Wednesday, April 20, 2011

House Rules

Below is an article that I started drafting back in 2008 and finally have come back to finish it. I will try to start posting some more comments and updating some links on the site in the next few months. I'm still playing games but just haven't been updating the blog until now.
Have you ever played a game of monopoly and thought, this is too long and I wish it had more decisions that just buy everything I land on? Have you ever wondered how useful the University might be in Puerto Rico or maybe the Cube Favor Track in Caylus?

I have always enjoyed tinkering with game rules and also with how a game "works". What I mean by this is that games tend to have one or more mechanisms or elements that really drive the game. Changing some of the core elements of a game can really result in a totally different game and this is not what I want when I create House Rules (at least not usually). What I want to do is modify a part of the design to either (1) allow for more strategy, (2) reduce a dominant strategy, and/or (3) just add more of what is fun about the game. I'm sure there are other reasons but I'll just touch on these for now... With these ideas in mind here are some of my house rules for games that I own. After each house rule I will list the reasons (above numbers) for why I created them.

Monopoly (1,2,and 3)
I'll start with a game that everyone is familiar with and probably associates with a long drawn out game. First, many people don't follow the Monopoly rules as written (nothing happens on Free Parking and there are auctions for properties that are landed on and not purchased).

House Rule #1 - Players start with $500 (instead of $2000). I have found that mosts games of standard Monopoly tend to open with players buying every property that they land on in the initial few trips around the board. This house rule addresses my primary concern on money and makes property purchases much more tactical in the early game.

House Rule #2 - Utilities count as RailRoads (cost $200, Rent for 5 RR is $400 and 6RR is $800). Utilities are impractical purchases as they cannot generate cash via Monopolies and are much less useful than a few railroads. This house rule makes Railroads extremely valuable in the early game and increases their sustainability over the long game.

House Rule #3 - When a player lands on a property they can buy it if they wish for the listed price. If they do not buy it then it goes up for auction among the other players. Beginning with the next player to the left each player may bid. First bid must be List Price or higher and each subsequent bid must be higher then the last. When a player passes they are out of the auction. This house rule keeps auctions starting at the property price which helps offset any cashflow problems in the early game by any players who make agressive purchases.

My experience is that this version of Monopoly is much more tactical and enjoyable AND it can often complete in 90 minutes or less. I have had one two-player game end before I made one complete lap around the board! It does tend to make the low cost monopolies more powerful as there is not enough cash to build up an expensive one early but I have found the games to be more enjoyable if I have to play it with the kids.

Puerto Rico (1)
Overall, I would not make changes to this game as it is a great design and I particluarly like to play it with the expansion buildings in the mix to make for a variety of different strategies. The only change that I have made with this game is to alter the cost of the University from 8 to 7. This makes the building more viable and I have never seen it abused in any games at the 7 level.

Amun Re (1)
I have talked about my house rules on this game in my Amun Re review. These changes have made decisions in the game more interesting and have helped to balance out the Power Cards so that I don't feel like any particular Power Card is "too weak". While they all have their uses some will still be more useful with particular players and/or strategies. This feels right for me.

To Court the King (1,2)
I love dice manipulation games, so I thoroughly enjoyed this game when I first purchased it. However, I quickly found out that the "strategies" were very limited and almost always the player who grabbe extra dice (particularly the General) would win 90+% of the time. Also, if a player missed on getting an advisor early and got a Jester then they would not be able to catch up with others. This was exasserbated in a 3 player game where the farmers would often go to the 1st and 2nd players and the 3rd player would have to get 15+ or else be stuck with a Jester. Not fun.

House Rule #1 - The General’s 2 extra dice are different (white) and they MUST be fixed prior to any other dice. This makes the General less effective overall and generally requires at least one control card to make him beneficial which balances him with other choices. I read about this one on the Tao of Gaming website and quickly implemented it with great success.

House Rule #2 - The following cards and card combinations provide players with an additional Fool/Charlatan card when they are taken (combo is met).
· Serving Maid
· Philosopher
· Merchant
· Noblewoman & Magician
· Nobleman & Alchemist

This rule really helps to balance out the control cards with the extra dice cards. It gives the ability to get extra dice (through the Charlatan) and it allows a player who gets a Jester early to have a viable way back into the game. It also makes for a variety of different strategies and a player who takes only extra dice will have to be extremely lucky to win against a player who takes a few control cards (balance seems about right now). These changes did warrant a slightly different change in the numbers of cards placed in the tablaeu for various numbers of players.

Marvel Super Heroes (3), War of the Ring (1,3), World of Warcraft (3)
These games are all longer games with a lot of theme. I will briefly touch on some of my house rules for these games.

Marvel - I added 12 X-Men, 12 Avengers, 5 FF, and 8 Marvel Knights to the original 16 heroes. Some of these can be used with multiple teams (She Hulk was an Avenger and part of the Fantastic Four in the comics). I also added 8 new Masterminds (12 total) so that each team has 3 different possible Masterminds to face. Some are tougher than others but I balanced this by how the teams are chosen in the beginning. These changes don't affect the gameplay but add a lot of flavor and replay value for comic fans. In addition, I made a few house rules so that turn order is by VP (instead of starting with the lowest and going clockwise) and in how story cards are used but generally I just added more variety.

War of the Ring - I have written a few articles just on this one so I won't go into more details again here. However, these changes increased the replay value for me and opened up a lot of different strategies in the game.

World of Warcraft - I only play this game with the first expansion and I found that the base game allowed players to take out the overlord at 4th level without requiring anyone to get to 5th level. Also, the game didn't have enough interaction with other players (aside from a long Player vs Player combat).
House Rule #1 - I created tougher overlords so that all 3 of them require more powerful players to defeat them. This makes character advancement to 5th level more important (at least for 1 or 2 of the players) and opens up more possibilities while only slightly adding length.
House Rule #2 - Expanded town actions. I wanted to add more options for when a player is in town. Especially if they only wanted to get some training (and not healing). I added options to allow them to visit the Tavern, the Magistrate, the Oracle, or to even have more focused training and save some Gold.
House Rule #3 - Secondary Skills. All characters now get a random secondary skill that provides more flavor with some small benefits.
House Rule #4 - Advanced Quests. I added a whole new deck of quests that can be completed by either player. This opens up more options and also produces more interaction without promoting more direct conflicts (which bog the game down).

Caylus (1,2)
The two issues I have with Caylus are that players don't utilize the Cube Favor track and the stone production buildings are over utilized. I am still experimenting with my house rules to address these issues.
House Rule #1 - When a player would get a cube for someone else placing on their building they can only get the cube if they give up 1 victory point (the one they got when the other player placed on their building). This house rule seems to make these production buildings not so over balanced and my hope is that it will also open up more needs for players to acquire cubes from that favor track at certain times. I am hesitant to increase the capabilities on the favor track as I don't want to make it too strong. Small steps with house rules are generally best ;-)