Friday, 31 October 2014

Rulebook Design – Saga

By way of an intermission to my How To Design A Rulebook posts I thought I would have a look at the Saga rulebook – the ONLY reason I've picked on Saga is that Kris Marquardt (who inspired this series) has real issues with it. I'm not going to be critiquing the rules at all – this is simply a design and layout review, taking into account some of the things I've talked about so far in the Design series.

I'd like to caveat this blog post by saying that these opinions are mine alone, based upon a quick flick through the book and backed up by my graphic design experience.

Here we go then…

The first thing to note is that the Saga rulebook is 76 pages long (a multiple of 4!) and is stitched not perfect bound, which is an odd choice. This appears to have been a cost reason alone as the quality and finish of the cover itself is on the cheap side, as evidenced by cracking in the print along the trimmed edges (which you can see in the photo above). That's not an unreasonable decision if you don't have the funds but the main issue, as you can see below, is that with so many pages in a stitched document the rulebook bows and won't lie flat.

The other knock-on effect is that, the closer you get to the middle of the book, the narrower the pages are – it'll only be a few millimeter's difference but does mean that the absolute position of things like page numbers will drift as you flick through the book.

If you look closely at the photo above you will see that the pages near the centre of the book have been pushed a good few mm away from the spine due to the volume of paper in there. When the book is trimmed, more is chopped off the middle pages than the outer pages so the page numbers will get closer to the edge of the page as you move to the centre of the book.

You may not consider this an issue, but when you're looking for attention to detail, this is the level of detail that professionals will consider and reflects the effort put in.

We haven't covered…er, covers yet, but the front of the Saga rulebook doesn't present anything too unexpected – nice big logo, illustration of sorts and a publisher logo. The black and red creates impact and give you an idea of the carnage that is bubbling within. It's all starting to get the imagination flowing. It doesn't have a one sentence description of the game, which I would like to see, for anyone browsing.

Inside the cover we're greeted by a table of contents (not an index, as the title suggests) and credits/links page. All very standard fayre. Note the game description "Dark Age skirmishes" under the logo – I wanted to see on the cover and perhaps a touch more descriptive.

The background is a cream texture, which is light enough for the text to be legible, so that's ok. You will see a small Saga logo in the top right – this is where we had the navigation in our example. In my opinion having the Saga logo is of little use here, other than to remind you what book you're reading.

The banner in which it sits is a little odd. I'm not a fan of graduations, or feathered edges, on imagery as it always seems to be the go-to solution when you can't think of something else to do – I find it rather lazy design. In addition, graduations don't always print well and rather than being smooth end up being banded and ugly. I like the idea of introducing some of the red and black from the cover, I just don't think this was the way to do it.

How not to do page numbering!

You will remember me banging on about a rulebook being a piece of communication. This is where the only real design 'crime' is to be found – page numbers. The decoration for the page numbers drowns out the numbers themselves to the point of being almost unreadable, definitely a case of style over function. Nice idea, but it doesn't help the reader at all. In addition, the tinted images in the background around the page numbers interferes with text sitting on top of it. This too becomes very difficult to read and is completely unnecessary. Again, not very helpful to the reader.

Flicking further on through the book you can see the established design elements that I talked about in the last post (apologies for the shockingly blurred image!).

The section title is in a large, decorative font set in plenty of space so you know you're into a new section of the book. The titles are in the same all-cap font as the Saga logo, with the sub-headings in a bold italic version of the very clean bodycopy font.

You will noticed pull-out boxes dotted around this particular spread showing various dice-related aspects of the game. They have a rather elaborate scroll background image which is a little on the heavy side, but breaks up the columns of text quite well. Where the text for this particular page has finished short of the end of the column, they've dropped in a filler image – a viking miniature – alas it's kind of floating in the space. I'd be tempted to move it nearer to the text above, or replace with a more subtle image (this second option would probably clash with the page number background though).

You will note how the text columns start about a fifth of the way down the page. Rather than being a waste of space this is a good thing. It keeps everything well clear of the red/black banner at the top and ensures maximum impact for the section header. They should have done something similar at the foot of the page to stay clear of the page number illustrations.

This final image – I've blurred the text considerably so I don't get into trouble for showing the rules – is another interesting layout. I like the half-page image of the tabletop on the left. It injects some colour into the spread and gets the viewer excited at the prospect of playing. Alas, it seems to be in an odd place from the perspective of the copy. In the very left column we have a title, followed by a single line at the bottom of the column. This is not very visually pleasing and not good practice. I would have been tempted to move this title to the top of the next column, or make the image smaller and bring the sub-title and first paragraph of text from column two back to column one.

