So this is something I've been meaning to write about for the longest time but haven't gotten around to doing it until today. I've got an hour to blow in the computer lab and no pics to show or codexi to reference so I have no choice but to just jump into it.
The topic is of course tight rules systems vs. soft rules systems.
So for those not in the know, I have some vocabulary for you: (Since this is my blog I'm using my definition so deal with it)
Soft rules system: A soft rules system is one in which there is always a little interpretation involved. The rules writers don't go through the trouble of tying up every loose end and possible interpretation of the rule. This system works well for miniature games such as Warhammer40k because it allows modelers a bit of freedom to work with. When you models do not have to have specific parameters in order to be tournament legal you have a bit more freedom in how you want to represent your army.
Tight rules system: A tight rules system is very hard and fast and leaves next to no room for interpretation. Every corner case has an answer and there is no such thing as 'rolling for it' or other means for determining who is right when rules dispute eventually occurs. This kind of rules system requires much more maintenance and the occasional errata in order to keep working but ultimately is better suited for games designed for tournament play. With a tight rules system someone is always right in a dispute and you never walk away feeling cheated because your interpretation of the rules was deemed wrong by the hand of fate.
The errata problem
One thing I see a lot of amongst the separate gaming communities is a misunderstanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each individual system. Often I see people cite that old magic cards often need errata because of the tight rules system and the frequency in which it is updated. This is slightly true but not entirely. Only twice in the history of Magic: The Gathering has there been a need for mass errata to older cards. First for the 6th edition rules update (When M:tG went from a soft rules system to a tight one) and once again (to a much smaller scale mind you) for the 2010 rules update (which strangely enough happened in '09).
There have been many other minor changes to cards throughout magic's history, but that is only due to shifts in design philosophy within Wizards of the Coast.
The primary reason for these changes, though, is that Wizards has deemed that no card will ever become completely unusable and that all cards will always be able to be played. If a tight rules system were applied to a rotating system (as apposed to the static one that M:tG has in place) then this problem would be much less of an issue.
Another problem we see in the two rules systems is a need for FAQs. It is often the case that questions will arise when certain rules clash. In a soft rules system, often there won't be an easily discernible answer and players will then be at the mercy of the TO as to the proper interpretation of the rule until an official FAQ is released clearing up the question. Tight rules systems also often need FAQs, although it is more often the case that the correct answer is available to the public via the rule book and ultimately can be determined with a jaunt through the rules. In this case FAQs are provided to expedite rules arguments and prevent players from needing to parse through a 600 page rules document.
Unfortunately that is all the time I have for today, join me next time when I look further into this topic. And of course comments are always encouraged, in fact I demand them. Feed the unicorn, she needs mental sustenance.