Hey everyone! This post is a Rulebook Preview for the MMA Combat Game. The point of this series is to highlight new unpublished games, and also hopefully highlight the importance of a great rulebook. Because this game is unpublished, I’ll go over some of the things I liked and disliked about the rulebook in its current state, but refrain from giving a score as I do in Rulebook Reviews.
I will be honest here: this rulebook could use some work. I think the game shows a ton of promise, and I know that rulebooks aren’t so important in earlier stages in development. That being said, a great rulebook is crucial if the game is to be published and so I would highly encourage the designer to take a more in-depth look. I hope that by posting this feedback publicly, it will not only help this game but other designers looking to write better rulebooks. I also may update this post or make a new one in the future if the rulebook changes significantly. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.
Less is more:
Starting off with page 1 of the rulebook, I absolutely love the “Welcome to the cage!” line. The author could go even further with this and say something about what exactly this game is. The introduction in this rulebook is a bit untraditional, as it is strangely missing a longer thematic overview, a game overview, and the contents. This made me a bit disoriented at first. Here are the 3 things I felt should be included somewhere in the first or second page of the rulebook, but were missing:
Thematic overview: A thematic overview explains: What is this game about? Who are the players playing as?
A game overview. A game overview goes over the overall turn structure of the game, and how to win. This does not have to be very long. The following is an example from the Splendor Rulebook:
“During the game, the players take gem and gold tokens. With these tokens, they purchase development cards, which are worth prestige points and/or bonuses. These bonuses allow players to purchase subsequent development cards for a lesser cost. When a player has enough bonuses, they immediately receive a visit from a noble (which is also worth prestige points). As soon as a player reaches 15 prestige points, the current turn ends and the player with the most prestige points is declared the winner.”
Contents: This will list the contents in the game. How many cards and tokens are there?
The game aids could be moved onto a card or on the back of the rulebook. As it is right now, it is distracting to have it on the cover of the rules. I think that the basic rules should have its own section later on after the game has been explained further. I don’t know what Routine Cards are or the Stamina Deck is, so the basic rules might as well be gibberish. I also felt that the page was too crowded. In this case, less is more. Consider the two cards below:
In the above example, the right side leaves a large margin on the left and right sides of the text. This was an intentional choice even though I could have crammed the text into a smaller space like in the left example. By simply adding in generous margins and spacing, the text becomes easier on the eyes. This rulebook takes it to an extreme, and there is literally no empty space on the front page. That may be economical, but to the reader, it feels too busy. As my math teacher used to say, trees are a renewable resource and so you should not prioritize saving space over clear and concise work. I would highly consider increasing the spacing and redistributing the content across more pages where needed.
“Start by learning a little about the cards below” is honestly a bit of lazy writing. I know that the cards make complete sense to the game designer, but I have no idea what I should be looking for or what anything means. It would be as if you were learning Spanish for the first time, and your Spanish teacher gave you a list of Spanish words to memorize without any context. It is absolutely important to know the breakdowns of every card, but I would recommend saving them for a later section once the reader is a bit more familiar with how the game works. Some questions that could be answered: What do the different color cards mean? What do the card backs look like, and which ones go into the Stamina deck? What is Stamina damage (I’ll get to this later)?
The meat of the game
I like how this rulebook lays out the Game Anatomy here. I think that it could be a bit clearer if it said “three 5-turn Rounds, with each turn representing 1 minute” so that it is absolutely clear that it is a turn-based game. This is also a great place to put the “Winning the game” section. The author could consider placing it towards the end, but in this case, the win conditions are not very complex.
Set up is an extremely important section in any rulebook, and it needs to be absolutely clear what you need to do. In this particular section, it is not very clear for a few reasons. Number one is the lack of a set-up image. In my opinion, a set-up image is a requirement for any rulebook. A set-up image will visually tell you where things need to go and reinforce the words. Luckily, I think it wouldn’t be a problem for this designer to make a set-up image for the game as it looks fantastic:
A set up image will help with my later issues, but I wanted to point out what specifically was unclear:
How do you show whether you are standing, clinched, or grounded? I imagine you place a token somewhere, but this is not mentioned.
How do you mark toughness? Based on the above image, it seems to be an app or through pencil/paper.
This is a huge missed opportunity to come up with a clever first turn rule! Consider “the player who was most recently in a fight gets to go first”
What is “The deck”? Is it the “Stamina Deck”? Does each player have their own deck? It is completely unclear.
What a turn looks like
I can be a bit more forgiving in this section because on the last page, there is a glossary. That being said, I would encourage the author to not be afraid to repeat themselves. For example, the first time “Corner Pile” is mentioned, say that Corner Pile = discard pile. It will make the first read-through so much more pleasant, and it will not bother returning players who could use a reminder on the terminology!
One thing that needs to be absolutely clear: what is overturning a counter? I finally got it after combing through the rules extremely carefully and making a few assumptions. I assume that some cards deal Stamina damage and that this Stamina damage causes the opposing player to mill cards from the top of their deck. If they mill a “counter” card, then the turn player’s turn ends. This really needs to be explained! “Overturn” is not in the glossary, and as far as I am aware, it isn’t a very common term for taking a card from the top of the deck and discarding it.
This last page is probably the most solid page in the rulebook. That being said, I felt like this rulebook, in particular, relies too much on the Glossary to explain things. It shouldn’t have to be that way! As I mentioned earlier, a bit of repetition would go a long way to making the rulebook an easier read.
I want to stress that a Rulebook Preview has no bearing on the quality of gameplay. I love the way this game works: from how the stamina is worked in with the number of cards you have left, and how you make the decisions between digging deeper into your deck and use a lot of stamina to hurt your opponent more, or if you conserve your stamina and absorb more hits. I love how the counters can be played, but if you don’t have the right counter you can hope that it is milled from the top of the deck for a “weaker” counter move. It’s incredibly thematic and I would love the chance to play the game.
That being said, I need to be honest: the rulebook is not in good shape. It is tough to say whether I could play the game correctly after reading the rules. Based on what I saw, I think that this could easily be an 8-page rulebook or a full-sized rulebook rather than half-page size. That’s because there is so much crammed in here that a include a larger font, more spacing, and more images would be easy if it were not constrained to the 4 pages. Luckily, changing the rulebook is a lot easier at this stage in game development than for an already published game. My ultimate hope is that MMA Combat Game can take some of this advice, and write an even greater rulebook!
What did you think of this Rulebook Preview? Was it a fair assessment, or did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!