Follow TV Tropes


Loads and Loads of Rules

Go To

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.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Prosfair, a fictional game from Blood Blockade Battlefront, resembles chess but gets exponentially more complicated the longer it's played.
  • Destroy All Humankind. They Can't Be Regenerated. is a story revolving around the card game Magic: The Gathering, which is chock full of rules that are explained and utilized throughout the series. Each new expansion pack gives the characters access to cards full of new abilities and mechanics to play around with.
  • One Piece has Hit and Dead Ball, which is similar to dodgeball but has hundreds of extra rules to cover pretty much every possibility. Among other things, there is a rule that covers what happens if someone eats the ball (they get eliminated).

    Board Games 
  • The US Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess (6th edition, which is the current one) is 416 pages. The world chess organization FIDE somehow manages to get by with just a couple of fairly large (but not excessively so) web pages.
  • 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.
  • Magic Realm is a fantasy realm adventuring simulator with 88 pages of rules (depending on edition). The complexity is part of the charm - and part of the reason it's been out of print for 30 years.
  • Here I Stand is a 2-6 player historical game that covers the war of reformation from 1517 to 1555. As you might expect from that description, there's a lot of content in there, with the rulebook running to 48 pages, covering everything from sieges to exploring the New World.
  • Europa Universalis was famously turned into a complex computer game by Paradox Interactive. Removing all the automated computer bits does not make it less fiddly.
  • While less complex than many on this list, Dominant Species is no slouch. It is said to be the inspiration for Cones of Dunshire, and seeing it set up it's not hard to see the resemblance. Often met with some mix of "oh my god I love it" and "oh my god that game".

    Card Games 
  • 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.
  • 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 surprisingly 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 three 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. note  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 power of sqrt(3(number of cards in opponent's hand - number of cards in your hand) + 2(a gauge of opponent's strategic strength from battlefields in play - a 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.
  • The core mechanics of Android: Netrunner are fairly straightforward, aside from the asymmetric play. Individual cards have such a wide range of effects, however, that the publisher frequently has to release supplements clarifying the rules and how they relate to particular cards.
  • Similarly, the core mechanics of Yu-Gi-Oh! can be described as "play cards until you or your opponent run out of life points or cards." However, nearly every card has individual rules and official rulings that affect the outcome of every single move and sometimes get very tricky. For example, playing a spell card, trap card, counter, or effect, can have a different outcome depending on the order it is played in amongst a chain of cards.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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 (i.e. as long as the actual war), the first game is still going (though only Weird Pete and Brian are still actively playing). 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.

  • 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 Hitchhiker's 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.

  • The whole plot of Iain M. Banks' The Player of Games concerns the hyper-complicated game of Azad in the Empire of Azad. The game and the Empire are synonymous, and it is meant to reflect absolutely every single aspect of it. Your skill at the game determines your position in the Empire, up to and including becoming Emperor. That's the official version at least - unsurprisingly, the system is intentionally weighed in favor of the upper classes.
  • Quidditch in Harry Potter has over 700 fouls, including, among others, not being allowed to release 200 vampire bats from underneath one’s robes. Why this needed to be made a rule is anyone’s guess. What's more, players are not allowed to see the complete list of fouls "because it might give them ideas". In practice, though, only twenty or so are actually called with any degree of regularity, most of which are relatively common-sense (about a quarter are variations on "Don't shove or knock opponents off their brooms").
  • Crockett, the Discworld version of cricket, is mentioned in Snuff. When Vimes has the rules explained to him, he gets the distinct impression that he died, and the universe ended, and then restarted, and then millions of years of evolution happened, eventually bringing him back to the pub where the crockett enthusiast has just finished explaining the reason the player wear little hats.

    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. (Ironically, the aforementioned Wolpert had previously worked for Goodson.)
  • The very short-lived Bob Stewart game show Winning Streak, which was very confusing and contained a near-impossible to win the top prize, replacing the much simpler Three on a Match.
  • 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 "½ 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.

