Playing By the Rules

It’s been about 82 years since the Parker Brother began marketing the game of Monopoly. In that time, Monopoly has managed to hit more tables as much as any game. It has also destroyed friendships and kept people up into the wee hours of the night. Why? House rules. House rules are what keep games like Monopoly from working like they should. The most notorious such rule is the “Free Parking” rule. It has many variations, but usually, involves the players placing a $500 in the center of the board. Whoever lands on Free Parking, gets that money. The problem is that Monopoly, by design, takes money out of the system by creating debt, not by putting it back in. There is the “Pass Go, Collect $200,” but other than that, the game adds little money into the system.  The point: Rules are important. Rules have various applications throughout life. With board games, they are important for several reasons. 

Rules build the correct experience.

What do I mean by this? Well, take Monopoly again. The designer made Monopoly be a quick game. The money drains fast, and properties go upside-down more often than not. It doesn’t when gamers introduce rules that prevent that. It makes the game drag and allows for more luck.  Take a game like Agricola or Puerto Rico. They are modern classics and well-designed games. If I decide to take the “starving” mechanic out of Agricola completely breaks the game. All a sudden, the game feels different from the designer’s intent. Even though it makes me feel bad when I play, I should leave that rule in.

Rules create social order. 

For the family, rules are the difference in an emotional explosion and a mild tantrum. We’ve all been at the table when someone didn’t like the rules right? How parents handle those situations is particularly important for children. They need to see that even though we may not always like the rules, we still follow them. Rules provide a necessary structure that keeps anarchy at bay. When my family sits down to play a game together, everyone agrees that we will keep the rules of the game. It is an unspoken agreement. There shouldn’t be exceptions – well, not usually.

Cheating creates bedlam.

Just as rules create order, cheating creates chaos. As soon as one player cheats, there is distrust at the table. Where there is distrust, there isn’t fun. As parents, Emily and I have always treated cheating with firmness, but with mercy. We understand the temptation. We’re human too. We also like to win. Yet, we cannot tolerate cheating. A child who cheats on a silly board game will cheat on a test. If they’ll cheat on a test, they might steal from work. You get the idea. I’m not a fan of the “slippery slope argument” because it’s usually bad. In this case, though, it works. We all know cheaters, and much of the time, their cheating ways didn’t start as an adult.

Follow the Letter…and the Spirit.

When it comes to rules, there are two terms we associate with them: the letter and the spirit. To follow the letter of the law, you should never go over 55 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. Following the spirit of the law, you might go 60. Even though you are speeding, you aren’t trying to break any laws. You just want to get there faster. Helping children (and adults) understand this distinction creates a better gaming environment. It also prevents the dreaded “rules lawyer” from being born. We’ve all broken the rules by accident. You know…you forgot to pay something or collect something or whatever else. Allowing for some leniency in those situations fosters a great experience. It builds much better gamers.

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