Full Version: Mutterings of the "MAD" Scientist - #001
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Several years ago I was gifted a collection of rulebooks for a number of PBM games, along with a many, many, Paper Mayhem and Flagship magazines, along with samples of various PBM related newsletters. recently I was looking through this collection and noticed a wide spectrum of games and design intents and I wanted to discuss two examples of what I discovered, specifically as different designed approach the subject of rules.

First I would like to talk for a minute about the rules for the game "Third Foundation". From looking at the rules I have not yet been able to determine who the GM was, or what year these rules are from. I do know who the play testers were, and that this was worked on for 10 years. And according to the rules this is an "exciting role-playing space war game". Or translated, this is a sci-fi empire building 4x game, but unlike many such games there does actually seem to be a bit of role-playing involved. However, this is not a review of the game itself, but more a review if you will of the rules if you will. To put it mildly, this game had ambition. Here are some fun facts about the rules.
  • 6 pages for the table of contents
  • 89 pages of rules, including 3 appendixes
  • 22 pages of index
  • All printed in a 10-point font
  • On top of this, 20 pages of game map

As I said, these rules are ambitious. They are ambitious in scope and depth, but also with the bar they set for what is expected of a potential player before playing their game.

Now lets take a look at another game, "Galactic Pest Control" by Tom Webster copyright 1997, revised edition. This appears to be more of a traditional role-playing game. I say appears because there is nothing in the rules that describes type of the game it is, or the setting for the game. I will admit there is a distinct possibility that I do not have a complete rulebook, but I don't think so. It starts with section I, and goes to section VIII and covers all the basics, so lets review what we have.
  • No table of contents
  • 2 pages of rules
  • No index
  • A nice 12-point font
  • That's it.

I would say these rules are equally ambitious, but in a different way. These are ambitious with the total lack of content and in what they expect a player to know, or accept on faith, before playing their game.

It is my contention there is a sweet spot for rules and other reference material somewhere between 2 pages and 120 pages, plus 20 pages of maps. Of course rules need to cover the information needed to play the game, but if they feel too long, they probably are. If you have to assure people that the rules aren't too long, they probably are. By way of self confession, the rules for my game are too long, and I'm working on it.

It is also my experience that in many cases some extra editing would not go amiss. Looks for ways to cut extra words out of a sentence, or a sentence out of a paragraph. Naturally rules need to cover what is necessary to play the game, but if they can be kept both clear and tight I believe there will be fewer questions.

I am only a "MAD" Scientist, there is more I could say, but now it is your turn. You may take my mutterings as you will.  Wink

a.k.a. The "MAD" Scientist