Varied Gameplay

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Variation in gameplay for a game, either within a single play session or between different play sessions.

This pattern is a still a stub.





Settler of Catan different layouts of hexes

Using the pattern

One of the most general ways of ensuring Varied Gameplay within a game instance is to vary the rules that apply in that instance. This can either simply be by having Varying Rule Sets but an alternative is to have Evolving Rule Sets. In general, Randomness is a way to promote Varied Gameplay. This can be done both within and between game instances, for example through applying Randomness on Enemies, Ephemeral Goals, Game Worlds, Levels, or Quests. For Game Worlds specifically, Procedurally Generated Game Worlds, Player Constructed Worlds, or Reconfigurable Game Worlds can be used to make these vary between game instances. Another general approach to support Varied Gameplay is to allow players choices since each choice can provide more variation. While this means that Freedom of Choice or Open Destiny together with Limited Set of Actions can be used in general, Selectable Sets of Goals provides a clear enumeration of what choices exist while Incompatible Goals or Internal Conflicts force players to choice between goals. When several players play together, their choices and interaction can provide even more variation due to social and psychological effects. This means that patterns dealing with creating shifting relations between game agents, e.g. Dynamic Alliances and Internal Rivalry, make for Varied Gameplay. To a lesser degree, this can also be achieved by giving players Functional or Social Roles, and somewhat paradoxically AI Players can be used for this also since they can guarantee different behaviors to the other players of a game. Besides these general approaches there are two main categories of Varied Gameplay: that which is varied between game instances and that which is varied within game instances. A game can of course aspire to provide both.

Asymmetric Abilities, Asymmetric Goals, Asymmetric Resource Distribution, Asymmetric Starting Conditions, and Orthogonal Differentiation (between players' abilities) typically provide Varied Gameplay between game instances through giving players different Abilities or Resources each time they play (limited by the number of different Abilities and Resources that are varied). This can be packaged as Asymmetric Roles and in Multiplayer Games this can take the form of Functional Roles. Competence Areas in general can support Varied Gameplay but more likely between players than for individual players. Flanking Routes lets players have difference between game instances in that they can use different routes to achieve their goals between the instances. Back-to-Back Game Sessions can be used to any game design that has Varied Gameplay between game instances to further provide Varied Gameplay although this is most often used in games with Asymmetric Starting Conditions to create Player Balance over game instances.

During game instances Varied Gameplay can be forced on players through Ability Losses and Cooldown effects since these can make players have to handle challenges in different ways during a game instance. More positively from the players' perspective, Varied Gameplay can be achieved by presenting them with New Abilities (possibly through access to new Weapons), Privileged Movement, Sidegrades, Temporary Abilities, and new or improved Skills. Letting players meet or control different Units or Vehicles is another way to give Varied Gameplay to them, possibly through Transfer of Control. In more general terms, having Orthogonal Differentiation among the various game elements encountered in a game. For games with Abstract Player Construct Development, giving New Abilities or Privileged Abilities to these provide players with Varied Gameplay in that they get more and more options of what to do as gameplay progresses.

Character Development together with Improved Abilities or New Abilities

When it comes to varying goals within a game instance, Ephemeral Goals and Minigames can do this and thereby make players have different gameplay during a game instance.

Complex Gameplay on a more abstract level promotes Varied Gameplay since players may both need to handle more different types of challenges (and have more different actions available) and need to vary their style of playing overtime. Polyathlons can be seen as a special case of this through dividing a game into several different parts which each require different skills. One way of making Varied Gameplay through Complex Gameplay is having many Resources in a game and providing players with possibilities of using Converters or combinations of Producer-Consumer actions on them. Having different phases is another way of having Varied Gameplay in a game, for example through the use of patterns such as Construction/Scoring Phase Shift or games with Planning Phases or Execution Phases, or both.

