I'm pretty sure as long as your design has a 25% difference in appearance and can not be confused with the other game you should be fine. If you are looking to print custom playing cards to make your game http://www.custom-playing-cardss.com is a great place to start they have printed cards for me and they came out great.
What hapens if I invent variation on owned game?
This depends a lot on the company that owns the game. It's very expensive to sue, the the companies with deep pockets would be more likely to sue than the smaller ones.
I've been repping inventors for a long time, and i see an opportunity for you here. If you have something that is a variant of a branded game, why not present it to the company who owns the brand!! So much money and time goes into branding, the companies would really like to leverage the brands into line extensions. Usually the line extension has to have something markedly different about it, but still contain the basic element of the game - for instance, UNO Rummy-o as a line extension of UNO. The UNO brand helps the new game get noticed and appeals to retailers.
This was an excellent thread with some great replies so I am going to resurrect it rather than start a new thread. Our expansion for Settlers of Catan falls within the general question here. But here are the specifics.
We do not use any of the physical, visual, or textual elements of the original game, so I am positive we do not violate copyright or "trade dress".
We have a completely different name so as not to be in trademark infringement. Although, obviously, we would like to say "for use with The Settlers of Catan family of games". And, indeed, you must own the original game to play our expansion - it does not stand on its own. In fact, we don’t even have to use their trade mark names in a "for use with" statement. We could just say "For use with the Settlers family of games". They do not have a trademark on the word "Settlers", only "Catan" and "The Settlers of Catan".
In addition, we plan on clearly stating both the trademark information for the original game's rights holders and the absence of any connection between them and us. So, I think we fall well within Nominative Use guidelines.
I do not believe it could be classified as a derivative work because it introduces entirely novel game play. We don't "derive" our game steps by rehashing the original game's steps in some new way, but instead insert completely new and unrelated steps into the flow of play. It would be like, for example, introducing money into a game that previously only used cards and dice so that you had an alternative way to barter or procure game items. I don't believe that fits the definition of a derivative work.
The definition of Derivative Work is inconclusive in my reading of it. Derivative Work - "a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, ..., or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a 'derivative work'." 17 U.S.C. §101. Our expansion is not Settlers "recast, transformed, or adapted". But, it could be considered an "elaboration", I suppose.
But isn't that all moot anyway, because you can't copyright the procedures of a game themselves, only the expression of them?
Does anyone have a link to any cases, or commentary, on the Derivative Work doctrine specifically as it relates to games?
Have you approached Klaus Teuber about your variant? If they are receptive, then you can benefit from all their branding, marketing and distribution rather than try to recreate it all yourself. Plus, you'll get the designer credit that comes from being attached to a major label.
Other than D&D's d20 system and a lot of MMORPGs, I cannot think of very many game systems in which a third-party publisher was able to make a substantial impact by selling a variant of the game. A few parodies come to mind, as well as secondary gaming material like card sleeves and dice manufacturers. But, the majority of game consumers want to turn to the original game producer for an expansion, as opposed to a third-party for a variant.
So, regardless of whether it is legal to do so (which it probably is as long as you don't violate their trademark), does it make business sense? In general, it makes sense to recreate the wheel only when all existing wheel manufactures are unwilling to incorporate your innovation and your innovation is good enough to blow away the competition.
I did inquire with Catan GmbH and Mayfair Games and got the usual, automated, "don't copy our games" response. They don't seem very open to suggestions. Of course, if the ting catches on, they will probably steal it from us and market it as a Catan trademarked expansion. LOL - I would get a strange sense of satisfaction from that.
As far as the business model, we certainly realize that it rarely works to go it alone. On the other hand, we don't intend to use standard retail strategies to market and sell. Plus, we are in it more for the experience than for the money. So if it flops, no big deal. And right now we are only in play testing mode so we don't even have a finished product ready. We are just trying to cover all our bases.