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Loads and Loads of Rules
The green box represents the Titan's mini-fridge. You'd better keep it stocked with booze, or your pilot will get cranky.

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 Calvinball which is a dynamic version of this trope in action.

Examples:

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.
  • Fluxx starts out with two simple rules— draw one card, play one card. However, if the game goes on very long, it can get quite complicated.

Collectible Card Games
  • Magic: The Gathering has been getting an average of four new sets a year since 1993, and every single one comes with a few new rules. While recently they've been surprinsingly good at avoiding arbitrary rulings for weird cases, 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. More recent editions of the CR are about 200 pages long, even though it no longer contains ruling for specific cards (those are now part of the Oracle/Gatherer system, but can be derived directly from the rules for someone who knows them well enough). As of mid-2014, there are over fourteen thousand unique 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. This is because the action, End the turn, can obviously lead to a lot of interpretations regarding what exactly it means to end a turn when it's not actually supposed to end. Only two cards in the whole game do this and a whole section of the rules is devoted to them
    • Similarly, the card Mindslaver ended up creating an entirely new section of the rules dictating on how to take over an opponent's turn. To date only it, Sorin Markov and Worst Fears uses said rules, although a very old card (Word of Command) that kind of didn't make sense with the rules was "fixed" using part of this section as well.
    • Finally, there is also a section of the rules devoted to restarting the game, which can only be done by one card, Karn Liberated.
  • 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.
    • 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...
  • The same company, Decipher Inc., also made the Star Trek Collectible Card Game, which was a lot less complicated... at first. The First Edition of the game started out with only eight different types of cards: Missions, Dilemmas, Artifacts, Ships, Personnel, Equipment, and Events and Interrupts. The first edition ended with nineteen card types, most of which turned out to be completely unnecessary: the game's rebooted Second Edition started out with only seven (Artifacts were folded into Equipment) and remains that way to this day.

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.
  • One of the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy novels gives the short version of the rules for Brockian Ultra-Cricket, and a mention that the only time anyone ever compiled a complete set of rules, it immediately underwent gravitational collapse and became a black hole.

