CMON Feature Friday: House Rules

We all know that rules are meant to be broken. When the rules for a modern board game are written, they’re done so after months, or even years, of playtesting. The idea is to work out any kinks in the game that may interfere with the overall structure. This is often a fairly effective method for finding any little faults the game may have. However, it isn’t foolproof. Occasionally, a rule falls through that breaks the game, or makes it less fun, or just plain doesn’t make sense. That’s when the players take matters into their own hands and create house rules.  

For this week’s CMON Feature Friday, we decided to take a look at some of the common house rules in practice today, and how rules changes and errata are being used in the modern world.

House rules can be ones agreed upon by a group of friends for a certain game or a certain type of games. They are often even tied to a location (hence the name). For example, when we play RISK at Bob’s house, he may have a rule that a dice on ANY angle, no matter how slight, is considered cocked and thus must be rerolled. At Susan’s place, she may say that if the group can agree on the result of the roll, it stands.  

House rules are usually a result of multiple play throughs of the same game. Players will come across something that just doesn’t sit right, or that they think they can improve upon, and a house rule is born. 

One of the most common house rule is the Monopoly Free Parking rule. This is less of a house rule tied to a certain location and more one that has permeated the gaming world. I played with this erroneous rule for years, before someone pointed out it wasn’t actually in the official rulebook. As kids, we would always play that any payment that the game forces you to make that doesn’t go directly to another player, like Luxury Tax or paying to get out of Jail, went directly to the middle of the board, forming a pool of dough. It would get bigger and bigger and eventually someone would land on Free Parking and grab a huge windfall. We even started each game by seeding the middle with a cool $500 bill. When I first learned that that rule isn’t actually an intended part of the game, I was shocked. The Free Parking space is only meant to be a safe landing spot in a sea of opponent’s properties. I’ve since played the game with the rules as they’re written, and I have to admit, it’s not nearly as fun. To add that random luck element, where a roll of the dice can save your game, is just such a wonderful thing.  

Some house rules are implemented to speed up the game. For example, in Carcassonne, players draw a new tile at the end of their turn, instead of the start, so they can plan their moves in advance. Or in Catan, players get the resources for both their placed settlements, stimulating the economy right off the bat. 

Some house rules don’t relate to a specific game, but more about how a gaming group operates. For example, one group allows the loser of the last game select two games and then the rest of the group votes on which of the two they’ll play next. This works well for getting different titles on the table. Even if you think you’re really bad at a game, you’ll be encouraged to play, because coming in last will allow you to choose the next one.  

In the modern era of board games, sites like Board Game Geek and Reddit are excellent resources to read about different ways people play games and learn some helpful house rules.  

Here are some more rules that gaming groups have implemented:

• Players can take turns back on their first game, to better learn the rules. 

• The starting player is determined randomly regardless of what the rules say. 

• No negotiations or deals outside the scope of the game. 

• The player to your right shuffles your deck, when necessary. 

• If you bring the game to game night, you have to be able to teach it. 

• No alpha gaming or quarterbacking in cooperative games. 

• All players assist with clean up. 

• Keep food and drinks off the table. 

What are your house rules? Do you think they generally improve a game or make them less authentic. Let us know on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #CMONFeatureFriday.

CMON Feature Friday: House Rules

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