Mary Russell

Perhaps unique among nineteenth century Germanic composers, Anton Bruckner was by all accounts humble, good-natured, and easy to get along with. No towering mad genius driven by violent passions and ego, he! Our boy Anton was soft-spoken, often naïve, awkward, and he was self-deprecating to the point where he thought that his own music was utterly worthless. He was very solicitous of, and susceptible to, the criticism and input of his friends, which he often implemented, to the point where there are multiple and contradictory versions of all his major works.

This has led to what is sometimes known as the Bruckner Problem: no one quite knows which version of this symphony or that one is the "real" one, if any. This might not be a huge problem for the orchestra playing a Bruckner concert, however, because chances are they've all got the same sheet music and are following the conductor. Whichever version it is - whatever one the orchestra has decided to use - chances are they're all gonna be in tune.

They are all, if you forgive the clumsy segue, playing by the same ruleset, and all of Bruckner's tinkering and all of the insertions and excisions of his well-meaning friends - all their house rules - aren't going to impact tonight's performance. So it goes in the orchestra hall, but when you're gathering with old friends around the dining room table or meeting new ones in a convention hall or at the weekly game night at your friendly local, the question of "which version of the rules are we playing by?" is one that can cause quite a bit more friction. We're not all playing the notes one after another as they are set out before us, trumpeting and violining per the dictums of a single maestro (that guy who tells everyone what to do on their turn in Pandemic notwithstanding). We're making decisions, and those decisions are informed by what is allowed and not allowed, and also what the expected and possible outcomes of those decisions will be, and if Bob remembers version 1.2.4 of the Living Rules that resolved things this way, and Sheryl just read version 1.2.5 that does it that way, and Peter's group always played with a house rule that did it some other way, well, we're not all on equal footing and would probably rather play a game that doesn't have this many different versions of the rules.

Certainly, we here at Hollandspiele endeavor to get the rules right the first time, and to avoid revising a game after it's been put out into the world. Now, sometimes despite our best efforts there is errata, usually minor, which we will correct for future copies of the game, but that's a different thing than actually changing how the game works and what the rules mean. For my own games, I think I've done that all of once, for Agricola, Master of Britain, and that was a fairly minor change involving the peacekeeping action. Other than that, I've resisted the urge to muck about with games once they've hit your table.

It's not that I necessarily think they are perfect and inviolate. Sometimes, weeks or months or even years after a game is released, parts of it will start to bother me. Things I could have done better, problems I could have approached more cleverly, ways I could nudge the balance in this direction or that one. But I don't go back to the game after it's been published. I'd much rather leave it alone, whatever its flaws might be, and move on to the next thing, often applying the lessons I just learned.

Optimates et Populares is, in retrospect, more than a little too deterministic for most tastes, a little too dry. Now, I was aiming for a deterministic and dry game, so I definitely hit the mark, but if I was doing the game over again, I'd probably aim for something a lot more chaotic. That'd be a radical redesign, and I'm not really sure if that's a good use of my time, but my thinking along those lines did lead me to do a much more chaotic and fully-realized politics game in This Guilty Land. It is, I think, a much better game. In point of fact, I think it's the best thing that I've ever done, and I don’t know if I would've done it if I was futzing about with Op-Pop post-release.

Like I said, I'd rather just leave the thing alone - whatever its flaws might or might not be - and move on to the next thing.


  • I felt a considerable amount of pressure to change the rules for NATO Air Commander early on.

    Before the game was even released, I had a poster on BGG asking about using dice instead of cards for resolution. Then I had mails on BGG asking about errata or different variations to take X or Y into account., I soon realized these were attempts at changing the rules.

    Most of these were well-intentioned but there were a few suggestions that came across as thinly-veiled ridicule of the “You don’t know what you’re doing. Let ME show you.” variety.

    I’m not sure what makes people do this stuff. I guess some people love to tweak and they want the designer’s green light to do it. I threw up a couple of variants for NAC but realized that I was digging very closely to rules revision as I posted more and more on BGG. So I stopped. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to perfect a game. And of course, that just never happens.

    I’m happy that NAC had a positive response but I have to say that I’m sort of done with the game at this point and I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be said about it. Maybe when I’m much older and have time to revisit the design, I’ll change something. But for now, it’s better left alone.

    Brad Smith

  • I generally do not go back to a specific design with later rules tweaks and adjustments; at most, I might add an optional rule or something like that.
    Though I have done heavily revised do-overs of some designs, so thorough that they were released as different titles, e.g. Winter Thunder (was Autumn Mist), Red Horde 1920 (was Konarmiya) and Strike for Berlin (was Freikorps).
    More of my work can be grouped into one or another of a “family” of designs, where each design uses a broadly similar system, but each game is a different, evolved, particular-to-the-situation, and hopefully improved one. So Shining Path contributes to Algeria which contributes to Andartes to EOKA etc…..

    Brian Train

Leave a Comment