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Wargames» Forums » General

Subject: Rules – readability and structure rss

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Nick Wade
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I quite like reading wargame rules as I find it interesting to see what mechanisms are used and how they tie together, and it is satisfying when the reading is completed as then you can play the game!

I have read more than a dozen sets of rules in the past couple of months alone and I have noticed that I have gravitated in preference to certain types of rules that I have found to be far more readable than others.

There are a number of factors affecting this, but a key one is the rules structure. I find when reading that it is helpful to get drawn into the game mechanics while reading, and being able to put all the rules you are reading into context are an important element of that. If you are reading multiple pages of rules that don’t make a lot of sense until you read later parts of the rules then you are less likely to finish reading and to assimilate the rules.

It is quite popular for rules to follow the sequence of play. However, I think doing that too closely can be a mistake when the early steps in the SoP are administrative and are particularly involved. I believe a better way is for key concepts to be introduced (eg: ZOC, stacking) and then go straight into the meat of most wargames, which is movement and combat. After that special rules around artillery and air support, supply, reinforcements and replacements, entrenchments, etc. can be added in. If the SoP section (and other sections) of the rules is properly cross-referenced then this becomes just as easy to follow and find the appropriate rules as if the rules are in a strict SoP order.

I have found that certain GMT rules (esp those by Simonitch) and ATO rules follow my preferred structure, and so I have read a lot of those recently. I find the DG mag games often follow the strict SoP approach, which makes them less appealing to read.

There are plenty of other things to improve readability of rules (eg: don’t over-explain simple ideas, use examples to assist explaining complicated ideas), but this is a fairly easy one IMO. Do others have a different view?
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Confusion Under Fire
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The problem with rules writing, which to me is the hardest part of game design, is that you are trying to put over a set of very detailed instructions to 'customers' who have differing understanding of mechanics used in wargames. Each player might have their own idea of what is easy and what is hard. Also remember that the rule writer has been working on his game for 12 months or more, the mechanics become second nature to him, trying to decipher which mechanics require more explanation can be a task in itself.

Your ideal method is to get into the guts of the main mechanics early on and then add on the other sections later. The problem with this is if you are say looking for the '5. Morale Phase' which is the first phase, you might be looking through half of the rule book to find it. If the rules are set out in sequence of play then you know that if you are on the page with '2. Movement phase' that you need to go back to section one. This isn't a criticism of your favourite method but it shows that each of us are different in the way we learn a set of rules.
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Tony Doran
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I have always preferred the "case section" method used on all the old SPI games. A section for sequence of play, a section for all movement rules, a section for all supply rules, etc. That method just resonates for me and I freely admit, it may be a function of my age. I always struggle the most with rules which follow the sequence of play.

But, having said that, a good game or game system makes any struggles with the rules worthwhile. Some rulebooks which are more difficult for me reveal games which are among my favorites.

And I am sort of geeky about it anyhow. I really enjoy reading a set of rules and trying to grok how the game works. Sometimes that means getting the counters onto the map and pushing them around. Sometimes the rules are so well written, that I can "see" how the game works just from reading them.
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Nick Wade
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whatambush wrote:
The problem with rules writing, which to me is the hardest part of game design, is that you are trying to put over a set of very detailed instructions to 'customers' who have differing understanding of mechanics used in wargames. Each player might have their own idea of what is easy and what is hard. Also remember that the rule writer has been working on his game for 12 months or more, the mechanics become second nature to him, trying to decipher which mechanics require more explanation can be a task in itself.


Rules writing is very difficult, but it is beholden on the developer and proofread to make sure the designer's vision is clear to everyone.
Quote:

Your ideal method is to get into the guts of the main mechanics early on and then add on the other sections later. The problem with this is if you are say looking for the '5. Morale Phase' which is the first phase, you might be looking through half of the rule book to find it. If the rules are set out in sequence of play then you know that if you are on the page with '2. Movement phase' that you need to go back to section one. This isn't a criticism of your favourite method but it shows that each of us are different in the way we learn a set of rules.


Cross referencing can solve that without too much trouble.

But you are correct in that everyone learns differently, so rules layout is a difficult exercise.
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Tom Russell
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It can be a tricky thing, to be sure. The most important thing, as you say, is to give the reader a kind of framework or structure that allows them to see how the various parts of the game fit together.

I find that if done properly, the traditional format-- 1.0 Introduction, 2.0 Components, 3.0 Sequence of Play, next few sections tackling each phase (or concept),last few sections covering the special cases-- can do that. The key is to use those first three sections to introduce all the major concepts: the Introduction should encompass both the historical background, and anything that's unusual or noteworthy about how the game works; the Components section should explain how the component is used and how it fits, just not what it is; the Sequence of Play should give a clear sense of what it is you can or should do on your turn.

