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Subject: Creating the Rulebook. rss

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Greg
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I'm new to game design, attempting my first serious shot at it. I am doing all the design and art myself. It's not as grand as Gloomhaven, but almost as ambitious.

My question is should I be putting the rulebook together as I design, as the ideas and processes come into focus, or should I wait until the very end to bring all that together?

My gut says that it would help me to keep focused, develop and maintain a consistent language, and better see all the parts come together if I go ahead and create the rulebook as I go, just in text format of course.

Am I right?
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Write the manual as you go. The quicker you have a manual, the faster you can do blind testing.
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JP Ginley
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Unless you are playing solitaire....playtest, playtest again and playtest again and again...and then you will re-write the rules better, better again and better again and again....and keep it simple ok !
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Michael Brettell
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Depends on what stage you're at. At the beginning, when things are changing a lot, you'll spend longer writing rules than doing your own play-testing, so I'd recommend keeping notes, but not worry about a formal rules document.

Initial play-testing is normally just done by yourself, or yourself and one other person.

Once you're reasonably sure things are stable, and ready for the next stage of play-testing by other people, do the rules then.

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JP Ginley
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Agree that basic ground rules can be written by yourself at the start and later depends also on the number of players in the game. In my case should have mentioned rules were written for an auction game that cannot be played (or tested)with less than three persons.There are only ten rules in the game and it has taken me the best part of two years to write them. Without regular play-testing I could not have completed the rules and would probably still be writing them.
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Greg
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This is helping to write the rule book. Everything is starting to snap into place now, as well becoming apparent what needs to be fleshed out more. Just envisioning what components are needed and how many has really been like a lightbulb for me.

I have a little bit of a C++ background after taking 3 college courses from beginner level up to object oriented programming and a lot of that has benefitted me greatly with being able to see what is needed for the flow of the "program" (in this case the "game system") to run and how to do it efficiently.

Writing the rulebook reminds me of writing an algorithm for a program and I think it will lead to more confidence and fresh ideas for the game as I continue to design the more detailed parts, already having all the terms and mechanics clearly defined and outlined for me.
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Hedyn Brand
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Jot down basic rules, turn sequence, meanings of cards etc. If you have playtesters, simply start a FAQ. The questions the players ask should help guide you towards what you must clarify in the rules. Heck, you may discover parts where even YOU want more clarification!
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James Arias
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Phate999 wrote:
This is helping to write the rule book. Everything is starting to snap into place now, as well becoming apparent what needs to be fleshed out more. Just envisioning what components are needed and how many has really been like a lightbulb for me.

I have a little bit of a C++ background after taking 3 college courses from beginner level up to object oriented programming and a lot of that has benefitted me greatly with being able to see what is needed for the flow of the "program" (in this case the "game system") to run and how to do it efficiently.

Writing the rulebook reminds me of writing an algorithm for a program and I think it will lead to more confidence and fresh ideas for the game as I continue to design the more detailed parts, already having all the terms and mechanics clearly defined and outlined for me.


This! Game flow is like program flow, and treat the rulebook like a contract to avoid ambiguity.
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Jeremy Lennert
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crazybyzantine wrote:
treat the rulebook like a contract to avoid ambiguity.

Not exactly. The main enemy of a contract is usually a motivated expert. The main enemy of a rulebook is a lazy or careless reader. The precautions you take against accidental misinterpretations and intentional reinterpretations are not necessarily the same, and in fact are sometimes directly opposed.

For instance, contracts often have long lists of synonyms to ensure their bases are covered ("you may not communicate, discuss, or relate any of these ideas, inventions, or concepts with any outside person, hive mind, or other entity"), which in a rulebook would usually be counter-productive.


I do tend to think that game rules would be smoother all around if everyone (both designers and players) knew a little bit more computer programming (key skill: distinguishing between what you think someone meant and what they actually said). But that may just be bias favoring my own skill set.
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Greg
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Wow the designer of Darkest Night (Second edition) posted here. Cool

By far the best Rulebook I have seen in all my time in board gaming is the two found in Runebound (Third Edition).

One teaches you to play with brilliant illustrations. The other is essentially a glossary with the fine print on terms to look up quickly and easily in the middle of a game session.

I plan to follow that method to do my Rulebook(s) because it made learning the game amazingly easy on the first time player.

Check out the Rulebooks for this game online at Fantasy Flight's website to see what I am talking about.
 
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Naomi Ooooooooo

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I think the cards left out to help during the game for Guildhall Fantasy: Fellowship are an example of making the rules clear throughout the game. It is one thing to read the rulebook and know the goal... it is another to remember how the finer points of the game work while playing. It makes the game easy to get taught and played correctly.
 
