I think for many in the hobby, playing games is about having fun with other people – and that is no more so true when it comes to enjoying a game with the family. I absolutely love spending an evening solving crimes or building the best bird reserve there is, instead of sitting in front of the TV. It’s great to play a quick mint tin game while we wait for our food in the pub on a family day out. There are many opportunities to play games with the family, and the games don’t necessarily need to be family games.
Let me start by saying that I completely appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into thinking of, prototyping, designing, playtesting and developing a game. It takes hundreds of hours of playtest sessions to refine a game and very clever people to create a great game that flows nicely, is balanced and creates the intended player experience. So when people buy a game and change its rules without second thought, they disrespect the designers’ and developers’ hard work, time and effort. After all, your quick and hasty rule changes are unlikely to improve a game that has gone through years of development and been tested by many, many people. Yet, I think there are reasons why you would want to change a game, and I don’t think there is any disrespect to anyone by doing so in those situations. Read more
As you may know, I’m very active on Yucata.de, a website where you can play over 60 games online with other people around the world on a play-and-pass basis. I also frequent The Crucible Online a fair bit, where I play with my KeyForge decks against others. You can find me as “oliverkinne” on both, so feel free to invite me to a game. I also play a few games against an AI on my smartphone, such as Star Realms and Terra Mystica. I would say I still prefer playing with my friends and family, because I love the face-to-face social element that you just don’t get with online games. However, online games, and I include apps as well as websites in this term, offer a number of advantages that make playing that way more enjoyable in other ways. Read more
If you play tabletop games with friends or maybe even in a games group, you may have come across certain taboos. There are things that people don’t like you doing. Some of these are to with ensuring that there is no cheating, others are about keeping a game in pristine condition, others are just some sort of personal house rules or traditions. Different people or groups will have different rules, and many will seem obvious or sensible, but others may feel unusual. Read more
All games have some sort of rules – even if they are very basic or very fluid. Rules give a game the structure it needs so all players know what they need to do. Rules allow everyone to know what to expect from a game, even if the game includes a lot of randomness or unpredictability. Rules aim to prevent disagreements among players. Without rules there would probably be chaos – but then sometimes that is what you want from a game. Read more
When creating a new tabletop game, a large chunk of time is spent on testing. Even very simple games need to be thoroughly tested to ensure they work. Playtesting helps identify whether a game is fun, balanced or swingy, lasts the right amount of time, works with the intended number of players and if there any issues with the rules. Read more
If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have probably come across some that either don’t quite fit your expectations or are a little ambiguous. That’s where variants and house rules come in.
People tend to have different preferences when it comes to tabletop games. Some really like high player interaction, whereas others prefer a more “solitaire” approach where everyone just does their best to win the game in their own way. Different player groups also often lead to different approaches to games, be it due to player numbers or playing style preference.
That has led to variants being developed, where some game mechanisms are adjusted to make them more compatible with one’s own preferences, without breaking the game. You don’t like the farmers in Carcassonne, so take them out. The game is just as playable and much more accessible.
More often than not, game developers have included variants to the rules to change the difficulty of the game or to reduce the learning curve for a game. These official variants have been play tested, ensuring they will work and don’t break anything.
Sometimes rules need only minor tweaks and are therefore more like house rules than actual variants. House rules are also needed when rules aren’t clear and need clarifying. That little piece of land in Clans of Caledonia – you can house rule whether it divides the loch or not. Even the game designer says that it can be done either way and needs to be house ruled.
What house rules do you apply to games? Are there variants that you really like that have turned an average game into one that’s much more fun? Join the conversation and share your experience with tabletop games.
Every tabletop game comes with a rule book. Even the simplest game needs a basic set of rules. More complex games need longer rule books of course, but there comes a point at which a rule book becomes too long and turns people away from the game – and this point will be different for different people.
Long rule books aren’t necessarily bad. The use illustrations actually makes a game much easier to learn. Additional explanations, such as frequently asked questions and game variants, add to rule book length, without making the game harder to learn. FAQs are often vital for complex game where edge cases need further explanation.
Of course, ideally you just want to get the game out of the box, set it up and start playing – with minimal reading of rules. Some games have tried to incorporate the rules into the game itself by basically offering players a tutorial setup that is easy to learn and play, while at the same time explaining the finer points of the rules.
Legacy games actually start with a relatively small set of rules, but while you play you add new rules, meaning you learn the game as you play. The extra rules don’t necessarily have to be permanent, and Fluxx is probably the most famous example of a game where the rules constantly change and every game is different.
In general, good rule books have a clear setup guide, with a good photo for reference. They are also concise, with plenty of illustrations to visualize how the game works. A scoring guide will also be critical, whether that’s scoring during the game, or at the end of the game. If the rule book then has an FAQ section and a strategy guide as well, it should cater for everyone.
What do you like about rule books? Do you have examples of games with a good rule book? Can you think of any bad examples? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.