Under the Hood – Rock Crushes Scissors: A Return to Basics


Rock Crushes Scissors: A Return to Basics
By The Warden

Rock_Paper_Scissors4xeDetailEarlier this week, Fantasy Flight Games announced their search for an Associate Game Designer in their Minnesota office and while I knew there was no way I was relocating to any of the fifty states any time soon, curiosity prompted me to poke around and check it out. What caught my eye was the test used by FFG to gauge an applicant’s game design skills.

Write the rules for the game Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Doesn’t seem like much, but I think it’s absolutely brilliant for the sheer fact that no one (or next to no one) learned how to play Rock, Paper, Scissors from a manual. You did not go out and buy Milton Bradley’s Rock, Paper, Scissors 25th Anniversary Edition, it was taught to you by another person standing right in front of you. Therefore, we have no expectations or guidelines for defining the parameters of this game, other than how we learned it ourselves, and there’s a huge difference between how we learn audibly and visually.

It’s a fact that’s taken hold of the spotlight in my own house as my fiancee prepares to return to college after several years in the graphic design industry. One of her biggest challenges and concerns involves the sheer number of written essays and oral presentations she’ll have to give as it multiplies exponentially compared to the zero she had to complete in graphic design. Explaining and detailing proper instructions in a clear and concise manner during your first time at bat is the key and we’re working on boning up her skills because revisions and corrections are not a luxury when you’re writing out the rules or guidelines to anything. At no point in any rulebook are you ever going to see this sentence: “No, no, you’re doing it wrong.”

Think about it. How would you go about writing out the formal rules for Rock, Paper, Scissors? Would you require visual aids, such as diagrams of what each hand symbol looks like during play? Would you create a flowchart demonstrating which symbol is defeated by Rock? How many words do you think you’d need to complete this task? What I love about this concept in game design testing is the unexpected possibilities you could get from this and how a great designer wouldn’t just “pop some rules out on a lunch break.”

Something else strikes me as I write this week’s article and make a mental note to myself that I need to try out this practice whenever I need to track down a freelancer game designer. At the moment, my Kickstarter is struggling with less than half of the deadline remaining to reach its goal, meaning my confidence is a little down at the moment. It’s inevitable and there’s not a single career out there that doesn’t have to go through these moments of rejection, regardless of their impact or duration, and it often leads me to ponder the path I’m walking. Not the path as a whole, but whether or not I need to alter my pace on it. Am I stepping a bit beyond my reach at the moment? Should I step back a bit and simplify, or is the problem in that I’m actually going too slow and silent? Whatever the case may be, the idea of going back to the basics and challenge myself to write something as “simple” as the rules of Rock, Paper, Scissors is incredibly tempting.

Therefore, I’m going to do it. Right now. Fill in the rest of my time drafting up my rules for this game to later reflect upon.


Rock, Paper, Scissors (or RPS) is a fast-paced game of victory, elimination, and random chance using hand signals launched between two simultaneous competitors. You can play this game in as many rounds as you prefer, though the standard is a 5-round contest.

In every round, the two competitors stand directly in front of each other and hold a closed fist in the air. At the count of three (whether as a simultaneous count by both competitors or from a third party), both competitors will display (known as “launching”) their chosen symbol in an attempt to eliminate the other’s symbol. During each count leading up to the launch, both competitors must lower their fists to waist height or over a nearby table.

The Symbols

There are three hand symbols used in RPS, listed below in no particular order with a description of the symbol provided in brackets. Each symbol eliminates another symbol and is defeated by another, as described below.

Rock (make a fist with your hand)

Eliminates Scissors (“Rock crushes Scissors”); defeated by Paper (“Paper covers Rock”)

Paper (lay your hand down flat)

Eliminates Rock (“Paper covers Rock”); defeated by Scissors (“Scissors cuts Paper”)

Scissors (extend index and middle finger outwards)

Eliminates Paper (“Scissors cuts Paper”); defeated by Rock (“Rock crushes Scissors”)

Determining the Winner

Whoever displayed the victorious symbol wins that round. When one competitor wins the majority number of rounds (such as three rounds in a 5-round contest), that competitor is declared the winner and earns the right to choose what you will have for dinner, which movie you will watch, or who has to answer the door when pizza arrives.


How would you write out the official rules for RPS? If you’d like, you can refer to the Wikipedia page or check out the official rules for the USARPS (United States of America Rock Paper Scissors League). Go ahead, give it shot in the comments below. Next week, I want to talk about some of the different approaches of these designs, including those posted on the USARPS website.

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