Ry Rice
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I was so excited to finally start to play board games (beyond Monopoly lol) and I was even more excited to create my first game. Ironically, as an instructional designer you'd think I'd know better than to make some of the simple mistakes I made while writing instructions for my game or at the least apply basic principles.

To help others be less like me in this sense, I wanted to share some good ole' easy to apply instructional tips for writing better instructions for your games.

1. Objectives

Consider the overall goal of the game, for example:
The objective is to [do something or make something happen, become true] by [doing this action or serious of action].

Keep it simple here, sure your game can be complex, but no need to scare your players off before their interest motivates them to stick with it!
Consider your objectives and goals on a broad/overview level, per sections within your instructions, phases you identify, and or specific actions that are played or are options for responding during play.

*BIG TAKE: What needs to happen? What does fulfilling this need do or mean for the player or gameplay? What's expected for this fulfillment to start or occur?

2. Consistent Terminology

Try to use the same terms to describe or be used when describing the same behavior, actions, results, etc. Debunk any possible misunderstandings due to common understandings. Examples are release, challenge, forfeit and be mindful of common associations these terms may have. I read "challenge" and I often think difficulty or something "bad," however a challenge may be a good thing, an opportunity to gain something in your game.

*BIG TAKE: Use the same words in different context so that they align with the overall concept of the game and make it easier for your player to understand what's expected and how things work or function.

3. Illustrate with Examples (with opposite if appropriate).

In the simplest manner possible, introduce the concept of what you're about to illustrate. Go back to that "bare bones" thinking mentioned earlier. Provide an example and note that often times, providing an example of the context can help to better relay your message. Be sure to express what the example means or possible means for the player or for gameplay (the function or result of this concept playing out as you've illustrated).

Point out instances where gameplay may not allow a certain action or rule to apply and what that means for gameplay. Sure, some instances will add edge to gameplay, but this shouldn't be at the expense of unintended or irrelevant frustration.

P.S. This is limited to images or words, illustrating should be presenting an idea. How you do that, will depend on the context of what you're illustrating, why, and the audience.

*BIG TAKE: Prepare your player for what they are about to consume and how it lends support to a specific action they'll take in the future (clarify why it's important and what it does/means).

4. Exceptions and Logic (reasoning)

Include how to resolve those rare, weird, or odd things that could possibly happen and how to approach or resolve them (or clarify it having no affect at all). Don't assume it will be obvious due to experience. Not everyone's had the same experience, nor a relevant one. And sometimes, common sense ain't all that common.

*BIG TAKE: Don't assume what COULD happen, WON'T happen and clarify how to address it, if it does.

5. Structure

As we become more familiar with material, we start to expect and understand what certain elements suggest. Material may be text, icons, images, etc. Examples: Material in a box, material in a box with an icon, material in a box with a different border (i.e. dashed, coupon-like border). Consider other structures of a less obvious visual nature like a list with bullets vs numbers.

We are quick consciously and subconsciously recognize patterns and meanings. This results in forming expectations or making predictions, which ultimately help in our overall understanding.

*BIG TAKE: Don’t unintentionally “contradict” your instructions and rules by neglecting to recognize patterns you form and may be recognized by your audience. Be purposeful in how you present content and what it intends to suggest.

One last thing: I strongly suggest that when you read through your rules and begin editing, you strip it down to "bare bones." Consider redundant items, phrases that use far too many words unnecessarily (see what I did there?). Also consider the terms you use that may need to be defined for purposes of the game or fall in a sentence or body of text with insufficient context to suggest what they mean.
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Adrian Pillai
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Some excellent points and a great reminder for myself as I am knee deep in drafting my rules.

Here are some other pointers I've gleaned from better rules writers than I.

1) never use soft instructions like can, may or should unless that rule is up to players prerogative. Better to just drop those words completely e.g. Players can take... If it's an important rule, use must, can't or don't.

2) if you identify your components at the start, name them uniquely with a thematic sense if you can. A token, marker and chit can be interchangeable and confusing, but a Location Token, Target Marker and Bullet Chit can help comprehension.
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Ry Rice
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elfboy wrote:
Some excellent points and a great reminder for myself as I am knee deep in drafting my rules.

Here are some other pointers I've gleaned from better rules writers than I.

1) never use soft instructions like can, may or should unless that rule is up to players prerogative. Better to just drop those words completely e.g. Players can take... If it's an important rule, use must, can't or don't.

2) if you identify your components at the start, name them uniquely with a thematic sense if you can. A token, marker and chit can be interchangeable and confusing, but a Location Token, Target Marker and Bullet Chit can help comprehension.


Very nice and #2 is spot on! Not only does it help to gain a better understanding but allow the audience to get “captured” in the game. Thank you for sharing both.
 
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Jim Kavanaugh
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Thank you for writing this! Working on my first rulebook now and this is very helpful.
 
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