Tips for Editing a Large Rules Paragraph


Back in March, Chris Kirkman shared this photo of a paragraph from the rules of the Capitals:

"In all cases, once Tourists have been awarded and then placed during the Executive Phase, all Tourist Markers remain where they were placed (normally on a Building Tile) until at least the next Tourism Phase. If the Tourists situation, verified at the beginning of this phase, remains unchanged from the previous turn (i.e. the same player that surrendered their Tourist Marker last turn will once again surrender it), the Tourist Markers will remain in the same City, and on the same Building Tile. If a different player's Tourist Marker is to be surrendered, that player removes their Tourist Marker from their City, places it next to the City that has the highest Culture Level. The player who previously surrendered their Tourist Marker may recover it, and place it next to their City. This indicates that they are available to activate any Building Tile during the following Executive Phase. All other players must leave their Tourist Markers lying on their previous Building Tile until the Executive Phase."

Whew! What a mouthful. Clearly this paragraph could've used some more breaks and a section header to make it more digestible. This led to my own brief bit of advice, with further elaboration I'll share now.

  • Avoid embedded clauses. Embedded clauses (or parenthetical examples) mean you're trying to say two or more things at once, when your goal should be to explain one thing at a time, in the most comprehensible order. If you want to describe an example, describe after the rule, not within the rule.
  • "If..." starts a new paragraph or bullet point. "If" is usually part of a whole list of circumstantial game states that may or may not occur, but which are important enough to outline in the main rules. Thus, they should be set apart as a group in their own series of bullets or section of paragraphs. One "if" per chunk. There is some advice out there that recommends replacing "if" with "when," but that's a matter of preference.
  • One sentence ideally equals one line. This is more of a graphic design and typography issue, but I've noticed that any line breaks within a sentence are like a tiny hull breach, waiting to expose your innocent reader to the grim confusing vacuum of space. The more line breaks, the more fractures in your fragile spaceship. So minimize as many breaks as you can by writing shorter, simpler sentences.

There are plenty of other tips out there. In my case, I'd have to really look hard at a paragraph that long and dense to question whether the rule it explains is worth the word count. But assuming it is worth it, then starting with these three tips alone, the paragraph above becomes much more readable.

Moving Tourist Markers
Once Tourists are awarded and placed during the Executive Phase, all Tourist Markers stay in place until at least the next Tourism Phase.
If the Tourists situation remain unchanged from the previous turn, the Tourist Markers remain in the same City, on the same Building Tile. For example, the same player that surrendered his Tourist Marker last turn surrenders it again.
If a different player surrenders her Tourist Marker, she removes her Tourist Marker from her City, places it next to the City that has the highest Culture Level. Then the player who previously surrendered his Tourist Marker may recover it, and place it next to his City. If he does, this indicates he is available to activate any Building Tile during the following Executive Phase.
All other players must leave their Tourist Markers lying on their previous Building Tile until the Executive Phase.

First, I start off with a header that briefly encapsulates the idea that will be presented in this section.

Note the alternating use of gendered pronouns in the third paragraph. When I talk about two or more players in a piece of text, I use alternating pronouns to distinguish them more clearly. In this case, the first player is noted by "she" and the second player by "he."

In all cases, I also switched to a more active voice in the present tense. Instead of "have been," I used "are." This puts the rules in the now, while the pieces and bits are at the table in front of the players.

If you simply must include such a large unbroken paragraph, at least give a short version to start things off. Ken Tidwell gamely provides one here:

If there's no new tourist, leave things as they are. Otherwise, move in the new tourist and send the old one home.

Nice work! For more general rules tips, I really recommend seeing the responses to my original tweet. There is some fine advice there.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.