Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rules 4: Use Your Words

Many innocent words and phrases may be interpreted differently by different people. Even within a given context, meaning may not be clear. It's virtually impossible to avoid this completely, but at least be aware of your words, and learn to see all possible meanings.

If condition A occurred in the last round, score 2 bonus points.

Does "last" mean "previous" or "final"?

If there's a token at either end of the road, score it.

Does "either" mean "one or the other", or "both"?

In software, programmers are acutely aware of the difference between inclusive and exclusive "or". "A inclusive or B" means A or B or (A and B). "A exclusive or B" means A or B, but not both. So what does the simple use of the word "or" mean in game rules without further qualification? Do you think you could come up with a rule to its interpretation? Try it, then try to apply it to these two sentences:

On his turn, a player takes action A or action B.
The game ends if condition A or condition B occurs.

Instinctively, you will likely assume the first "or" is exclusive, and the second inclusive.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rules 3: Terminology

This topic is closely related to the previous one. Using consistent language in your descriptions of game components, actions, and processes can mean the difference between clarity and confusion.

The game takes place over 5 turns. Each turn, players will take turns selecting a single action until everyone passes. A player may not move a piece more than once per turn.

How often have you seen rules like this? Define the hierarchy of sequence carefully, and stick with it.

Another example. Say we have some kind of wargame with the following phases:
Now say some rule or card allows an action "before combat". Taken literally, this could be during the Movement Phase, but obviously that is not the intent. In effect, there's an unwritten phase where certain things can occur. It would be much better to break down phases where this sort of issue may occur, adding new terminology as necessary:
---before combat
---after combat
Even with this, there's the possibility of ambiguous order or multiple "before combat" effects. But that is not the subject of this post.