The Rules of House Rules

All hail the RULES AS WRITTEN (RAW)… or not.

Nobody likes a cheater and game rules are designed the way they are for a reason.  Despite what the Yu-Gi-Oh television show might have suggested at times, people doing what they want or pulling rules out of their butt isn’t cool, fun, or clever.  Shifting rules and expectations can lead to frustration or a lack of balance.  

Here at Chaos and Confetti, we are strict believers that rules are meant to be followed, and that is that!

Except when we don’t follow that belief ourselves.  Whoops.  I guess even that rule was meant to be broken at times.

House rules, where rule changes are applied in a specific setting, are a thing for good reason.  At the end of the day, any game you purchase and play is yours.  If you decide changes are needed to increase enjoyment, that shouldn’t matter to anyone but you and your gaming group.  Hand size, turn order, player counts, win conditions, clothing requirements; do what you’re going to do.   However, here are our general guidelines towards making house rules that we believe tend to maintain a level of fairness and enjoyment for all involved parties: 

Chaos and Confetti’s Rules of House Rules:

1. Decide on any rule changes before the game starts

2. Make sure everyone understands and agrees upon any rule changes

3. Any rule changes should work towards making the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

4.Try playing by the traditional rules at least once.

5. Your house rules are not everybody’s house rules.  Don’t expect them to automatically apply with a new group.

The rules above generally speak for themselves, but their basic underlying ideal is that everyone knows what they’re getting into and that everyone’s enjoyment is being considered.  Few things are as annoying as someone trying to change and add rules or alter mechanics part way through the game. That can completely undermine existing strategies and game trajectory.  

We also suggest trying the traditional rules at least once because sometimes they’ll surprise you.  There have been a number of times that rules or mechanics have seemed broken or unbalanced to us, only for them to work completely fine within the context and meta of the actual game.  Sometimes we have been right though, so that’s when house rules might fix a few issues.

Finally, please remember that just because you like the rules one way, that doesn’t mean everyone will.  Be considerate of other people’s expectations and make sure any new rules are cleared with any groups or individuals you may play with.

Our House House Rules

Before you get the idea that we’re chaotic anarchists who make rules changes willy nilly, let us share with you the kind of house rules we apply at times and our reasoning for such.

Welcoming New Players

New games can be intimidating or scary at times, especially for new gamers.  The first time Confetti played a complex game with some friends, she actually cried.  For a while, her rule for playing with groups became that she only wanted to play games she knew or she wanted to have the chance to review the rules at home first.  Since then, she’s become a much more confident and capable gamer, but it’s important to remember that trying something new can be tough and we should do what we can to welcome new players, both to a specific game and to boardgaming in general.

One way to do this is to simplify rules. Nowadays, many board games even have official beginner scenarios or rules before diving into the more complex mechanics.  We often think of legacy games and their slow introduction to rules.  This can be a nice way of letting people experience the game in a lower pressure way.

We also support being more forgiving to new players if they make a mistake or want to undo something they just did (actually, in casual settings, we’re pretty okay with the quick undo).

Player Counts:

Player count is so important in the world of board gaming.  We get a large group of people together and we soon have to figure out what games fit the entire group or how we’ll soon be dividing into smaller gaming pods.  Thankfully, most games clearly label their player counts right on their boxes.  Unfortunately, what is possible and what is fun are not always the same thing.

Some games boast player counts that slow down or complicate things too much.  As much as I love Disney Villainous, Smash Up, and Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, they should really be played at their max player counts.  These and many other games can become a slog as players are forced to wait until their turn comes back around.

On the other hand, there are also games that can feasibly be played on the lower end of their player-count but the experience should actually be avoided.  Some games are simply designed with higher player counts in mind.  We appreciate when games have built in rules to adjust for different player counts or variations for smaller groups, but some games simply set players in a world built for more.  Most social deduction games are most worth playing at higher player counts, and some games work best leaning into the chaos, such as Rival Restaurants.