I tend to write rules in a somewhat conversational style, by which I don't mean that the rules are loosey-goosey (I try to be very precise and very tight), but that I tend to think of it as, "If I was teaching the game to someone in front of me, how would I explain it?", and then I write it down like that, particularly in those first few sections.

That said, I don't always follow the Sequence of Play when doing the sections for the Move Phase, Combat Phase, etc., and there are times where it makes a lot more sense to proceed exactly as you explain, by focusing on the red meat first, then looping around to the potatoes. For example, in my Shields & Swords II series, the Sequence of Play in the action phases is Fire, Horse, Withdraw, Shield Wall, Move, Combat-- but I explain the Move Phase first, then the Withdraw Phase (since Withdraw really only makes sense in the context of knowing how the Move Phase works), then Combat, then Shield Wall (which only makes sense in the context of knowing how the Combat Phase works), then Fire and Horse (the Horse phase being a special sort of combination of Move and Combat).

So, like I said, it's certainly a tricky thing.
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tomrussell wrote:
That said, I don't always follow the Sequence of Play when doing the sections for the Move Phase, Combat Phase, etc., and there are times where it makes a lot more sense to proceed exactly as you explain, by focusing on the red meat first, then looping around to the potatoes. For example, in my Shields & Swords II series, the Sequence of Play in the action phases is Fire, Horse, Withdraw, Shield Wall, Move, Combat-- but I explain the Move Phase first, then the Withdraw Phase (since Withdraw really only makes sense in the context of knowing how the Move Phase works), then Combat, then Shield Wall (which only makes sense in the context of knowing how the Combat Phase works), then Fire and Horse (the Horse phase being a special sort of combination of Move and Combat).


This is a pretty good example of not setting the rules in stone just because they appear in that order under the SoP. No point explaining something in agonizing detail if the player can't readily see how that information will interact with other facets of play. At worst it's like you're effectively putting a sub-phase before a main phase; at best you're having to redirect them further on in the book anyway.
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Kurt Keckley
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whatambush wrote:
The problem with rules writing, which to me is the hardest part of game design


+1
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Keith Rose
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Probably a bridge too far, but how about publishing various options on line & letting the customer choose the rule set they prefer (ie: rules for beginners, rules by SOP, rules by main game components - movement./combat etc. rules by illustrative gameplay, quick start rules etc etc etc...
Lots of work for the publisher (or fanbase) I'll concede, but rather like translating rules into other languages I guess.
I must confess I'm not a vastly experienced wargamer, but I do tut when confronted by "a move is when a unit - see later for definition of unit - traverses adjoining hexes....." type advice - whilst understanding that a complete beginner may need this hand holding.
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Tom Swider
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Audience should also be a factor. For example, I think that the rules for Axis Empires (TK and DS) are exemplary for the experienced wargamer. Three rule sections ... one is for the main mechanics and the rule numbers match the step number for each phase. The others are for infrastructure (e.g. supply) and 'lookups'(very specific situations and events). Also has a good glossary.

This might not work well for an introductory game or one that is not igo ugo.
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Paul Borchers
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Many times the structure for acquainting an inexperienced player with a game and structure required for easy reference during play aren't the same thing. For me, I'm inevitably reading the rules at least twice and pushing counters around before I feel comfortable playing a game, if I'm not learning from or working with another player.
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Confusion Under Fire
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I have just found this site on the web which is an interesting and well thought out read. It deals with the design of a set of wargame rules rather than the composition of the rules but still worth a read. If it was on the Geek I would offer up some GG.

http://www.lloydianaspects.co.uk/wargames/ruledesign.html
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Adam D.
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I will chime in and do nothing helpful except reinforce what was said: there's often a big difference in a heavy ruleset between learning a game and playing it; two almost opposite requirements.

When I sit down to learn I actually do want the rules in sequence-of-play order. When I'm referring back while playing that may not be the best way to reference. For instance, where do the "Stacking" rules go. Sometimes they relate to combat, sometimes movement, and there is no specific spot for them in the sequence of play.

Funny this came up because I was reading the rules to Ney vs. Wellington and was annoyed because there were two different exceptions for artillery in different places. But instead of saying "Exception: Artillery" the rules referenced case xx.yy and case xx.zz. which both basically said "I'm artillery, I don't use (rule x or rule y)."

You can't please everyone...

Also, wargame and ruleset should be words in the BGG spell checker.
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James D. Williams
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What? Read the Rules? Nobody "reads" the Rules! Since the Sixties we see evidence in the AH General [and lately in CSW and BGG] of the lazy illiterate impatient juvenile dolts* that buy wargames/war games.

Bless their pea-pickin' hearts for spending there precious brass and supporting the manufacturer and the hobby!

And then, there are the folks who ask questions. May the Lord bless them for they may never get an answer. Yes, bless even those who pose Stupid Questions... which may elicit a response that causes the scales to fall from my all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-prescient eyes.
(...it could happen... in my dreams!)

*"It takes one to know one", which makes me an Authority.
 
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