Friday, January 11, 2013

Change the rules of a game, or change the way you play?

I was browsing Reddit a few days ago when I came across a thread on r/boardgames that was asking about altering the rules of a game slightly because a certain starting position (mandatory for that particular role) was "at a disadvantage" when starting the game. The top comment at the time was a comment suggesting that rather than concentrate on changing the game to accommodate for the disadvantage perhaps it would be better to consider the fact that the rules are in place for a reason and that instead the persons strategy needed to change instead.

I hadn't really considered it before but it made me think about the times that people suggest different rules (Starting positions, extra/less resources, limiting cards you can play, among many other things) that all ultimately come down to "I didn't win so I think we should change the rules. The more I think about it the more I remember times when I've read articles about changing rules when really it's the play style that should change.

So this leads to the Big Question. Which needs to change? Should we always alter the rules to accommodate for the times we feel disadvantaged or should we change the way we  play the game to accommodate for the way the game was designed?

I don't believe the answer to be clear cut and I hope that no one else does either. I do believe it is heavily swayed towards changing your strategy but there are some arguments for the other side that should be accounted for.

I'll start with not using house rules; there will be a lot of generalisation here, but that can't really be avoided. Games were designed a certain way and they have been tested, played thousands of times and changed more times than most people realise before they even get to the shops. It's fair to say that there will be some errors, some things missed out in rule books and maybe a little imbalance in certain areas. But for the most part all of that testing leads to the kinks being ironed out. If there are different roles in the game then the advantages and disadvantages will be balanced in such a way that perhaps one of them feels "better" but ultimately none of them should be clear cut as better over all.

So why do some people think that some roles are better than others, or that they got shafted by the rules because they didn't start the game with good resources? In my opinion it comes a lot down to what I started this article with; strategy. Not every role is good for your strategy. Sometimes you have to change the way you play to fit the game or the role you've been given. This is one of the key reasons why it's a bad idea to judge a game after playing it once; especially if you didn't like it. It's not the games fault that you lost, give it another chance and try a different strategy. Or the same strategy but take on a different role, or start in a different position.

But what about specific game rules that have nothing to do with starting positions, resources or specific game roles? Well generally speaking they shouldn't really be changed either, but this is a huge grey area that really is about your enjoyment and not the game. I'm of the belief that if you think a certain rule is "broken" then you probably aren't playing the rest of the game correctly. However, if you want to change a rule because it's just not fun for those involved then you're thinking of something different entirely. Which leads on to why it can be OK to change the rules of games.

Games are ultimately about having fun with your friends. If someone isn't having fun then something needs to change. By this I don't mean "that guy" who can only have fun when he wins; if that guy isn't having fun, then don't change the rules. What I mean here is where there's a distinct aspect that if it occurs will always cause the player it occurs to to instantly not have fun playing. For example, in Battlestar Galactica certain characters get given 2 role cards, so they have a higher chance of being a Cylon (for anyone who doesn't know Cylon is essentially the traitor role). This means that there's a chance that person could be given 2 Cylon cards (one is sufficient to make you the traitor). Now in the game you don't know who or how many people are Cylons, but one person having 2 Cylon cards is boring for that person because they know that they are not going to be getting a Cylon buddy to help them out. At this point it just becomes a lot less interesting for the Cylon, knowing that there is very little that you can really do to affect the course of events just isn't fun.

I feel like I've rambled on for long enough now, so I'll conclude. Next time you feel like a game rule is broken, or you're at a disadvantage for playing a particular role in a game, don't take it out on the game. There are some scenarios in which rules might need to be altered because the players in your particular group don't find it fun but the first thing to think is "can I just change my strategy in this game and stop it from feeling like I'm at a disadvantage?". Perhaps you're playing an "advanced role" that you're not experienced enough for; perhaps you're sticking to a tactic that worked differently last time, or maybe something else.

What it comes down to is having fun. Make a group decision, if everyone finds an aspect of a game to not be fun then switch it about, but a lot of people have a tendency to break rules when they change them and not fix them, so be conservative and don't change anything to drastically; and always remember, game rules are there for a reason, try to work with them.

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