Sooner or later, our children must fly the nest and strike out on their own. My daughter is only six months old so, thankfully, that day is a long way off for her, but for Codename: Vacuum it's much closer. Until now, every single game of it has been played with my copy, with me playing and explaining the rules. As a result, the rulebook has been fairly simplistic, and for the last three months or so, quite out of date.
After 15 months of internal development, it's time for Codename: Vacuum to see the light of day. The first stage of this is to run it by a few of my key playtesters from my Reiver Games days: my friends Paul in York and Terry, Andrew and Graham in Bedford. Knocking up a couple of prototypes isn't too onerous: just a couple of hours per copy. The big difference however is the rulebook. If I'm sending them a copy and they have to play it from the rulebook, then the rulebook has to be:
- up to date
- with examples
Sadly, until a week or so ago, none of these were true of the Codename: Vacuum rulebook :(. My focus now is on getting it ready, so I can send games complete with rulebooks.
First problem is that writing rules is hard. You need to be both complete, clear and unambiguous and also concise. You need to provide examples of anything that could be unclear, you need to expect that people reading it will get the wrong end of the stick. You need to have good grammar and the whole thing mustn't look like a dictionary.
Making this visibly aged me
It's really hard. When I ran Reiver Games I had my friend Mal proof-read the rulebooks for me, and I got people to play the games from the rulebook and then tell me what they thought was unclear so I could improve that section. I got more feedback from people who translated the rules into other languages, and still at the end of all that there are plenty of people playing the games wrong or asking for clarification on BGG. And these were simpler games than Codename: Vacuum.
This first draft of the rulebook won't be playtested before the guys down south get their hands on it (they are inadvertently doing the playtesting for me :) ) and it won't be proof-read, which just makes me more paranoid about getting it right. It'll be light on examples and illustrations too, but it's a step in the right direction.
As a general rule I try to structure a rulebook like so:
- Front cover
- Inside cover: contents list
- Exposition: A brief description of the setting and a very high-level overview of the game
- Aim of the Game: What the players are trying to do to win
- Setup: How to get ready for a game
- Play: Rules of the game
- End of the Game: when it occurs and under what circumstances
- Scoring: How the winner is determined
- Acknowledgements: Thanks to playtesters, proof-readers, etc.
- Credits: Artists, translators, etc.
- Back cover: Quick rules overview
For Codename: Vacuum I'm thinking of adding a description of all of the decks and cards between the scoring and acknowledgements covering exactly what you can and can't do with them and answering some FAQs.
My aim is to get the playtest copies ready by the end of the month. This week is my quarterly hospital trip which involves four hours on trains, so I should be able to make some progress and maybe even build up a backlog of blog posts. But even with the train trips I've got my work cut out!