Difficulty Adjustments:

This rule tends to apply to cooperative games.  It’s a blast when we can beat a challenging game and claim victory.  However, as we said before, fun is nice too.  Putting in over a dozen hours into a game of 7th Continent, only to die at the end sucks.  That’s why sometimes we’re not afraid to say, “actually we were playing with the talisman that gives you an extra life after all!”  Is the win as clean, no but we save ourselves from having to end our gaming session in frustration.  

This rule really works both ways.  There are games we’ve become really good at, so it’s fun to house rule in a few extra challenges or to limit ourselves in some way to bring up the difficulty.  Other times, we might make a few alterations to decrease the challenge when we want an easier and more enjoyable time.  It’s technically allowed in the rules, so why not bring in a bunch of animal companions in Robinson Crusoe? Other times, we’ll allow for a quick, penalty free restart if the game obviously feels stacked against us or unwinnable from the beginning.

These aren’t constant or regular adjustments, but we’re not afraid to enact them for a more enjoyable night.

Upping the Fun Level:

Occasionally house rules are great just to up the fun level of a game.  Lots of party games that involve judging can use rules about refreshing hands, speeding up gameplay, or making play more focused on fun than actual points.  Nobody wants to get stuck with a hand of lame cards in Puns of Anarchy, Cards Against Humanity, etc.

As a group, it’s best to decide when a game needs adjustments to make it better.  Usually if it’s something that needs fixing, most people will already recognize the issue.  We’ve added rules over the years that range from free mulligans, market refreshers, restrictions on certain mechanics, hand limits, and more. 

Often we’ll add rules to increase game variability as well.  That might include keeping the discard from one game to another in games like Wingspan or Unstable Unicorns, so we see more cards or not allowing ourselves to choose the same character multiple games in a row in games such as Smash Up or Marvel Champions.  These slight, personal tweaks help us use more of the game we already enjoy.

We’ve also been into silly house rules such as playing certain games in character, reading flavor texts out loud, singing songs if certain scenarios happen, or need into make up missions for games like Avalon or Secret H—A lot of these types of rules happen more organically and usually start with inside jokes.  These kinds of changes don’t need as much policing, but again, make sure everyone is having fun.

Accidental House Rules:

Chaos is our normal rules reader and explainer.  He is only human though, so he does make the occasional mistake. Gloomhaven definitely saw some refinement of our understanding of rules as we progressed through the campaign.  Usually, we catch our errors eventually, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still breaking some rule somewhere unknowingly.  

Player Restraints and Regulations:

We hate to have to admit it, but sometimes house rules have to extend to player personalities.  The biggest and most obvious offense is the backseat or alpha gamer.  That’s the kind of person who is constantly telling others what they do or how they should play.  If someone is constantly falling into that role, it may be best to institute a rule about not giving any unsolicited advice during gameplay.

Don’t become too controlling with your group, but if there is a recurring issue, it may be best to set some ground rules at the beginning of the night or before a game starts.  A general rule about turn length or a simple timer may address the player who takes forever on their turn.  Maybe make it clear to that one overly enthusiastic gamer that that game they want to play twenty times is only hitting the table once tonight or that some new games are entering the rotation.  If a few people are constantly being distracted by their phones, suggest a device free game session.  These can be tricky rules to lay out, but if they are suggested with care and put out as a general rule for everyone, not just targeting those one or two players, hopefully they’ll be taken in stride.  Also remember, gaming is about having fun, not controlling your friends actions (unless you’re playing blue in Magic: The Gathering).

Child’s Play:

Board games are awesome for numerous reasons, but one benefit we’ve noticed over the last few years is how well they teach concepts like rules and turn taking.  We have two adorable, young nieces that we’ve been gifting board games for a few years now.  They’ve really taken to gaming.  Sometimes we have to be extra nice though as we deal with the whims of single-digit-aged players.  They love to create spontaneous rules.

We’ll probably have to eventually figure out how to navigate these waters with our own son once he becomes old enough to start gaming.

The Wrap-Up:

Board games are built for competition and fun.  What aspect should take precedence should be determined by the environment and players.  If you have people want to respect the rules as they are, respect their desires.  At the same time, remember these rules are not from on high, but are just from creators (with a lot of playtesting too).  Don’t we be afraid to be a bit creative too.

We’d love to hear about some of your favorite (and not-so-favorite) house rules. 

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