House Rules

For #Blogmas 2020

Originally written for Board Games Crate.

With the makers of Uno’s recent rules clarification about not being allowed to stack wild +4 cards on +2 cards and vice versa, I thought it relevant to address the ‘issues’ of house rules. For this I’ll give examples using Monopoly whose varied house rules have been known to end friendships and cause no end of grief.

What are house rules?

These are rules for existing games that have been made up by gaming groups or families that are either not in the game’s rulebook, or directly contravene what is in the rules. In Monopoly, landing on Free Parking and winning all the taxes and fines paid by all the players is considered to be the most used house rule. The rules clearly state that Free Parking does nothing and all monies should be paid straight to the bank. How many of you are now in shock?

Why do we have house rules?

House rules are often introduced by parents or experienced gamers when introducing a game to new or young players. They tailor the game play to either make it ‘more fun’ or ‘more fair.’
Alternatively, certain rules have either been misinterpreted or are too complicated to grasp or execute and are misplayed or left out altogether. Auctioning properties is usually an aspect that is left out of Monopoly, in my experience.

Why do house rules cause problems?

In truth, the original rules are usually there for a very good reason. Hours of design and play-testing have perfected a game to be as good as it’s going to be in its current edition. The Free Parking house rule I’ve already mentioned, can give the game more spice with everyone trying to land on an ever-increasing pile of money. But look what happens when someone does eventually roll the magic number and win thousands of in-game currency: an instant game-breaker with the lucky roller pretty much set up for the rest of a now much longer and less interesting game. Also someone’s generally sulking at this point.

“But I’ve always played it that way!”

The other reason house rules can be quite damaging are that people get very attached to them. The very memories of playing with friends or family members no longer with us are threatened as soon as someone else demands that the game be played “properly.” This can be worsened if different players have non-compatible house rules. In many cases players have never read the rules beyond how to dole the money out or other basic set-up assistance and only know the game they were first taught. After dozens or hundreds of plays it would certainly baulk being told to have been playing it “wrong.”

The solution

Due to nostalgia or player preference, house rules will never go away. However, as many games nowadays come with alternative game-play suggestions at the back of the rule book, perhaps these should also contain known house rules, but also leave a space for extra house rules to be added.