Rules for Writing Rules

Ibrahim Yucel

Analog Game Studies


“Rules are the building blocks of all games, providing all the structure and boundaries to which players consent.1 Yet they can quickly become the most frustrating aspects of a game”

“Game designers utilize the tricks of various forms of media including text, web videos, and interactive flash presentations to communicate the basic rules of a game. Three areas which make a large impact on making rules clear and easy to read are chunking, figures, and flowcharts

“William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler define “chunks” as the following:

The term “chunk” refers to a unit of information in short-term memory—a string of letters, a word, or a series of numbers. The technique of chunking seeks to accommodate short-term memory limits by formatting information into a small number of units. The maximum number of chunks that can be efficiently processed by short-term memory is four, plus or minus one”

“The proper number of chunks needed for any particular set of rules is a compromise between its subject matter and a player’s limits on memory. Complex games, such as war and empire-building games, rely on reference cards for players to remember chunks and their contents, since the game has an otherwise high cognitive load. In best practice, chunks are easy to find, and organized via lists and outlines”

“A great rulebook is one that shows as well as tells”

“Figures and visual examples scaffold the player, providing needed context to the rules and may show how a number of rules interact to create dynamic gameplay”

“Those who utilize figures, however, need to pay special attention to the design principles of comparison, framing, highlighting, and iconic representation

Comparison helps the user distinguish between states of the game”

Framing provides the context for the player, so that the picture is not just a series of unrelated objects and the placement of game elements makes more sense to the user”

Highlighting informs the player of key game elements they might otherwise overlook”

iconic representation is usually used in place of photographic depictions because of the increased clarity and (often) universality of the figure”

“Choices available to the player can be represented using a flowchart of the decision points. Rules are often misinterpreted around timing and sequencing effects, for which flowcharts often provide the best guidance”

Magic has developed the gold standard of effect rules: the “stack,” which means the last effect declared is the first to be resolved. Even with this simple rule, resolving effects can be very difficult to parse without a flowchart”

“A flowchart also provides the clearest visualization of how to transition between states in a game”

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