Levels can be used to provide Varied Gameplay both through having individual Levels differ from each other (through structure, variety in content, and varying rules) and by differing internally (for example through Environmental Effects). Variations in Enemies are a very common solution for Level variation, e.g. by giving Achilles' Heels to some Enemies or by giving Privileged Abilities to Boss Monsters. Backtracking Levels is a production efficient way of proving Varied Gameplay over a Level as long as it isn't symmetric. Tile-Laying can be used as a way to vary Levels, as consequences of players' actions, Randomness, or procedural content generation.

Varying players' Abilities, the challenges, or the game elements in a game can all promote Varied Gameplay. However, this typically also promotes Replayability, so ensuring that a game has Replayability often works as a way of making Varied Gameplay be present in a game design.

Some patterns work against Varied Gameplay. Ones that make players do less or make them do the same most of the time belong to this group. Examples include Camping, No-Ops and Entrenching Gameplay. Symmetry in general remove variety, so Symmetric Goals, Symmetric Information, and Symmetric Resource Distribution all work against Varied Gameplay. Quick Games works against the patterns simply because it may be difficult to have variety in a short game. While Sensory-Motoric Engrossment doesn't work against Varied Gameplay, Varied Gameplay works against players being able to have that particular type of engrossment.

Can Be Instantiated By

Vision Modes, Vulnerabilities

Geometric Progression together with Negative Feedback Loops

Persistent Game Worlds together with Construction or Creative Control

Strategic Planning together with Replayability

Can Be Modulated By

Diminishing Returns, Internal Rivalry, Supporting Goals, Testing Achievements

Diegetic Aspects

Alien Space Bats can be used to introduce or point players towards areas of a game where Varied Gameplay exists due to the introduction of new elements to the diegesis.


Varied Gameplay can make games have Challenging Gameplay since players need to be able to handle shifting contexts (besides how challenging the actual activities are). This naturally affect how easy it is to haveGameplay Mastery of such a game.


Can Instantiate

Challenging Gameplay

Can Modulate

Gameplay Mastery

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, AI Players, Alien Space Bats, Asymmetric Abilities, Asymmetric Goals, Asymmetric Resource Distribution, Asymmetric Roles, Asymmetric Starting Conditions, Backtracking Levels, Back-to-Back Game Sessions, Competence Areas, Complex Gameplay, Construction/Scoring Phase Shift, Converters, Cooldown, Dynamic Alliances, Environmental Effects, Ephemeral Goals, Evolving Rule Sets, Execution Phases, Flanking Routes, Freedom of Choice, Incompatible Goals, Internal Conflicts, Internal Rivalry, Minigames, New Abilities, Levels, Orthogonal Differentiation, Planning Phases, Polyathlons, Privileged Movement, Procedurally Generated Game Worlds, Producer-Consumer, Reconfigurable Game Worlds, Replayability, Selectable Sets of Goals, Sidegrades, Skills, Social Roles, Temporary Abilities, Tile-Laying, Transfer of Control, Units, Varying Rule Sets, Vehicles, Vision Modes, Vulnerabilities

Abstract Player Construct Development together with New Abilities or Privileged Abilities

Achilles' Heels together with Enemies

Boss Monsters together with Privileged Abilities

Character Development together with Improved Abilities or New Abilities

Functional Roles together with Multiplayer Games

Game Worlds together with Player Constructed Worlds

Geometric Progression together with Negative Feedback Loops

Open Destiny together with Limited Set of Actions

Persistent Game Worlds together with Construction or Creative Control

Randomness together with Enemies, Ephemeral Goals, Game Worlds, Levels, or Quests

Strategic Planning together with Replayability

Weapons together with New Abilities

Can Be Modulated By

Diminishing Returns, Internal Rivalry, Supporting Goals, Testing Achievements

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Camping, Entrenching Gameplay, No-Ops, Quick Games, Sensory-Motoric Engrossment, Symmetric Goals, Symmetric Information, Symmetric Resource Distribution, Symmetry


An updated version of the pattern Varied Gameplay that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.