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Writing game rules – a recipe.

writing instructions for a game

There’s no magic system or formula for writing good rules for your games. Each game has its own quirks, its own vocabulary, its own gameplay.  However, I’ve found that there is a general pattern to how you can think about rules. I’ll call it my recipe.

Just like a recipe it has a name, preparation information, description, ingredients, and step by step instructions to make the recipe.  If you think about your game rules like that, you’ll at least be headed down the right path. In final form, you will probably still want to lay this out with a proper graphic editor, but this will get you the substance.

So, without further ado, the following is a slightly annotated game rules recipe template (a Google Doc Version ):

Title of Your Game

Requirements: Number of Players (2-4 Players); Playing Time (Approximately 30 minutes); Age (12+)

Give a very brief introduction to the theme of your game. Any important set up or background story.

Objective :Short description of what players are trying to do.

Description of Cards

The location of this section might vary.  Are any pictures helpful?  Relevant card descriptions?  It might be easier to put this in line when describing actions.

To set up a game:

Include a picture of a setup table.

How to Play

Describe an overview of how the game works.

For example: The Game is played in a series of rounds. During each round, players can do x, y or z.

Or: During the game, players take turns drawing a card and playing a card.

Start of a Turn or Round

In games with rounds, you may wish to describe tasks that are necessary at the start of each round.

Description of Player Actions

If players have some choice of actions, set out what those actions mean.  Give each action its own paragraph.

End of a Turn or Round

What happens at the end of a turn or round?  Which direction does play continue?

End of the Game

Describe the end of game conditions.

Winning the Game

Describe how to win a game.

Optional: Example Turn or Hand

How is a turn or hand played?  Pictures relevant?

Things to Keep in Mind

Photo CC-BY courtesy of Flickr.com Ulisse Alibiati

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4 thoughts on “ Writing Game Rules – A Recipe ”

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Reblogged this on thebarclaymotive and commented: Nice and clear post about rules – which are often not very clear, but usually nice, except for when they give you a paper cut and when that … wait, what did the article say about being concise. Oh.

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Thanks for these useful guidelines. I rewrite the rules for many of the games I enjoy, because rulebooks so rarely work well for me. Usually this involves condensation and grouping, and I find it helps to combine “components” and “setup”.

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This is super useful! thank you for sharing.

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How to Write Game Instructions

Last Updated: December 28, 2022

This article was co-authored by wikiHow Staff . Our trained team of editors and researchers validate articles for accuracy and comprehensiveness. wikiHow's Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article is backed by trusted research and meets our high quality standards. This article has been viewed 243,269 times. Learn more...

You've created a great new game, all polished up and ready to present. The last thing you need to put in is a set of instructions to help others learn how to play. Teaching a completely new game to the public is not always easy. It is important to remember that your audience has no idea how any aspect of your game works yet. That's where your set of game rules comes in. Writing game rules can take a bit of time. But it's important to include detailed instructions of the objective, all the pieces, and how the game is played.

Formatting Your Instructions

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Creating Your Instructions

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Finalizing Game Instructions

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Your game instructions will be the first thing new players read, so it’s important to make them easy to understand and comprehensive. Write the instructions with short sentences and straightforward language, since it’s likely they’ll be read aloud in a group. Include a brief summary of how the game works and what the goal is early on so the players get an idea of the big picture. The remaining sections should follow a logical order, like having a description of the pieces first, then talking about how the play works, which moves the pieces can make, and how a player can win. Try to keep each section of the instructions short and focused to help the players understand what they have to do. However, if you feel like additional details are necessary, include a reference to an extra section nearer the end of the instructions. That way, the players get a general overview of how your game works before getting into smaller details. For tips on how to include strategy advice in your instructions, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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writing instructions for a game

Writing Rules

All those incredible mechanisms you’ve created are useless if players can’t figure out how to actually play the game. And the truth of the matter is that the clarity of your rules will make or break your game. Unfortunately, you can’t sit at every table and explain your game, so you’ll need to create a ruleset that makes sense. 

The following links will help you write a rulebook that’s easy to understand and will guide players to enjoy the game you’ve put so much time into.

