Good Day Internet!
Today we’re going to discuss our top 7 tips on editing your rulebook. We’ve tried to tailor this list to focus on tabletop rulebook specific editing, but of course we can’t ignore good old editing practices. We’ll go over what to look for, and what you can do about it to make sure these mistakes don’t make it through to your final rulebook.
Use Board-Game-Specific Terminology
While trying to be as specific and detailed as possible, new(er) board game designers sometimes forget there’s common board game terminology they can use to simplify their rules. We’ve seen designers write multiple sentences on the step by step procedure on how to shuffle cards when the deck runs out. This, of course, is unnecessary. You need to recognize what common terms in board gaming players are going to understand without further explanation and then only explain what differs from that standard.
To give a clearer example of what simple board game terminology is think of the games you played when you were little: Candy Land, Connect 4, Chutes and Ladders. Those instructions are simple enough for kids to learn (roll and move, shuffle, tallying methods) that they became common board and card terminology in later years (they’ve also been around forever), so remember to consider this when writing your rules.
Avoid Unspecific Pronouns
You need to be absolutely certain when using pronouns (you, it, one, that, they, each, few, many, who, whoever, whose, etc.) in your rulebook that they can only be interpreted as referring to a single noun. You should always identify which nouns are within the sentence with the pronoun and in the previous sentence to make sure that pronoun can be used without confusion. Remember as well that one type of component (for instance, a particular type of card) can have multiple locations in game (in hand, in a market, on the board, in the discard pile, etc.). So even if it’s clear that the pronoun refers to a single game component, it may not be clear in what location that game component is (see our Tsuro example from last week’s blog). In general, it’s usually better using the noun or proper noun instead of a pronoun because then there’s no confusion or room from misinterpretation on behalf of the reader.
Also, don’t forget about those old editing techniques you learned in high school or other secondary institutions--don’t start a sentence with “and”, “this”, “that”; never use the word “thing” or “something”; that sort of stuff.
In general, we suggest that you don’t use comical or conversational writing in your rulebook. It usually unnecessarily increases the length of the rules and can decrease clarity (both bad things). Of course, it depends on the type of game you’re making though. Your rulebook should be written more as an instructional so that it gets the point across clearly in the fewest words possible. The only time you may want to include something like a comical tone in a rulebook is if it adds to the theme of the game. Even so, writing in a comical or conversational tone usually works better when you have a shorter rulebook. Players want to play your game, not read your rulebook. If you increase the time between learning the game and playing, your players won’t be impressed. Therefore, it’s best to stick with a tone that informs and instructs with authority to get players up and running with your game as quick as possible.
Write in Second (not Third) Person
You should be writing as if you’re speaking directly to the reader; using terms like “you” and “your” instead of “a player” or “their”. It makes the rules more personal and assists in reader comprehension and retention. If players actually see themselves playing the game when reading the rules, they’ll be more interested and involved in reading them.
The general rule for formatting is if you’ve done it once, you need to do it all the way through. If you put a component in quotations, you need to do it for every other component throughout the rulebook. Your formatting consistency is going to assist in players understanding what you’re talking about in addition to making your rulebook easier to read. The same goes for overall rulebook format--group things together (or put things near each other) that are connected to one another. Part of editing means considering flow of the rulebook, how much you have to flip through pages and how many questions can be almost immediately answered by the rules.
Have Multiple Sets of Eyes Edit
This is mostly to make sure that mistakes aren’t missed, but it’s also important for making sure the style and tone (as previously mentioned) is appropriate. Different editors like certain things done different ways, and you want to make sure that your editor’s bias or preference (or your own) towards a certain style or tone doesn’t conflict with what’s best for your rulebook. Every single person interprets every single thing differently--so although you might think you’re being professional and forward, others might think you are being passive and not explaining things fully. Basically, two editors is better than one.
Print It Out and Read Aloud
Both of these steps help to ensure you don’t miss anything in the editing process. As humans, we have a tendency to skim over words when we’re editing a familiar piece and that is magnified when you read off a computer screen and in your head. When you print out your rules and read aloud, you may notice you’ve left out a word that hasn’t been caught the first ten times you went over your rulebook. Other things you may want to consider when reading aloud: does it flow? Does the order make sense? Can you actually read this without tripping over the words?
Other tips to help ensure you don’t miss anything are reading your rulebook backwards or changing the font. These tips trick your brain into thinking you’re reading something new so you don’t skim ahead.
By following these 7 tips, you’ll be able to greatly improve the quality of your rulebook, as well as constructively critique other rulebooks.
That’s it for this week. I’d like to thank Allysha for telling me what I was supposed to include in this blog post (and for editing my occasionally lackluster writing every week). Next week, we’ll do a post on things that don’t require me to bother Allysha so much as she’ll be studying for her Summer exams ;)
Thanks for dropping by! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
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6/21/2016 02:25:51 am
Thanks for the tips! I thought I'd add that, personally, a comical tone really improves my enjoyment from reading the rulebook. Space Alert and the latest 51st State rulebooks are just a pleasure to read, which makes learning the rules a less arduous task. You need to ensure clarity first, but board games are meant to be entertaining: why then must rulebooks and rule learning be such tedious experiences?
6/21/2016 11:55:23 pm
That's a fair point. Assuming the rules are well-written then a comical tone is entertaining. However, a comical tone that seems to distract from poorly written rules is just frustrating. That being said, the rules I most enjoyed reading were from The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Although that rulebook could have easily been half the size or even smaller.
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