Saturday, September 22, 2007

Differently Sorry, Jump-Me! and why rules should be broken

My folks bought my son the boardgame "Sorry" for his birthday earlier this month. Dan and I took it out the other night to play... and could not find the instructions. Well, the English instructions. The ones in Spanish were on a nice piece of paper floating in the box.

I don't speak or read Spanish, so... there you are. In typical Havens fashion, we decided to make up rules on the spot.

The details of the ones we made up don't really matter. They weren't spectacularly weird or wonderful... they used the number cards and the pieces in basically the manner perscribed by the game. But they were a bit funkier. [Note: later, when attempting to put the pieces back in the box upside-down, we discovered that the English rules were printed on the bottom-side of the smaller, inner cardboard box that holds the board. Had we not screwed up the puting-stuff-back procedure, we never would have found them.]

This isn't new for us. More than a year ago, we made up a version of "Reverse Checkers," that I refer to as, "Jump-Me!" The rules of checkers (at least as I've always played it) state that if you can jump an opponent's piece, you must. Well, hearing this, Dan and I came up with the idea for a game where you move, jump and king the exact same way... but where the winner is the one who maneuvers the other into eliminating all of his pieces; i.e., the one with no checkers left wins. A friend of mine, after hearing about this, referred to it as "Golf Checkers," since you want to have fewer pieces.

Years ago, while camping in the Berkshires, I had a good friend who worked at the camp. Warren and I would play all kinds of games, but our favorite was Risk. Problem is, with just two of us, Risk rules (as written) were less than optimal; the game really requires 3-6 players for any kind of strategic considerations. So we added a few twists of our own. We came up with "rogue state" rules where smaller, randomly developed nations/players could turn the tide of the game. We added navies and paratroopers. All kinds of stuff.

We also invented war games that used generic game elements that were always laying about; a deck or two of playing cards, dice, etc. We developed a very complex naval combat game using only two decks of cards and two six-sided dice. And a bunch of tables/charts about damage allocation. But it needed no board, as the position of the cards on the table relative to each other determined distances.

My point is basically this: games are great and fun and I love them. But if you're just playing games, you're missing out. You need to play with games as well. By farting around with the rules and coming up with alternate ways to play, you create something unique and possibly more entertaining. You think about meta-gaming, play balance, rule theory, etc. Even if you don't know you're doing those things, they are helpful creativity exercises.

So here's today's assignment: make up a game. Use an existing game like "Sorry," or pieces from several or many, or just a pen and some paper.

Last example: I've taught my son that whenever he plays rock-paper-scissors, he should skip those three and point a finger-gun at his opponent instead. Of course they'll have to redo the round. But it's funny and it points out the boundaries between metaphorical power and real power.

Plus, we all know that rock really beats paper, anyway...

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