So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Who You Calling a Variant?

Recently, I talked about a day when our niece was over, and playing Clue with her.  This game was frustrating at time, as I think I rolled a "1" six times in a row.  I was getting nowhere.  The only redeeming part of it was that our niece thought this was incredibly funny.  At least someone was enjoying it.

Mr. Hyde was a variant of Dr. Jekyll. Hopefully your variants go better.

I wanted to introduce a variant, but at her age I didn't want to confuse things.  What, you say?  You have never played variants?  If you have played Monopoly, I bet you have.  If you have put money in Free Parking, you've played a variant.  In fact, I have never played a game of Monopoly that wasn't a variant!  I've never played using property auctions as described in the rules. That's a variant.  You've played them, you probably just called them house rules.

Many people think of house rules as bad.  "Your not playing by the REAL rules" seems to be their attitude.  Personally, I think house rules are great - as long as they don't break the game.   In fact, you'd be surprised to learn that many games encourage variant play.  There are times when a house rule or two can make a huge improvement on a game.  Publishers know this.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

In the Monopoly article mentioned above, I talk about variants to speed up the game.  One is the auction rule to get properties sold more quickly.  Another is to stop the game at the first player elimination, and count up everyone assets, with the richest person winning.  Even Hasbro (who owns Parker Brothers) encourages this.  Tournament rules - a variant - stop the game after 90 minutes. 

Fantasy Flight, publishers of many highly thematic games with lots of awesomeness, publishes variant rules in the rulebook.  These "official variants" are designed so that players can tune the game.  In some cases, rules benefit one side or the other to offset perceived game imbalances.  In some cases, the variants change the length of the game. 

There's even a case of forcing a variant by not putting a rule in a game.  As you may know, my favorite game (after Chess) is Acquire.  One of the frequently asked questions by new players is what information is closed, and what information is open.  Should everyone know how much money you have?  Stock?  The rules don't say.  The game is on something like it's eighth publishing, and the rules are still silent.  It would seem that the publisher wants you to decide for yourself.  (Just so you know, we play with open money and closed stock, mostly because of table space.  Most people play the other way, to reflect real life.)

The whole point of playing games is to have fun.  If tweaking the rules makes a game more fun for you, then I say go for it!  Just make sure everyone knows the rules that are in effect before the game starts.  People can get pretty passionate about Free Parking, so they probably ought to know up front!

Oh, and the Clue variant?  A while back I read about a variant where you get to spend nine actions points each turn.  It costs one point to move one space, except for the secret passage, which acts as describe in the rules.  It costs three action points to make a suggestion, and three to make your final accusation.  The whole point of this is to remove the randomness of the die rolls, and to speed up the game.  I haven't tried this, but maybe next time!

It's Your Move!


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