The 'Ragnar says…' boxes are fun and highlight a more practical perspective to rules, unfortunately when combined with the info panel beneath and the two scroll/dice boxes it's making the page look very broken up. I wonder if they were short of text for this particular spread and needed to pad things out.

Beyond the rules, army lists and missions, at the very back of the book, you will find a reference sheet and tokens to cut out – all useful stuff.

And that's your lot for today!

A bit of a quick insight into how I see rulebooks when I pick them up – I can't count the number of rulesets I've dismissed due to poor layout or execution – and this one is not so bad in my opinion.

There are things I would do differently for sure and I'd like to see the format and finishing of the print improved to justify the price they're asking. Despite getting the Saga boards included with the rulebook, I think £25 for this is too much. For that I'd expect a perfect-bound book with a matt laminated cover and a few more pages.

To Kris, I can see where you're coming from. The bottom third of the page design really niggles me and I'm not a fan of the banner at the top. The middle bit is ok if a little cluttered, but it's not the worst offender I've seen – the second edition of Infinity saw me put the book down 10 pages in and never look at it again as it was so busy it hurt my head to read.

More soon…

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Templates

I've said it several times already in this series, the thing to remember when designing something like a wargame rulebook is that it is a piece of communication. As such it needs to be clear, easy to understand and easy to navigate.

The only challenge you want to pose for your readers is when they play the game itself – reading the rulebook shouldn't be a challenge as it'll put potential gamers off before they've started. White space is your friend in achieving this goal, so don't be afraid of spacing things out on a page if it means it's easier to follow what's going on. Keep these things in mind as you map out the templates for your rulebook.

First of all, every document needs to be based around a grid. Why? Well, it keeps everything neat and tidy and means that things (like page numbers) are in the same place on a page. Repetition like this breeds familiarity, which in turn means that your document will be much easier to navigate for readers.

If your final document will be a PDF or in Word the pages will only really be seen individually, but if you're having your rulebook printed you need to think in double-page spreads. Our hypothetical book will be created as spreads, so you just need to scale things back if working in individual pages.

Keep text well away from any edges, neatly organised into columns. Most documents will be based upon a 2-column grid, but by having 4 or 6 columns you give yourself more flexibility with the design… if you can restrain yourself and not let things get out of control.

Double-page spread with grid established

For our example rulebook – the hypothetical Humans vs Aliens – I'm using a 6-column grid on my A4 page, with 20mm borders on the left and right edges and 25mm on the top and bottom. I apologise now for the folks that use inches – even though I created the Aetherium rulebook using inches, I think quicker and more accurately in metric!

I've kept the column gutters quite generous at 8mm, allowing breathing space when the text does get heavy.

Next we're going to establish our basic navigation and text hierarchy.

Our double-page spread is populated with navigation and template text

For the purposes of our template I'm using the font Helvetica Neue, as it's clean and simple which is what I want at this stage to explain what I'm thinking. You'll notice it's all looking very plain at the moment, but we'll soon inject some life into it – we need to establish some layout rules first.


The navigation on the spread is made up of three elements:
• The page numbers, which I have positioned in the bottom left and right
• Section navigation, to the top right
• External links, along the bottom, to get people involved in the social media or to visit the website.

Most languages read from left to right, so our navigation is geared around this. The section navigation is to the top-right so it's easily spotted as people flick through the book to find the section they want. Similarly, the page number to the bottom-right supports this searching – the page number bottom-left is in case people flick through the book from back to front.

By adding links to websites and social media on every page you have a good chance that the reader will visit these places to find out more information or others who are interested in your rules.

Text Hierarchy

I have six levels of text established in the above example:

• Section Heading – big and bold so people know when they've moved into a new section.

• Main title – to establish areas such as the "Movement phase" and "Shooting phase" of the rules.

• Sub headings – allows you to break up areas under a title into things such as "making a charge move" or "shooting into cover".

• Body copy – the bulk of the text in your document will be at this size.

• Example text – when you wish to pick out an example within the body copy, italics make a good vehicle for this.

• Notes – like the example text but with added gravitas… you really need people to read this.

Elsewhere in the rulebook you're also likely to have tiny text for things such as copyright text, credits, etc. but these are the main type sizes you'll be using. Now that they're established, it makes life a lot easier as you start to design your individual pages.

Our double-page spread showing the grid (pink) and guidelines (blue)

That's our template stage almost done!

So now we have everything in place we need to layout the actual text and decide what visuals (if any) we're going to add to the pages.

