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That’s how Isaac Newton summarizes, in his answer to a question by his rival Leibniz, the method for calculus he was working on: by using an anagram to make it undecipherable (which did not prevent Leibniz from coming up with his own method). It may be hard to believe in our present age where knowledge is shared openly and scientific publications abound, but for centuries scientists were reluctant to share and publicize their work. And when they had to, they resorted to all kinds of coded languages to protect it from being disseminated or even claimed by third parties.
It is out of the same fear for their intellectual property that some game designers and publishers are opposed to making available online (for free or not) the rules of their games.
But it is among gamers that living rules have their most fervent detractors. That such a practice can sometimes be a cop-out for doomed projects led by incompetent people is one thing. But some gamers see living rules as nothing short of some kind of plot conceived by negligent publishers. Here’s how it goes: instead of putting in the time and effort required to test and revise the rules to a game, those unscrupulous publishers would rather sell it as is, unfinished, and abuse their loyal and paying customers by using them as playtesters. Only to update the living version of the rules afterward, as problems and errors are reported.
A few other gamers are vexed that the rules they’ve come to master could change, just like that, at any given moment. Especially since such changes can sometimes incur additional costs (for buying upgrade kits for example).
But on the whole, it is safe to say that the gaming community sees many advantages to living rules.
- Beyond reviews, unboxings, playthroughs or AARs, free access to the rules are ideal to form a clear opinion of a game that we consider buying, to study a game that’s out of print, or simply to check the translation against the original text.
- A unique electronic document that includes and identifies all errata and clarifications is much better than having to manage multiple concurrent paper versions of static rules, and makes much easier the life of publishers and gamers alike.
- Rules that are exposed to a large number of gamers inevitably get refined over time and offer a more streamlined gameplay.
The free and open access to knowledge we’ve come to enjoy is certainly not the only aspect of our times that would bewilder 17th-century scientists. But it is a sure sign that living rules are in sync with the times and that they are here to stay.
References and Further Browsing
- Living document, on Wikipedia
- Fundamental Anagram of Calculus
- GMT Games Living Rules
- The Living Rules System by Wizards of the Coast
- Terminology – “Living rules”, on Boardgamegeek