  • On Parks and Recreation, Ben Wyatt invents an absurdly complicated board game/role playing adventure game/world building game for 8-12 players called "The Cones Of Dunshire". Amongst its many gameplay quirks are a system for rolling dice to see how many dice you get to roll. The object is to accumulate cones, with 4 cones winning — but in order to get even one cone, players must build an entire civilization. The game becomes popular amongst a very specific subgroup of players who love complexity. Ben later created a sequel game ("The Cones of Dunshire, The Adventure Continues: The Winds of Tremorrah") which was described as "punishingly intricate".
  • Kirk invented a card game on Star Trek: The Original Series to confuse his mobster jailers. He called it Fizzbin and made it as silly and hard to understand as possible.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000's "Rat Pack Chess Set" contains custom rules for how every piece moves. The black side is never elaborated on, but for the white side, Dean Martin "staggers sideways", Sammy Davis Jr. moves in a variety of ways, Joey Bishop "moves however Frank says", and Frank Sinatra takes any square he wants.


    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 sourcebooks 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 at least 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 what's going on let alone to play).
  • Pathfinder is a re-balanced version of D&D 3.5 made after 4th Edition D&D. As of late May 2016, Paizo has managed to put out two small (32-64 pages) supplements a month out, a new major rule book (about 300-500 pages) every 4-6 months, and a bit over a hundred Adventure Path books — which contain new monsters, items, and systems. That's about twenty 300-500 page hardcovers, a bit over a hundred adventure paths, and dozens of soft-cover supplements. The Core Rules alone are not the most intimidating thing in this section, but a no-book-barred Pathfinder game would rival early-edition D&D for rules bloat.
  • GURPS is a game that has this as its 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. 3e had rules for sliding down banisters, including the consequences of not taking due care when you get to the bottom. In fact, GURPS often has multiple (non-overlapping) rules for the same action depending on the setting.
    • GURPS also subverts this in that most of the rules are explicitly optional. The game designers have noted that there are only three mechanics that MUST be learned: success rolls (roll low on 3d6), reaction rolls (roll high on 3d6) and damage rolls.
  • One of the many criticisms of F.A.T.A.L., 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? The book is also infamous for zig-zagging the trope, in that half the rules (including, notoriously, how you play as all but three or so player classes) don't exist.
  • 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' (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 1980s, 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 were hit span several pages.
    • This is the result of a game designed by two guys whose 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. 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:
    • This game has such a ridiculously boggled set of rules that it's known among fans as "The best-selling game that nobody actually plays". It doesn't help that the books aren't very well organized - in the core book, for example, the only mention in the entire book of how you resolve skill rolls is in the glossary.
    • 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.
  • A good way to describe Games Workshop's tabletop games is that they appear simple at first, it's just all of the little exceptions and special rules that all of the possible factions bring to the table that makes them quite complicated. To properly build your army, you need to take all of those into account, and that will cost you more than shelf space for rulebooks.
    • Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 both have core books that contain the games' standard rules, and each faction has an Army Book or Codex that will tell you how to use them on the tabletop, so at the very minimum, you just need those two books. But if you're trying to get a sense of what your opponents are capable of, that will involve buying up to sixteen other army rulebooks. However, this doesn't account for campaign books, expansions, or variant game type rulebooks that introduce additional units, datasheets, characters, wargear or formations, or rules that only appeared in a specific issue of White Dwarf magazine. And then you'll have to track down FAQs or rulings that correct or clarify issues with the above rule sources. And then you argue over anything not covered by those official rulings, and whether it's better to read the Rules As Intended or Rules As Written. As an example, to have access to everything in the Tyranid army you'll need Codex: Tyranids, all three Leviathan supplements, the Shield of Baal: Deathstorm mini-booklet, the Shield of Baal: Leviathan campaign book (distinct from the three previous Leviathan books), the datasheets missing from Shield of Baal: Leviathan which consist of six different pages printed across four different issues of White Dwarf...and if you want to use any Bio-Titans or stuff from GW's Forge World subsidiary, you're looking at additional Imperial Armour books. Oh, did we mention that all of this will be rendered obsolete every few years, whenever a new edition and codex roll around?
    • The Imperator Titan datacard from the old Titan Legions game, a large-scale, small-model spin-off of Warhammer 40,000. It gets several pages all to itself in the basic rulebook, and most sections for more general rules contain a paragraph explaining how they pertain to this one specific mega-unit.
    • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, the successor to Warhammer, has a very simple core system - too simple for many fans of the original, who took exception to the "eyeball it" balancing system - but has a great many units that fill similar battlefield roles but have quite different rules. For example, Wood Elf Glade Guard and High Elf Lothern Seaguard are fairly similar - hybrid melee and ranged units with bows and melee weapons. You'd think they'd be fairly similar, right? Well, no, actually. Their bows are different ranges, the Glade Guard standard increases Bravery when in cover while the Seaguard one increases it when near other units, both can re-roll for run distances, but Seaguard can only reroll 1's while Glade Guard can reroll all the time, both get re-rolls on 1s to hit when they have 20 or more models, but the Seaguard get them all the time on both melee and ranged attacks while the Glade Guard only get it while shooting from a safe distance away from the enemy and so on. The only mercy is that generally the effects of a banner or musician upgrade are fairly consistent within an army, but even that's not necessarily true - an Orcs and Goblins army can have somewhere in the neighborhood of four different kinds of banner, five if you brought Ruglud's Armoured Orcs.
  • 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 reread-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 Encounter has so many rule variants that it is possible to play it a dozen times or more and never play the same game twice. At least partly this is because in CE, players draw an "alien" card to determine which race they're playing as. Each race's "hat" is the ability to break the rules in a particular and unique way.
  • German tabletop RPG The Dark Eye. Let's see — as of the latest edition, you have the core rulebook, 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, dungeon mastering, demons or elementals or other stuff. To be fair, about 3/4 of that is fluff, but it's still about 5000 pages. There are other settings with way fewer rules and fluff, about 1000 pages for the most described one, one other will be officially released soon, with about 500 more, and then there's 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. As of 2022, the rules consist of the following: Total Warfare (the core rulebook), Tech Manual (rules for creating your own mechs), Tactical Operations: Advanced Rules (optional gameplay rules), Tactical Operations: Advanced Equipment (gear that's not tournament legal), Strategic Operations: Advanced Aerospace Rules (Advanced rules for space combat), Alpha Strike (quick-play rules for larger force levels than Total Warfare), Interstellar Operations: BattleForce (rules for large-scale combat involving entire armies), Interestellar Operations: Alternate Eras (rules for equipment and play set in specific eras of the game's setting), Campaign Operations (rules for campaign play), Mechwarrior: Destiny (RPG rules), and The Battlemech Manual (a mixture of tournament-legal and advanced rules, focused exclusively on battlemechs while ignoring other unit types). That's ten'' volumes worth of rules.
  • Take the frictionless combat from BT and multiply it times 100 and you get Attack Vector Tactical. The rulebook is very heavy.
  • Atmosfear:
    • Starting from Nightmare II, more and more sets of cards started to be introduced that broke the game flow. Chief among them was Nightmare III's "spell cards" - there were several named spells, but they wouldn't work unless you had a specific pair of cards from the deck and someone read the activation phrase off a specific time card, which was virtually impossible to do in the course of an hour-long game. Likewise, cards that expressly gave one player permission to ask another for a specific spell card wouldn't work because the one being asked wouldn't voluntarily give an advantage to someone else.
    • Nightmare IV introduced a new rulebook and game mechanics involving vampires, with Elizabeth Báthory notably telling players to turn to specific pages of their rulebooks and read it all the way through while in the middle of a game (and at one point, the screen froze for several moments so the players could read through a list of commands). Any player who had become a vampire (usually if they were unlucky to roll a 1 during certain times when Bathory was on the screen, or being "bitten" by another player who had become a vampire) to start drawing from an entirely separate card pool, and they could either be killed off permanently if another player found a card that countered or destroyed them, or restored to normal gameplay if their target had the corresponding card. Likewise, there was two infamous twists, one when there was under eighteen minutes left where Bathory would automatically turn a player into a vampire unless they had a certain card, and one when there were under five minutes left where she would eliminate a player from the game if they were unlucky to have their number rolled on a die by an opponent. This may have contributed to declining sales and the decision to retool the series.
    • The Harbingers, to the point of the developers fearing they made the game too complicated (leading to a segment demonstrating the rules being included in the VHS tape). Between the various abilities associated with each Harbinger, the Soul Ranger/sewer mechanics, the Time/Fate cards and the Gatekeeper's twists, most players have to speed through their turns in order to have a hope of winning within the allotted timeframe.