To be continued…

Thursday, 23 October 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Preparation

So I started this series earlier in the week with a bit of an introduction. The underlying premise is that a rulebook is basically a piece of communication and like any other form of communication needs to be clear and concise to be effective. But before you go near a computer you need to decide a few things.

First of all, what do you want your rulebook to be? Do you want a no-frills, rules-only booklet or are you looking to create a lavish window into the world you've created with full colour imagery, background stories – the works?

Next you need to map out the rulebook and make a list of what you want to include and in what order.

7th Voyage contents page

What do you want to include?

• Table of Contents
You're almost certainly going to need one of these so that readers can see what's included and where they might find a particular section they're looking for.

• The Rules
Obviously you're going to need the rules themselves, but how will they be broken down into sections to make it easier to read? Will you want an introduction to the rules to explain the items needed to play and some of the terms used within the rules? 

Zombicide missions

What about any extras?

• Filler Text
Do you want to include any historic background or stories to help flesh out the world in which your rules take place. This can often be used to draw the reader in more and get their imagination going, make them more enthusiastic to play the game. Do you want to have extensive explanations of the factions involved – remember, even with historical gaming not everyone will know the background or motivations.

• Scenarios
You may want to have a few sample missions or scenarios included in your ruleset and your rules may require army lists for any factions or characters involved.

• Miniatures
Do you want to include any miniature building or painting guides? Showing off the ideal game can do wonders to capture the viewers imagination.

• Plus…
Finally, do you want to include any cards or tokens to print/cut out? Any credits, references or links to additional resources? What about an index or glossary? Any maps? Reference sheets?

How many pages?

Once you have your batting list of things to include you need to decide how much space each element will take up. If you're creating a ruleset that will only be available as a downloadable PDF or Word doc then you don't need to worry about the number of pages as much. If you intend you have your rules printed commercially then this will be a big consideration.

Whilst the cost of printing does usually go up if you have more pages, it's often not as much as you may think and there may be instances where more pages will actually cost you no more, or even less!!

The number of pages (including front and back covers) needs to be divisible by four, regardless of whether your book will be saddle-stitched (stapled) or perfect-bound (glued into the spine). I won't go into a lengthy explanation about why this is, but it's part of the production process. Therefore, if you end up with 97 pages you're either going to have to lose a page (to make it 96) or add three more (to make it a round 100).

Careful planning at this stage will save a lot of wasted time and extra work re-doing pages.

Example pagination document (yet to be completed) for a hypothetical game Humans vs Aliens

In my industry, for any brochure or catalogue in excess of 100 pages we would create a pagination document. This is basically a spreadsheet that records the intended content of every page within the book. This way you can always tell how many pages you have left and where the gaps are in your content. You'll be able to tell what's going to be on a left or right hand page and how many pages each section of the rulebook will be. This pagination document becomes your master reference for the project and is constantly updated as things change. Everyone in the early part of the process refers to it so it must be correct. You may find it useful creating one, even if your rulebook is less than 100 pages – it became a very important tool in the creation of the Aetherium rulebook, that's for sure!

So at this point you have your pagination document, you just need to make sure you have content for all these pages. Ideally you want to have a final version of your rules, or as close as you can – don't worry about photos or pictures yet.

Gather your notes together and let's look at the design of your rulebook!

To be continued…

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Introduction

Inspired by a couple of posts I read last week by Kris Marquardt and András Szilvásy about the layout of gaming rulebooks, I thought I would do a series of posts about the topic. Both bloggers opened my eyes and gave me a different opinion to one that I thought was the norm. I've had a few days (on holiday) to think about how our opinions seem to be at odds on the surface, but actually we're all striving for the same result.

As well as being a collector of rulebooks over the years (I mostly do PDFs nowadays) I recently combined job and hobby by designing the Aetherium rulebook for Anvil Eight Games. This is obviously where you have to put ideas into practice and I'll be going through my process in detail at a later stage.

At the end of the day, as with all graphic design, the rulebook is a piece of communication, trying to get several messages across to the reader. Some of those messages are obvious (how to play the game), some of them less so (establishing brand recognition and brand equity). Whether or not these messages get across and have the desired outcome is down to the visual communication quality of the rulebook and as a consequence the graphic designer (and any of the other cooks that have a stir of the process).

Different companies will have different starting points and different messages to deliver – a start up games company will have a different strategy and objectives than a very established games company and will have to go about things in a different way. In addition there will be individuals wanting to dip their toe in the water and put together some rules they created in Word, so they can simply share them with the world. All will have elements in common and (should) follow basic design rules to ensure effective message delivery.

