What Makes A Good Rulebook For Boardgames?

Game Design

To you, what makes a good rulebook for a board game? Do you like visuals? Headings? Lists? Component pictures?
Ed and I talk rulebooks since we are currently working on one right now for our game.

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Premium User7 months ago

Rulebooks can help and hurt a game. #Founders of Gloomhaven jumps out to me a game that suffered somewhat because the rulebook was unwieldy and could have been written better.  But what makes it that way?  That I think is the quest rules writters and editors have to consider.  I think writting the rules and teaching a game are similar in that there are different ways to do it and different styles of learner as well making the process not so cut and dry.  Here are a few principals I go by:

1. Frame up the end-game context. I have found that talking about how points are scored in the end helps a lot before going into other details.  I've seen rules and heard teaches that start with components and move toward the end but honestly most of that info gets missed because players don't know how they connect with the end-game.  It woun't be perfect describing the end-game context first, but I have found that more information gets 'caught' and remembered when rules start with this.

2. Walk through components with context in mind. Now that you've explained the endgame context the components will make more sense.  A lot of game have a lot of components so I don;t go into great detail hear but each component needs to be uniquely described enough that it cannot be comfused with another component easily.  

3. Walk through round structure with end-game in mind.  I think a good rule book walks through the round/turn structure in a sequence that mimics gameplay.  When players play the game they should be easily able to reference the rules and find what they are looking for because the rules follow the gameplay structure.  Lots of rulebooks jump all over the place or try to explain the rules with the components.  

4. Walk through turn structure with end-game in mind.  When relevant walk through the turn structure as you did the round structure.  These can be overlayed and sequenced differently from game to game because each game works differently in this regard.  

5. Keep things as simple and clean as possible!  This might be the most important piece.  Stonemaier might be one of the best companies at doing this.  I think they put a lot of time and effort into streamlining rules.  This goes the same for teaching the game.  Remember, you're not teaching strategy, just the game!  Examples are very good and helpful as are pictures.  

I am not a rule book editor nor have I written a rule book so all these thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt.  Most of my experience comes from teaching games and trying to teach fast, teach simple, and teach with enough detail to help players engage the game well (but not perfectly!).  Everyone has a friend or family member who tries to unlock every...single...little...detail...before they are willing to take their first turn.  I don't cater to these players but will give turn advice with a 'why' for the first couple of rounds. 

Hopefully this helps.  I am working on a game myself and will need to be thinking through these things soon :) 

Premium User7 months ago

Ooh what kind of game? I'd imagine based on the games you're into I would definitely want to play it!

Premium User7 months ago

The goal was to build a deck building, engine developing, worker placement game. It will take awhile. Once I manage a prototype I'll post a play through. Have to fit stuff between the day job and family donut slow going

Premium User7 months ago

Of course! That definitely sounds like my kind of game. What theme are you going for?

Premium User7 months ago

Developing the future and navigating the singularity when it occurs :)

7 months ago

This is awesome! Thank you for a well-thought out response. I am already thinking of some things I can change in my rulebook to help people teach the game. This is very good feedback from a teaching perspective, which is something rules writers should be thinking about.

Premium User7 months ago

Nice article! I think for me rulebooks just need to be concise. I hate rule books that drone on or repeat the same points over and over (maybe they're trying to tell me something lol). I do agree with the components listing as I always go directly to those pages to ensure I have all the pieces, particularly with used games.

7 months ago

Yeah, super helpful when getting a used game to make sure I have everything. Plus, I get to see the visuals and names of things. What is a character card look like, what is a chant coin? 

Premium User7 months ago

I will admit sometimes I don't actually read the names of them. Then when I start reading the rules I'm always like wait what was that again? LOL

6 months ago

One of the the things that makes a rulebook stand out to me is the setup page.

Make setting up easy.  Numbered pictures and steps.  Highlight or make bold the variable things people will need to reference every game play.  I.e. How many cards get laid down in resource pile x if we are playing with 3 people? 4 People?  Don't bury that information in the middle of a paragraph of text about the obvious things like "set the main board out on the table."  Even better, separate text box for that info.

7 months ago

Rulebook make-up can really differ among types of games, the message and the voice one is trying to get across. For the average game, a decent way I could simplify a good rulebook is having the following:

  • Content - This includes the rules, visuals, glossaries and anything necessary to get the reader to learn the game. This has to be on point and should guide and answer any questions the reader may have. I feel the best rulebooks leave no room for ambiguity. So be as detailed yet as concise as possible.
  • Structure & Organization - Once the rules are laid out, the order of how it's conveyed to the reader is very opponent. Organize the rule sections, make them clear and accessible to the reader. This could include a Table of Contents, proper headings and things like paragraph structure and spacing. You don't want to waste space nor do you want it to read like a novel.
  • Edit - Once you're organized, go through everything! Obviously this where you identify what is missing and fix any typos. To take it a step further, this is where the grammar, sentence structure and the overall writing is picked apart. Take what you have and work on the conciseness and clarity without sacrificing the teach.
  • Design - Finally, once everything is ready to go, give your rulebook the right layouts to help the overall flow. This focuses on the look and graphics that give your rulebook the right appeal. You want the reader to WANT to keep reading and the aesthetic could really push it over the top. Pick and choose which parts of your rulebook warrant some kind of visual representation and go from there.

Obviously every rulebook is different, but unless I'm forgetting something, this outline should cover some of the main areas of focus one should keep in mind for a good rulebook. Imo haha

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