Writing Good Instructions for Workshop Games
I have just finished reviewing a set of instructions for a series of games that a big group will be undertaking as a part of a team development exercise. There will be 70 people in teams of 12, 8 different game stations, and a very ambitious time schedule (about 20 minutes per activity), so the set up and instructions for each game needs to be very, very good.
Teams will be moving from station to station. As each team reaches their new game station, players they will receive the instructions for the game at that location. At that moment, they need to have all the necessary information, in an easy to read format and be able to understand it very quickly.
Here are some of the things I am checking for in the game descriptions and instructions for the games, and where needed, modifying:
- Is the game text too long, too wordy or too dense? Make it shorter with only essential information, put game steps into numbered points, lists into bullet points instead of narrative text, and numbers for scoring into a table;
- Are there any vocabulary words or idioms in the descriptions that might be misconstrued or misunderstood? Make the language as simple as possible;
- Is there any ambiguity in the description text or rules? Make it crystal clear so no time lost in doubt or disagreement on interpretation among team members;
- Is there consistency in format and layout of the games’ instructions? Reduce any inconsistencies in the way the rules are written in terms of level of detail, the order that information is given, the font, etc. so no time is wasted and teams will learn and read faster as they do through the games sequence;
- Is the goal of each game clear? (e.g. How do you win – what do you have to do to win?) Rewrite as needed and put that up front in the instructions, so the rest of the instructions are read with that goal in mind;
- Is the scoring clear and consistent within each game and overall across the series of games? Make sure it is clear how you get points and how many points for different aspects of the game (as applicable), make sure the points levels are the same for the different games so if a team doesn’t do well at one game they are not overly penalised.
- Is there anything subjective in the scoring (like points for quality or how things look)? If so decide in advance the criteria to award points and who will award them. This can potentially cause lots of disgruntled players.
- Are the materials needed/provided to play the game listed in checklist format? Create a checklist so the team can quickly assess if they have all needed materials.
- Are the rules or steps numbered? Number these so team members can discuss them/refer to them by using their number as shorthand.
Testing: We are having someone test each activity first by following our instructions, to make sure steps are clear as well as feasible in the amount of time allocated. If it takes twice as long to complete as allocated, that obviously won’t work. Things sometimes look feasible on paper, but when you are in situ, there may be features of the game environment that cause slow downs.
Game Aids: I am also making up job aids, like a score card for each team, so they can keep their own scores. We are also making a larger game score card on a flipchart, posted at each game station, so teams can see how other teams scored.
Teams love to play games, and the design and make up of a good game takes much care and consideration. Good instructions are crucial to make sure that playing the game actually meets its goals and results in both learning and fun.
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