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Games are made out of rules. A good game needs rules to define what players can and cannot do, and to reliably evaluate whether they have succeeded or failed.

This is not much of an issue if you are playing Solitaire, where the only action is moving cards, or Super Mario Bros., where the bulk of the game can be reduced to running and jumping. But if you are playing a Tabletop RPG, or some other game where the players should have a great deal of freedom, you need to deal with all sorts of unusual special cases.

Clever game designers will design a set of fundamental mechanics that are flexible enough to handle all sorts of unpredictable action. Naive and/or ambitious game designers will attempt to construct a new rule for every possible case. Thus, even an apparently simplistic game system can develop Loads and Loads of Rules.

Unless making the same generic skill checks over and over is your idea of fun, extra rules are often necessary to keep a game interesting when it shifts focus from, say, combat to politics. This trope is about games that include far more rules than are necessary to keep it interesting. Even then, a game with Loads and Loads of Rules can be lots of fun if you're willing to do the work (and reading) to understand how to play--as long as the rules are good.

Games that fit this trope tend to be favorites of Rules Lawyers. They will often require Obvious Rule Patches. See also That One Rule, a localized version of this, Cricket Rules for a trope dealing with this and Calvin Ball which is a dynamic version of this trope in action.

Examples of Loads and Loads of Rules include:


Card Games

  • The card game named Munchkin can suffer from this if you try to play with a bunch of expansions at once. Since the game is about rules-lawyering, this seems appropriate.
    • It says in the rules that "When the cards disagree with the rules, follow the cards. Any other disputes should be settled by loud arguments among the players, with the owner of the game having the last word", only adding to the chaos that is Munchkin.
  • Any sufficiently long game of Mao will end up with this. The hilarious part of the game is that you're not allowed to be told what any of these rules are.

Collectible Card Games

  • Magic: The Gathering has been getting new editions for more than ten years, and every single one comes with a few new rules, and a ton of weird special cases that need arbitrary rulings.
    • An older version of the Comprehensive Rules, when printed and bound in A4-sized paper, took well over 150 pages, most of it being devoted to individual card errata and rulings.
    • The Golden Rule of the game is: If a card says it can do something that's against the official rules, the card wins. So, each individual card can be considered an addition to the rules. As of mid-2012, there are over eleven thousand cards.
    • To give an example on how complex the game can be, look no further than Time Stop. The reminder text (used to elaborate on what a rule indicates), consists of six lines, and the card has only one action these lines go with. What's that, you ask? End the turn. When you have to use that much text to describe how to end the turn, you know this is a complicated game.
      • Admittedly, the first third of the reminder text describes (part of) how playing Time Stop works differently than letting the turn end naturally.
      • As of this writing, there are no less than four supplementary rulings at the above URL explaining additional ramifications of the card text. These supplementary rulings are around twice as long, in total, as the card text itself.
      • Perhaps the best example of why this is done (to prevent people using exotic interpretations of the language used) was with Time Walk. One playtester spoke about it to the designer, saying it seemed overpowered that every time he played it he won on the next turn. The card text? "Target opponent loses next turn." This was changed to "Take another turn after this one." And that ability for the such a low cost makes it still so overpowered you're only allowed one in your deck.
  • One of the most famous examples was the Star Wars Customizable Card Game, from the genre's height; some people for whom M:tG is breakfast, lunch, and dinner still can't hear the word "attrition" without curling up into a ball. The glossary was about four times the length of the core rulebook. That said, the rules did provide a very solid, balanced, even briefly popular game once you wrapped your head around them, and underground circles persist to this day.
    • For the (morbidly) curious: "attrition" was a minimum total of the "forfeit value" of the character and vehicle cards "forfeited" (discarded from play) after a battle, and it was determined, if the total "ability" was four or greater (i.e., one Jedi or trainee, one major character and one Mook, two Mauve Shirts, or four Mooks), by "drawing destiny," i.e., choosing a random card and looking at a number - just for these and some other pseudo-dicerolls - generally inversely proportional to how much of a powerhouse the single card was (to encourage more balanced decks). These forfeits also counted toward "battle damage," sustained only by the losing side based on the difference in "power," plus the "destiny" drawn above, which could also be paid one point at a time by discarding from the hand or deck (although attrition could not be), and had to be paid in full even if all the characters in the battle were gone; also, characters hit by a weapon, unless the weapon said otherwise, also counted toward both. Finally, many, many characters were "immune to attrition (< x)" where, if all the other cards were gone, and the initial (not just remaining) attrition had been less than x, remaining attrition (but not battle damage) could be ignored. This is all assuming there are no cards with less common effects mucking things up, of course, which there usually were.
      • Alternate definition: "amount of brain cells lost due to trying to read the above TLDR."
    • Also, just to give an idea what the glossary was like, one entry dealt with how, precisely, to interpret a card (appropriately called "Brainiac") with a destiny of pi and a power of sqrt(3(number of cards in opponent's hand - number of cards in your hand) + 2(gauge of opponent's strategic strength from battlefields in play - gauge of yours) + pi), but always at least 1. How, then? Well, to start, it insists that these values not be rounded...