Live-Action TV
  • Pick a Game Show created by Jay Wolpert. Any show created by him is bound to have an insanely complex rule sheet. Whew! in particular is a major offender.
  • Defied by noted game show creator Mark Goodson, who once said that any good show should have a concept that can be explained in one sentence.
  • Wheel of Fortune seems to have gotten into this territory in the 21st century. Three Toss-Ups, of which the second and third respectively determine who starts rounds 1 and 4. Two "˝ Car" tags that can be claimed to win a car. Mystery wedges in Round 2, which can be left as-is or flipped to see if they contain a Bankrupt or $10,000 Prize. A Prize wedge. A gift tag. A Wild Card, which lets you call an extra letter on any turn, or in the Bonus Round. Free Play, which lets you do anything within that turn without penalty. A Million Dollar Wedge which, if the player makes it to the bonus round, replaces the usual $100,000 top prize with $1,000,000 — and even that's a 1/24 shot. Round 3 has an "Express" wedge, on which you can choose to call letters for $1,000 a pop without spinning again, or pass up to continue playing as normal.
  • Kirk invented a card game on Star Trek: The Original Series to confused his mobster jailers. He called it Fizzbin, and made it as silly and hard to understand as possible.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & 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 Calvinball 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.
    • Sample rule:
      2.2401 GUN DUELS: Vs a non-concealed, non-Aerial DEFENDER's declared Defensive First Fire attack on it, a vehicle may attempt to Bounding First Fire (D3.3) its MA (/other-FP, including Passenger FP/SW) at that DEFENDER first, provided the vehicle need not change CA, is not conducting an OVR (D7.1), its total Gun Duel DRM (i.e., its total Firer-Based [5.] and Acquisition [6.5] TH DRM for its potential shot) is < that of the DEFENDER, and the DEFENDER's attack is not Reaction Fire (D7.2). Neither the +1 DRM for a Gyrostabilizer nor the doubling of the lower dr for other ordnance in TH Case C4 (5.35) is included in the Gun Duel DRM calculation. The order of fire for non-ordnance/SW is determined as if it were ordnance [EXC: TH Case A can apply to non-ordnance/SW only if mounted-on/aboard a vehicle that is changing CA; all such non-turret-mounted fire is considered NT for purposes of TH Case C, and A.5 applies to any type of FG]. If the ATTACKER's and DEFENDER's total Gun Duel DRM are equal, the lower Final TH (or non-ordnance IFT) DR fires first—and voids the opponent's return shot by eliminating, breaking, stunning or shocking it. If those two Final DR are equal, both shots are resolved simultaneously. Any CA change the DEFENDER requires in order to shoot (5.11) is made before the ATTACKER's shot if the DEFENDER's total Gun Duel DRM is ≤ the ATTACKER's; otherwise its CA changes (if still able to) after the ATTACKER's shot. After the initial Gun Duel has been fully resolved, and if otherwise able and allowed to, that DEFENDER may announce another attack vs that ATTACKER who in turn may declare another Gun Duel; this time the printed ROF of one firing weapon on each side may be included as a negative DRM in that side's Gun Duel DRM calculation. Only the ATTACKER may declare a Gun Duel [EXC: not if the DEFENDER has done so as per 5.33].
    • 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.
    • Brik Wars 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 Rolemaster is jokingly called "Rulemonster" and "Rollmaster" among the gaming community because of this. And because it has a vast number of tables to roll on for things like damage from an attack —- one for each weapon, for starters.
  • 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 40,000 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.
    • Except that you generally need only three: the main rulebook and one army books for each player. However, if you want all the rules you would have to get that dozen or so books. And buy them all again when a new edition of the rules is released, because they'll also release new army books to go with it over the following years.
    • 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 40,000 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!
      • Part of the problem is that the rules in the army books are often slightly inconsistent with other books, which makes things confusing for players. FA Qs released by Games Workshop are needed to alleviate the problem, but their insistence that all the rules are to be taken as they are written, and not interpreted to get the intended meaning, does not help given the inconsistencies.
  • 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.
    • There's an Advanced Damage Tables Supplement that has sixteen pages with four damage tables each, making sixty-four in all to cover locations as varied as "Knee" and "Hand" to "Upper chest - rib - lung - spine" or "Eye - nose"… Still, even though Phoenix Command has a lot of rules, it plays smoothly once you're used to the system.
  • 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.
    • As a taster, here's part of the game setup procedure for a game using all the expansions: "Place the Doom Tokens, Gate Markers, Clue Tokens, Activity Markers, Closed Markers, Explored Markers, Sanity Tokens, Stamina Tokens, Blessing Cards, Curse Cards, Benefit Cards, Detriment Cards, Patrol Markers, Sheldon Gang Memberships, Rail Passes, Condition Cards, Cult Membership Cards, Magical Effect Cards, Act Cards, Yellow Sign Cards, Dunwich Horror Tokens, Dark Pact Cards, Power Tokens, Captain Cards, Changed Cards, Beloved of Bast Cards, Rift Markers, Rift Progress Markers, Brood Tokens, Bast Tokens, Aquatic Markers, Uprising Tokens, Zhar Token, Ghatanothoa’s Visage Tokens, Personal Story Cards, Miskatonic Student Cards, Agent Tokens, Expedition Markers and Money Tokens beside the board. Place the Ancient Whispers marker on the Miskatonic University street area." Oh, just before that, you get to shuffle 41 separate decks of cards.
    • Arkham Horror is a typical example of a "sage game". You need at least one guy who knows EVERYTHING for the game to be completed in an ok matter. Otherwise you forget just how many monsters are allowed to roam the outskirts of town or just which color of monsters moves and which don't or exactly what 3 things happen after the terror level rises. It can be frustrating without one as the game is prone to ruleread-paralysis.
      • One of the major selling points for the new game Eldritch Horror has been "Arkham Horror, but streamlined, more fast paced and globe-trotting" and taking half the playtime (meaning it still clocks in at around 2-4 hours).
  • 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 or spells), 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?), rule books for spells, weapons, flora and fauna, magic items, alchemical stuff, three for all the schools for guild mages and a couple for themes like dungeons, the sea, dungeonmastering, demons or elementals or other stuff. To be fair, about 3/4 of that is fluff, but its still about 5000 pages. There are other settings with way less rules and fluff, about 1000 pages for the most described one, one other will be officially released soon, with about 500 more, and then theres the totally fan made one with a couple of hundred pages.
  • Hack Master does this on purpose, as it's an Affectionate Parody of first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Having grown from an 80s beer-and-pretzels game for reasonably detailed and flavorful duels and skirmishes between Humongous Mecha into a fully-featured futuristic wargame by organically adding bits and pieces on a case-by-case basis, BattleTech has a pretty solid case of this. It's not quite literally true that (for example) every piece of equipment that might be encountered and every critical hit that could happen have their own special-case rules...but it does get pretty close, and that's just using the "standard" tournament rules without going into the additional options offered by such further tomes as Tactical Operations. Rules for aerospace fighers and WarShips (in the Aerotech spinoff) are infamous for being nightmarishly complicated (especially with the optional zero-Space Friction rules) with hugely complicated record sheets and requiring things like rotation, height, and motion of travel having to be recorded or calculated every turn.

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. Even on a pretty good modern gaming rig, Procedural Generation of a new world takes upwards of an hour.
  • NetHack. Each individual item in the game has Combinatorial Explosion potential from 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.
  • Jagged Alliance 2 when released in 1998, had incredibly complex rules - but mostly "under the hood" (it was only "mildly" complex to the actual player). Since then, the v1.13 project has made the rules far more complex, adding hundreds of new features, each with its own rules, and revamped existing features to be more complex than before (and usu. more realistic).
    • v1.13 now includes rules for recruiting and controlling mobile NPC militias, manning and utilizing special facilities, climbing through windows, deploying bipods while crouched, setting up directional explosives, hitting a moving target (while taking account relative movement angles), and many many more.
    • At one point, several fans asked for a feature that allows players to load a magazine with individual bullets of mixed types, but the dev team turned that idea down due to the horror of imagining the game having to keep track of each bullet as a separate item. Still, the idea was seriously considered for quite some time, and has never fully been rejected.

Web Comics

Web Original

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."
  • In Adventure Time, it takes Jake two hours to explain basicially the basics of Card Wars.

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.

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.
    • 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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