My plan is to begin by breaking down the anatomy of a rulebook, giving some of my observations both as a gamer and a designer. I'm not going to go through a rack of available books and crit them – we'll be working from a purely hypothetical perspective for the most part. Hopefully I can open your eyes to a few things that go into the process and between us we can (hypothetically) design the best rulebook in the world!

In the meantime, have a think about the best and worst rulebooks you've read and let me know why you like or hate them!

To be continued…

Monday, 13 October 2014

Nurgle Price Nonsense…

I had heard rumours for a few weeks now about a whole set of Nurgle releases as part of the Warhammer "End Times".

Plastic Nurgle models – how perfect!

Always on the lookout for new additions to either the 40k Death Guard or Blood Bowl Nurgle team, when I finally got to see the above photo of the Scions of the Last Plague I thought wayhay, fantastic!!

Then I saw the price tag…

I'm sorry but I find £83 for 11 plastic models extortionate in the extreme. The models are nice but not £83 worth of nice. I appreciate that they're Ogre sized too but even so, the Ogre battalion box set contains 16 models for £65, the extra £20 cannot be justified to me.

So, I'll save my money, thank you very much, and put it towards a plastic castle instead ;)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Plastic Scenery Review - part 3

So here we are with my final look at Tabletop Workshop's Monastic Scenery set. You can find part one here – Chapel – and part two here – Cottage, Barn and Stable.

Today I have photos of GW miniatures alongside the buildings, to give you lovely folks an idea of how they compare in scale. As you can see from the images, there's not a lot in it – certainly nothing to cause concern or that looks just silly.

Externally, I think the fact that the base of the building is a similar depth to the miniatures base helps the scale difference. The doors are a little on the skinny side, but not a lot. It's all looking shiny from this side!

On the inside of the chapel, it all looks good. The height of the door means that models would theoretically have to lower their heads to pass through, but it doesn't look out of place.

Similarly, the stable door is looking on the small side now that the miniature base goes against the scale difference, but not enough to cause concern. The window height of the stalls is pretty perfect.

I have to say that the difference is rather negligible – certainly a lot less than I thought it would be. I didn't have any other miniature ranges to compare but I think you can get an idea from these GW models.

The other query I had was the possibility of removing doors so that they could be opened/closed rather than a static part of the wall section. Looking at these close-up images of the stable door I have to say that I think it's a 50:50 project. I think for both this and the chapel, it would be possible to remove the door section, though you would destroy the door in the process.

In the case of the stable, I think removing the door would compromise the strength of the wall section as the door frame is quite thin. This could be negated somewhat by ensuring the wall section was glued permanently in place.

The wall sections are quite thick, so it will take some effort to remove the door if that's the goal.

I also have to point out that I said in the last review that the walls were very smooth. I have since noticed that there is texture on these wall sections, albeit subtle (you can just make it out on some of the stable images above). It is enough for a colour wash to pick up on though, so you would get tone variation in these sections.

Let's get down to 'brass tacks' here…

These kits are bloody awesome, even more so when bought in bundles as you get massive savings. If you're looking for an alternative (or significant improvement) to MDF or resin for your scenery you will not get better than this – the only thing better is bespoke-made terrain which takes hours and/or costs a fortune. The only thing comparable to this is the GW plastic terrain, which whilst excellent is extortionate in price and drowning in skulls. This stuff has turned my head and I'm very excited to see what Tabletop Workshop capable of in the future.

Stop faffing and go buy some already…you know you want to!!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Plastic Scenery Review - part 2

I'm currently reviewing Tabletop Workshop's Monastic Scenery set, which I got hold of at the weekend. You can read part 1 here, which includes the rather lovely chapel piece.

Next on the list is the Medieval Cottage. It follows a similar style to the chapel – the pieces are loose in the box and the instructions are printed on the inside of the lid. There are six pieces that fit together exactly the same way that the chapel does.

It took a similar 10 seconds to build the cottage and the scale is perfect for my 28mm models.

Inside is nicely detailed, though I'm not sure my villagers could afford stone flooring (all these kits use the same floor piece). The side walls are quite low compared to the chapel, which makes access much easier without the need to remove a wall.

As you know I already own a 4Ground cottage, so was interested to see how they compare. As you can see there's not a lot in it. The 4Ground cottage is a little taller (the side walls certainly are) and the door opens. The TW plastic has more detail across the board but I much prefer the 'teddy fur' roof to the plastic one, which looks a bit too 'soft' and plastic and not as real. I may buy some fur and stick it over the plastic to try and match the 4Ground style. The walls in between the batons of the TW cottage are very smooth – too smooth – so I will have to employ my liquid greenstuff technique again to add some texture.

