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Subject: Wargame Rules "Best Practices"? rss

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Charles F.
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I trust we can all agree that there isn't just one good way how to write/structure a rulebook. What may be a good for one design would not work as well for another.

Basic differences in their approach include:

- reference source vs. first-time learning priority

- concise vs. rules-lawyer-proof

- sequence of play-structure vs. alternative schemes (such as citing the general game context, the victory conditions, up-front)

- interspersing of historical/design/player notes vs. only rules

- rules numbering vs. none

- splitting the rulebook into separate general and scenario-specific rulebooks vs. one main body

- extent to which examples are given

etc.

Anyway, I'm curious how you like your rulebooks best! Thoughts? What makes a rulebook good or poor? And does the quality of the rulebook significantly impact your rating or do you leave any difficulties you might have with it aside and only consider how it actually plays?
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Ryan King
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Reference style, but in order of play, don't mind repeated info in different sections, and no programmed instructions unless your game absolutely calls for it. Scenarios always need a 2nd book, IMO (this is pretty standard, though).

I highly enjoy the D-Day at Omaha Beach rule book. I very much dislike Conflict of Heroes: AtB 2nd Ed. rule book.
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Enrico Viglino
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Readable, easy to reference, lacking lots of pictures, black
and white, thin columns that are easier to scan, concise,
humorous, numbering (how else to reference?), scenarios separate
when there are sufficient numbers.

Historical notes and examples should be in sidebars preferably.
If not (or if so), pale italics should be used for this, as it helps them fade
out of sight. Format should be very much the same from game to game,
as much as possible. If I want to find the combat rules, I should
find them where I do in most games - at least by one company. Rules
should not be organized by a designer/developer's whim without very
good reason. Bold and any other attention grabbing fonts should be
used sparingly if at all. Formats such as PI and fully procedural
rulebooks deserve a special hell.

Great examples, IMO, are The Gamers, SPI, and VG. Poor ones are GMT,
and GDW (which still beats out much of what AH did somehow).
Terrible ones are most AH from the 80's onward, nearly anything by
non wargame companies, and VPG (for all the color - they develop the
hell out of their rulebooks, and there are few errors).

I flit from game to game, so poor rules greatly impact my experience.
Indeed, just making a game different 'just because' (and there are
some that seem as though they do this) will also effect my enjoyment
negatively. Designs should build upon prior games (following their
rules formatting when reasonable) when the concepts can be expressed
well that way. Every P2P design doesn't need its own means of handling
interception, combat, card handling (for CDGs) and the like.
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L. SCHMITT
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Best rulebook
The best rulebook has the shortest errata and FAQ, and needs no living rules cool
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Cpl. Fields
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Great topic.

charlesf wrote:

- reference source vs. first-time learning priority


Write the rules like you were teaching a friend how to play. The Devil's Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen remains, to my mind, one of the best examples of how to write a rule book. Conversational, repetitive, easy to read, complete, clear.

Quote:
- concise vs. rules-lawyer-proof


I don't think these are necessarily mutually exclusive. Make sure your rule book answers all the questions a reasonable gamer might reasonably ask.

Quote:
- sequence of play-structure vs. alternative schemes (such as citing the general game context, the victory conditions, up-front)


Sequence of play for me. I tend to be a linear thinker. I also like to start playing before I've actually read all the rules.

Quote:
- interspersing of historical/design/player notes vs. only rules


I love historical design notes incorporated in the rules. Richard Berg's rule books are hugely entertaining.

I do agree that they should be clearly denoted by putting them in italics or in a sidebar.

Quote:
- rules numbering vs. none


You definitely need numbering to reference the rules, but keep it simple: 5.0 (general rule), 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 (specific cases). Rule 12.12.4(iii)(b) is not helpful to me.

Quote:
- splitting the rulebook into separate general and scenario-specific rulebooks vs. one main body


I used to hate separate rule/scenario books, but GMT won me over. They do this very well.

Quote:
- extent to which examples are given


Anything that can't be expressed concisely and clearly in words should be the subject of an illustrated example. For complex games, I find examples especially useful for combat and supply rules.

