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How Much Can A Game Vary Before It's A Different Game?
Head in the Clouds
Updated: Monday, Nov 6, 2017
Hello, Chaz Marler from Pair Of Dice Paradise here, and last time, while talking about the ancient Egyptian game, Senet, whose original rules have long been lost to history, I mentioned that the game was sort of a Theseus's paradox.

Theseus's paradox is a thought experiment that goes like this: let’s say that you own a ship. First off, congratulations on your purchase, and welcome to the world of naval vessel maintenance. Now, over time, various planks of wood that make up the ship wear out, and need to be replaced. The same goes for the sails, the rigging, and all the other various parts of a ship that I don’t know the name of. Like this thing. Whatever that thing is, it’ll eventually have to be replaced. One day, you set sail, only to realize that your barge does not include a single one of its original components. Everything, down to the smallest rivet, is a replacement. At that point, is this that same ship anymore? Or is it an entirely new, different ship?

And so it is with the ancient game of Senet, which is believed to date back to 3000 BC or earlier. But even with being present in human history for so long, a complete copy of its rules has never been discovered. But, even though documentation of the game’s rules hasn’t survived, there are wall paintings, papyrus scrolls, and hieroglyphs that each provide a fragment of insight into how the game was played. Taken altogether, these artifacts have enabled Egyptologists to developed a pretty comprehensive idea of how the game is played.

But, is this amalgam of best guesses really the same Senet that was played in the shadow of the Sphinx? Or, have enough of Senet’s pieces, like our theoretical ship, been replaced that it’s arguably no longer the original game, but now a similar (yet different) facsimile of it?

Essentially, how much can a tabletop game vary before it becomes different enough that it could be classified as no longer being the original game anymore? And this isn’t limited to just games that have been lost to history. How much can a game be errata'd, house ruled, or expanded until it’s no longer the same game? Poker, with its endless array of variants, could be an example of this: “Okay, kid, the game’s seven-card hi-low Omaha hold-em. Deuces are wild, as are Jacks, suicide Kings, and odd cards that start with the letter “T”. There’s a three-dollar ante with no limit, but raises must be a minimum of twice the pot. Suits are ranked spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts; and checking requires passing a double-blind raise to the dealer, unless you dealt, in which case you gotta fold, unless you’re holding the high card in the pocket and call a split. Also, I’m hoping you can teach me how to play Poker.”

How much can a tabletop game vary before it becomes different enough that it should be classified as a new game, separate from the original? Are we actually playing Senet, or are we actually playing a different game, like seven-card hi-low Omaha Senet hold-em? Let me know what you think by posting your comment, or a closely recreated facsimile of your comment, below.
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