There are a lot of people out there, both hardcore gamer types and people who just play games occasionally, that have this idea that the rules just sort of get in the way and keep you from having fun. It’s an attitude of “well I’m just here to have fun, I don’t care about the rules”. I believe that following the rules in fact makes games more fun, not less and I’d like to talk a little bit about why.
Let me first say that I am definitely a rules person when it comes to games. Whenever anyone has a new game to try out I’m the one who reads the rules and figures out how to play the game. I’m also a conqueror, so I need to know the rules in order to figure out what I can and can’t do and formulate my best strategy for winning. I don’t want to sound like I’m one of those ultra-competitive, has to win at any cost types; I can play games “just for fun”. But I think it’s more fun if everyone is trying their best to win 😉
Anyway, back to rules. The problem with ignoring the rules and just playing however you feel like is that the rules are there to provide balance. Many games can be unbalanced or easily broken if the rules aren’t followed; there might be one obvious game-breaking strategy that’s outlawed by the rules, or there might be situations that come up that are unworkable outside of the context of the rules. What might seem like a more fun way to play a game can quickly become boring if it leads to repetitiveness or broken gameplay.
Also, games are not just released on a whim. They are playtested to death, and publishers don’t spend money on releasing games unless they’re confident they’re going to make money (so they stick to proven winners or really good newcomers). It seems a little cocky to say “Well it won’t be any fun if we play by the rules, let’s play it some other way”. Quite the opposite: the rules are carefully designed to make the most fun game possible. No one wants to make an unfun game, and the designers tweak the rules and design to squeeze the most fun out of every game they can. These are people whose jobs are to sit around and make fun games, so they probably are better at it than you or me.
All of this is not to say that all games are released with perfect rules and that they should never be changed. I’m all for a carefully thought-out houserule that appears necessary after a good bit of playing the game. For example, my family has played the game Rage since I was a kid. It’s a trick-taking game where the object is to get exactly the number of tricks you bid, no more no less. In the rules they say to start with each player getting 10 cards, then 9, then 8, all the way down to 1. But the more cards you have the more interesting and dramatic it is and the more points you can score, so we’ve always done it the other way, starting with 1 and working our way up to 10. Games should get more and more complex and interesting as you play them, not less so. Another houserule we have involves the “Out Rage” card, which can be played to remove the trump and make it a no trump round (unless it gets changed again). The rules say that if you turn that over as the initial trump card you should pick another, but we’ve houseruled it so that the round starts off with no trump. I think those are both rules that make sense and make the game a little better.
It may be a little bit more hassle to figure how to play a new game by the rules, but it will usually lead to a deeper, better, and more fun gaming experience, so it’s worth it. And hey, if you don’t want to bother, invite me over and I’ll read the rules and figure out the game 🙂