Quote:
etc.


A PDF version is a must. I have a tablet PC and I love the ability to mark up/bookmark/annotate the rules.

Living rules are a necessary evil. We all hate errata but I appreciate companies/designers who diligently incorporate corrections and FAQs into updated rule books.

Quote:
And does the quality of the rulebook significantly impact your rating or do you leave any difficulties you might have with it aside and only consider how it actually plays?


That's easy: if the rules are bad I don't bother playing the game. Life is too short. Anyone want an unpunched copy of War of the Suns? Mine's up for trade.
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Gerry Palmer
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Zuludawn writes:

'That's easy: if the rules are bad I don't bother playing the game. Life is too short. Antone want an unpunched copy of War of the Suns? Mine's up for trade;'

Anyone else interested in a copy of this? Check out my marketplace listing. The RB is a hot mess.

Edit: screwed up the quick quote...(again)
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Ocean Druen
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Rule books are a tough thing to get across, I have not found a "style" that I liked best coming out of the box (though GMT comes the closest). I generally "rewrite" (outline) the rule books before I play now.

What I would like to see is a "tutorial" in the front that allows for set up and a demonstration of play based off a few turns, with rules references. I also like the historical flavor in the front of the book (which I rarely see).

Generally though rules numbering is a must too.
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Beyer
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charlesf wrote:
...
- concise vs. rules-lawyer-proof
...

These are complementary concepts. When you're writing the rules, they will take much MUCH longer to write, but by the time you're done, you use less column space, fewer words and more evocative phrases.

Lawyer-proofing is done with better definitions and better referencing, not with more words.

End of peeve...
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Mike Szarka
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charlesf wrote:


Anyway, I'm curious how you like your rulebooks best! Thoughts?


Perhaps with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
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Roger Hobden
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Combat Commander: Europe (chad jensen) and the rules of OCS (dean essig) (The Blitzkrieg Legend: The Battle for France, 1940, etc.) are the two best written rulebooks I have ever read.

These guys should organize workshops for the other wargame rule writers.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
And I will pencil in the names of Mark H. Walker and Ray Tapio to make sure they attend … arrrh


Edit : Just to be clear: I play and enjoy all the existing tactical wargames (except for ASL, only because it is too complicated for my available gaming time).
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Ahmed Hadzi
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Hire Chad Jensen to write it for you.
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Rob Doupe
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Instructional manual rather than reference. If you can't learn the game the first time, there will be no 2nd to 10th games.

Supplement the instruction manual with a thorough glossary of definitions and look-up rules. Reference pertinent glossary entries in the instructions.

Include plenty of illustrated examples of play.

Write in the active voice. The author should explain the rules as an active process, and should make it clear who the actor carrying out each action is.

Explain why you would want to take particular actions. For example, To create a pontoon, move an engineer adjacent to a river hexside and flip it. This enables friendly units to cross the adjacent hexsides without stopping.

Use terms consistently.

Confine historical commentary and flavour to sidebars and examples.

Use modern layout, line spacing, font size, and white space standards - it isn't 1986 anymore.

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Enrico Viglino
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Mallet wrote:
Combat Commander: Europe (chad jensen) and the rules of OCS (dean essig) (The Blitzkrieg Legend: The Battle for France, 1940, etc.) are the two best written rulebooks I have ever read.



Very different styles. I find CC difficult to access. All of Essig's
rules work quite well for me though.
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Bill Lawson
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Dean Essig writes excellent rule books!
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j b Goodwin

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Mallet wrote:
Combat Commander: Europe (chad jensen) and the rules of OCS (dean essig) (The Blitzkrieg Legend: The Battle for France, 1940, etc.) are the two best written rulebooks I have ever read.

These guys should organize workshops for the other wargame rule writers.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
And I will pencil in the names of Mark H. Walker and Ray Tapio to make sure they attend … arrrh



The funny thing is, while I don't like Combat commander as a game, it has great materials and a VERY well-made rulebook!

And not naming any names, usually when the author of a rulebook thinks he's funny, and writes that way...he very much isn't.
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Roger Hobden
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swandive78 wrote:

when the author of a rulebook thinks he's funny, and writes that way...he very much isn't.

thumbsup

So true !
 
