Where should the copying/innovating line be drawn in board games?

One of the more interesting ongoing debates in board games is about originality and copying. It’s most recently in the news thanks to two developments: Oink Games’ Twitter complaints about Ted Alspach, Bezier Games and Werewords (and Alspach’s response in an Opinionated Gamers post, and Oink’s response to that response), and an article from Erik Twice calling GwentCondottiere under a different name.”

This seems unlikely to lead to legal issues in either case, especially considering the federal court decision in last year’s Bang! vs. Legend of the Three Kingdoms lawsuit that LOTK (which was very much just a reskinned Bang! with a different setting) “did not infringe any of the protectable elements of Bang!”, which reinforced that mechanics and rules cannot receive copyright protection (and that even the elements of the characters in that case were not copyrightable). And Oink in particular has already said “we all know that the rules of a game are not protected by any copyright.”

So it’s not really a question of if designers and publishers can copy, as it seems they can copy most things from someone else’s board game (apart from, say, art) without legal consequences. But there’s a worthwhile discussion to be had on questions like “Should designers and publishers copy others’ mechanics? If so, how?” and “How should gamers view the resulting games?” There are going to be a wide range of answers to that, but mine is “it depends.” Read more