the engine behind the game, not struggle to gain entry and fight through learning how to take a single turn. I will be spending more time on the rules than anything else, and I can promise you that the game will not release - in any form for purchase - until the rules are clear as crystal and every overlong, unnecessary rule and procedure will have been pared away.

So I throw it to you, the reader. What do you look for in rules that make for ease of use? Lots of examples? Outline form? Pictures? Do you prefer 'casual' writing style, like in the SR example, or more what I'd call 'Avalon Hill 101' style, like in Falcon Ace? At the end of the day, what is most important to you in a good ruleset? I'd really like your thoughts on this!

-Steve
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