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Hedyn Brand
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Antistone wrote:
I do tend to think that game rules would be smoother all around if everyone (both designers and players) knew a little bit more computer programming (key skill: distinguishing between what you think someone meant and what they actually said).

But we don't have real DWIM chipsets yet (do what I mean)

But seriously, there is that famous stack from MtG. Things happen in a specific order, and you unwind the actions in the opposite order. Quite clear and efficient. Mind you, the rules number in the high hundreds of paragraphs now.

Writing rules which stand the test of time and avoid ambiguity are hard.
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Pelle Nilsson
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I start typing ideas that morph into some kind of high-level design and then starts to look more and more like a rulebook. Gives me something to show playtesters and also really helps me remember my own game. Often when I have multiple conflicting solutions I forget after a few days which solution is my current "best guess" so it is really good to have that documented, and better to have it as formal as possible with a real rulebook.
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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gnurf wrote:
Antistone wrote:
I do tend to think that game rules would be smoother all around if everyone (both designers and players) knew a little bit more computer programming (key skill: distinguishing between what you think someone meant and what they actually said).

But we don't have real DWIM chipsets yet (do what I mean)

But seriously, there is that famous stack from MtG. Things happen in a specific order, and you unwind the actions in the opposite order. Quite clear and efficient. Mind you, the rules number in the high hundreds of paragraphs now.

Writing rules which stand the test of time and avoid ambiguity are hard.


Going a bit off-topic here, but I recently (well 2 or so years now) have finally gotten a bit into playing collectible games (casually) and also of course some deck-builders that work a bit similar. I have started thinking about how nice it would be to have some kind of uber-geeky formal language made-up for a specific game, so that in addition to the text on each card you could also have some kind of "script" (like rows of machine-code) that describes the action in a 100 % deterministic way that can not be mis-understood. Of course not every player would need to know how to parse it, and it would not have to be printed on the cards, but for a tournament judge or expert player it would be possible to look at the script and see exactly how the card is used.

Definitely possible to do, but a lot of work. Probably means having to split turns into tiny segments and defining a lot of concepts that most players will not really have to care about.

Bonus: A digital version of the game of course would interpret the script for each card and do exactly what that says, without having to need any other data, so that would also be nice for testing (noticing if some card does not do what the English text on it says it does).
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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Computer programs often have bugs.

If most of your playtesters rely on the English description, I suspect you'd end up with a situation where the computer-code version is more likely to contain errors, and so no one trusts it.
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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The ideal would be to have such a compact representation that it could fit on the cards.

Next best that most play testing could be done using code cards.

Or perhaps even generate the English text from the code? That is kind of what I was attempting for a solitaire paragraph-driven game. Everythig affecting the game-state was generated from a DSL, only flavor text with no actual meaning was hand-written. Never completed it, but I think that solution seemed to work,and would work for cards.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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I think you might run into a problem with jumping between different levels of abstraction. In order to be truly executable by a machine, the computer code may need to operate at a lower level of abstraction than you want to use for the human-readable instructions, in which case converting automatically from one to the other is probably impossible.

For instance, suppose you have a card with an effect like "the player with the most total resources loses 2 from a resource of their choice". Seems fairly simple, right?

Before you can start coding that, you'd probably have to break it down into steps:
1. Determine the player with the most total resources
2. That player chooses a resource*
3. That player loses 2 from the chosen resource

(*Most players would probably interpret the card as really meaning "choose a resource that they have at least 2 of", but let's ignore that for now.)

Already those 3 steps are looking a lot more verbose than the original text, and most people would probably prefer for the card to have the original quote than the breakdown I just gave. But that's still probably too abstract to actually code it. For instance, just step #1 is probably going to turn into computer code that looks something like:

var targetPlayer : Player
var maxResources : int
targetPlayer = null
maxResources = 0
for each Player p in AllPlayers
if (p.TotalResources() > maxResources) then
targetPlayer = p
maxResources = p.TotalResources()
return targetPlayer


(In fact, even that is a cheat, because "p.TotalResources()" probably hides another 6 lines of code.)

You could perhaps convert every line of that program into an equivalent English instruction, but you wouldn't want to, because it would be far too verbose. "Determine the player with the most total resources" is much easier to understand (for a human being).

But you probably can't use a computer program to analyze that block of code and determine that it means "determine the player with the most total resources". (Not in a generalizable way, at least.) Jumping to a different level of abstraction is complicated, and often a bit fuzzy; not the sort of task that is easily automatable.
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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Obviously I was talking about a very game-specific DSL, not anything remotely generic or much like a general-purpose programming language. And of course the language would probably be expanded often to be able to support new cards.