Having said all that the TW cottage is still a fantastic kit and well worth a look.

The Stable kit uses many of the same pieces as the Cottage – in fact only the walls are different. It's a clever idea to save on production costs but does mean that your buildings are the same size, which is a bit of a shame.

The new wall pieces are very detailed, as I'm learning to expect from TW, with tools leaning up agains the batons. One side is quite open which gives some great cinematic opportunities with archers.

Scale is obviously identical to the other pieces and again it's a lovely bit of kit.

The Barn kit is virtually identical to the Stable, with only a single wall different.

The same tools lean against the wall as in the Stable, but this time we have a double door front. This kit more than any other could have done with opening doors. I'm not sure how much of an extra expense it would have been, but it did feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. 

Also, the Barn being the same size as the Cottage didn't feel quite right. However, TW have managed to squeeze three building out of fundamentally the same kit so that is a major bonus.

Together, as a whole, the Monastic set sits together very well. Once painted and a bit of scenery added it will look rather stunning rather quickly. The set of four buildings came in at £50 with free P&P – that's just £12.50 each!

They all snap together very easily and have plenty of detail to make painting a breeze and a joy. As you can see my Citadel trees sit comfortably alongside them as do the 4Ground buildings so it's a win on every front.

The one thing that's got me frothing now is… if this is how good the small buildings are, how stunning is the castle going to be?!!

Next post I'll try and get some photos of the buildings next to slightly different scale models – GW Fantasy, Reaper, Darksword, etc.

Monday, 6 October 2014

TW Plastic Monastic Scenery Review - part 1

For some reason our postman decided to leave a red card through the door, rather than leave my parcel with neighbours as he usually does. This meant three days of me frothing at the prospect of my new Tabletop Workshop plastic terrain, without being able to collect them. Finally on Saturday they were in my hands.

They came in a rather large brown box packed with green 'wotsits' making the whole thing rather solid and safe. Rather than have loose or bagged up pieces I was pleased to see that each of the four buildings were in their respective boxes.

This blog post is going to review the Monastic Chapel in detail then we'll follow that up later in the week with the rest of the set, for reasons that will become obvious.

Upon opening the box, the first thing I noticed was that there were no sprues. All the pieces had been removed from their parent sprue – mostly with no ill effect – and the building instructions are on the inside of the lid, saving on bits of paper. The bits do rattle around in there as a consequence.

The pieces themselves couldn't be more straightforward – a floor, two side walls, two end walls and two halves of the roof. Very chunky pieces of plastic and full of detail.

To be fair, I didn't read the instructions as it was so obvious how it all went together, and 10 seconds later there was a monastic chapel sitting on my dining room table. You could almost leave this built without the need for any glue at all. The side walls slot into the floor piece, then the two end walls snap into place holding everything pretty secure. Only the roof would need gluing together as I found the two halves kept sliding apart when in place.

Outside, the scale looks spot on, certainly for the models I will be using. The Norman miniatures here are Perry 28mm and look perfectly at home.

Inside, the scale is again perfect, and you can already start to see things come to life. There is as much detail inside as out and you could easily build and paint an entire village in an afternoon, with a simple basecoat, wash and minor detailing.

I've noticed Games Workshop's plastic terrain tends to be over-cluttered with details. Not so here. There is enough detail to give each piece a wow factor whilst remaining quite neutral so you can put your own mark on it, adding extra detail if you wish.

A couple of things to note though. The inside does have several circular mould marks on it, so if you intend to use the inside of the building a lot you will have to go at it with a file somewhat to remove these.

Whilst these marks don't occur on the outside of the building at all, there is a bit on the end walls where the sides are clipped in place. Reminiscent of some of the MDF buildings we're seeing but not a problem unless you're as fussy as me. 

Aside from the circles on the inside there were no mould lines at all to file off, just a couple of places where the sprue was removed might need a little attention.

Overall a superb piece of kit. Solid, chunky, lightweight, detailed (but no skulls cluttering the place), so easy to put together and no doubt a joy to paint. It costs £18.50 if bought separately, but as part of the bundles it will come in at considerably less.

My only real niggle – and I'm clutching at straws here – is that the door doesn't open.

Despite that, I would heartily recommend this kit. It will surely fit in with other genres besides historical (Mordheim, Witch Finder, etc).


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