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Enrico Viglino
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Mallet wrote:
swandive78 wrote:

when the author of a rulebook thinks he's funny, and writes that way...he very much isn't.

thumbsup

So true !


I quite enjoy the unnamed author's witticisms.

Probably more than some of his games.
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Holman
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I like the supplementary playbook approach. No matter how you organize your rules content, a step-by-step example turn or three is an excellent way to show how all the elements come together.

Often, the playbook should be designed to be read first rather than as an appendix or final chapter. This way a player is brought into the game's design philosophy and core mechanics before trying to learn the exceptions and sub-sub-cases of every rule. The playbook isn't a substitute for the actual rules, and it isn't even necessarily a tutorial; it's a rich introduction.

Exceptions occur and YMMV, obviously!
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roger miller
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One problem I encounter all the time when writing rules is gamers previous experience and expectations. So my rules are written precisely but because they have seen a different mechanism in 100 games they assume the rules are wrong and play the game with different rules than I intended. So now I have begun adding extra language to sections where supply, zoc, overrun etc. may differ from other games just to reinforce those points.
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Wendell
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Have an index.
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Val Ruza
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charlesf wrote:

- reference source vs. first-time learning priority

- concise vs. rules-lawyer-proof

- sequence of play-structure vs. alternative schemes (such as citing the general game context, the victory conditions, up-front)

- interspersing of historical/design/player notes vs. only rules

- rules numbering vs. none

- splitting the rulebook into separate general and scenario-specific rulebooks vs. one main body

- extent to which examples are given

etc.

Anyway, I'm curious how you like your rulebooks best! Thoughts? What makes a rulebook good or poor? And does the quality of the rulebook significantly impact your rating or do you leave any difficulties you might have with it aside and only consider how it actually plays?


A rulebook needs to be useable to learn the game and then become an excellent reference during play. It needs to be concise and contain all the answers to any questions that arise during play. As such your first two dichotomies are false in that if the rulebook does only one or the other well it is a poor rulebook as a result.

I prefer rules that follow the sequence of play and that I can then use to learn while I read, but this is not necessary as long as the sequence of play is clearly described and easy to find. As well my preference is for all non-rule text to be collected at the end of the rules. I know that some enjoy reading designer notes, as do I, but I do not want to have them get in the way of finding a rule reference during a game.

Rule numbering is required and not optional. As well a table of contents and a working index should be provided. A rulebook needs to be a useable reference during play; if it is not the gaming experience is diminished. Examples of play should be provided with references to the rules; my preference is that they be provided on their own pages without rules or in another book. A scenario book should be separate from the rulebook.

As an addition, player aids should complement your rulebooks not be an extension of them. If there are rules on the player aids not listed in the rulebook the rulebook is incomplete. A player aid should also reference into the rulebook so that looking up a rule from a player aid is not difficult. Player aids should contain often referenced information, and also often forgotten or overlooked information essential for playing the game.

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I have to say if you're going to pick a designer and a supporting team for a rulebook...Dean Essig & The Gamers.

The rulebook for Last Chance for Victory is a treat.

I think Calandale nailed most of what I was going to say, so I won't repeat it. I definitely did want to call out Dean and his work though for special commendation.
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Robert Fox
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I'll give another endorsement for Chad Jensen's rules. I've played the Combat Commander games, Dominant Species, Urban Sprawl, and Fighting Formations. I've been able to play each game after one reading of the rules with minimal need to reference (minus looking up events in Combat Commander) back to them.

All four games I can put away for months, pull them out and get playing with just a glance through the rules.

I was also impressed with the rules to Napoleon's Triumph. Any trouble I had with that game involved me not being able to wrap my head around the tactics of playing. The rules themselves were excellent.
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J.L. Robert
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wifwendell wrote:
Have an index.


What would an index for One-Page Bulge look like?
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Eoin Corrigan
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Don Greenwood's 1st Edition ASL rules are an incredible achievement. Fantastic index, too. For a game of ASL's detail the approach taken was spot on.
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