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…


  1. Hi Mike! I'm looking forward to seeing your comments on the subject. You are definitely on the frontline on working with rule books right now. Right now, and subject to change without notice, SAGA is the one that I really dislike the most in terms of physical layout and graphic choices. I think it pops to mind first because its outrageously expensive and its a good game. Its fast, furious and you can play it several times in an evening. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on the subject.

    1. I'll have to take another look at the SAGA rulebook – it's in the rulebook library somewhere – just to see if I agree ;)

  2. An interesting topic and one that will no doubt generate lots of differing opinions.

    One of the best series of rulebooks I have bought in recent time are the WW2 Battlegroup series (BG Kursk, Overlord, Fall of the Reich and Barbarossa). Disregarding the rules mechanics for now as irrelevant to this discussion, I LOVE these books and have literally sat around just reading them for months, enjoying every moment. Why?

    - Great blend of Historical context included, with detailed but uncluttered maps
    - Well laid out, easy to read rules
    - Good scenarios and a Campaign included
    - Excellent Modelling and "How to Paint your..." sections
    - Short, flavourful vignettes of personal stories of the men who were there
    - Clear, unambiguous Army lists that make you want to keep tweaking and playing with them
    - a mixture of real world, historical pics, artwork (B&W drawings) and pics of models in action
    - well laid out pages, colour where necessary, and tasteful non-distracting page borders and edging
    - High quality paper bound in resilient hardcover
    - Table of Contents AND an Index: they aren't optional!

    Put all these together and I am happy to pay for a quality product.
    Note that this is NOT the same thing as GW limited edition leather bound nonsense...

    1. Wow – excellent breakdown Paul. It definitely sounds like this series ticks all the right boxes.



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