Poorly Written Rules = Everybody Loses

So let’s pretend that a game’s packaging intrigued you enough to pick it up and purchase it.  When you get home, you excitedly open up the box and pull out the directions.  And that’s where the enchantment with the game ends.  As you read the directions you realize that you have no idea what is supposed to happen in this game and you toss it aside not to be revisited anytime soon.

Sure, the manufacturer is thrilled you bought the game, but since a large portion of game sales is driven by word-of-mouth recommendations or playing games with friends this is not a good situation.  If the consumer can’t play the game, they can’t rave about it to their other game-loving friends!  Simple enough!

Directions need to be clear and concise.  Clear because the designer isn’t packaged in the box so the rules will need to do all of the explaining.  And concise because people don’t like to read the instructions; they want to play the game.  While clear and concise sounds simple enough, it’s actually a pretty tall order.  Larger manufacturers have people on staff that write directions all the time, but smaller companies have far less experience.  Still, there are several things you can do to improve your rules.

Use common terminology and stick with it

The fewer words you need to define for your reader, the better off you are.  But if you insist on using a special term, like you want to call your movers something specific like “geekles,” first define it and then stick with that term throughout the entire set of instructions.

Get to the point

Get the important stuff out first so antsy consumers can get their game going and then refer back to the instructions when they come across a question.  This also means that your directions need to be sensibly organized and have appropriate corresponding visual cues like text blocks, bold typeface and lines to make it quick and easy to navigate.

People like pictures

If a photo is worth a thousand words, just imagine how many words a diagram can replace in game instructions! (yeah.. this article could benefit from jazzy artwork too. I know.)

Have people read your instructions

In the last month I’ve had multiple games submitted to The Game Aisle that had instructions I couldn’t understand.  My testers read them and didn’t understand them, I read them and re-read them and still couldn’t tell you how to play the game.  This is a catastrophic failure.  Make sure you have people who are completely unfamiliar with your game read your instructions and play the game or have them explain to you how to play the game.  It will be easy to see the big problems, but it may take numerous people reading your instructions to pick up on the smaller issues.  Also consider who you are asking to read them.  Pick some game savvy folks as well as people who aren’t big gamers, you’ll be amazed at the differences in their base game knowledge.

So go forth and craft clear and concise directions; your consumers will thank you and so will your bottom line.


Add yours
  1. David McCord

    Just last night… an obscure little game called “Skullduggery” left us to make up a few rules, and trudge through some grammatical obstacles to figure out a few more. We had fun with the game, but clear rules rules have been nice.
    I have a copy of a “Freddy Krueger” game in my collection that is completely un-playable. The rules are useless, including the set-up of the silly cardboard vignettes.
    I’m surprised you haven’t gotten more responses to this oft-sited shortcoming in game development. Thanks.

  2. Emil Larsen

    Hi Kim,

    First time I read one of your blogs – after adding you on Twitter… and I must say – how nice to read simple and useful posts like this one 🙂

    I develop board games myself.. and I came across this topic as well. If you get the time, I hope you’ll take a look at my blog/company: http://www.suntzugames.com

    It’s always nice to get some fresh eyes on it.

    But it looks like you got yet another “listener” here 😉
    Have a great weekend,

    Best regards Emil

  3. Michael Kreidler

    I was trying out a game for consideration for sale at our store. It was well packaged and the art inside was attractive. It was a card game and I was surprised to find a number of spelling errors on the cards themselves (cards had a variety of possible actions) but the worst was the instructions. The instructions gave me no clue as to the progression of game play, how points were scored, or how a winner was declared.

    After some blood sweat and tears, I was able to figure out how to play the game. It turned out to be quite a fun little game. However, if I was going to going to carry it, I was going to have to re-write the directions. It wasn’t worth my time.

Comments are closed.