The Importance Of Well Written Rules

I am now one week into my German course and I noticed something interesting about this attempt to learn German. I have tried countless times through many different types of apps or books and I never really got anywhere with them. However, I have gotten more from these 5 days of class than I ever got from all the hours I put in previously. To put it in context, when I first arrived in Germany last month I couldn’t go to a restaurent and order food, this weekend I had a long conversation about my first week at school. Albeit a very slow conversation with a lot of pauses to google how to say a word.

What has made this difference? Firstly this is the only time that I have had a teacher to guide me through the rules of the language, explaining each one in a clear manner. The way in which the rules are also thought have a certain flow to them. You are introduced to each concept one at a time and you slowly build up your knowledge. Through the clear explanations and well thought out order of the rules, eventually you get a clear understanding of the rules of the language. You might be wondering what a language class has to do with board games? Well board games have rules too and the players need a way to learn them.

The rulebook for any game should have the same clear explanations of any mechanic and also the same flow where any new rules introduced follow on from previous rules. A great example of this is the rule book from Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. This game teaches you how to play by actually playing through tutorial missions. The rule book teaches you all about the movement and combat aspects and then you play through the first mission. Once you complete the first mission you then learn about your character sheet and all about traps and doors. After 5 scenarios you have learned everything you need to play Jaws of the Lion and you can continue through the rest of the campaign.

Why is this so important? A bad rule book can turn a good game into a bad game. If the rules aren’t explained clearly then either someone might play them incorrectly. From this thread on Reddit about which rules mistakes completely ruined a game you can see why you might not want someone to play your game wrong. Another thing which detracts from enjoying a game is having to search the rule book constantly to see what to do in different circumstances, sometimes you can’t find the answer either because it is not there and you have to google it or it is in a section you don’t expect it to be. This is where the importance of the flow of information comes into play. Where each rule is in the book should make sense so if players need to search for clarification it is easily found (another shoutout to Gloomhaven which has this neat index to show what page whatever you are looking for is on.

The rule book is the first point of contact players have with your game, if they can’t understand them or if they misinterpret them they might end up thinking that the game is bad and will lose interest in it quickly. This is why it’s so important to get it right. For more about how to write a good rule book you can check out this video. Remember the flow and being clear in instructions when writing your rulebook or you could always just pay someone to make a youtube how to play video…

What is the worst or best rule book you’ve ever read?


1 Comment

  1. Rocky Marcus says:

    I’m with you on that Jaws of the Lion rule book. I was highly impressed with the clarity and production value put into it. Definitely looking forward to Frosthaven delivering; Cephalofair is clearly learning a lot from their past projects.

    I can’t name a worst rule book off hand, but basically it’s any rule book that isn’t well organized in the context of sitting down and playing your first game, and you’re constantly flipping all around, trying to figure out where the rules are hiding for the next term that just came up.

    Also side comment, the text in your post that links to Reddit, YouTube, etc is indistinguishable from the rest, so I can’t tell at a glance what is clickable and it looks like you forgot to put the link in. Cheers!


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