I have previously written about rules writing in my enigmatically entitled article The Price of Magic, and if you want the lowdown on what I consider to the ‘Five Cs’ of good rules writing then I urge you to give it a read. Since I wrote that article I have begun working with a large publisher as a freelance rules editor and writer, an endeavour that has allowed me to analyse my own approach to rules writing with a little more care and precision.
I wholeheartedly stand by my ‘Five Cs’, but the games that I have been working on recently — and about which I must be duly circumspect — are a line aimed at children under 10, and so stand apart from the adult Eurogame ideal which has informed the notion of boardgame design that I have written about in the past.
Of course, what is revealing is the similarity, not the difference. One possible preconception about children’s game is that their rules must, in some sense, be ‘dumbed down’ to meet the language skills of the average child, and that somehow the games themselves are required to be not only simple but deliberately simplistic.
Children aren’t stupid, but they can be impatient. And if the games are simple, then it is only because they are designed to be quick.
We have been driven by that child’s sense of impatience to develop and define a specific language style that is both instructionally direct and stylistically neutral. What this means is that we are, at all times, mindful to tell the children what to do, what not to do, and very little else. What this means is that we have taken deliberate care to remove superfluous instruction and redundant text, and not to say in ten words what can otherwise be said in five. Less truly is more in this context, since a lean, instructional text, stripped of description and narrative, cannot help but be more readable, more understandable and hence demonstrably more effective.
And the revelation is that this is precisely how all rules should be written, including the ones notionally designed for us grown-ups, blessed as we are with our more developed vocabularies and sophisticated abilities to parse more complex sentences. There is no grace in complexity for its own sake, and the mistake is to imagine that we must begin with an ‘adult’ ruleset and then deliberately dumb it down for the kids. If we are even able to admit that it is possible to render the text with greater clarity for the child, then we must at the same time admit that we did a very poor job with the so-called adult ruleset in the first place.