Perhaps optimistic though. I do not know. But it is frustrating to see the very long errata-lists and clarifications and FAQs for so many games that have large numbers of cards. There has to be some way to codify things so that there is never a question about how to apply an effect (and in what order and how to combine it with other effects). Of course there is always a risk that the effect is not exactly what the designer intended, same risk as with writing software, but at least all players would interpret it the same way (same as multiple computers running the same script will... almost always).

Getting rid of human language on the cards and just use icons and arrows in ways that every player has to be able to read might be another option that is possible somehow?
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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If your language has a hand-crafted custom definition for the entire phrase "the player with the most total resources", then I'd argue that what you have there is not so much a language as a library. The implementation still has to exist somewhere, and it still has to be verified.
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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Antistone wrote:
If your language has a hand-crafted custom definition for the entire phrase "the player with the most total resources", then I'd argue that what you have there is not so much a language as a library. The implementation still has to exist somewhere, and it still has to be verified.


Well, welcome to Domain Specific Languages.
 
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patrick mullen
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Writing mock rules is how I brainstorm an idea and find out which areas I haven't thought through enough yet. I typically will use bullet points and layout what happens on each phase of the game, what the options are, and as a design tool, what kind of situations I expect to come up in those points. It's certainly not a finalized ruleset, but it could be conceivably read by a playtester - it typically contains the whole game or at least points out areas where things are not finished.

If this bulleted list of rules becomes more than a few pages long, I know that I have gone astray somewhere, as it is way too complicated.

Card rules are always a problem. "Lose 2 from a resource of their choice" - for some reason I always interpret this as allowing me to lose 1 if a resource only has 1. What do you do if there are NO stacks that have at least 2 resources? Lose nothing, or lose 1 from a stack that has at least 1? If it is a co-op game it is usually not too bad for everyone to just have a consensus. In competitive games, these issues usually come up at the worst time, where one fights for the interpretation that aids them, and others fight for the interpretation that doesn't. And then you look it up and can't find anything definitive, and are stuck with hurt feelings for someone.

If the card rule is not that special (similar things come up a lot), it's usually best to include the rule in the general rules rather than relying only on the card. In the above situation, "When losing x from a resource, always choose among resources that have at least x if possible. Otherwise, if you are directed to lose x from a resource and that resource has less than x, you lose all of that resource." I suppose this is similar to the "build a library" idea.

I think dominion has done this pretty well - for a large number of complex behavior that emerges in the game, this sort of rules contention has been rare in my experience. And it's not because the cards are well written, but because the base rules generally handle the behavior in a clear and consistent way.

Another solution that can work well is to number the cards and have a quick look up that expands on potentially difficult wording. Saves the person a trip to BGG at least
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Gomeril Gnak
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The turn sequence is key. Use it to structure your rules, so players will find things as they need them and in the proper order. Begin with the victory conditions, so players have a chance to take in the focus of the game mechanics. Then add illustrated examples and never be afraid to repeat, referring to other paragraphs is for lawyers. I hate those FFG glossaries, they never give the context and force you to jump all over the place.
 
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Ben Smith
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I'd suggest just creating an OUTLINE of your rules, with maybe some brief notes in there. This creates kind of an inventory of all the stuff that is part of your game, so you can see how it flows and what's missing. It can help you think through all parts of the game such as setup, first turn, and special case exceptions and such.

You can easily shuffle around your outline, add more bullet points and sub-points, and so on. Once your game is final (or at least at a good milestone), then you can quickly fill in your outline with the full rules.

With EVERYTHING you make for your game, keep it super simple and cheap and quick early on while things are constantly changing. Rules ready for playtesters isn't necessary or advisable until you've played the game yourself enough times to get it fun and playable, and your first times with playtesters you can just explain the rules.

I do think it's very interesting the comparison between game rules and computer programming! I recently came to this conclusion myself. The rules are a way to program players to have fun (ideally...).
 
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Jason Roup
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I agree with an outline format to start with. Gets the rules solid, and then work with/hire an actual writer to add flavor and theme to your style. The fun games tend to have an element of story in the directions... make it interesting to read it.
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Miika Peltonen
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I started with notes, then wrote the rules. And they are still changing. My advice also is to have a good skeleton of the rule book but not to give too much effort on finnishing it, before you are totally satisfied with all the rules. I have wasted so much time trying to have all fancy rule book all the time.

After you are finished with the mechanics and rules... Make sure that also the games story line travels trough your rule book!
 
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