How To Play-Test the Rules of Your Board Game

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Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the sixth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

This suite is based on the Five Levels of Communication through Game Development, my own personal board game development philosophy. However, I’ve brought in Sean Fallon, the mastermind behind Rift Shifters and Paths so that you can get two viewpoints instead of just one.

 

Click this picture for some backstory!

 

Rules provide directions on how to execute activities within a game. They explain, limit, and clarify. Game rules are how we regulate the mechanics of our games so that they are consistent with the messages we want to send to players. Sean and I will explain further. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our direct messages on Discord.

This guide comes in four parts:

  1. What are some guidelines for writing good rules?
  2. How do you test your rules?
  3. Rules testing in action
  4. Advice from Sean

 

What are some guidelines for writing good rules?

 

Brandon: Once you get through the drafting stage of rules, it comes time to get very serious. Rule writing can be business-like, resembling technicial writing in a lot of ways.

Brandon: What are some guidelines for writing good rules?

Sean: Guidelines for writing good rules really boils down to learning the art of instruction and communication. I’d say the main tool set for understanding and wielding that art form is empathy. When writing rules, you need to clearly understand and feel how that player may be feeling in the situation you’re writing for. In some cases you may want to invoke a specific reaction, hopefully not extremely negative, but a reaction that helps propel that player forward so they can strategically use other opportunities that may come their way in order to continue playing the game.

Sean: The last thing you want to do is isolate the player so much that the game is no longer playable. Isolation and making a game difficult are two very different things, which is why writing good rules are very important so misinterpretation doesn’t creep in during game play.

Brandon: I agree with what you’re saying. Never write a rule you wouldn’t want to read. For that matter, never write a rule you wouldn’t want to read to a table of people who are halfway listening!

Brandon: When people feel isolated from a game because of its rules, there’s usually one a few things going on. The rules could be way too wordy. The rules could be way too vague. The rules could be framed in a negative manner.

Brandon: For an example of framing: there’s a huge difference between “lose 50% of your movement this turn” and “move 50% of normal speed this turn” even though they’re functionally the exact same. The latter just sounds better.

Brandon: To flip this, I’d say you need to make sure rules are concise, clear, and framed in an nonthreatening manner. For rules that explain, it’s really important not to make them too wordy. For rules that clarify, it’s really important not to make them too vague. For rules that limit, it’s really important to frame them as neutrally as possible.

 

How do you test your rules?

 

Brandon: With all this in mind, how do you make sure your rules are actually any good? How do you test them?

Sean: It’s all about how others perceive the rule. This is why it’s very important to test with as many people as possible that are brand new to the game. Granted, it’s also important to have repeat testers, too, in order to make sure the flow of the game rules feel spot-on. Still, it’s even more critical to consistently play with new people. The reason for this is because the first impression means everything. If someone can read your rule and execute the action on the activity flawlessly, that is a fantastic rule. If it takes them longer, this may be due to a couple of different reasons.

  1. The game itself is very complex, which has been known to happen as some games are specifically designed this way.
  2. The game itself is very complex, and that wasn’t the intention at all, which is a larger problem.
  3. The written rule and/or visual aid is poorly done and needs to be revised.

 

Confusing instructions help no one. (Source: Dawn Huczek, Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Link)

 

Sean: I personally have three different levels of testing.

  1. Short-term mechanic testing. This type of testing goes back to coming up with ideas and tweaking them, testing each one individually based on what has been written down.
  2. Private testing. This is where I will invite a specific group of game testers to test my game assuming they have the time to do so.
  3. Public blind play tests. This is where most of the rules have been ironed out and are acceptable enough to use during a prototype either in person or online through something like Tabletopia or Tabletop simulator. This phase is supposed to help catch and inconsistencies, as well as document any unforeseen questions that players may have with any of the rules.

Brandon: It’s interesting that you split your rules testing into three levels. Number 1 is the most interesting since that’s where you make rules that fill objective needs.

Brandon: At the short-term mechanic testing stages, you’re really just using rules to help underlying mechanics manifest themselves! This is to make sure the game is – on some fundamental level – balanced.

Brandon: Later, once you start doing private testing, a lot of balance issues start coming out of the rules. You have to tweak them over and over until the game actually plays well, allowing for different strategies and styles.

Brandon: The blind play-test stage is where clarity and framing become serious issues. If your rules aren’t clear, blind play-testers will struggle because they’re trying to learn without your help! If your rules are framed poorly, they’ll feel like they’re getting screwed over by the game when, from a strictly mathematical viewpoint, they’re not.

