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 Dungeon & 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 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.

Dedicated Game Facilitators

That the rules of a game instance changes as gameplay takes place; Enablers: Events Timed to the Real World; Consequences: Ephemeral Events, Encouraged Return Visits, Exploration, Red Queen Dilemma

Persistent Game Worlds

Evolving Rule Sets differ from Varying Rule Sets in that latter does not need rules to be made during gameplay, the can all exist before game instances begin but not be active.

Expansions are a 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.

Diegetic Aspects

Interface Aspects

Narrative Aspects


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.

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


Can Instantiate

Creative Control Varying Rule Sets

with ...

Can Modulate

Can Be Instantiated By

Expansions, Game Masters, Self-Facilitated Games

Can Be Modulated By

Possible Closure Effects

Potentially Conflicting With


New pattern created in this wiki.