Monday, February 18

Rule book

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 As a result, the rulebook has been fairly simplistic, and for the last three months or so, quite out of date.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:


  • complete
  • up to date
  • well-written
  • comprehensive
  • illustrated
  • 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.


Sumeria rulebook

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!

7 comments:

Mal said...

Out of interest, how big a rulebook does something like Dominion or Race For The Galaxy have? And how many people do you reckon misinterpret those games' rules?

Might not be worth setting your own sights too high.

BTW, if you need a proofer again, any time, just let me know.

Jack said...

Hiya Mal,

Race's rulebook is reasonably large, can't remember about Dominion (I got rid of my copy years ago) but I know Thunderstone's is huge.

And with respect to the proof-reading, you, sir, are a king among men.

Thanks, Your Majesty!

Jack

CJ said...

Jack.

If you want someone to try and learn it blind, with no coaching then I'm happy to do so. Has Bad Boy played it.

CJ

Jack said...

Hiya CJ,

Good to hear from you, hope you're well. Tony hasn't played it yet, no-one down south has. I'm giving Terry a copy soon though, so you'll be able to play it with him.

Cheers,

Jack

CJ said...

The 'trouble' is that Terry learnt the game from you. If you want s blind test you need a group who only have the rules to learn it from.

CJ

CJ said...

...and I'm not scamming for a free copy :-) Get Terry to lend me his copy.

CJ

Jack said...

Hiya CJ,

I'm hoping that Terry will learn the game blind (he's not played it yet), as will Paul in York (who has played it once a long time ago before a lot of changes). That being said, if you can get Terry to lend you his copy, the more the merrier - thanks!

Cheers,

Jack