Friday Question: Do You Use House Rules?


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.

@FarmerLenny answers:
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.

@Futurewolfie answers:
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.

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion9 Comments

  1. I avoid house rules as much as possible. There is one note-able exception in my group and that’s Bohnanza. Tragically, I suck at reading rules and missed the clause about not being able to harvest fields with only one bean. We missed it for six or seven years of playing. Someone discovered it and we tried it…and didn’t like it. We went back to the old way and harvest with whatever number of beans. It does make the game a little easier if you really think about it…but we’re okay with that.

    Not so much a house rule, in a different circumstance, but we’ll never play Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot by the books again. We loved the game originally, but as we got older and more attuned to games we realized that it just doesn’t cut it in the long run. With ALL the expansions the game is just nuts (and has been abandoned twice…and never tried a third time.) We’re completely revamping the rules to get some use out of the expenditure and avoiding KB games for the rest of eternity.

  2. John, thanks for the comment! I have not played Killer Bunnies, but it is a frequent thorn in the side of our commenters. So much so that I’ve decided to avoid that one altogether. Your way of getting more use out of the investment is wise.

    As for your house rule on Bohnanza, I like the rules as written much better. The game is harder that way, but also more fun (in my opinion). It really puts the pressure on the player to make shrewd trades throughout the game in order to keep his bean fields in order. However, I can understand why you would keep it as-is if you had been playing that way for so long. It’s hard to switch. (It’s also that way for me in other things: typically I like the book better than the movie, but if I saw the movie before I read the book, it’s a mixed bag. It might just be the first, definitive experience with something.)

  3. Yeah, I usually feel pretty strongly about playing by the rules as written.

    However, there are some games that I really like and have played a lot, but there’s just one little nagging thing about them that affects my fun. So I want to fix it, and I may try to introduce some house rules.

    The first example I think of is Mission: Red Planet. It’s a fantastic game involving a role-selection element that then indirectly leads to an area-majority scoring mechanic. But then there’s also this Event card thing that can have a very unbalancing effect on the game. So I’ve come up with 3 or 4 possible house rules to fix it, and am trying to decide which one is the best.

    And then there’s also some more universal house rules that I use from time to time, such as drawing cards or tiles at the end of your turn rather than waiting until the beginning of your next turn (as long as it doesn’t affect something else in the game, of course). This sort of thing just reduces the thinking/analysis time involved in the game.

  4. I’m a stickler for playing by the printed rules. Even those few times where we’ve played incorrectly for a year or more and then discover our error, I make sure we all move over to the “right” rules.

    The only “house rule” that I use is in Munchkin. Every time the “Cursed Thingy” card came up, it started a HUGE argument. So much so that the game would get entirely derailed. I eventually just removed it from the deck and our Munchkin games are played without it.

  5. Chris, I can understand that compulsion. That’s what has kept me fiddling with Ulcers.

    On the other hand, GeekInsight, I can understand wanting to let the rules stand.

    It’s hard to find the proper balance, because John makes a great point, too: if you’ve already invested in a game that has bad rules, it seems like fixing it would be easier (unless, of course, you’re sure to get your investment back). I typically try to trade or sell games that I didn’t like the rules for rather than try to fix them. Ulcers is the exception because I kind of love it… 🙂

    Then there’s the Overpower CCG, which I started playing probably before I should have. The rule book was too long and boring, so my friends and I made up our own rules to play. We played for a solid three years or more before I finally decided to move on.

  6. I think house rules are a fantastic way to change up a game and keep it fresh or just make it a little more fun. I love ’em.

    From that perspective I’d say the best house rules for games are ones that don’t necessarily add something totally new but work with a game’s system to explore some angle the developer didn’t necessarily think about. I’d agree with futurewolfie that someone probably put a lot of thought into any game I’m playing so its only fair that I first try and understand the game before I start messing with it.

    Things like the Free Parking bonus added to Monopoly.

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