Wednesday 12 October 2016

Publishing Advice #14: How to Write an Excellent Rulebook

Imagine you got a new game. Before you bought it, you read and watched a few reviews. It looks like you going to have a lot of fun! The box is big and heavy! In excitement, you are quickly unwrapping the game and opening it to see high-quality components: thick game board, loads of cards, wooden tokens and miniatures! Wow, if the gameplay is at least half good as your first impression you gonna have a great time with your friends!

Next day your mates came around to play the game for the first time. So you are opening the rulebook, and that's how your great first impression is gone! You can't get through it, and everyone gets annoyed. You can't figure out how to play the game from the manual! So you are trying to interpret the missing bits with your team. You play, and the experience is horrible. Your game drives you mad! Rubbish, you think!

But does that mean the game was so terrible? Maybe it is one of the best games on the market? Because of the poorly written rulebook, you can't say. You can only say the rulebook is rubbish!


I am ready to state that the rulebook is the most important part of the game. Excellent rulebook won't help a bad board game, but the bad game manual can destroy the best game in the world. I know it is quite an annoying part of the game design, but crucial!

I have made this mistake in my life. Never again! I poorly wrote a rulebook in the past for my board game Dragon's Ordeal. A lot of customers contacted me personally, so I was more than happy to explain all the issues they had. I wrote a FAQ, and on the forum, people could ask questions as well. My mistake is I hadn't written an errata. I'm sure that some people didn't contact me and I'm afraid some of them didn't play the game 100% correctly. That don't mean they didn't enjoy the game; however, they could enjoy it more!

What can I do to make sure my rulebook is sound?

1. Do some research and read a lot of rulebooks from other publishers. Make sure you choose well-written ones! You can learn a lot from them.

2. Learn and understand the terminology used in the industry. People are used to some words and phrases. It will make your and customers' life easier, and it will look more professional.

3. Spend a decent amount of time writing it! Don't rush things. Even if you are creating the first version of the rulebook in a Microsoft doc, that doesn't mean it doesn't have to be good. Try to put everything together like it would be the last version!

4. Once you got the rulebook, don't be limited by it! Rewriting a rulebook can often give you a fresh perspective and new ideas.

5. Proofreading! Give it to a professional! Someone who has an experience in writing a board game rulebooks can help you to polish it and bring it to another level! However, if you feel strong, you can go away with doing it yourself [edit: from my last experience I'm confident to say that you can't get away without proper proofread! For the best results, it's good to have few people correcting your rulebook. Even if you are professional proofreader, still you can easily miss mistakes!]

6. Blind testing is the essential part! It's not only testing the game but a rulebook as well! Go for it after you have done the previous steps. Make sure the rule book is written well before you do that! Blind testers will tell you if they understand the rules, how they understand them and you will know if they are playing the game correctly. They will point out a lot of mistakes, etc.

I strongly recommend an excellent article Tips for Rules Writing by Seth Jaffee.

I hope my article was helpful! I'd love to know your tips on writing rulebooks. Please, leave a comment!