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In case of doubt, make optional rules

9 replies [Last post]
larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

I am currently finished to write the latest updates to my rules.

There are some rules and ideas that are sometimes neither good or bad. So I decided to add them to the rules as optional variant rules. Now there are starting to have a lot of rules ( in fact 7). I am scared that in fact any rule could get up there like if the game was not finished and I could make take a decision and flush all these rules as optional rules.

Is there some guide lines to make sure that the optional rules contains really good options to the game? Instead of putting the rules there because I did not bother doing the math to calculate the best option.

Personally, I think the idea of an optional rule is to fit to the many playing taste of the players. Using it or not should never break the game, it should only change the game experience.

Joined: 07/28/2008
I think you are on thin ice

I think you are on thin ice when creating a lot of optional rules. It gives sometimes a feeling that the game designer has really not done his/her job and gives the player too much responsibility finding out the best solution for rules.

I could be wrong of course, but I would keep the optional rules as minimum as possible. I think that when the game is really good it doesn´t have to have any optional rules but on the other hand it could sometimes give longer gaming time for the game itself.

Some variants are propably good, but I´d say it might be more wise to keep them only a little minimum for some special players like hardcore gamers, gamers who don´t like dice or little children.

Sorry for this confusing post. I am not sure if it did gave any answers at all! You know I´ve been thinking these as well and have a feeling that when you really come out with a good set of rules the need for optional rules gets less needed.

Joined: 07/27/2008
I try to reduce

I try to reduce the optional rules to this:

- Basic/advanced play: 1 set of rules for the basic game and 1 'complete' pack of advanced rules for the later. All or nothing. I also try to design those advanced rules so no rule can be removed.

- Winning conditions: Freely choose the number of victory points/items/cards or whatever a player must reach to win.

- Setup: Variable setup. i.e.: Remove X cards from the deck, size of the board...

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Thank for the information

Since I am always making variants for other games, I said that I could variant my own games. But again, giving too much options is feeling like the game is incomplete. So I might reconsider it.

There is currently a variable setup, and I don't think I will place advanced rules.

Joined: 01/21/2009
I love variant rules

I don't own a game without at least some house rules. I always write some, and in my opinion they usually make the game more fun. Therefore, I like it when a game designer gives me a place to start. Twilight Imperium is the best example of this I've seen.

There are some considerations, however. First, what's your intended audience? If your game is for the 'hardcore' crowd (meaning big geeks who go to conventions, post on BGG, will pay $80 for a boardgame, etc) then you can add as many variants as you can fit in the box, and we'll do nothing but love you for it. After all, pretty much everybody in that crowd tweaks games. Everybody has house rules, and most of us have played an RPG of some sort, with a ruleset so variable that simple variants don't bother us. However, if your target audience is average people, you are allowed very few variants, if any. I don't know about the average throughout the world, but the Average American is as dumb as toast. If you're trying to sell them a game, they want a very codified set of rules that won't conflict with anything in their very codified brains. Nothing they'll have to think too hard about.

The other thing is simple. Separate the variants from the rest of the rules. Come up with a primary variant, even if you need to decide it completely arbitrarily. Then give the variants their own section at the end of the rulebook. That should make it hard to be confused.

As for the designer looking lazy, anybody who knows enough about games to think that almost certainly tweaks games and won't care.

Raiderjakk's picture
Joined: 10/19/2008
There is no way that you will

There is no way that you will be able to get every aspect of your game 100% correct. Optional rules allow different to get to a good gaming experience - and that's not such a bad thing at all.

ReneWiersma's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
It's interesting to see such

It's interesting to see such differing opinions on this subject!

I personally believe that the designer should come up with, what he believes is, the best set of rules. Optional rules confuse the player and make a game seem "unfinished". Also, when players play the game with a different group it might not be immediately clear what set of variants they play with. This can lead to unsatisfying situations.

Putting optional rules in a game just because you couldn't decide what the best rules are is probably the worst reason to include optional rules! I'd say, when in doubt, DON'T make optional rules! Just figure out what the best rule is that works the best in most circumstances and use that rule. If it doesn't matter much, then just choose one, don't leave it up to the player.

If a group of players wants to modify the rules to a game they will be able to come up with their own housevariants, anyway.

Joined: 07/24/2008
Well said! I'd like to add

Well said! I'd like to add that, for our group, part of the fun in buying a game is dismantling existing rules and create our own rules.

Willi B
Joined: 07/28/2008
Optional Rules vs. Variants/Set Ups

I define Variants and Set Ups as something different and completely okay to use.... In Dominion you can tailor the game to differing playing styles by using the suggest set-ups (variants) and I see that as good... many people will want more interaction in the game and the designer suggested a card mix that would allow a higher level of interaction/interference.

Many games that use a Hex-shaped boards that allocates players to starting positions that are equidistant will often be fine for 2, 3, 4, or 6 players but run into problems with 5. They might have a variant Set Up to try to maintain game balance. However, I think that both Twillight Imperium (3rd edition) and Colosseum suffer at certain player numbers just because of the board Set Up (even with alternate Set Up).

Optional rules are good for some things.... if a game is too hard to get into for first time players, a beginner/advanced option is good. There are also good rules for handicapping (Go comes to mind) that I like. Lastly, I see party games as the best time to pull out the optional rules to either make players more comfortable or keep everyone at the party happy. Not really a designer game thing, I know, but I feel that there is a place and time for all things.

Oh... and whenever I get stuck playing Ameritrash I usually come up with some new rule to end the game quicker!

Raiderjakk's picture
Joined: 10/19/2008
It's like ordering....

...something on the side. If I see an optional rule in the text, my first thought isn't, "Well, put this game away - the designer was too wishy washy to come up with a set of rules." Galaxy Truckers comes to mind. Here, play half a game. After that, play Round 1 if you want. Or play round 3. Heck, we'll give you 3A and you can literally play for hours.

If optional rules are used as a band-aid instead of a rule, then, yes, by all means, they are evil. Occasionally, they can really add to a game or emphasize a mechanic that seemed interesting at first that for whatever reason dropped off - but can come alive and add something later.

You mention "Go" and that is an excellent example of a rule that doesn't change the flow or spirit of the game - runs right with it actually - and makes it better for everyone.

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