 

Rules Testing in Action

 

A photo of Highways & Byways having its rules tested at Protospiel Atlanta.

 

Brandon: You have laid out a really good framework for different types of rules testing so far. Yet this is all very abstract, so let’s tie it together by swapping stories.

Brandon: Can you provide an example each kind of rules testing from your own game design experiences?

Sean: Sure! Let’s start with a simple mechanic such as dealing damage. The thing to keep in mind here is that the majority of the time, we will always start to design something based on our own experiences, but once you’ve laid out the foundation, you must start bringing other experiences into it.

Sean: I started off with a very simple D20 type of system for Paths: World of Adia. This went very well with my short-term mechanic testing, but unfortunately, a lot of this had already been done. There was nothing new here, so I really had to dig deep into this one and start putting my own spin on things. This gets strange simply because the only way to put a true new spin on something is through the eyes of others.

Sean: I ended up resorting to a concept of taking MMORPG concepts and placing them into this D20 world. This completely altered the game and even broke some mechanics like dealing damage. The way something like the D20 system played was very slow, and very much meant for “theater of the mind” style of game play. By introducing this new MMORPG concept into a tabletop RPG world it dramatically changed everything.

Sean: Many times I had gone through how damage was dealt, and how it was taken. Where in an MMORPG world, that concept is very straightforward. Run toward the unit and attack or cast your spell. This was similar in the tabletop world, however there aren’t any beautifully rendered 3D visual models in animated focus. Here in a tabletop RPG, I had to seamlessly give both a “fast” feeling of gameplay while painting a picture for the player.

Sean: This was super rough until I realized that I wanted to create a way where the game controls most of the combat and the story can still be told by the players playing. This really was the best of both worlds. This lead to any damage mechanics being almost automated inside of a tabletop RPG – which is a very strange concept to think about.

Brandon:  It sounds like what you needed to test early on was how much you could minimize human interface, such as from a game master, in combat. At the time you were creating rules, you needed a proof of concept. To get into the meticulous work would have been silly. You just need to make sure it worked.

Sean: When running through the private testing phase we initially ran into some snags. Questions of “how do I know when a monster is attacking me?” and “who’s telling the story?”

Sean: I initially solved these with a sub-par “threat mechanic” that gives each player a “threat meter,” and the minion or boss would attack the player with the highest threat. I also made it to where each player would take a turn telling the story.

Brandon: With your threat mechanic, it sounds like you needed a way to resolve combat. Easy to execute and remember were your first priorities. What you initially tried worked okay for private testing in the sense that the game was functional, but it didn’t quite “vibe” right with your players.

Brandon: I had a lot of problems like this with War Co., too. I needed to make sure cards had written and executable effects – phrasing wasn’t a worry just yet. That fine-tuning – the efforts toward perfect balance, framing, and clarity – come later.

Sean:  Then we did some public play tests. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well at all. Many people were confused.

Sean: In the end, I had to go back to the drawing board. I was pretty much stuck, but I knew my concepts were great. People loved the idea but I failed to execute it. This is when I realized I seriously needed some help and another set of eyes. I started to scout out someone who could really help me put things in motion and help solidify some of these concepts I had.

Sean: Sure enough, I joined your discord server, Brandon, and that’s where I met Howl Philinish. He has helped me execute all of these mechanics, and then some, and really set-up a great backbone for mechanics like damage, who’s telling the story, and the threat generation system.

Sean: With that said, this means that we are now back in short-term mechanic testing and are slowly shifting into private testing.

Brandon: Public testing is so often where ideas fall apart. It’s often true that we need others to help us write clear rules since we tend to understand our own work better than anyone else ever could. We see our intentions and can never decouple them from our words. I remember you finding Howl through Discord, and I’m glad that happened the way it did!

Brandon: I’ve had so many rules go out the window through public play-testing. Nearly every Event Card in Byways got changed. I ended up implementing a light action point system to increase number of player choices. I’ve simplified Construction rules. I’ve reframed negative Events into more neutral ones. Public play-testing has dramatically improved the game’s rule quality simply because it’s not just me and, every once in a while, my brother.

 

Advice from Sean

 

Brandon: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of game design advice, what would it be?

Sean: I would specifically tell myself four things.

