How To Write Clear and Concise Rules For Tabletop Skirmish Games
In the previous blog post, we asked why clear and concise rules are so important for tabletop skirmish games. Today, we'll discuss how to write them. We'll outline six methods you can use to ensure your game facilitates learning, flows nicely, and avoids ambiguity.
1. Use Simple and Direct Language
The foundation of clarity lies in simplicity. When conveying rules effectively, simple and direct language is critical. Avoiding complex or technical terms that may confuse players and employing clear sentence structures enhances the readability of the rulebook, making it accessible to a broader audience.
Boiling down and editing as much text as possible, keeping only the essential information, helps keep the language simple and direct. There's no need to add big words when little words will do, so avoid flowery language that doesn't add anything to the game.
2. Consistency of Terms
Using consistent game terms throughout the book will help keep players focused and clear on the rules and meanings. As you introduce more rules, consistency will become more important and instil confidence in the reader. For example, you could use the word 'travel' to describe simple movement. If that's the case, don't refer to it as 'move' in a different section of the book.
The editing process will help to point out any inconsistencies in game terms. If you are using tables, ensure all the contents and their conditions or abilities are consistent with the rest of the book. I've found that tables can be easily overlooked, so it's worth spending time meticulously reviewing each line to ensure everything is as it should be.
Self-edit as much as possible and then find a good editor who has experience in the industry. This is not an easy task, so to begin with ask tabletop skirmish game players you know to read over your work and play-test as much as possible. We'll talk about play-testing later on in the blog post.
3. Organise Information Effectively
The arrangement of rules in a logical and intuitive manner is an art form. Employing headings, subheadings, and bullet points breaks down information, making it easier for players to comprehend. Consistent formatting, layout, and visual cues further aid in quickly locating specific rules, contributing to a more efficient and enjoyable gaming experience.
Players will rely on your layout and formatting to learn the game, so it has to flow in a progressive and logical way. Each step must build on the previous one, and sections must be clearly identified for players to learn in chunks of information. I chose to start Population Z by jumping straight in with character and group design. Players will build their characters and then move on to learn the actions their characters can carry out. Then, they'll learn how to interact with the battlefield, terrain, NPCs and objectives. Finally, they'll learn how to put all that together to play a series of skirmishes in a campaign,
Learning a new game is a big undertaking requiring a lot of time, effort and commitment from the players. As game designers, we shouldn't ever take this for granted and should always be thinking about how we can make our games more enjoyable and player-focused. Formatting and layout are a big part of this, so think about how a new player will feel when they read your rulebook.
A page full of text is not interesting to read and is often difficult to digest. Bullet points are perfect when you have a rule with several conditions, and they help break up the text on the page. Line spacing, font, font size, and margins, all these things together create the player experience, so take your time with this stage. When you get the small details right, the book as a whole will work.
4. Provide Examples and Illustrations
Words can sometimes fall short in conveying complex concepts, and you can use diagrams and step-by-step illustrations to bridge this gap. Diagrams complement the text and remove ambiguity in specific rules. Line of sight is an excellent example of where a diagram will help convey the rules clearly. Our goal is to give players confidence in applying the rules, and diagrams will go a long way towards this.
When I learn a new game, I like to see diagrams for line of sight, interactions, combat, and measuring. Simple diagrams are easy for players to remember, and combining them with a written rule is a great way to solidify a concept. People also learn differently, so a good mix of written and visual cues can be beneficial.
Using photos and illustrations will generate interest and improve the visual appeal of your book. They help to sell the narrative and show the players part of your vision for the world the game is set in. Photos and illustrations also break up the text and make the book appealing as a piece of art. I love what the team at Goblin King Games have done with their Moonstone books. The artwork is fantastic and makes the book worth getting, even if you don't play the game!
5. Include Comprehensive Rule References
A well-organised rule reference section or index is a must for players to seek out specific information during a game. Categorising rules by combat, movement, or special abilities and cross-referencing related rules ensures a comprehensive understanding of gameplay interactions. This approach empowers players to navigate the rulebook easily and removes frustration when a rule cannot be found quickly.
If you can fit all your basic rules on a one-page reference sheet, you will provide the player with a valuable resource. Combine this with an index that covers every aspect of the game and directs players straight to the information they need, and you will have a winning formula.
6. Iterative Play-testing and Rule Refinement
The journey towards clarity and conciseness is ongoing, and this is where play-testing comes in. I can't emphasise the iterative nature of play-testing and rule refinement enough, and I have written about it in a previous blog post here.
Player feedback is invaluable in identifying confusion or ambiguity, guiding us to continually revise and clarify the rules to improve the gaming experience. The identification won't only come from the players, though. As you explain the rules and introduce players to your game through play-testing demos, you'll read the rules out loud and quickly pick up on inconsistencies and errors.
Editing and play-testing will take your game to the next level, and neither should be overlooked or rushed. It's better to postpone the release of your game and spend another month play-testing than to push for the deadline when you need more time. There will always be something you've missed, and players will point it out to you, but the more you can identify pre-launch, the better.
How To Write Clear and Concise Rules For Tabletop Skirmish Games
Clarity is king. Following these guidelines for writing clear and concise rules can create a solid foundation for our tabletop skirmish games. Rules that facilitate learning enhance gameplay flow and minimise disruptions, ensuring that players fully immerse themselves in the narrative and strategy we've created.
By using simple language, effective organisation, illustrative examples, and continuous play-testing, we can refine our rulebooks to perfection and offer players an experience that is as seamless as it is captivating.
I hope you've found this blog post helpful. I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the subject, so please join the conversation in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
Look out for my new game, Population Z: Welcome to Huntsville, launching in January 2024.