Writing Game Rules – A Recipe

There’s no magic system or formula for writing good rules for your games. Each game has its own quirks, its own vocabulary, its own gameplay.  However, I’ve found that there is a general pattern to how you can think about rules. I’ll call it my recipe.

Just like a recipe it has a name, preparation information, description, ingredients, and step by step instructions to make the recipe.  If you think about your game rules like that, you’ll at least be headed down the right path. In final form, you will probably still want to lay this out with a proper graphic editor, but this will get you the substance.

So, without further ado, the following is a slightly annotated game rules recipe template (a Google Doc Version):

Title of Your Game

Requirements: Number of Players (2-4 Players); Playing Time (Approximately 30 minutes); Age (12+)

Give a very brief introduction to the theme of your game. Any important set up or background story.

Objective:Short description of what players are trying to do.


  • An itemized listing of all the game components and their counts if appropriate.
  • You may want to include a short description of what they’re used for.
  • Sometimes pictures help if there are lots of different bits

Description of Cards

The location of this section might vary.  Are any pictures helpful?  Relevant card descriptions?  It might be easier to put this in line when describing actions.


To set up a game:

  1. Include a set of declarative statements like:
    • Shuffle each deck separately
    • Deal each player five cards
    • Place the remaining cards face down in the middle of the table as a draw pile

Include a picture of a setup table.

How to Play

Describe an overview of how the game works.

For example: The Game is played in a series of rounds. During each round, players can do x, y or z.

Or: During the game, players take turns drawing a card and playing a card.

Start of a Turn or Round

In games with rounds, you may wish to describe tasks that are necessary at the start of each round.

Description of Player Actions

If players have some choice of actions, set out what those actions mean.  Give each action its own paragraph.

End of a Turn or Round

What happens at the end of a turn or round?  Which direction does play continue?

End of the Game

Describe the end of game conditions.

Winning the Game

Describe how to win a game.

Optional: Example Turn or Hand

How is a turn or hand played?  Pictures relevant?


Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Use short, declarative sentences.
  2. Run your text through www.hemingwayapp.com and fix any “complex” sentences.
  3. Use bullets and numbered lists where possible.
  4. Using a diagram or picture can aid written descriptions.
  5. Avoid using “lingo” or words that you have not defined in important instructions.
  6. Pick a pronoun and stick to it.  Avoid flipping between “you” and “player” and “they” and “he” or “she” in close proximity.  I don’t care which you use, but be consistent.
  7. Avoid the passive tense.  If you can say who should do an action, say that.  For example, you should write “you move your piece around the board” instead of “the piece is moved around the board.”


Photo CC-BY courtesy of Flickr.com Ulisse Alibiati


Author: Fairway 3 Games

Fairway 3 Games is an independent tabletop game design and publishing company. It's first Kickstarter for Starving Artists was successfully funded with more than 1300 backers and raised more than $50,000.

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