April 15, 2003

Rules Were Made To Be Broken

by Susan Rozmiarek

Have you ever noticed how the adult world is obsessed by rules? There are rules for every aspect of our life, whether it be work or play. Whether you're standing in line at the grocery store, or stopping at a red light, you are following (or not following) rules. Our whole lives are governed by rules. Now just look how this obsession carries over into our hobby. Look what we do for fun. We gather with our friends and sit down and play games. Each game, of course, comes with its own little set of rules that we all must follow. And what happens if we hit a snag in our game like a rules omission or ambiguity? Do we just make a quick house rule and move on? After all, this is all just for fun. Heck, no! The Rules Lawyer in us rears its ugly head. First we argue amongst ourselves and then we check BGG and other websites. If we can't find our answers there, we must then post our questions to various Internet discussion groups to be hashed out in public. If that doesn't work we must take it to the top and ask the designer himself. WE MUST HAVE THE CORRECT RULES! Now, contrast this with the attitudes of kids. We all come into this world clueless that there are tons of rules we must follow. Heck, I sometimes believe my kids are still clueless at ages 7 & 10! Have you ever played a game with a young child? Or better yet, watched kids playing a game together without the interference of adults? Remember "Calvinball" from the excellent cartoon strip "Calvin and Hobbes"? Rules are made to be broken or made up, especially if you can't remember what they were in the first place. Yea, some little budding Rules Lawyer might pipe up, "that's not how you play that game," only to be shot down with a "well, we're going to play it MY way!" Here are two recent examples with my own kids: My younger son Shea (age 7) had been begging me to play one of our newer acquisitions, Pferdemist. Pferdemist is a cute little game that includes farmers, horses, hunters and rabbits that each move like a different chess piece. The goal of the game is to collect manure and grow carrots in your garden while keeping the rabbits out. The main game can be rather complicated, but it includes rules for simpler games using fewer pieces that build on one another until one is ready to play the full game. There is a game just using the horse, a game using the horse and gardener and then the full game that uses all pieces-horse, farmer, rabbit and hunter. Well, Shea had already played the game before with the just the horse and farmer. Now he wanted to play with the rabbit too, but no hunter. He loves rabbits and refused to play with hunters. They hurt rabbits. "But..but...but," I said, "there are no rules for rabbits without hunters. It won't work." No problem. We were just going to play by HIS (Shea's) rules. He had it all worked out. And we did. And his game didn't work perfectly, but Shea had a blast while I happily pondered on the possibility that I was raising the next Reiner Knizia. Then there's my older son, Kevin (age 10). He's a bona fide gamer, playing the real stuff like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne with rule-obsessed grownups. He knows how to play by THE rules. The other day he had a friend over and they spent a great deal of time happily hunched over Risk: The Lord of the Rings. He'd just received this game for his birthday and I was mighty pleased to see him and friend playing a board game instead of being huddled around the usual video games. Now, he'd played this once at Gulf Games, but I had to wonder how well he'd remembered how to play, since that had been months ago. So later, I asked him. He nonchalantly replied that they were playing their own made-up version of the game. MADE UP RULES?!?!? The ENTIRE time?!?!? Oh, well. Surely I must be raising the next Wolfgang Kramer, here :-) So, at what point in our lives do we start feeling like we always have to "play by the rules?" Who knows. Sometime between the first "don't touch that," and the "you better be home by 10," I guess. I think kids sometimes have the right idea. They know how to play. I mean REALLY play. They know how to have fun. Just watch them, sometime. When you find yourself obsessing about whether to play Acquire with open or closed holdings and your blood pressure is soaring because that idiot on Spielfrieks is playing it wrong, wrong, wrong, just sit back and take a deep breath. Pretend you are 8 years old. Make up a rule that works for you. Have fun.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at April 15, 2003 2:44 PM


Great article, Susan! I couldn't agree more. I think there is plenty of room for both camps -- people that play religiously by the rules, and people that change the rules to suit them. All that matters is that *you* are having fun.

Your article made me think of all the different ways that people play Monopoly -- all the weird house rules and things. Some of those undoubtedly unbalance the game, but so what? If it makes the game more enjoyable, who are we to argue?

I am amazed at creative ability of the kids to make up an *entire* set of rules for a game. That's just magic.

Posted by: Alex Kilpatrick on August 3, 2003 9:16 PM
Post a comment

This page viewed times since April 15, 2003.

E-mail Ed Rozmiarek with questions or problems concerning this page.

Copyright © 2003, Ed & Susan Rozmiarek.
No portion of this website may be reproduced or copied without the consent of Ed or Susan Rozmiarek.