  1. Don’t be afraid to share your work and don’t be afraid to ask people to look at ideas. Understand that even if it’s just 1 person who enjoys what you are creating, you are impacting someone else’s life by your creation and design – and there is nothing that will be more valuable than that.
  2. People will only support your dream of game design if you talk about what you’re doing. You can’t expect to post a single image, never share it again, and expect that magically everyone will look at your stuff. You need to be absolutely consistent, and sometimes repeating your same post 1 – 5 times before receiving some kind of feedback or response.
  3. Don’t be afraid to learn and change your game design. People will always give feedback, but you as the creator need to understand that you need to keep some old and bring in some new in order to have an awesome game. This doesn’t mean go and change everything because some guy told you he doesn’t like your game. Look for a consistent pattern that is brought up by multiple people and then possibly pivot and change your game design accordingly.
  4. Understand your audience for your game. This is so critical as this changes everything you’re doing. From rules, to theme, to game type and concept, you must be absolutely sure that what you’re doing is targeting the right people for what you’re trying to execute. These two things must become a beautiful marriage. A marriage between audience and game. If that marriage does not happen, you will most definitely be forced to pivot. I learned this the hard way.

Brandon: Wow, I couldn’t have said it better myself! Those are some of the core messages of my blog. Share your work, don’t be afraid to self-promote, be ready to change, and try to  understand people.

Brandon: Thank you very much for your insight. Looking forward to sharing this!

Sean: It was a ton of fun! I really enjoyed this and hope we can do it again soon. 😀

 


 

Creating and refining rules can be a complex process! By publishing our conversation here, Sean and I hope to be able to help you create rules that make your game balanced, clear, and tons of fun.

In next week’s article, I’ll talk about the storytelling aspect of game development – the internal narrative. For now, please leave your questions and comments about designing and testing rules below 🙂

The Final 100 Play-Tests: How to Put Final Touches on a Board Game

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

Highways & Byways is basically complete. I’ve started the final 100 play-tests. This is a process I follow to ensure a game’s quality. This method may not be appropriate for every developer, every team, or every game, but it is one I like. I’ve done this with War Co. and I’m doing it again with Highways & Byways.

 

 

The final 100 play-tests start once I feel a game is basically where I want it to be. I start the final 100 play-tests after I’ve done a substantial amount of blind play-testing. I wait until I have all the art assets I need. I only start the final 100 play-tests when I need to test the game for outliers.

When I use the phrase outlier, I’m referring to something really specific. To quote my good friend, Wikipedia: “[i]n statistics, an outlier is an observation point that is distant from other observations. An outlier may be due to variability in the measurement or it may indicate experimental error; the latter are sometimes excluded from the data set. An outlier can cause serious problems in statistical analyses.

In English, that means that the more times you do something, the more weird stuff you’ll see. With enough games, outliers tend to balance each other out. That’s called the law of large numbers, but I’m not going to get into this because this isn’t Brandon the Statistician.

When people play a game, their expectations are formed by whatever happens in their first game. On average, the game is average. Shocker, shocker. But every once in a while, somebody’s first game is an outlier. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it’s something game devs need to be wary of. Outlier games still need to be a good experience.

The only way to catch outliers is to just play a lot of games. For some games, 25 is enough, for others, it could take 500. Considering where I am with Highways & Byways, 100 games seemed like an appropriate goal. It’s a big enough sample size to suss out statistical curveballs, but small enough for me to actually produce the game in a reasonable time frame.

 

This is a checklist I like to check off before I start final testing:

  1. Get the physical prototype ready. It’s too much of a pain in the butt to try to do this on Tabletop Simulator and you need data based on the real physical experience.
  2. Get all the print files ready and perfect aligned with the manufacturer’s templates.
  3. Check everything for grammar and clarity.
  4. Make sure all the components are good, especially in terms of accessibility (physical, visual, etc.)
  5. Make sure there are no broken parts left in the game.
  6. Proofread everything again.
  7. Create a spreadsheet to track the following: game number, date, time, players, length of game, critical stats*, and comments.
  8. Find play-testers 🙂

* For Byways: vehicle, start space, and spaces left at the end of the game

 

Once all the prep work is done, I start thinking about my main objectives for the final 100 play-tests. I like to keep it simple:

  • Play enough to catch outliers.
  • Correct minor mistakes.
  • If there is something seriously wrong, iterate again and reset the count.

 

It’s gritty work and it’s meticulous, but it’s straightforward. You want to put your best foot forward for both your players and your business. Players in the Board Game Geek age don’t accept anything less than very polished products. You need to stand out in a crowded market and you want to get positive reviewer feedback. There are both morally high-minded and economically self-interested reasons for putting yourself through all this effort.