Comics

  • A World War I wargame in Knights of the Dinner Table features these. It came in a genuine military surplus footlocker, features at least three different table-sized maps and has enough rules and variable factors to choke a small horse. The entire game cost $400, which was split between ten or so players who would be in on the first game with the winner getting to keep it for himself. Four years later, the first game is still going! The game itself is an exaggerated (though not by much) version of Advanced Squad Leader, requiring over twelve hours to play a single turn involving two players with such factors as weather, politics, population growth, food supplies, and so forth. And that's only what's shown on screen.

Literature

  • A fictional example is 'Dragon Poker' from Robert Aspirin's Myth Adventures series. Variables based on almost everything; rulebooks tend to be published per dimension, at most.
  • There is a science fiction story (If anyone can supply the name and author, please do.) where the primary rule of a card game is that each player, on their turn, makes a new rule. Remembering the rules as they currently exist is just the first level of the game. Knowing what rule is going to benefit you as the play continues is the real key to victory.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons and Dragons in its various editions gets a lot of this, though it doesn't necessarily show up during actual gameplay. As you level up your character, though, the options for advancement get a bit staggering, and they frequently change the previously-established rules somehow.
    • The degree to which this applies can depend on the number of source books allowed by the DM, since each adds more potential rules and exceptions.
    • The computer games adapted from it are, from the programmer's point of view, worse, since they have to code a program that will accurately use the rules constantly. This, however, actually makes the games somewhat more accessible for players.
    • The first version of D&D Miniatures had a very small core rulebook, almost a pamphlet. Each new set added creatures with new special abilities, however, which invariably required clarification. By the 14th set, the supplemental rules were easily twice the length of the core. Star Wars Minis, by the same company, has managed to avoid this by not going overboard with new special abilities (so far).
    • There's also an in-universe example in the form of Xorvintaal, which is a maddeningly complicated game played solely by ancient and very bored dragons. (While in the fluff it has rules which are followed, to reinforce how convoluted it is, the DM is encouraged to play it as a form of chess-based Calvin Ball just to reinforce how no-one with less than a thousand years to study it can have any idea how to play let alone what's going on).
  • GURPS is a game that has this is a mission statement. The core rule books for 4th Edition is 450 pages long with only 10 devoted to the vaguely defined Multiverse setting. Splat books inevitably add rules for specific situations that show up in the setting or genre they describe.
  • One of the many criticisms of FATAL, whose creator thought you might really need to know the number of words your character can say in a minute... Or what volume of cargo you can pack should you ever decide to become a cocaine mule... Or an entire chart for "anal circumference"... Why on earth would they think that? Roll 1d100:
    • 1-20: No justification.
    • 21-40: The creators are insane. Roll to determine which mental illnesses you think they have. See chapter 5: Mind
    • 41-60: You come up with a justification but were lost soon to madness upon comprehending it
    • 61-80: While trying to come up with a justification, you remember the game's treatment of rape, and just decide to get pissed off about that instead.
    • 81-100: Well it is an excellent source of Snark Bait.
  • Advanced Squad Leader. The rulebook is as thick as a large phonebook, and growing. There are so many rules there is a rule just for covering not being able to find a specific rule.
    • And you have to buy it separately from the game, along with a separate box of counters, maps, and scenarios for each nationality you want to play. Each of these, including the rulebook, will run you between eighty and a hundred US dollars.
    • Lengthy and complex rules sets are common in wargames as they try to cover many of the details of possible interaction and special cases that may come up, along with all the myriad things that you have to keep track of. (In ASL, for example, the order in which counters reside in each stack is vitally important...)
      • One large exception is Panzer Grenadier. The basic rulebook is something like 25 pages, with a few tables. It's actually possible to learn to play it without years of study.
      • A small exception is Steve Jackson Games's (long out of print) One Page Bulge - a decent, if not particularly deep, wargame whose rules are contained on a single 8.5"x11" sheet of paper. Many other SJG products from the time, along with its Spiritual Predecessor (sort of) Metagaming, and even a few TSR products (They've Invaded Pleasantville, Revolt on Antares, and so on), are almost as simple.
