Bit of Background

I am currently trying to organize a comprehensive rule book for a board game I have been designing for some time now that is about to go into a testing phase. This being my first board game I've run into a wall.

The Problem

I don't know how best to structure the rule book. For instance, I'll be trying to explain how a piece moves in relation to the kind of tile it is on. Because in my game different pieces do different things depending on how they are positioned, this is quite complex. What ends up happening is I don't know whether to put the information under the type of piece, or under the type of tile, or under the specific situation in which the rules apply.

I feel if put the information in one place or the other it will leave the players confused, and if I put it in multiple places the book could get kind of lengthy, and scare potential players away.

The Potatoes

What do you guys do when you make your comprehensive instruction booklets to avoid this problem?


5 Answers 5


One issue is staring at this blank canvas of a rule book and not knowing where to start.

To find out where to start, first realize exactly what you're trying to accomplish:

Tell someone how to play.

I might suggest you show the game to a few friends, preferably the most interactive ones. If they ask questions, then when you explain it to another friend, you have the insight of what they may be thinking and the ability to answer just what's on their mind.

You will learn exactly what to write by sheer redundancy of explaining the rules over and over, and subconsciously you'll build a structure of your explanation that you could use while writing your rule book.

Hope this helps you getting started.

  • 1
    This seems really helpful. So Ill make like a few rule book variants with the information in different places. then ill have a few play test sessions with different people and give them the different rule books, and take notes on questions they have for each version. From here I could go back and make revisions based on what I learned from each rule book, and maybe combine the methods in the final version as best I can. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 19:05

I prefer BLUF (bottom line up front): first tell me the objective of the game (in one sentence). Tell me how to win. Tell me how / when the game ends. From that tell me more about the turn sequence. Describe what a turn looks like. Describe my options. Show me examples with pictures and special cases.

  • This seems to be a good solution for finding a place to start and work from. It could help with getting players to understand what it is they are doing from the start of the game, and work to achieve said goal. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 20:49
  • I agree totally here. When I do a rules explaination its vital to start with "you win by....." ie most points/cash, first player to do something etc... Then when your doing the rest of the rules players of got this peg to hand on why they are doing actions and not just what they can do. Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 18:15

What are you trying to write? Are you trying to write a comprehensive rule book? Or are you trying to write a quick start guide?

If you're going to write a quick start guide, you should walk a player through a simple but representative session of your game. At the very minimum, you need the following:

  • Setting up the game
  • The first turn
  • The first round (and/or regular triggers)
  • Typical events that may occur on any given round
  • Win conditions

Depending on how similar these are, they might be combined or incredibly short. For example, the first round might be "each player does the same as first player, going clockwise." But it might also include "at the end of each round, roll the die to determine a new monster to attack the heroes" or some other thing.

By walking a player through a game, you clearly define the things that are in and out of the players' control. Your objective with this guide is to get as close as you can to a video of an actual game.

If you're trying to write a rule book, this is a different beast. A rule book is going to be very dry and uninviting, but will be very clear about everything it says. A rule book should contain

  • Prologue about the game
  • Definition of each game element
  • Detailed turn structure
  • Legal (and illegal) actions allowed by the players
  • Legal (and illegal) interactions between each element
  • Specific cases that came up during playtesting
  • Glossary

At the very least, you need to be able to tell the reader exactly what the purpose of whatever document they're reading is. Don't call something a rulebook if it's a quick start guide, and vice versa. You might not even want to include a rulebook: just make the comprehensive rules available online - they're easier to update that way, and as long as people aren't forced to go online to play the game, you should be fine.

  • What I am aiming for is a full on rule book. Like what you would find in any other board game you would open up. I don't have the resources to make a video. I also Feel that putting the information up online would be counter productive to game testing because rather than being able to straight up take notes on the players reactions to the rules, I would have to try to figure out what there reaction to the rules are from there reaction to using a computer or a website they have never been on before. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 21:25
  • 1
    Most games I play do not have a comprehensive rule book. Settlers of Catan comes to mind. It has a quick start guide with a glossary. It does not cover every situation that might possibly come up.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 21:50
  • I agree with you on this. I did not at the asking of this question consider that there were two different kinds of rule books. I suppose that a comprehensive one would be what I am looking to create. thank you for pointing this out. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 22:02
  • I added the Comprehensive bit to the question to help others understand what I was truly asking. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 22:17
  • 1
    With that in mind, I should point out that the second half of my answer deals with the comprehensive rule book as well and what it must contain.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 22:42

This video from my "How to Write Clear Rules" course might help: Sequence of Play versus Reference Rules http://youtu.be/fEqtp0c540w A few other videos from the course will appear on my Game Design YouTube channel along with this video, but most will not. The course itself is at Courses.PulsipherGames.Com. As far as I know the course is the most comprehensive discussion of writing game rules anywhere. It's not a topic I discussed at length in my book "Game Design", which is first about video games.

Lew Pulsipher

  • 2
    Answers here are expected to fundamentally answer the question on their own, without relying on an external link which can go dead and make your answer useless as a result. Please edit this so it actually answers the question. Commented May 31, 2014 at 9:23
  • Granted, the answer could be fleshed out some but I don't think this is unworthy as is. The answer would not be useless without the links. Enough information is supplied (Title/author) to enable the content to be found if needed.
    – Pat Ludwig
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 16:16

A challenge we all face in writing rules is the extremely diverse intellect of the gamers that exists out there. I encounter people during field testing of my game that show signs of fluency within the first game where others look clueless, generally my observations have been, a player can get my game in 2 to 4 games where others will take 10 to 15, that pretty well illustrates the opening statement and all this is irrelevant to how well the rules are written! So when writing those rules keeping it simple is your best rule!

  • Agreed, but the question was about organizing the rules. How do you organize for simplicity?
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 16:46

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