Evolving Rule Sets

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Games where the new rules are added to the game as time passes.

Games needs rules to be playable, but these rules can change over time. These Evolving Rule Sets can do so on two different time scales: both during game instances and between game instances. Although this may cause irritations for players since the premises have been changed, it can also offer new activities, balance gameplay, and add details where players have requested it.


The modern variants of Chess and Go have evolved during the centuries they have been played. In contrast, roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS have gone through several revisions (as of 2011, 4 and 3 respectively) and nearly every new product for these game systems include new rules of some sort. Commercially successful board games such as Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, Race for the Galaxy, and Pandemic have spawned expansions with not only more content but more rules and game components with new functionality. Similarly, Collectible Card Games such as the Pokémon Trading Card Game and Magic: The Gathering release new cards in expansions, and the latter only allows a few of the latest expansions to be used in official tournaments.

While many games can change over time due to local variations becoming popular or official changes or expansions are added, some games are designed to have their rules change during gameplay. Examples of this latter category include Fluxx series, Nomic and Bartok. Games with persistent game worlds, ranging from World of Warcraft to FarmVille and Mafia Wars, need to change rules while they are being played even though this can cause friction with players that feel disadvantaged by the changes. The same applied to campaign in roleplaying games.

When games become organized with international committees overseeing what the official rules are (part of the formal definition of sports but not the one used in this wiki), they stop having Evolving Rule Sets, or at least change much slower since these changes need to be negotiated. Go and Chess are examples of this.

Using the pattern

Evolving Rule Sets do not have to be explicitly design for in Self-Facilitated Games or those with human Game Masters since the players or Game Masters can change the rules regardless of any designer's intention. Supporting Evolving Rule Sets for games with Dedicated Game Facilitators (excluding human Game Masters) requires other approaches. Expansions and patches are one way of having Evolving Rule Sets after the fact - they allow game designers to add, modify, and remove rules and game components after a game has been publicly released. Another, less common, way is found in the games where players have the Creative Control to program AI Players (e.g. Crobots or Ultima Online) since the code can be seen as part of the rule set.

When game designers introduce new rules to create Evolving Rule Sets they must of course decide on what rules to change and why. Typical approaches are to introduce New Abilities, Ability Losses or Balancing Effects either to provide Varied Gameplay or to provide Player or Team Balance in PvP and games with TvT gameplay respectively. This may be especially useful for games with Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership since these easily can have unexpected Combos. Handling Player Balance and providing new content can be reasons when Massively Multiplayer Online Games need Evolving Rule Sets, but they can also be introduced to give Encouraged Return Visits.

Evolving Rule Sets differ from Varying Rule Sets in that latter does not need rules to be made during gameplay, they can all exist before game instances begin but not be active. Optional Rules can be seen as holding the middle ground - they can exist before gameplay begins and can be added during gameplay but are not seen as part of the core rule set (but are rarely removed once introduced).

Diegetic Aspects

Rules changes in tabletop Roleplaying games are often introduced to better provide what the Game Masters or players feel is needed to provide Thematic Consistency (which in fact typically depends on their impressions on how things work in the real world). This can also occur in games that try to simulate historical events, e.g. the Europa Universalis series and the Hearts of Iron series.

Interface Aspects

It may be necessary to provide Extra-Game Information to players to let them become aware of the rule changes due to Evolving Rule Sets


Evolving Rule Sets automatically provide Varying Rule Sets since the rules changes over time - but the opposite does not hold since rules can switch back and forth without evolving. If Evolving Rule Sets provides Varied Gameplay mainly depends on if the rule changes try to achieve Player Balance or modify gameplay more radically by New Abilities or Ability Losses. When the rules only exist for a certain time this is a form of Ephemeral Events, and when this is also tied to real world events this gives rise to Events Timed to the Real World. Since the Ephemeral Events may have goals linked to them, it is quite natural that Evolving Rule Sets also can have Ephemeral Goals. While rule changes may reestablish Player Balance it also modifies what Strategic Knowledge means - keeping oneself updated on what actually is the Strategic Knowledge can be seen as a form of Red Queen Dilemma. For games with Persistent Game Worlds, the changing rules can Encouraged Return Visits and the Game World Exploration of what the rule changes are and how they affect gameplay, as well as allow for Varied Gameplay. Overall, Evolving Rule Sets tend to give rise to Complex Gameplay and long as the rule set is sufficiently large; it does this either through forcing players to continuously to learn how the new rules interact with old rules or by simply having the set of rules grow.

For games where players (or human Game Masters) can change the rules, this is one way games can give them Creative Control.

When the changes in rules to not come from either the game system itself (as in the Fluxx series) nor from players (as in Nomic), the changes are examples of Extra-Game Input. The most common example of this is when Dedicated Game Facilitators or Game Masters change rules during ongoing game instances.


Can Instantiate

Ability Losses, Balancing Effects, Complex Gameplay, Creative Control, Ephemeral Events, Ephemeral Goals, Events Timed to the Real World, Extra-Game Input, New Abilities, Thematic Consistency, Varied Gameplay, Varying Rule Sets

with Persistent Game Worlds

Encouraged Return Visits, Game World Exploration

with PvP

Player Balance

with Strategic Knowledge

Red Queen Dilemma

with TvT

Team Balance

Can Modulate

Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Persistent Game Worlds, Strategic Knowledge

Can Be Instantiated By

Dedicated Game Facilitators, Expansions, Game Masters, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Optional Rules, Self-Facilitated Games

AI Players together with Creative Control

Can Be Modulated By

Extra-Game Information

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



New pattern created in this wiki.