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"Laws versus Rules"

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OutsideLime
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A comment in another thread sparked this thought, which expanded into something that deserves its own home.

Quote:
It seems, that it will be normal to have only one army, sometimes two, no more then three

Instead of making this a rule ("No more than three armies"), make sure that your game system creates this outcome naturally. If army units consume more resources (food, industry) than normal population (let's call them "citizens") units, then a maximum will naturally present itself... raise too many armies, and your citizens will not be able to feed/arm them without ignoring the other aspects of civilisation-building that make up your game. (architecture, the arts, farming, manufacture, trade, diplomacy?)

Thus it becomes a choice for the player... and an exercise in balance. A player who raises a large army might find immediate success against opponents, but will eventually learn the self-damaging effects of protracted warmaking - as all civilisations in history eventually have. Give the players a chance to govern their choices through "laws" (actions that limit themselves through existing in-game mechanics) rather than "rules". (actions with author-enforced limits)

The player then learns the law:

"Raising an army larger than three units is severely taxing on my resources and will starve me and hurt me, if I can even manage it in the first place."

rather than being told the rule:

"You may not raise an army larger than three units."

I think that the former is a much more satisfactory and immersive game effect that, with proper balancing, can achieve the same - or nearly the same - result.

I believe that a good design for a themed game should try to encourage this preference of "laws over rules" as often as possible.

Any thoughts?

~Josh

Jebbou
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"Laws versus Rules"

EDIT: I first misinterpreted what you meant by law. I though a law was something like "You will not have more than 3 units". And the rule was just a description of mechanics. You should invert occurences of "law" and "rules" in what's written below. sorry ! :)

Sometimes, having "laws" can simplify what one would do with a set of rules. For example, if you want to limit the number of combat units, you could devise a set of rules to allow production of food, supply to armies, etc. But if army/combat is not an important part of your game, and you want to emphacise another element, you could restrict by dictating a "law" to reduce the amount of units available.

Nevertheless, I would think defining laws should really be the last way of achieving an effect, as it is not intuitive, and that most of the time, you can use certain elements of your game to create a mechanic/situation in which players will realise themselve what's best for them.

I also think of games (such as Mare Nostrum) where there is a limited number of army/triemes/caravanes/cities tokens to place on the board. The small amount of token availables were obviously defined to force something on the game (Force player to attach each others, prevent players from conquering the whole map). I have seen players annoyed by this.

Hedge-o-Matic
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"Laws versus Rules"

I think the term "Principle" is what you mean. Principles can be unstated, but still rock-hard effects of given game-play styles. Principles can also draw from many rules over the course of normal gameplay, whereas rules are always specific. Principles of reasonable play may be violated for extremely short terms, but not generally.

While I agree with this, for me the issue is always whether to state a game principle outright. Personally, I like to let players find out the principles (or laws, as the thread may have it) for themselves, but some people want an overview of good play before they jump in.

Any more ideas on this division of thought?

OutsideLime
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"Laws versus Rules"

Principles imight be better, but I was hoping to work this into some sort of proverb; Laws may be broken, Rules may not.

Terminology aside, I do agree with you on the method of keeping principles (laws?) unstated and letting players discover them for themselves.

Take Settlers of Catan, for an accessible example. The designer wants to keep hand sizes down, to prevent hoarding of cards, which could stall or halt the game if it were allowed to happen. Instead of a rule, (You may not hold more than x cards in your hand), we are given the robber, a mechanic which, among other effects, serves to potentially hurt any player who dares to go over a certain hand limit... players who amass a large hand and get struck by the robber quickly learn to keep their hand within a reasonable limit. In general, hand sizes stay small. Designer objective accomplished.

The rule says: You can't hold more than x cards.
The law would say: You shouldn't hold more than x cards.

The author enforces the rule.
The game enforces the law.

