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Make a VPG 13: The Case System
Part 13: Game Rules - The Case System
If you’re interested in trying your hand at designing a game, then this Making a Victory Point Game series of articles is written for you. It provides more information on specific subjects about designing games for VPG. By reading them, you should be well on your way to reaching your goal of becoming a published VPG game designer!
This is the second of two “scholarly” articles on writing game rules. In this part, a brief history of Game Rules is presented, and then The Case System for organizing a Rules Booklet is explained in some detail. Here you will find the mindset and moulds into which Game Rules content are poured.
A Brief History of Game Rules
For the most ancient games revealed to us through archeology (games like Mehan, The Royal Game of Ur, and Senet, for example), we only know that these excavated artifacts are actually games by surmising from their stylized game boards and pieces (with the rare engraved picture or written comment of their existence as games for confirmation). What we don’t find are their rules. Why is that? For two reasons, primarily: First, it wasn’t worth writing them down for the future because, second, everyone (at least everyone who mattered) already “knew how to play.” Our modern interpretations of how to play these games is based upon a good deal of conjecture.
Reviewing old games rules, from the first ones printed for European Chess not long after the invention of the printing press in the mid-16th Century, right up to commercial board games from the 1950s and 60s, there seems to be one constant, they are execrable. Poorly worded, sometimes vague when clarity is most needed, often lacking examples and/or illustrations that could more easily explain a concept, all too often assuming the player to “just know” how things are supposed to work, with connecting concepts separated by vast tracts of text and no references backward or forward… it is no wonder that “home rules” for just about every game became the norm. When Hoyle wrote his famous Book of Games in 1770 and began to codify the rules to commonly played games into the 18th Century, there was little to guide him in terms good Game Rules writing.
Of course, Game Rules writing wasn’t really a serious, scholarly pursuit until very recent times. There were not even any game designers before 1970! Instead, the person who created a new game was called the game’s "inventor” or its “Spielateur.” Creating a new game was known more for its “Ah ha!” moment of the idea’s inception rather than the work-a-day, iterative grinding and polishing of that game into a smooth, solid, fun, balanced, replayable and marketable creation for which game developers presently know them as.
It was the advent of Jim Dunnigan and Redmond Simonsen, with their stellar venture of Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) around the turn of 1970s when these titans of game making started writing and speaking of game creation as a serious, formalized occupation that had its own vocabulary and proper ways of doing things. Redmond Simonsen coined the term “game designer” for those people who, like architects, follow sound principles of design and add their own touches to the latest innovations and classical techniques to create a serviceable end result. Jim Dunnigan brought much to the philosophy of game design, stressing a Bauhaus approach of simplicity and functional elegance blended with technology, while he and Redmond (pictured here) began to codify these lessons in articles and books. Finally, game creators had something in writing to consider and guide them as they became self-made game designers.
Today, of course, there are entire college-level programs for making games, with scores of courses culminating in a Bachelors Degree for those who pursue it. While these often train programmers and artists for the video game industry, more and more books on game design have emerged making this aspect of game creation an equally scholarly pursuit.