Bonus Post: House Rules
Today marks the fifth Friday of the month, so I decided to write a stand-alone post about house rules. Creating house rules for games is definitely what set me on the path of game design. I find that creating house rules can greatly increase both the enjoyment and functionality of many games.
There are many famous house rules that are so ubiquitous that some people think they are part of the actual rules to the game. Probably the most notorious house rule occurs in the game of Monopoly. Believe it or not, free parking actually does not give a player free cash when they land on it. Card games like poker are also frequently manipulated and changed until they almost become different games. I would wager every poker player reading this has played poker with certain cards declared to be wild. I certainly find it refreshing to play a game with altered rules. Changing the rules keeps games interesting and makes for better replay.
While I encourage people to play with house rules, I would caution care when implementing them. In many cases, the probabilities of the game are held in a delicate balance. Changing a single variable could have a dramatic effect on how powerful a card or piece is. A good example of this is actually Monopoly and its free parking space. Many bemoan Monopoly for how long it takes to play. When the game is played by its official rules it actually plays in a reasonable time. The act of making free parking pay out dramatically increases the amount of cash in players’ hands. This makes bankrupting a player much more difficult, thus drawing the game out.
When I decided to write about house rules, I figured that it would be bad form if I didn’t offer a few of my own. For those of you who have small children I suggest you pay extra attention here. Occasionally I get stuck playing Candyland (I twitch even calling it a game). In order to not go crazy when playing it, I created some house rules to make it an actual strategic game and not just a collection of random events. First, a player draws four cards at the beginning of the game. During your turn you can play one card, and then draw a replacement. Additionally, the character cards that transport you directly can be played on either yourself or an opponent. In this way you can use strategy to make the game more interesting, but also simple enough that young children can still play.
Along with Candyland, I find Chutes and Ladders rather lackluster. The easy fix for this game is to allow players to use their movement number on either themselves or an opponent. Rather than being forced to fall down a chute, a player could chose to move another player forward. Alternately, you could use your movement to send a player down a chute instead of yourself forward. With this simple rule adjustment the game forces players to make judgment calls on whether to help or hurt opponents.
At this point I have heard numerous house rules created for my own game, Legends of Draxia. One of my favorite house rules affects monster slaying. If a player cannot defeat a monster, they must discard a resource. The monster is then set face up and any player can fight it. During each players’ subsequent turns, if the player chooses not to fight it they must discard a resource and the monster continues to rampage until it is killed. This simple alteration to my game has a dramatic impact on how the game is played, and forces new and different strategies. While I love the rule, as I mentioned earlier, even simple rules can have unforeseen consequences. In this case it means that certain character cards are less powerful than others. Since it is essential to successfully kill monsters, it is more important to have combat buildings. This means the druid either fails combat and suffers penalties, or gives up most of his bonus points. I don’t play this way, but I like the rule because it is least damaging to gameplay and most thematically correct one I’ve heard.
Regardless of minor game balance, I encourage everyone to try playing with their own house rules. We play games to have fun, and I believe house rules can make games more enjoyable.
Here’s to Epic Dreams and Epic Ideas,
Lead Game Designer
Mythica Gaming, LLC
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