    • Brikwars is a Lego-based wargame that is actually designed to have too many rules, on the grounds you should just go make everything up like little kids do when they make toys fight.
  • Likewise, Star Fleet Battles has a rulebook larger than the Manhattan phone directory once all its myriad expansions are added, and additional reference materials (a page for each individual ship) that take up several other large binders. A common joke among players: "Legal officer, please report to The Bridge."
    • The combined rulebooks/expansions/supplements package is known collectively as "The Doomsday Edition."
      • Originally a joke because it seemed that it was never going to come. In the late 1980's, a series of issues, not limited to the fact that the game was starting to strangle on the tangle of rules changes that had been allowed, more or less forced the game to be redesigned once and for all. The fact that the game continues to tick along with the same edition for more than half the history of the game speaks to how well thought out the redesign was.
    • And, yes, it has rules for every little thing you might want to try, and what can make it succeed or fail, from ramming your opponent at high warp to knocking his shields down with your phasers and beaming marines onto his bridge to take his captain hostage. Or just beaming in an armed photon torpedo.
    • God help you if you shoot an enemy unit on one of the "corners" between its shields. The rules for determining which of the two neighboring shields was hit span several pages.
    • This is the result of a game designed by two guys who's day job was military intelligence officers at the Pentagon. Each published play scenario also counts as a rule, and has various sub-rules, some running to several pages. That being said, the rules are extremely well organized and finding the section that covers some particular situation is usually quite easy.
  • The game Role Master is jokingly called "Rulemonster" and "Rollmaster" among the gaming community because of this.
    • No, it's called Rollmaster because damn near everything is determined randomly. Game designers in The Eighties loved this for some reason, even though it completely defeats the purpose of roleplaying (do we have a trope for this? We should.)
  • Rifts has such a ridiculously boggled set of rules that it's known among fans as "The best-selling game that nobody actually plays".
    • For bonus points, all of the Palladium books are supposed to be compatible with Rifts, so you can theoretically include any of those other systems in it. Except for the minor issue that they're almost compatible, with key rules differing subtly across each system.
  • Hero System is to character generation what GURPS is to skill rolls. You want the ability to summon spiders every full moon, whose bite transforms humans into stone? It'll take you a page of math calculations to find the cost, but you can have it.
  • Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 both have core rulebooks. These rulebooks do not contain any of the stats or rules for any of the actual armies - those have their own books. This means that there are, in essence, a dozen rulebooks for each game.
    • That thing up there is the Imperator Titan datacard from Titan Legions. There are actually more rules than will fit on there, along with a whole set of counters and STOP RUNNING AWAY YOU COWARD
    • The best way to describe Warhammer 40000 is that it appears to be a pretty simple game at first - it's just all of the little exceptions and special rules that all of the factions bring to the table that make it quite complicated. And to properly build your army, you need to take all of those into account. Let's hope you have money!
  • Phoenix Command. The game used real ballistics tables for calculating damage. Its hit location table had twelve tables inside of it. This was apparently deliberate; the creators didn't want to compromise on realism.
  • Arkham Horror. The game is about wandering around a city, investigating, and hopefully defeating the servants of an Eldritch Abomination. During the game you can fight monsters, cast spells, go crazy, go shopping, get lost between dimensions, go crazy, join the police, watch the stores close as people leave town, and go crazy before being eaten by an alien super-being. The expansions add more rules to the game to boot, including adding a Dragon to work against you or allowing for pacts with the monster.
  • The board game Cosmic Encounters has so many rule variants that it is possible to play it a dozen times or more and never play the same game twice.
  • German tabletop RPG The Dark Eye. Let's see - as of the latest edition, you have the core rulebook (which becomes rather unnecessary once you get to the other ones), the character creation book, the book on skill use and combat maneuvers, the book on magic of all kinds (except for magic items), and the book on divine powers. All of these books are massive - the one on magic clocks in at over 400 pages -, and we haven't even gotten started on the incredibly in-depth descriptions of the setting (fifteen books on different regions of Aventuria, anyone?).