It helps when going in to have an idea of what kind of situations could cause a problem. For War Co., I flagged about 50 cards I thought could have dangerous synergies and play-tested with them slightly more often. Highways & Byways, mercifully, is simpler to test, but I’ve still got some concerns. I’ll just spell them out here so you have concrete examples. Maybe hard examples will get your juices flowing for when you do your own hardcore game testing.

 

 

What if certain Start Spaces give players an unfair advantage? This one is pretty straightforward. In Highways & Byways, there are six start spaces represented by stars on the map. If one puts you close to every other road, that makes the entire route shorter. That’s a flaw in a racing game. If statistics prove one Start Space to be clearly superior, I’ll simply move the Start Space. I’m awfully suspicious about that one near Scranton, PA…

What if there is a first player advantage? Just about every game has some variation of this concern at some point. Highways & Byways is no different. Only thing I can do is test.

What if one Vehicle is stronger or weaker? There are six Vehicles in the game. Each one has a special ability. These special abilities have changed a lot since my original intentions. Like the class cards in Pandemic, your ride determines your game’s strategy. If one Vehicle has an unfair advantage or disadvantage, I better nerf that now. The only way to find out is, as you guessed it, raw statistics.

 

 

What if some Event Cards have overpowered synergy with Vehicles? All Vehicles play with Event Cards to some degree, except for Rustbucket, but there are two that I’m worried about right now. Stationary Wagon lets you churn cards in your hand twice as fast as other Vehicles. It has no immunities and the action still requires you to move less to use it, but – I don’t know – I could conceive of this being overpowered. On the other hand, Five-O lets you move four extra spaces when you draw a Distance card. Distance cards already tend to let you move more in a turn, so this can lead to turns of dramatic and extraordinary movement, although very irregularly.

What if somebody drafts a really easy route and others draft really hard routes? The drafting mechanic allows for players to plan their road trips to a limited degree. It’s possible to get royally screwed over and have to pick something way out of your way. You do have some limited degree of control because you can pick better roads and draw up to 2 of 12 that are just not working for you. Yet at the same time, it’s totally possible for someone to get roads clustered in one region while others have to go to multiple. It’s rare and Event Cards mitigate this, but I still have to test it out to see how fair the game’s drafting really is.

 

Testing a lot will soothe my mind. I want this game to be not merely good, but great. I want every experience on the tabletop to be amazing for everyone involved. That’s why I’ve got to play tons and tons until I know it’s fine tuned. Only then can I put it in a box with my name on it. Only then can I ask for people’s money without guilt.

Are you in a similar place in your projects? Have you been there before or perhaps think you’ll be there soon? Leave your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear them 🙂

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • I’ve started the final 100 play-tests.
  • All art is done.
  • I’ve ordered an updated version of the prototype.
  • I am play-testing as much as I can simply to assure quality at this point.
  • I want to be ready to print review copies on January 1 – it’s an ambitious goal, but doable.

How To Design the Rules of Your Board Game

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Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the fifth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

This suite is based on the Five Levels of Communication through Game Development, my own personal board game development philosophy. However, I’ve brought in Sean Fallon, the mastermind behind Rift Shifters and Paths so that you can get two viewpoints instead of just one.

 

Click this picture for some backstory!

 

Rules provide directions on how to execute activities within a game. They explain, limit, and clarify. Game rules are how we regulate the mechanics of our games so that they are consistent with the messages we want to send to players. Sean and I will explain further. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our direct messages on Discord.

This guide comes in three parts:

  1. Who is Sean Fallon?
  2. What is a rule?
  3. How do you make rules?

 

Who is Sean Fallon?

 

Brandon: Thank you very much for agreeing to work with me on this!

Sean: You’re welcome 🙂

Brandon: Tell me a little about yourself and your projects.

Sean: My name is Sean Fallon. I run a small independent tabletop games publishing company called Smunchy Games. I’m married and have four children, all of which are fantastic gamers themselves, ha! I really have a strong passion for both games and story as well as the experience that is provided to the gamer and reader. I’m working on a few different games right now that fall into three different worlds.

  1. Paths: World of Adia, a fantasy themed tabletop RPG.
  2. Paths: Temple of Ukro’Kaah, a fantasy themed dungeon crawling board game.
  3. Rift Shifters, a science fiction themed miniatures war game.
  4. Rift Shifters: Saint Albany 5, a science fiction themed micro card game.
  5. Town of Adams, a post-apocalyptic themed worker placement game.

 

 

Brandon: That’s a lot of projects!

