Rules Variants

Many board games come with optional rules variants that you can include in the basic rules of the game. Twilight Imperium and A Game of Thrones both contain a few such optional rules.

In general, I think that these modifiers are helpful to the enthusiastic players of the game. The extra rules generally extend or increase the complexity of the game, but not to the degree engendered in a full expansion.

As such, they give the opportunity to add a something extra to the game, at little extra cost in additional learning. This means that the players of the game can gain extra enjoyment from their initial investment, and keep playing the game for longer.

Rules variants can, in general, be easily ignored if required, meaning that a new player can learn only the basic rules, and the experienced game players can drop the additional rules without losing the core of the game.

Different play groups will find different variants more useful than others, depending on the styles of play and tactics favoured amongst the group. You can include variants in a game that favour one strategy over another, allowing overly prevalent strategies to be curtailed, based on the particular preferences of the players.

The weakness with variants is the extra work required to develop the extra rules. Some rules variants are simple, quick to develop and easy to balance. Some are much harder, requiring more rules, new game components and are tough to evenly balance. These more complex variants often add the most to the game, but also cost most to develop.

Variants should be considered for addition throughout the design process, if you find a section of rules that doesn’t quite fit, but you’d like to retain, consider holding onto it for possible inclusion as a rules variant.

As is often the case with game design, including rules variants has both a cost and a benefit, and it is up to you to decide how mush of a cost you can incur for a given benefit.


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