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on January 24, 2004
When I received a copy of this book I didn't have any solid expectations. I had never heard of Zimmerman or Salen before and so I wasn't overly surprised when the text turned to disappoint. If you look into the authors credentials you'll find that neither have any experience in game design beyond a beginner/hobbyist level. I felt mislead by the bravado the authors put forth in assuming authority on a subject they are blatantly unqualified to comment on. Overall the book delves into game design on only a very shallow level.
On the brighter side, if you're a game player with a passing interest in old school design, or just want to know the opinions of some retro-gamers, you might care to check this book out. For anyone else, I'd suggest alternatives: "Game Design: Theory and Practice" and especially "Chris Crawford on Game Design". Both contain intelligent analysis from truly experienced designers with much more relevance to modern game design.
The bottom line is that there are just too many good alternatives to be interested in this instantly forgettable material.
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on January 5, 2004
Managed to finally get through this wordy behemoth. Now that I have, I'm not sure that it was worth the battle. The historic/cultural analysis is quite one sided, leaving the most controversial topics entirely untouched. The text reads like a "retro-gamers guide to the universe", and fails to offer any meaningful examination of game design topics. Certainly not enough to warrant calling it a "textbook" or "reference book" (as the books description claims).
If you are interested in game design, skip this one and look to others like Chris Crawford for intellectual stimulation.
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on December 18, 2003
Reading a book about the theory of games is like reading a book about the theory of humor: nowhere near as interesting or as satisfying you'd imagine it to be.
This book is not a cookbook for designing games, although it does offer lots of useful advice and numerous examples of game design. According to the authors, it's an attempt at creating a "critical vocabulary" for game design.
Early on, they say that we shouldn't take their definitions seriously, and that they know they are incomplete and leave out examples. But, they say, new ideas come when you start to think about and argue definitions. Thus, definitions are just a rhetorical device, and not meant to be taken in the same way as definitions in, say, science. This is an interesting tactic that drives people in science nuts: in science, definitions are fundamental tools for building theories and making explanations. To a scientist, it appears that the authors want it both ways: the apparent rigor of a definitional approach, but without the committment. (In science, *stories* and analogies are more likely to be used as rhetorical devices.)
Like most academic writing of this sort, the writing itself comes in various shades of purple, but it is generally clear and direct.
One interesting feature of the book is the 4 new games that were commissioned just for the book; the designers were asked to keep logs during the design, and these are re-printed in the book. It's interesting to read the thought processes of the designers --- more interesting than the main text, most of the time!
The authors are clearly well-versed in the arts and design side of game design; the source material for their "unit" on the "formal" rules of games consists mostly of references to popular books on math and science and computation. In other words, they really have no deep understanding of the "formal" side of game. That's a shame, because the rest of their book strikes me as much more of a serious academic exercise.
Ultimately, nothing struck me as terribly insightful, and nothing gave me that "aha" experience. Maybe that's just because it is an intentionally academic tome. Like a textbook, it is just too ponderous, too concerned with the artifice of academia as opposed to the heart of the ideas.
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on February 8, 2010
I've seen some people review negatively this book, but I think it is because they expected something else, a book on how to create a game.
This book doesn't deal on how to build / make a game but how to break down any game out there into the underlying structures that form the game at hand, allowing you as a designer to take those underlying structures and create a new game. This book is about creating a common language between game designers to be able to analyze, classify and talk about games.

This book doesn't require any Computer knowledge at all in order to read and understand it.
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on January 19, 2004
(NOTE: This is the final review of the book. I wrote preliminary reviews which have since been cleaned up by Amazon; unfortunately it looks like they left my negative review that was submitted to balance my multiple positive reviews.)
The Summary
This is the BEST BOOK ON BOARD GAME DESIGN that I have read and I have read many! The book is well written, it is thorough in its analysis, has references and bibliographies that allow you to explore the authors' research yourself. I had high expectations for this book and that normally leads to being a little disappointed, but this book not only met my high expectations but actually exceeded them! This book isn't for the impatient programmer who just wants to know how to write the next First Person Shooter, or the person who wants to be told some quick methods to come up with new ideas for games. This is for the serious student who wants to really understand game design and what it truly means to design immersive, balanced and compelling game play.
I have been reading and researching game design for over 10 years now. I have been writing computer games for over 20 years. Over the last 4 years I have been researching board games, since discovering the European board games that have been doing so well across the pond, I got hooked and realized that these games were the embodiment of great game design. I decided that to become better at designing computer games I should learn what makes games like Settler's of Catan and Carcassonne so compelling. So for the last few years I have been exploring the theory of game design. Since there wasn't much out on board game design specifically, I read newsgroups, web site articles and the plethora of books coming out on computer game design. I also diversified my research and delved into psychology, mathematics, game theory, and anthropology and information architecture. Well all I can say is that if this book, Rules of Play had been available 10 years ago I would saved myself many years of reading! This book brings together all the different strands of game design, going into the theoretical aspects, delving into board game design from the Landlord game (the earliest form of the Monopoly type game) to Reiner Knizia talking about how he designed Lord of the Rings. It explores computer games from Pong to the recent slew of First Person Shooters. It explores psychology, anthropology, cybernetics, mathematics, probability etc... This has the broadest coverage of topics that relate to game design. If you want to know the fundamental principles behind what makes great games, then you need to understand people and why play and games are important. You need to understand how people think and the underpinnings of why reward schedules works. There are a lot of books out there that refer to reward schedules, flow and game balancing but this is the first one that truly explores the subjects and their roots. I found this book to be amazing. I am of the personality, when I start something I want to learn everything I can about the subject, and this book allowed me to be immersed in game design.