Brandon: As I understand, this all falls under what you call transmedia publication. Can you speak a little about that?

Sean: It definitely is a lot of projects! There are quite a few of us working on these games too. Roughly 12 of us have invested a lot of time into creating these awesome games…specifically the worlds, game design, and artwork.

Sean: Transmedia publication is the model of publishing multiple different products of the same entity. For example: publishing a book, a tabletop game, a video game, and a movie. Transmedia publication, I feel, is extremely important when it comes to publishing any creative brand.

Sean: It’s very important to understand your goal and make sure it’s attainable. Typically with large goals in the creative world, transmedia publication will help you reach and accomplish those large goals. Many people dream of becoming as large as companies likes Blizzard Entertainment or Wizards of the Coast. Both of those companies used a transmedia publication business model and with patience and time have achieved greatness by becoming legends in the gaming world.

Sean: This is the same model we’re taking when it comes to our creative worlds and game titles. Though we are a tabletop games company, we are already starting to work on novels and novellas for each of these worlds. This will help us take that first initial step toward transmedia publication.

Sean: On top of that, we’re also creating two different types of games in the same world of Adia – Paths: World of Adia and Paths: Temple of Ukro’Kaah. We will be able to leverage any other world by doing the same. Rift Shifters is another example as we already have a wargame in development, as well as the micro card game. This is a very powerful model as long as you have patience, persistence, and endurance to see it through.

Brandon: In effect, you’re merging brand and in-game universes over a very long time frame, building both a customer base and rich, lived-in worlds ripe for exploration.

Brandon: With this in mind, let’s talk about Paths: World of Adia in a little more depth. Since it is an RPG, it’s very rules-heavy by design, correct?

Sean: That’s correct. Being an RPG, it is purely based on paper and pencil, a rulebook, and your imagination. Typically, unlike other tabletop games, specifically board games, RPGs will have these massively thick books that drive not only the gameplay, but provide the building blocks for others to create their own stories using the world and system provided.

Brandon: This means that your rules have to be easy to remember, easy to enforce, and perfectly worded for clarity when needed for reference. That goes for board games, too, but it’s extra critical in RPGs.

Sean: This is very true. Luckily for me I have a few of the other game designers on the team that will help structure those rules for clarity. Making rules clear to players is definitely critical in order to reach success with any game.

Brandon: So that begs the question…

 

What is a rule?

 

Brandon: What exactly is a rule?

Sean: In simplistic terms, a rule is something that is detailed, explicit, and understood within the activity that is happening. In this situation, the activity is a game. I believe writing a rule is very much an art form. Accurately getting the instruction across to the player, and having the player able to flawlessly execute on that rule is creative precision at its finest.

Sean: However, there is more to rules than just the written word. Though the written word seals the deal on what activity must be executed, there is also a visual aid that may be provided, and more often times than not, it’s ideal to have. This visual aid ultimately enhances the written rule and gives further clarification making a good rule, a great rule.

Brandon: In short, you define a rule as directions on how to execute an activity within a game. Rules can be written and are often complemented by visual aids.

 

Here is an example from Highways & Byways

 

If you travel the way shown in the middle image, you can remove the Travel Marker for the Catskills. If you travel the way shown on the right, you can’t because you didn’t travel the whole road in one go.

 

Brandon: To provide another perspective, I define rules as follows:

Brandon: The basic idea behind a game is the core engine. Mechanics are how you bring the basic ideas to life. Rules are specific directions on how you regulate mechanics. As an example, my own game – Highways & Byways – is about travel. This manifests itself as point-to-point movement on a highway map of the United States.

Brandon: Some of the rules that regulate the point-to-point movement are “you may move up to six (6) spaces per turn. You don’t have to move all six every turn, or even at all if you choose not to. You can move to any dot connected to the previous one.”

Brandon: Can you provide an example of what a rule looks like in your RPG?

Sean: Sure! Role-playing games can be similar in the sense that you measure spaces, but you need to sometimes add real life measurement systems into it. This helps define the action for the player. Here is a great example of something in Paths: World of Adia RPG.

Sean: “For every 1 square or hex on a map, that square or hex is equal to 10 feet by default, unless said otherwise by a CYOA campaign or Game Master. If you decide to take two move actions, that is 20 feet which equals 2 squares or hexes.”

Sean: This in itself is actually a very complex rule to understand as not only are we having to define the position on a map for a player, but also pin that position to a real life equivalent. In this scenario, it’s a 1 for 1 trade (“1 square or hex on a map will equal 10 feet by default”). However, there is an “else” statement in there defining an alternate path, “unless said otherwise by a CYOA (choose your own adventure) campaign or Game Master”. This lets the player know that the rule could change and be arbitrary in specific situations.