More Reading

Intro to Rulebook Writing

Rules 1: Induction

Rules 2: Under/Over Specification

Rules 3: Terminology

Rules 4: Use Your Words

Instructions: A Game’s Gateway

Why You Should Write Your Rules Early

Playtest from the Rulebook

Rulebook Writing: The Good and The Bad

Making Your Rulebook Easy to Teach

The Limitations of Rules

What Makes a Good Rule Book? (Audio)

Rulebook Pitfalls for Indie Designers

Writing Rulebook Examples

11 Rules for Board Game Rules Writing

Rule Writing Tip: Cross Referencing

Include “How to Start” In Your Rules

Top 7 Tips For Editing Your Rulebook

Rules for making Rules

Writing for Skim Readers

Expressing Rules Clearly

Great Tips for Rules Writing

Making Good Rules (Video)

FAQs, Fiddliness, Redundancy, and Hierarchy; Musings on Writing Game Rules

10 Ways to Make Your Rulebook Awesome (Audio)

How to Write a Board Game Rulebook

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Rules Are Meant to Be Broken

9 Rules for Writing Rules

Top 6 Rules for Rulebook Writing

Following Rules Is Hard, Writing Rules Is Harder

Tips on Making a Rule Explanation Video with Two People in Different Locations

Rules Are Bad

Want to level up your game design skills?

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Infographic of rules for the Funny Feeling Party Game

When you buy a game and open the box, it's exciting to flick through all the cards, or with a board game, to admire the board and playing pieces, appreciate the details in the artwork and just soak up the whole ambience that any board, card or party game has.

For many players though they get to the rules and find that their enthusiasm takes a dip.  They want to play the game right out of the box and find it frustrating having to wade through rules which are surprisingly often badly written and unclear.  If you're multilingual and are playing a game in another language, it's even more likely that the rules will have been badly translated and while they may be hysterical, normally not in the way that the game designer intended.

We've just launched our own Fun Party Game in conjunction with You & Me Games called Funny Feeling on Kickstarter - a hilarious game where you have to guess which feeling a player is acting, saying or even singing and one of the things that we spent a lot of time on was how to write the rules so that they:

When you first start designing a game having written rules isn't important, early prototypes are often bits of paper and hand-drawn designs on cardboard and if you're play-testing it, most likely it's with yourself pretending to be multiple players or with one or two close friends or family members.

If you've created a game that you are starting to feel has potential then you will want to move onto a more professional looking game that you've spent a bit of time working on the look and feel of and I recommend that at this point you write the rules down.  When you're play-testing it, particularly if all your play-testers are new, instead of telling them the rules, start by giving them a printed version of them and ask them to pretend that you're not there while they figure out how to play the game.

This means that you start to get feedback early on about how to refine the rules, so you can ensure that they're clear.  Personally I normally only give out one or two copies of the rules, as in a natural setting some people will be 'rule readers' while others will always prefer to have someone else explain how to play the game to them.

Make a note of anything that players say and consider suggestions seriously.  Even if you think a suggestion is terrible during a play-test, thank the play-tester for it and make a note of it, as this encourages everyone else to make suggestions too and you never know, when looking through your notes afterwards, you may find some gem of wisdom, even if it's not exactly the one the player had in mind.

Rules for a murder mystery

If you're hosting a murder mystery game then this requires a completely different set of rules and a specific process to ensure that participants have the maximum fun.

See our guide on how to create a murder mystery game .

The emotionally charged party game - on Kickstarter

Writing the rules

Rules should follow a logical order, typically:

For very complex games, like board games with a large role-playing element, it can be best to allow players to present a simplified version of rules that players can start with so that the task of learning them isn't too daunting!

Images and diagrams in rules help make them far easier to understand and means your rules will appeal to both left-brain and right-brain thinkers.  For Funny Feeling, we created the entire rules as an infographic and received far better feedback on this than all the earlier versions that we play-tested.

If you'd like us to work with you to create an infographic of the rules for your game, which can including play-testing it, proof-reading the instructions and creating the graphic design for them, then we'd be thrilled to.  Read more about our board game design services .

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Thesis talk on urban biking by interaction designers kristin breivik and carrie stiens, how to write game instructions.

As we’ve been narrowing in on the mechanics of game challenges, I’ve been researching and learning about how to write great game rules. Here is a rough framework to work from:

NAME OF THE GAME designer, date, number of players, suggested age, average length

1. Make the narrative clear, outline the objective/goal 2. Materials needed, Equipment 3. Instructions for setting up, Preparation 4. How to win (winning condition) 5. Rules (from general to specific and special cases) 6. Tell players what they can do 7. End of the game victory conditions

The article,  How to write rules without confusing people , this forum , and monopoly  are helpful resources for writing game instructions.