~Josh

Nestalawe
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"Laws versus Rules"

Jebbou wrote:

I also think of games (such as Mare Nostrum) where there is a limited number of army/triemes/caravanes/cities tokens to place on the board. The small amount of token availables were obviously defined to force something on the game (Force player to attach each others, prevent players from conquering the whole map). I have seen players annoyed by this.

Mare Nostrum is an interesting one. I like the idea that there are limits on what can be built, which leads to an interesting development to the game, where players can only bild up and expand to a certain point before they really need to attack someone. It also brings out interesting strategies and play styles.

The group I play with are usually pretty cautious, and so build up as much as they can, and are careful about attacking because of retributions. In our last game however, Egypt made an early attack on Carthage, which really messed them up.

On the other hand, the game did feel restrictive, and often frustrating, when say, all the caravans were built and you were not ready to move into someone else. But, we just got the expansion, which opens up the game a whole lot more, and I now wouldn't play without it. The limitations are still there, but there is now a nice balance where you have a wider variety (i.e. through the various gods) of choices on how to approach these limitations.

Sorry, sounds a bit off topic, but its not really ;)

I think the Laws/Rules aspect is essential in any game, especially when trying to develop a 'realistic' world within which to immerse the players. I am constantly battling back and forth with how I believe things would work in the world of the game I am creating, to how I can model these game laws without it feeling artificial.

Hedge-o-Matic
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"Laws versus Rules"

I think abstract games are good design tools to get a feel for this sort of thing. The designer has a certain "feel" in mind for the way the game should play, but only the bare mechanics are presented, so it may not be obvious by reading the rules what the experience of gameplay will be. Concepts like density of pieces before there is a reaction or a crisis are most obvious in abstracts, and, I think, illustrate the rules/principles dichotomy quite well. Usually, with an abstract, the sum is far more than the parts alone would suggest, and this can be equally true of boardgames in general.

It's basically emergent complexity all over again; letting the interactions between the various rules guide the game play, as much or more than the rules themselves.

gilbertgea
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"Laws versus Rules"

I think the key issue is one of Choice, i.e. not limiting a players options arbitrarily (i.e., "The Player may not have more than three armies") but by the games mechanics themselves (ex., the cost of maintaining more than three armies increasing exponentially).

Give the players the option to do what they want to do -- within reason -- and let them discover the consequences for themselves. Not only will the players feel lest constrained and "straight-jacketed" by the rules, but the gameplay will probably be more interesting in the long run.

For instance, say the cost of maintaining more than three armies causes a player to neglect expending resources in some other critical area. His choice to do so represents a Risk he is taking: he is aware of the cost, but he assumes it because he thinks the possible benefits outweigh those costs. If he gets hammered by other players who play more prudently, this might affect his behaviour in subsequent games. If he succeeds, perhaps he will adopt a similar strategy in subsequent games or turns in the current game. Perhaps others will adopt his strategy and engage in an "arms race". Or maybe his fellow players will "gang up" on him and take him down in some other way.

Again, the key is presenting players reasonable choices with the associated risks and let them make the decisions.

adagio_burner
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"Don't shoot yourself" is a good rule

I personally hate arbitrary rules and love laws. Some rules irritate me so much I cannot play the game.

A good example here is renju. I know the restrictions on the black player balance the game very nicely. And yet they seem so arbitrary to me, and aesthetically unpleasant. The fact that the rules cannot be explained to a new player before some game analysis is taught only adds to that feeling.

I also tend to dislike games with lots of rules you have to memorize. It's a mark of a good design when the rule set is short end elegant. But in some games you read the rules and almost see how playtesters came to the designer and said: "when the players do this and then that, they always win". But the game was already "done" and scheduled for production, so the designer simply patched it by including the rule "you are not allowed to do this and then that". Then, another situation like that came up, and another patch...

And yet, there are situations when an extra rule is a good thing. For example, it's a good thing to include a rule "don't shoot yourself in the foot".

That is, if the number of possible choices is vast, but most of them are fruitless (according to the game laws), players feel frustrated.