Brandon: And certainly measuring distance relates to a whole lot of different functions within Paths: World of Adia. That makes clarity really important.

Brandon: There are lots of different kinds of rules you can put into games, so it helps me to categorize them a little bit. I tend to think of rules as coming in three broad categories: rules that explain, rules that limit, and rules that clarify. Do you have any additions to that?

Sean: Coming from the perspective of an RPG, this rule could fall under all three categories you’ve listed above, so this may be more so a sub-category, but specifically rules that allow creative freedom. That is the very rule that all RPGs are built on. The creative freedoms that allow you to build a world, a home-brew game, or even your own rules and systems spun off from an origin system. That specific rule type then has its own sub-rule set that effect the initial sub-rule. This is probably why at times many feel RPGs can be very complicated, when in reality, there are just seldom explained well.

Sean: Rules recursion is a fascinating concept. I feel it adds a lot of the magic we hear and see when experiencing an RPG.

Brandon: Right, and rules sometimes don’t fall neatly into one category. Sometimes some rules become irrelevant and other rules become relevant.

 

How do you make game rules?

Brandon: When you see the need for a rule in a game, how do you come up with one?

Sean: Great question. That intuition really comes from understanding not only the feedback you’ve received from testing your game, but also from understanding the story you’re trying to tell. By story, I don’t mean just the lore behind your game or your character’s personality, I specifically mean why the game exists in the first place.

Sean: When creating your pitch to sell a game, your rules are weaved straight into it, which makes your rules ten times more important than originally thought. This comes back to thinking about your game, and why your game exists.

Sean: Here’s an example: “you’re a space pirate captain guiding your crew through space, and your personal mission is to board, loot, and pillage each space ship you come into contact with. Regardless of difficulty, it is your job as the captain of the Roger’s Skull to show your crew how great of a captain you are!”

 

 

Sean: In the above example, you’re a space pirate captain commanding your crew. Let’s say you run into a snag in the rules on how to board another space ship. You must then take that snag and break it down based on the action you’re trying to execute. This comes back to the initial thought of what the game is about, your sales pitch, and how this action would be executed.

Sean: Writing down multiple ways to execute a rule, and then testing each one in detailed theory can guarantee success. However, you must be careful when focusing on the details of a specific rule as you will often need to pull back and view the game as a whole to make sure all rules are working cohesively together to meet your vision for the game and provide fun, value, and a great game experience to the player.

Brandon: You can word a rule perfectly and wind up tossing it if it doesn’t fit your message overall. For example, if you’re the captain of Roger’s Skull, you don’t need to have rules that let you change the layout of the galaxy. That’s the external environment. That should limit you. That should be something you operate within. Now how you’re actually limited by your environment can come across in a few ways…

Brandon: “Each turn, you have 3 action points. It costs 1 action point to move 1 lightyear. A hex is 1 lightyear.” – that explains the action point system, limits movement, and clarifies that 1 lightyear = 1 hex

Brandon: “You can only move to connected galaxies, as represented by [insert symbol].” – limits

Brandon: And that’s off the top of my head. This is game dev improv class.

Brandon: “It costs 2 action points to pillage a ship on an adjacent space. Roll the red die to see how much loot you take.”

Brandon: Having too much fun with this.

Sean: I love that! Exactly, and maybe we could use specific symbols on the dice that display the type of loot you receive. Or possibly have the type of loot known and offer an alternative option to take, a different path to victory. Maybe you’re collecting red bands from the RedBand boys, and you have a special bounty card that asks you to collect 25 redbands, granting you “X” number of points by the end of the game.

Brandon: Maybe you have to collect a certain type of loot and return it to a pawn shop hex to get VP. As you continue to develop, you might find yourself tweaking the action point system in our example. Let’s say 3 is too limiting for number of actions per turn. You can bump it up to 4, or alternatively, reduce the cost of expensive actions.

Brandon: This is pretty much how rule writing works. Coming up with limitations to impose and ideas to test.

Brandon: Now testing…that’s a whole other story! Let’s save that for next week 🙂

 


 

Coming up with rules is an iterative process like other stages of game development. Over time it slowly evolves into a very meticulous process. That’s what we’ll talk about in next week’s article.

Testing your rules can be very hard, but don’t worry – both Sean and I will talk about this in more detail soon. Until then, please leave your questions and comments below 🙂