Here is a list of some of the most interesting parts of this book:
- Reiner Knizia - writing about how he designed the Lord of the Rings Board game
- Richard Garfield (Sibling Rivalry), Frank Lantz (Iron Clad), Kira Snyder (Sneak) and James Ernest (Caribbean Star) - design board games for the book and each of them describe how they went about designing. (Note: James Ernest's game Caribbean Star is available as part of a game collection he released from his company Cheapass games - check out "Chief Herman's Next Big Thing" )
- There are game design exercises that students or teachers can use to learn more about each of the concepts. These exercises are split into 3 categories: game creation, game modification and game analysis.
- Complexity, Emergence, self organization as they refer to games
- Probability and Randomness (luck) in games
- Information Theory - uncertainty, noise and redundancy
- Systems of Information - public and private information
- Cybernetics - Feedback loops and game balancing
- Game Theory - Cake division and the prisoner's dilemma
- Conflict and Cooperation
- Interactivity
- Flow - Entrainment, reward schedules, behavior theory and addiction
- Edward De Bono's L Game
- Narrative play - story arcs etc..
- Simulations - games as simulations
- Metagames - the larger social context of games
- Open Source Games - like Icehouse
- Game modifications - Alterations, Juxtapositions, Reinventions
- Blurring the boundary between "real" and "play"
A part of me of wants to keep this book and all these amazing insights that I have read to myself, since then I could have that added advantage. But I know the best way to ratchet up the quality of games is to share information and the game industry as a whole will be improved.
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on April 14, 2004
If you're looking for a "how to" book on game design, don't buy Rules of Play. It won't tell you how to write a design doc, or how to reward players with powerups, or how to write puzzles, or how to work with technology. There's plenty of books that cover those aspects already (Richard Rouse, Ernest Adams, etc.)
Instead, Rules of Play is all about fundamental game concepts. What are games, really? What are the different models to look at games? Rules of Play gives you an enormous understanding of the actual mechanics of gameplay that no other book has offered to date.
Other reviewers are upset by the fact that this book uses both digital and board games as examples. A lot of them discredit the authors because they haven't designed any games they've heard about. That's pretty shortsighted, and unappreciative of the valuable high-level concepts presented in this book.
A game played with dice might not have Isomorphic Real-Time X-Treme Bloomed Shadowing Effects, but it does have a pureness that will allow you to look at the game undistracted by its superficial elements.
Is John Carmack more qualified to talk about games? If that's what you think, you're probably a programmer at heart -- not a game designer.
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on January 28, 2004
This book shows how to analyze games, rather than design them. As such, it easily covers its bases. It is not light reading, and it is a textbook of sorts, but it is a very fun read.
It takes adequate time to define and present abstract concepts and qualities that games have. It looks at games from many different angles. It presents three distict levels (or "schemas") in describing games: as collections of rules, as systems of play, and as cultural systems. I find it refreshing that the authors did not take a "one size fits all" approach.
Those who would like to design their own games would find this book very useful. Those who want a tutorial that explains how to design certain types of games would probably be disappointed.
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on October 18, 2014
Has interesting topics and details about the psychology behind games and it covers a lot of material. It is a bit out of date but many theories still apply to games today! Its quite big and heavy so not good for carrying around everywhere...
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on January 27, 2004
This is an excellent text for serious students of game design. Game design like other forms of design is influenced and influences many other fields of study or as the authors call them "schemas". Rules of Play takes seemingly disparate "schemas" and reveals how they inform and are informed by game design. In addition the design notes of game designers like Richard Garfield and Reiner Knizia for the commissioned games that appear in the book tie the theoretical underpinnings of the book to the actual working process of designing games.
The text is rigorous, well researched , informative and incredibly enjoyable. I have read many books on the subject and with few exceptions this one stands head and shoulders above the rest.
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on January 28, 2004
As a life-long game designer, I've worked on dozens of projects from multi-million dollar blockbusters to academic experimentation & pure research. The current glut of high brow nonsense being passed on as educational literature appalls me. Case in point: The authors here have laughable credentials. Furthermore, anyone with the internet can get this "information" for free. Cashing in on a gullible public has become a ubiquitous pastime in the game literature pyramid scheme, don't fall victim to it's wrath.
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