Board games need to have rules–right? Without a set of agreed-upon and well-defined rules, games would be little more than moving cardboard pieces and throwing dice around without purpose. Even the simplest games have robust rules to cover what it is you’re actually trying to do.
However, when a game’s rules are too static, it can ruin the fun. Sometimes it can be fun to mix up the rules and put your own spin on things. Sometimes this is in the form of “house rules,” or rules you make up for the games you play under your own roof. Other times, you might be playing a game that has unique mechanics that allow you to shift the rules as time goes on.
Everyone’s used house rules before at some point. For instance, if you’ve ever played Uno, you’ve certainly encountered a whole host of bizarre house rules that your group chooses to use, despite those rules not appearing in the game’s actual instructions. A famous example is using a Draw 2 card to skip a Draw 2 that was just played against you, causing the next player to draw four cards.
House rules are great for any game but are especially popular for games that are simple and straightforward, like Uno. Games with more complex rules often don’t lend themselves to extensive house rule changes, as things can quickly get bogged down and confusing if you’re already trying to keep up with the base rulebook.
Games That Change as You Play
Another example of this type of “emergent” gameplay can appear in games designed around the ever-changing nature of the rules. A great example is the ongoing game Risk Legacy. Risk is normally played in one (long) session, not over multiple encounters. Risk Legacy, on the other hand, has the players engaging in what is known as a “campaign,” returning week after week to continue the game.
In Legacy titles, you’re playing for keeps. Some gameplay events can cause you to irrevocably alter the board game and its rule. For instance, some single-use cards instruct you to rip them up after using them. You might be instructed to write on the board with a marker, forever altering the game for every session that follows.
There are numerous Legacy titles, and they all use variations on this concept to make each encounter a unique experience.
Extensive house rules are par the course for tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. In these games, you take on the role of an adventurer and your exploits can alter the fabric of the world the game takes place in. By definition, these games see you changing the rules to make your quest easier.
Meanwhile, the game’s organizer, called a Game Master, uses mechanics that allow them to shift the odds back in the favor of the villains. If you’re a fan of changing rules, permanent consequences, and unique gameplay, then consider getting your group into a tabletop RPG. While these games are a bit more involved than your average board game, they’re a ton of fun once you get your group rolling.