Good games will have had a lot of time put into them to ensure they create the experience that the designer wanted. The rules will have been created with intent and purpose. Rules are the skeleton around which the muscles, sinews, skin and the whole living body of the game grows. Games are meant to be played by their rules, or at least that’s what we’re being told. In this article, I want to look at why rule-breaking can be a better option.

God Given Rules

As a reviewer, playing a game by its rules is very important to me. The experience I and everyone else around the table get this way is what I base my reviews on. It would be wrong for me to criticise a game when I had missed or misinterpreted a rule. Of course, I could criticise the game for having a confusing rulebook, but that’s a different matter.

Generally speaking, we’re always strongly encouraged to play games by their rules. As much as it can be time-consuming and sometimes hard work, learning a game’s rules and then teaching it to others so we can all play it together is a big part of our hobby. Rules are so important that there are now many rules-teach video channels that help us learn a game. It’s why FAQs exist to clarify rules questions and ensure everyone who plays the game at any point has no excuse for playing it wrong. It’s why there are many discussions about rules complexity.

It is often even suggested that not playing by the rules is disrespectful to the designer. That’s on top of being told that we will not enjoy games properly, if we don’t follow its rule set. We’re all supposed to play by the spirit of the rules, which lends them some sort of religious qualities. Rules have become almost like a rite of passage. Following rules is what separates real gamers from mere amateurs – or so it seems to me.

So board game rules are clearly a very serious topic.

House Rules

Saying all that, many of us will have introduced our own house rules to some games to either clarify confusing rules or make them more interesting or easier.

Monopoly is, of course, most famous for hardly ever being played by its actual rules. Every household will have its own set of house rules, many of which overlap with those of other households, but none of which actually do what it says inside the box lid.

So house rules are somehow accepted, as long as they are only applied in rare and specific circumstances. The mantra goes that you should never apply house rules until you have played the game properly and know it well. House rules are only ever meant to improve the gameplay experience.

My question is why we can’t have more freedom in when and how we apply our own rules. To me, playing games should be about having fun. We buy games because we imagine what they will be like when we play them. We select them based on the people we play with. So in most cases, a game’s rules will work for us and our group. In a lot of these cases, there won’t be any edge cases or specific rules that don’t quite achieve what we had hoped for.

So in those remaining few cases where a couple of tweaks, that we agree on together as a group, create a more enjoyable gameplay experience for everyone, we should embrace the opportunity and introduce our own house rules. There should be no shame in it. If our changes create more problems, we should be allowed to tweak them further or throw them out and try something else in the pursuit to make the game whatever it is we want it to be.

the opened Namiji rulebook
the opened Namiji rulebook

Rule Breakers

Of course, you can take it to another, more extreme level and that’s what I’m going to look at next.

When we play a game and follow its rules, we also follow certain social etiquette that is set by society and by the game itself. So while we never condone lying in our usual social circles, a game’s rules can make lying completely acceptable and potentially even a requirement. Just think of the many hidden or not-so-hidden traitor games available.

Now I wonder if a game can be more fun if players break the rules and go against the etiquette set by the game. Well, I don’t really wonder about this. I actually think that sometimes actively going against a game’s etiquette is more fun. I’m not talking about actually breaking the rules. I’m talking about going against the spirit of the rules.

Imagine a faithful player sabotaging the other faithfuls in a hidden traitor game, thereby playing into the traitor’s hands. It can be hilarious to watch the faithfuls trying to figure out what’s going on. While this sounds like it’s being mean towards the faithful players, in a board game it can lead to all sorts of shenanigans and once the faithfuls realise what’s going on, it will allow them to be in on the joke.

I guess this sort of behaviour is similar to what we call a kingmaker – or queenmaker, of course. If someone has no intention of winning and just causes havoc, they might indirectly or intentionally decide who wins instead. That is usually frowned upon and a lot of the time I would agree that it’s not the right thing to do. However, it’s not always the wrong thing to do either.

How About You?

I know I haven’t fully discussed this topic in this article. However, I hope I have given you some food for thought. Sometimes a game is not about winning, but about what happens above the table and between players. I think that, if we break a few rules here and there, we can sometimes create a much more enjoyable experience.

Now I wonder what you think. Do you feel it’s sacrilege to house rule a game? How far would you go tweaking a game’s rules to make it what you want it to be? Or do you always get rid of games you don’t like and just look for one that works better out of the box? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’m really keen to hear what you have to say.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Music: Bensound
License code: UEUT8CH4Q4I7FUKR


These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

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