    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.
  • In 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.
  • Sid Meier's 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:
    • Upon release in 1998, the game had incredibly complex rules - but mostly "under the hood" (it was only "mildly" complex to the actual player).
    • 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.
  • Space Station 13, especially the Goon Station version, is notorious for the complexity and depth of interactions it supports. The source code is said to be so complex that by rights it should not compile on the platform.
  • Pokémon is simple at first glance, but its battle system is actually extremely complicated under-the-hood. There are hundreds of moves, some with very complex rules governing exactly how they work in certain situations (Substitute and Baton Pass, to name a few), ditto for Abilities. Then you have Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors, held items, Effort Values and IVs, how the game handles draws (who wins or loses depends on what move caused the Double KO, and it varies from game-to-game), official rule options like Sleep Clause...and that's before you get into competitive House Rules such as those created by Smogon. Even the formula for calculating damage is insanely complicated.
  • Played as far as they can go with the town of Facade in Nier, which has over 120,000 rules...and counting.
    • Then this gets automated in NieR: Automata, where the enemy robots become fascinated with the long-dead ruins of Facade and use their massive servers to memorize millions of analog rules.
  • The card game of Double Fannucci in Zork has an obscene number of rules, only one of which is ever explained (That playing three undertrumps after the other player discards a trebled fromp is an instant win). The sheer incomprehensible complexity of the game pretty much requires exploiting that one rule to win a hand.
  • Tetris: The Grand Master's Grade Recognition System rules are deceptively complex for a game that's about putting tetrominos into a well to make solid lines. While they basically boil down to "play quickly and make a lot of Tetrises", the exact workings are far more complex than just "more lines means more points":
    • In the first game, the grade system isn't too bad, as it's based on points...that is, until you get to grade S9. To achieve the final grade, Grand Master, simply earning points isn't enough (the game's "Next Grade" display will show the next threshold at "?????? points"), you also have to meet time-and-grade thresholds at three particular checkpoints during the game. Failure to meet these checkpoints and you're locked out of GM grade.
    • The second game, Tetris: The Absolute - The Grand Master 2 and its Updated Re-release Tetris: The Absolute - The Grand Master 2 PLUS is significantly more complex with how grades work. First of all, your on-screen score doesn't reflect your grade anymore. Then, its version of GRS is influenced by several factors: Clearing multiple lines at once and making consecutive line clears, and the hidden points that contribute to your next grade slowly decrease if you don't make new line clears. And then to get the GM rank, you have to make a certain number of Tetrises in each section, complete each 100-level section within a target time, and for the second half of the game, the target time is no longer fixed but instead based on your previous sections' times. If you meet those requirements, then in the Mini-Game Credits that follow, your pieces turn invisible when they lock down and you have to survive for one minute (akin to a True Final Boss), or else you only get an M grade instead of GM.
    • The third game, Tetris: The Grand Master 3 - Terror-Instinct, stacks two more sub-systems on top of that. The version of GRS is carried over to this game, and implements a new system wherein if you complete a 100-level sectionnote  fast enough, you will get a "COOL!!" bonus that raises your grade by one...but every time you get a COOL!!, the next section's requirements for one will be based on your time for the section you just cleared, so you can lose COOL!!s because you keep going faster and faster. You can't dawdle in 100-level sections either, otherwise you will get a "REGRET!!" and lose one grade. And on top of that, if you make it to level 999, the credits mini-game comes back, and the lines you clear in this section contribute towards your final grade; normally each piece will vanish 5 seconds after being placed, but meet certain conditions and they will immediately turn invisible, and you will earn substantially more points towards your grades. If you master all of that, you will only get a Master M grade and not the coveted GM grade. To get that, you have to get a "Promotional Exam" for a "Qualified" MM rank, which itself requires you to (to oversimplify) maintain an average MM grade over the course of a seven-run period, then take the exam, which is randomly given out and does not give you the option to opt out and get an MM grade there, then play well enough to be issued the exam for a GM grade.


    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 the basics of Card Wars.
  • Otto from Rocket Power tries to make a new altered hockey game to remedy his friends' boredom. To their ever-growing chagrin, the new hockey game becomes a daunting task on itself as Otto kept adding lots of nonsensical rules to it just to avoid losing in it to the point it was almost Unwinnable by Design. Even he kept forgetting his own rules.

    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 scientists figuring out rules that people have no choice but to comply with, while lawyers are figuring 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. (We should note, however, that most—not all, but most—of the common law boils down to something that is either immediately common sense to everyone, or perfectly sensible once you've realized that other ways of doing things just wouldn't work, with the legal language simply being used to express this clearly.note )
    • In the US, 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.