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Subject: When should or shouldn't you hit newbies with houserules? rss

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Brian M
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At a recent game event, I was sitting down to a game when I saw another group getting ready to play Witch of Salem. Cool! One of my favorite games. There was one experienced player teaching the game to four new players.

I got absorbed in my game. A while later, when it looked like I'd some downtime, I checked back on the game to see how they were doing.

They were still explaining. What the heck? Witch of Salem maybe takes a 10 minute explanation, tops. Here it was 20-30 minutes later and they were still doing rules.

So, after our game was finished, I went over - they were playing now. Sort of. I watched in bafflement as they played a game that looked almost but not completely unlike Witch of Salem.

People were moving at the same time, artifacts were being taken in sets of two at once, portal tiles were face up, turns were going by without monsters coming up.

What the heck? My first thought was the teacher must not really know how to play. Then I discovered he was just using a lot of houserules.

Is that too much? To me, this really looked like it was ruining the game.

However, when we taught The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac later that day to a group of new players, we played with one of our houserules (we leave out 3 of the blank wall tiles so the walls pose a little bit more of a time threat).

Hypocritical much?

So, when should or shouldn't you use houserules with new players? What's a reasonable limit? Should you warn them? Should you ask them? Discuss!
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Mark Farr
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I'm generally averse to house rules. I recall posting here on BGG recently that I couldn't recall every using a house rule, but that there might be one.

I now remember one such incident. I was introducing Carcassonne to a group of entirely new players. They are friends of mine, none of them gamers. I had many expansions included, so it was complicated enough. I decided to house rule that farms don't count. In other words, I did not mention farmers, nor farms. It has been my experience that farms are a big point swing, and it's not easy for new players to work out when they should commit, or to even remember them at all. Leaving them out there is enough to focus on (especially with Inns and Traders and the rest of the expansions).

House rules can simplify a game for new players. That is perhaps the only time I would use a house rule with them, unless the game was broken without it (which I've never seen), or the house rule made the game significantly better without being too complicated.
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K H
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I'd use extreme caution with mixing newbs and house rules. Simplification as a teaching aid could be justified, but I'd be up front and explain that "We'll ignore some finer details in the interest of teaching the base mechanics this time through."
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Brian M
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Of course, I am a huge fan of houserules (see my microbadge). Even tend to be a little leery about using them with new players, but it depends on the game. Some games I feel are drastically improved with houserules; some, in fact, I don't find worth playing without some houserules.

With Shadow Hunters, for example, with a group of mostly new players we'll use only the original characters, and not the expansion or any custom characters. However, we'll probably use our houserules for Allie and the Unknown - since they're now added on to the cards, it would be harder not to!
 
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Andy Van Zandt
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did he let people know they were playing a heavily modified version of the game, or was he presenting it as if it was the normal (or close to normal) way to play? if he was presenting it as if it was the normal way to play, that's pretty much a selfish "i want to play this way so this is how we're playing".

also, i would always prefer to learn a game the correct way for my first play. most house rules tend to unbalance more than balance (and most games that actually need it just shouldn't be played), and learning a game without the baseline/intended frame of reference means i probably won't be able to accurately judge if i want to play it again.

(for instance, if i had a horrible experience with the modified version, was it because the game was bad, or the house rules were bad? if someone in a different group suggests we play it, i don't know whether i'm subjecting myself to a repeat of the same torture i already endured, or not)
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Bill
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House rules are generally best left until a group is more familiar with a game unless the house rule fixes something "broken" or severely problematic about the game itself (catapult fix in Conquest of the Empires).
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Erik Tietz
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I think you can introduce it right away if it's something designed to make the game easier. If it's a rule to make it more complex, save it for the second play.
 
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First play of a particular game, not at all, unless the game really does need a fix (as someone has already said, I think) or to sort out die-rolling conventions (e.g. for a D100 roll, the red die is always the tens -- which isn't really what you meant, is it?). If they want to play again (volunteer out of the blue rather than being asked), then I think you can start discussing house rules with them.
 
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Gareth Reynolds
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Tobold wrote:
... I was introducing Carcassonne to a group of entirely new players. They are friends of mine, none of them gamers. I had many expansions included, so it was complicated enough. I decided to house rule that farms don't count. In other words, I did not mention farmers, nor farms. It has been my experience that farms are a big point swing, and it's not easy for new players to work out when they should commit, or to even remember them at all. ...


This and other similar reasons is the only reason I would play with houserules. To make things simpler for new players. I wouldn't have included any of the expansions however.

For example: I played a couple of games of Wits & Wagers at the end of last year and played with slightly different rules to what the rulebook I have gives. Trying to get closer to the second edition rules. It saved me some set up time as I wasn't giving out piles of chips at the beginning and the betting was simpler in all but the last round as they just needed to put a cube on whatever answer(s) they wanted to bet on instead of a pile of chip(s) and then their cube on top.
 
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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I don't use a lot of house rules, but there are a few that I always use every time I play a given game, and having new players in the game doesn't change that.

I think it's necessary to mention up front which ones are house rules, though, so that A) new players know to expect things to be different if they play with another group, and B) if they're flipping through the rules, they don't say "hey, wait a minute, we're doing it wrong!"
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Andrea Doria
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Quote:
House rules can simplify a game for new players. That is perhaps the only time I would use a house rule with them, unless the game was broken without it (which I've never seen), or the house rule made the game significantly better without being too complicated.


I generally agree with this assessment. Of course, one consideration that nobody seems to have raised is: do you like this person with whom you are playing? If somehow there's an irritating interloper in your regular group, I would say, other things being equal, he deserves a lot less consideration than one might otherwise give a newcomer.

Also, some people or groups get their Irish up about about particular rules that aren't necessarily "broken." For instance, I have an uncle who is very adamant that he will not play Kingmaker, one of our standards, with any optional or advanced rules involving the use of dice. Sometimes you have to accommodate a longtime opponent (especially when he's a friend and family member!) regardless of the marginal effect it may have on someone else.
 
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Brian M
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Certainly, circumstances will influence what to use. If a group of four people decides to play a game with house rules, a fifth new player wanting to join shouldn't make them change that. On the other hand, if someone runs a scheduled event at a convention, I would imagine that should be "by the book" unless its clearly stated to be otherwise.
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Jonathan Warren
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I am adverse to teaching houserules to new players. It gives them a skewed idea of the official rules. When they begin to play the game on their own there is a chance that the house rule will go unnoticed and snowball as they teach other players.

After they have been taught the game the official way, then is the time to add house rules, but even at that point there must be a clear understanding of the official rules and the addition is a houserule.
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Russ Williams
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I don't like house rules in general; I prefer to play by the standard rules. That's often advantageous when playing with diverse other players who are not my regular opponents - e.g. at conventions, clubs, etc - it avoids misunderstandings. It makes strategy discussions more useful, downloaded player aids are guaranteed to be compatible, etc.

All the usual advantages of having a standard apply here.

I tend to be very resistant to house rules when teaching a game to newbies, or when learning a game myself.

The only exceptions would be removing:
1. some "complicated" rule/subsystem from the game to simplify it for first-time players (e.g. farm scoring in Carcassonne, if teaching it to very inexperienced gamers)
or
2. some game card/item which is considered to be "broken" (whoever randomly gets this gadget will then win the game 99% of the time) and a reasonable convincing argument can be made that it is "broken".

Unfortunately a lot of house rules are not deletions but additions, piling in more unnecessary crap chrome that one particular person is wedded to and thinks makes the game more "realistic" or whatever.
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