Editing Wargames Rules

We recently announced the release of Gaslands: Refuelled, which is a revised and expanded hardback edition of Gaslands. As the game is remaining mechanically untouched in this new edition, the process of getting the manuscript ready for Osprey was predominantly one of editing, rather than games design.

Obviously A First Attempt

A common minor compliant from the community is that the Gaslands rulebook does not feel well-edited. I’m happy to take that on the chin. It was my first wargame rulebook, and I had to both design the rules to deliver a fun game, and then organise them into a coherent rulebook. (If the gentle reader is not aware, these sorts of Osprey products are somewhat one-man jobs, with minimal editing support available.)

At the time of writing Gaslands, I had no experience of writing or editing rulebooks of these size. I had written a lot of smaller things, but never a full and finished product. Without any specific guidance from Osprey, I just relied on instincts garnered from the million wargaming rulebooks I have read in the past.

In hindsight, I really did not focus enough mental energy on the question of “how should this rulebook be best laid out to communicate the game”, and frankly I had neither the tools or the experience to even know what problems to avoid.

This design blog has always been a place for me to retrospect on my journey as a games designer and writer, and find opportunities to analyse my own experiences to better cement what I have learnt from them. In this series of blog posts, I am going to reflect on what I have learned over the last six months editing Gaslands: Refuelled, in order that I can apply those learnings to my next game: A Billion Suns.

Editing is not Designing

In some regards, I am finding the process of editing Gaslands into its revised and expanded version rather liberating. The last time I touched this text, I was at the final stages of designing my first tabletop game, unsure if it will even be played and looking at every part of the rules to try and find more ways to squeeze more fun out of it. This time, I am reorganising and editing an existing game that been understood, played and enjoyed by tens of thousands of gamers. In some respects my job is easy this time round: all I have to do is make the book slightly easier to read and not mess the game up!

Because I am wearing an editor’s hat, rather than a designer’s hat, my approach and focus has actually been rather different this time. My primary focus has been the overall user experience of the rulebook to ensure it is easy and enjoyable to read. I have been assessing if the rulebook layout is doing the best job it can at “selling” the game to the reader, and helping them get the maximum fun (with minimum frustration) out of the game.

In a somewhat hypothetical sense, I’d actually love the chance to purely edit someone else’s game, to be able to further step back from the design, and concentrate purely on the communication. If anyone wants a bit of freelance rules editing done, drop me a line! (Just wait until after I submit A Billion Suns…)

Some Minor Observations

Before I dig into my larger realisations in subsequent post, here’s a couple of rules of thumb I’m currently working with, really just to ensure I’ve written them down:

  • Keep sentences short. I have a terrible habit of constructing long and involved sentences. Use more full stops. Related: I am addicted to commas. Use fewer commas.
  • Notes should be used for clarifications, never rules. Use them to explain the intent behind the rule, or to clarify how an edge case is navigated within the written rules. Don’t hide rules in them. This confused some players in the first rulebook, as some just ignore these boxed out notes, as the layout is telling the reader that they are “not rules text”.
  • Examples are great, but triple check them, in case you’ve changed the way the rules work since you wrote the example. Nothing confuses readers more than a contradictory example right after an otherwise clearly written rule.

Okay, let’s dig into the first bigger topic: Progressive Sophistication.

Photo by Eric Michael on Unsplash