If one strategy is slightly better than the other, it's fine to alow both and let the players figure out the best one for themselves. But when a certain choice quickly leads to being stuck for the rest of the game and not having any fun, it's better to eliminate such choices altogether with a rule.

Players should be gently guided by the rules, and rules should limit the options to reasonable. A new player is bound to make stupid moves... if that leads to him getting stuck and frustrated, he is likely to walk away and not even play another game.

seo
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"Laws versus Rules"

I agree with adagio_burner, but I think that rather than "don't shoot yourself in the foot" rules it's better to include a strategy guideline addendum to the actual rules. That way you let the players decide if shooting one's foot is a good thing, yet you warn them so that they don't do it out of pure distraction or lack of knowledge. But you let the door open for someone that's clever enough to find a scenario where shooting yourself in the foot gives an advantadge (let's say you can then cash some insurance or just stay at home reading instead of going to work).

But I think we all agree that the less the rules the better, as long as the rules define a good and balanced enough set of in-game laws.

Another huge advantadge of limiting the rules to a minimum is that games are then easier to learn (but not necessarily to master). And laws are easier to remember than rules, just like you intuitively know about physics laws, and never forget that things fall down and not up, etc.

Seo

Scurra
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"Laws versus Rules"

Well, just to muddy the waters some more, I think that this whole debate of "rules vs laws" is really just a subset of the "freedom of play" discussion. So far my musings on this subject have passed a reasonable posting size, and are even heading past a moderate article length (which is why I haven't contributed so far - every time I do, I realise that my thoughts belong better in the article, which will get posted somewhere. Eventually. :-)

Fundamentally though, I think it comes down to exactly how much influence the players themselves are allowed to have over the direction of the game. There is a clear axis which runs from "here's the scenario; do what you like"* all the way through to "here are the rules; do what you are allowed to do."** [I guess the other axis runs from "here is the precise thematic model we are simulating" through to "this is piece X and this is piece Y" - as a result, we can locate all our games somewhere in this space, although there are other dimensional axes that I haven't considered in this model!]
*this would be something like a social LARP, where players are given characters to play and interact with each other directly with as little outside intervention as possible.
**where this would be something like Go, where players are given some simple but very precise rules and everything is governed by those rules.

In other words, I guess I am disagreeing with the original assertion that a heavily-themed game should avoid rules in favour of laws, since there are good examples of that sort that are full of specific rules. Not tremendously helpful, but hey...

JeffK
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"Laws versus Rules"

I found this thread very helpful. It's encouraged me to look at my own game and see if there are any "rules" I can eliminate and use "laws" instead. If nothing else, it may shorten my rules and make the game itself more intuitive.

Jeff K.

FastLearner
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"Laws versus Rules"

I like the phrasing. I'd even extend the word "laws" a bit to "natural laws" or "laws of nature." There's no rule in life that says if you don't eat you'll starve to death: you just do by nature of the fact that your body needs fuel and eating is how we do it. I know in my designs I certainly work for natural law restrictions over explicit rules. I had a game once with actions where the game was broken if, of the five possible actions, players performed 1 or 2 and 5. Temporarily I had a rule that said you couldn't do 5 if you did 1 or 2 (or vice versa), but eventually I massaged the game such that you really wouldn't want to do that, and even if you did nothing would be broken.

As to your idea, David, I'd love to hear more.

-- Matthew

Infernal
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"Laws versus Rules"

These laws/priciples are an aplication of negative feed back loops. They create self limiting cycles.

I prefer these because they give the player more freedom to come up with strategies. For example:
If each army cost food suport, but did not generate food and also took up a peasant (which do generate food), then you will have a slfe limiting effect on the number of armies.

But.

If the player were to stockpile food then they could field a larger army for a short period of time, but this would have to be planed for. If you only had a rule that stated that only X number of armies can be built, then this type of play could never occure (and it si not realy much of a choice to build as many armies as you could, because building less armies will put you at a disadvantage).

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