I recently set myself the challenge of designing a game that could be taught entirely with language independent rules. I dived in with overconfidence, thinking I’d be done by lunchtime. 

I settled on the game quickly – a simple roll & write. The game should be able to be played by a 5 year old, though I would expect an adult to learn the rules and teach the game. (Creating language independent rules for a self-teaching 5-year old is a step too far for my current skill level!)

The challenge was creating the rules to make them as universally understandable as possible. There are icons that seasoned board gamers understand as they frequently appear on cards or tiles, but I wanted to make the rules more mass-market. How would an adult who doesn’t play board games for fun decipher these icons? 

For example, gamers are used to seeing the lightning icon to communicate an effect that happens instantaneously. But a non-gamer might be confused about why weather conditions were suddenly brought into things. 

Tiles with multiple icons from the game Orbis

Some issues were immediately obvious – others only became clear to me when I presented the rules to other people and asked them to play the game. 

So far – I’ve created three versions of the rules (the game also changed a little, but not much). I’ll post them below. See if you can work out the game from the rules. If you want to play along properly, make a note of:

  • What rules are you sure of? 
  • What are your assumptions? 
  • What is utterly confusing and has you stumped?

Version 1

You have two custom six-sided dice:

  1. Numbers 1-5 and one face with a question mark.
  2. Five different shapes and one face with a question mark.



After putting these rules out on social media and discussing with family, friends and other designers, I made a second version.

Version 2

You have the same dice as version 1. 



Then one furher version…

Version 3

Same dice as version 1.






So what is still confusing? What questions do you have? Do you feel confident that you understand how to play the game?

There are certain problems I’m still not sure that I’ve solved satisfactorily. For example, how do you explain that everyone plays simultaneously? Is my group of people sufficient? Or did you interpret something else from this icon? Do the red rings help or are they confusing? How about the four different options shown with the Roman numerals? Did you deduce that this shows four different outcomes based on what dice are rolled? Or did you think it means you have four different options every time? 

I’m keen to get as much feedback as possible – particularly from non-gamers. So do post in the comments below. It may be that I’ve set myself a ridiculous task. It may be that language independent rules are possible – but not with the game I’ve chosen… If you’d like to play the game, or share with others, you can download from the link below.