What’s In a Quick Start Guide? – Game Design Lesson #19

24 Aug What’s In a Quick Start Guide? – Game Design Lesson #19

If you’re creating an RPG or board game, chances are you want to put it on Kickstarter. But to do so you’ll need to show people what your game is about, and one of the key ways to do so is to create a Quick Start Guide. This is also known as a Sampler.

The reason this is so critical is because without it, you’re just selling people a few shiny pictures and ideas, but there’s nothing substantial for them to sink their teeth into. People want to understand the kind of rules the game works off. Is it combat focused, or diplomatic? Does it use cards or dice? What’s the setting really about? Is it crunchy or rules light?

These are important questions that will determine whether someone will back your game.

Think about it yourself. What is it that you want to know about a game or product before you decide to back it?

Of course, if you don’t normally back on Kickstarter, then that’s the first thing you need to change. Start backing projects!

But what should be in the Quick Start?

There’s no hard and fast rules. But bear in mind that you want to do two things: 1) communicate enough about your product that people can make an informed decision about whether they like it or not, 2) not give them the entire game, so they have a reason to back.

This second one is far less important than you might think. Some game designers release free PDFs of their entire game, minus artwork, so people can print them out and play with them while waiting for the full game, and sometimes they do this to further playtest their game (though personally, I think you should have playtested your game to perfection before you put it on Kickstarter).

Some game designers think that if they put a game’s rules out for people to freely download, then they’ll have no reason to download the full book – or even worse, that people will steal the mechanics.

This is actually not a valid point.

The point is, your main threat is obscurity not intellectual theft. Your game is competing against thousands of others out there. That is the challenge. You have to get noticed. If people actually like your game mechanics, then chances are they’ll purchase your products! Your biggest hurdle will be getting them to play something other than D&D, Risk or any other well-known game out there that is much easier for them to deal with, because of their instant familiarity.

With that in mind, here are my points for what should be in your Quick Start Guide.

One of the best Quick Start Guides I have seen is from Fragged Empire. Another great one is Blades in the Dark (though I’m not sure if you can get the Quick Start directly from their website). A third one is the Conan RPG – oh, and another beautiful one is Shadows of Esteren.

Our own Quick Start for Infected RPG is here.

1) Basic Rules
You want people to have enough rules that they can run a quick game and see if they like your system or not. You want them to be able to “get it” straight away, to be able to think with it, and ideally to like it. This means it needs to be fairly simple. Graphics, icons, and line art can make a big difference here.

Here you also need to double-check your rules. Make sure they’re water tight. Can they hold up under every situation? What are you trying to communicate with them? Can you simplify them? Are they simple enough to be communicated briefly?

2) Setting Information
What is your setting, and what makes it unique? You have to give enough information that people don’t remember your game as “another D&D” or “A Sci-Fi Setting”. That just won’t cut it.

You need to give them enough information in about 10 to 20 pages that they really “get” your setting. After reading the Conan Quick Start I was hooked. It’s Conan and doesn’t taste at all like D&D. Instead, it feels like fast-paced and brutal combats, where the heroes are cleaving through foes, where cruel gods and their followers lie in dark ancient pits… anyway, you can tell I like it.

Related:  Game Design Lessons #5: How Much Disclosure?

The point it, you need to distinguish your setting as being totally unique and original. If you find it hard to do so, then chances are you need to do some work on your setting.

For example, I found that when I started my setting for Infected was pretty generic. It was just a “fun zombie setting.” That doesn’t distinguish it at all. Then I thought it’s a “realistic zombie setting.” Still won’t cut it. What’s unique about it? In the end I made it well after the apocalypse, and added in so much flavour and unique aspects (like society not being totally wiped out, and all the various organisations, places and people around in this day and age) that I knew it could easily stand up as its own setting. It was now unique.

The trick is then conveying that in 10-20 pages!

3) Art
You need good art, and you need to display it. This will require you to lay out an initial investment to get artists to do this work for you. And art is expensive. Professional artists charge quite a lot for their services, because it’s a serious skill!

You will also need to work out a consistent look and theme to your art. Do you want it full colour or black and white? Sketchy, cartoony, anime, super hero, vintage? What colour palette (the basic colours you want in the images – for me it was brown and grey with little splashes of colour).

Starting work on this now will be very helpful for you, because you can get mistakes and inconsistencies worked out before you start work on the final product. It will force you to make some hard choices, which is good!

Be careful here not to go overboard though. You can easily spend a fortune on art, but if you do so now then there’s no guarantees that your profits from your Kickstarter will be able to cover these costs. I would advise getting a couple of good pieces of art, and a few sketchier pieces to round it out, that way you have some options and won’t blow your budget.

4) A Scenario
Not mandatory, but a good idea is to put in a scenario with some characters. The Conan and Shadows of Esteren Quick Starts did this beautifully. So why put in a scenario? Simply put, it allows people the opportunity to start playing now! It gives them the opportunity to taste the beverage and see if they like it. If they do, they’re almost certain to back your Kickstarter, buy your product or at the very least keep it in mind for the future.

The trick with a scenario is to make it simple enough, and with enough helping hints, that it guides new players through the whole process.

5) Bear in Mind New Players
Some of your players will never have played an RPG before. You should bear this in mind when creating your Quick Start, and keep terminology as simple and clear as possible. Make sure you define terms before you use them.


Okay that’s my two cents worth. I hope it helps you with your Quick Start and Kickstarter. If you can think of any other points to add to this, please let others know in the comments below.


Like what we do? Love zombie settings? Think you could survive the post-apocalypse? Check out Infected RPG! Heck, the Quick Start is free!

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