Video Games

  • Dwarf Fortress has rules to govern the dwarves' psychology, the geological processes of the planet, and vomit, to name a few. And the creator isn't done yet.
  • Nethack. Each individual item in the game has Over Nine Thousand ways of interacting with other items, and the dev team coded every single one.
  • Civilization provides an in-game spreadsheet to help you keep track of the various statistics on your cities. If you want to understand how those statistics will change in some number of turns, you'll need to make your own spreadsheet.
    • Alpha Centauri is along the same lines, and includes a bunch of other complicated rules like Nerve Stapling and terraforming commands like Boreholes.
    • Master of Orion 3 obliges, since its massive heaps of rules are literally stored as Excel spreadsheets.
    • Dominions 3's rulebook doesn't even include stats for the units, and still clocks in at 300 pages, half of which is a compact listing of the game's spells.
      • In reality though, a massive amount of those spells are summons, stats included. The independent unit stats are listed too.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • In one episode of Rugrats, the adults play an insanely complicated board game called Neurosis, with such rules as "Player 1 may only move counterclockwise when all other players are frozen behind the penalty line."

Miscellaneous

  • Nomic often winds up this way. Depending on the rules about rule numbers, it can look even worse than it really is; Agora Nomic has rule numbers well into the 2000s, but due to repealing old rules when the players get tired of them, the total number of rules at any one time tends to hover around 150 or so.
  • Mornington Crescent!
    • But not between 7AM and 7:45AM on Sunday, otherwise you'll violate Montgomery's Principle and up in Nidd, putting you off the line until a diagonal switch becomes available.
      • Unless it's Easter.

Real Life

  • There are people whose entire job it is to figure out what the rules are. They're called "Scientists" and "Lawyers". Scientists figure out the rules the universe set up, and lawyers try to figure out the rules that we humans set up.
    • To quote Jerry Seinfeld: "We're all just moving around the board and lawyers are the people who have read the inside cover of the box." There's a reason some people are called Rules Lawyers.
    • The difference being scientist figure out rules that people have no choice but to comply with, while lawyers figure out rules that either non-lawyers agreed to vote on, then forgot, or other lawyers came up with in the first place.
      • This goes double for countries that have a common law system (i.e. much of the English-speaking world), where some judgments are based on previous decisions made in similar cases rather than from what's written "in the books." This is known as "legal precedent," and it is why so many lawyers spend so much time citing other cases in their arguments.
      • There are several hundred thousand federal laws on the books, so many that nobody knows exactly how many laws we have. Ignorance is still no excuse... which is why you generally have the right to call in your own Rules Lawyer for help.
    • Subverted with physics in that, while the rules are hard to figure out and often very counterintuitive, it's believed that they're quite simple. Problem is that anything counterintuitive is mostly opaque to humans who aren't trained to think in a certain way.
    • Some schools of thought hold that there are basic rules for human behavior, which are usually stated in the opening paragraph of the relevant chapter in a sociology or behaviorology textbook. The rest of the same chapter is usually devoted to examining the exceptions that have been noted and trying to derive a separate generalization for them.
  • Most modern sports have turned into this, usually due to some form of Loophole Abuse or Game Breaker that players have stumbled upon, some of them changing the game only slightly and some of them making the old form almost unrecognizable. Baseball is an example of the first, with the first set of rules, while much shorter, isn't too much different from the current set of rules. Basketball is an example of the second -- the original rules didn't even allow a player to dribble the ball up the court, one of many major changes making the oldest version of the game look almost nothing like what a modern fan would recognize (modern rules here.
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