\x91'Every point of order imposed on a system requires the continuous expenditure of energy to maintain it.'\x91

A game is a system. A point of order imposed on a game is called a rule. The energy most relevant to rules is thought. Therefore:

\x91'Every rule imposed on a game requires the continuous expenditure of thought to maintain it.'\x91

What is this expenditure of thought? Some of it on the part of the designer. Every rule has the potential to interact with every other rule. If a game has N rules, adding N+1 creates N potential conflicts. The designer must evaluate each of these to determine if they desirable or not. The designer must also explain each rule, and potentially each interaction, so that players can understand it. These, however, are \x91one time' up-front costs; once the game is perfected, the expenditure is no longer continuous.

The real continuous part is on the player's side. The learning curve of a game is a known problem, but it is a one time cost. However, every rule that a player must learn, a player must also have in his mind at some time as he plays the game.

The first part of the player's burden is more overhead. Every single decision a player makes will have to pass through the mental filter for the rule to see if the rule applies.

The second burden is simply numeric. If the rules of the game exceed the players mental capacity, then he will have to utilize secondary storage (reference cards or the written rules.) The worst example of this may be charts and tables, which are likely never to be learned except by the most die-hard players.

A person can hold SevenPlusOrMinusTwo things in mind at once. Even if the player can contain all of the (important) facets of the game, the number of rules which he must keep in mind takes up memory that could have been used to think strategically. Lets say we have a perfectly average person on an average day, who can manage seven things. If your game has six important rules, the player may only consider one strategic thought at once without losing rules. If the game has three rules, then the player may consider four aspects of strategy at once. If it has seven or eight, the player, needing to do some strategic thinking, will forget rules, and may experience a lot of "oh wait, I can't do that" or "oh darn, I should have done this." Unfortunately, remembering that a rule makes something possible passes for strategy in many cases.

On the other hand, if carefully cultivated this can create surprise. Nobody can keep the thousands of Magic:_The_Gathering? cards in mind at once, or even the hundreds of shared mechanics. This opens up the possibility for new strategies and clever opponents that keep the game interesting.

I came across this principal in programming. I was experimenting with column-aligning values in a configuration file, in an editor that only supplied automatic left-side indenting. Every time I added a new parameter to the file, there were a few different field widths, or I would rethink how I wanted things aligned. After only a few hours of this, I gave up on the alignment idea: the energy required to maintain it was too great.

Now, this was during a period of heavy change. It is likely that once the file went from rapid change to only switching options back and forth, the alignment would be easy to maintain, and a little easier to read. There are other pieces of order I impose on my source code that I wouldn't think of abandoning.

The lesson here is that sometimes a bit of order puts things into a shape that saves us more energy later. A game with no rules would seem pretty pointless to most people. Rules provide the goals and mechanisms that players enjoy interacting with. The task, then is to find the rules which provide the maximum benefit for the thought required to maintain them.

----- A variation of the first version of this topic was submitted to The_Games_Journal?

(Where? Or was it rejected?)

Rejected, with suggestions for improvement. I got as far as making a better, more structured outline (which included making the short term memory tangent a seperate precusor article) but got busy and haven't returned to the project. -Justin_Love?