We all know the drill. If you go over to Billy’s house, he may play the game this way, but with Phyllis, you play the game by the book. It can be difficult to keep track of the different rules that different players use. So here’s today’s Friday question: are you a house-rules culprit? Which game, and which rules do you add? Feel free to answer (or just discuss house rules in general) in the comments.
I try to play games strictly by the book, but in some cases (namely, in poorly written rulebooks) a house rule is necessary. There are really only a few games that I play with house rules. One of these is a game called Ulcers, which I picked up at Half Price Books on the clearance shelf for $2. I loved the premise of the game (hiring personnel and trying to keep them happy to avoid corporate raids), but the game itself was rather…boring. So, with my wife’s permission, I have been slowly tweaking the rules to make it more fun. Basically, instead of making it a simple roll-and-move kind of game, I’ve played with shortages, acquisition order, and adding interesting decisions to make the game more cutthroat. We both enjoy it more with these additions. I also have added a house rule in Canasta (since it wasn’t covered in the rule book) that players cannot pick up the prize pile based on a canasta they already have. This keeps the game a bit more even and more fun, we’ve found. Most of the time I eschew house rules if I can, but I try not to begrudge them to my friends who use them more frequently.
I rarely add house-rules to board games, especially if they’re good games. Someone has already put hundreds of hours testing, tweaking, and figuring out what works best, so even if I don’t quite understand why a rule is or isn’t in place, it likely has a balancing effect on the game somehow. However, as Jon mentioned above, sometimes games are ALMOST fun, but it feels like whoever made the game didn’t really playtest it. It just needs some tweaking – it’s not bad enough to toss out completely, but it’s not good enough to enjoy without a fix.
And then sometimes it’s just worth house-ruling to settle arguments more quickly or make a game more fun in a particular situation. The only house-rule I consistently use is for Cosmic Encounter – when alien powers are dealt out at the beginning of the game, I made it a rule that if you are dealt a card you have played with before, you can return it and get a new power to choose from. That doesn’t affect the gameplay at all, and part of the fun of CE is experiencing the ridiculous variety of alien races.