One thought on “ How to Write Game Instructions ”

do keep in mind that most people don’t read the instructions that come with games. i played monopoly for years without knowing the official rules. it was more fun that way :)

if you must have detailed rules though (as you guys probably do), consider how you deliver them so that people don’t avoid reading them. i think you guys intuitively knew this because you delivered most of the rules in KO2W in bite-sized chunks as challenge cards, rather than all at once. this kept a sense of anticipation going each week. also if people know the rules are necessary for success in the game, they are more likely to follow them.

timed-release rule-delivery aside, there will probably have to be a ramp up period in the beginning where a big chunk of foundational rules get laid out. this is a challenge/opportunity for designing a clever system of delivering rules that isn’t overwhelming (like the monopoly sheet up there), but still makes it clear what the rules actually *are*. i’m a big fan of how many video games have a “training room” or “newbie level” for you to get accustomed to the controls, before you jump into the real game world. that way it feels like you’re already playing, before you start playing.

last thing: i mentioned game design books to kristin last week. the classic one (in the video game industry) is: http://www.amazon.com/Art-Game-Design-book-lenses/dp/0123694965/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323197623&sr=8-1 – and there is also http://www.amazon.com/Rules-Play-Game-Design-Fundamentals/dp/0262240459/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&qid=1323197623&sr=8-14 (yang has a copy at home that he can get for you)

i would really encourage you to leaf through at least one of these books b/c there is so much that goes into determining game rules. before you get to “how to write them down as to not confuse the user” you have to look at the game structure by rule and figure out “is this rule even necessary for gameplay or is it just a formality; does this rule add to the challenge or just impose an unnecessary on the player. etc” some games actually are completely founded on rules-for-formality (Dungeons and Dragons…) but others have very simple rules and are still very challenging to play (Go). different ppl have different tolerances for rule complexity too. so in the end, it all comes down to knowing what the options are, and optimizing the rules for your desired audience :)

How to write rules (without confusing people).

This desperately needs to be the topic of a GDC session. It doesn’t apply to most digital games, but it’s indispensable in analog game design, and a valuable communication skill in general.

writing instructions for a game

The rules of a game are the most important aspect to convey to a player. In non-digital games, if the rules are not understood, the game can not be played.

It’s important to write rules that leave no stone unturned; a player shouldn’t be questioning what something means, or unsure of how to interpret something (unless, of course, the ambiguity is intended). At the same time, brevity is key, and no player wants to read a tome every time they play a new game. The writing — the designing — of the rules is as crucial to the play experience as the design of the game itself.

I’ve been writing a lot of rules lately, interspersed with some digital design docs that will probably go nowhere. Regardless, the intersection of the two has given me some new insight into the creative process. Here are a few tips for writing clear, cohesive rules.

In addition to these rules, remember to use short sentences with low-level vocabulary. When necessary, use illustrations (sometimes nothing beats a good drawing).

White space is also crucial. A page full of text looks intimidating. Use bullet points and short paragraphs to keep the reader/player from getting overwhelmed.

Finally, don’t be afraid to be friendly! Unless it’s entirely antithetical to the style of your game, use a light-hearted tone with your rules. I’m slowly learning that seriousness isn’t exactly a staple of this industry. When the purpose of a product is to be fun, then describing it should be fun as well.

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11 replies on “how to write rules (without confusing people).”.

[…] wiki also links to an article called “How to write rules (without confusing people)” by Scott Jon Siegel. He […]

Hey man thank you very much for this helpful briefing. Just trying to develop a game and was wondering where should I start…writing the rules I guess. This was a simple and clear explanation. Keep the work on!

Excellent and brief overview of the rules writing process! As a graphic designer I would like to add that rules should also include some type of hierarchy to help guide players quickly from one section to the next. Bold headlines and using different type styles can help a player find a specific rule much quicker than having to skim each page for keywords and concepts.

Thank you I wasn’t sure where to begin to write the rules of a game my two friends and I had to make for Ag class.

This was absolutely helpful. I’m midway through writing a series of books, and I flesh out my ideas by making them real. One of these is a card game that I created as a pastime for the residents of my world. I have designed, printed and played many times with friends, and while playing I can explain as we go, but I definitely found, laying out the rules and intricacies in print, to be a bit…excessive? LOL. I’d hand the cards and board to someone and say “give it a whirl”, and they would come back with scared and confused looks on their faces. I hope I can apply and adapt what you’ve shown me here. Thank you!

Great post – just found it. Do you or anyone following this thread have a real-world example of rules that meet this criteria? Bonus of those rules are for a card game!

To much work sucks

These are very good tips, thank you very much Scott!

When some one searches for his vital thing, thus he/she needs to be available that in detail, therefore that thing is maintained over here.

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