Why Use Board Game House Rules & How they Benefit Game Nights

Anyone who has played games, for even a short while, had come across a number of rules that they would prefer to be different.  Adventurous game players will eventually decide to play a game or two with the new rules to see if the changes enhance the game.  Certain procedure of game play can also be incorporated to house rules.

Why use house rules for game night?  House rules eliminate game play controversy, provide variety to any one game, and give the host for the night an added benefit to play the games with the rules they enjoy the most.

What are House Rules

House rules are the game rules set forth by the host for the evening.  The house rules could simply be that all games will be played according to the games original instructions, which are the default rules if not stated beforehand.  House rules also dictate some of the decorum for the night.  These may include keep food and drinks in the kitchen and away from the game and also determining what time the game night will end.  Although the food and drink may seem silly at first some of the really fun games can get a little pricey and accidentally ruining a game with a spill would quickly end game night.  For this reason if a guest brings their game to my house I will always make this a rule unless the game owner tells me otherwise.     

Examples of House Rules

A popular Monopoly House Rule is that all money collected from fines and other expenses associated with Chance and Community Chest is placed into the middle of the board.  Then the next player that lands on the Free Parking spot collects all of this money.  The rules would require this money to be placed back into the bank.  This house rule is so popular that most people probably don’t even know that it is a house rule.

One example of a house rule that we adopted as a standard rule is “The Box Rule.”  When playing RISK there are a lot of tiny pieces that are spread throughout the board in very strategic positions.  If the board would get disturbed at some point during the game it could be very difficult to reposition all of the pieces back to where they were originally.  Because attacking and defending with dice is another integral part of the game there is an increased likelihood that the game board will be disturbed.  The Box Rule states that all dice need to be rolled, at the same time, in the box; and we use the top of the RISK box.  If a die is accidentally rolled outside of the box it is deemed to be equal to 1.

A second RISK house rule that we stumbled upon is related to the end of turn troop transfer.  According to the rules a player can transfer as many troops as they want from one territory to another adjacent territory at the end of their turn, thus fortifying another position or slowly moving troops from landlocked positions to more strategic locations.  Our house rule allows for a similar troop transfer from one territory to another but the territories DO NOT need to be adjacent as long as all territories in the middle of the transfer are owned by the same army.  

A Settlers of Catan house rule is that we allow the winner of the previous game the privilege of designing the next board.  I know that some people are asking what does this even mean.  Settlers rules recommend a standard board and we never use it – another house rule that is now a standard rule.  Our older game provided water and ports on hexagonal tiles, which makes it possible for us to build these unique Catan boards.  We’ve played with all different sorts of boards and this variety means that our individual strategies have to change too.

If you do not have an older version of Settlers of Catan I would definitely recommend looking for this version, or at least the hexagonal water and port tiles, so that you can make and play on unique Catan board.

Eliminate Controversy and Facilitates New Rules

Many times house rules become an issue when players have played the same game with different rules and then their two worlds collide.  The rules are then consulted and the game resumes according to the boxed rules.  However, sometime the other way is more fun and that is the birth of a House Rule.

House rules can eliminate any controversy associated with questionable game play or unclear rules.  It is the host responsibility to make the final call when there is just no distinguishable answer to the controversy.  Many game nights fall apart because there are no house rules and the night is full of frustration, animosity, and anger.  Well implemented house rules facilitate an enjoyable environment and keep many game nights alive and well.

Helpful Tip:  If hosting a game night I would recommend deferring any questionable rules to the advantage of a guest.  This is good form and keeps your guests happy.

Example of Eliminated Controversy

During our RISK games the excitement builds during big attacks.  It is during these times that everyone gets a little amped up and when this happens the dice will inevitably miss the box.  Because we all know and understand The Box Rule it is easily accepted that the die is now valued at 1 – no questions asked and no complaining.

If we didn’t have this rule, how would we handle dice that fall of the table or are propped against the playing board not completely on any specific number?  Do we re-roll the dice on the floor or does the number on the floor count?  The box rule provides us an answer to these questions and more and no one feels slighted because this is clear prior to the start of the game.

Variety of Game Play

Variety is the spice of life and it also makes sure that game nights don’t get stale.  As I previously explain with respect to our Settlers of Catan boards.  Playing the differently designed boards means that no one game is ever the same.  We could play for years and the game always presents as new in some way or another. 

Benefit to the Host

The variety of the games and the rules is the benefit of the host.  When you are hosting the game night you get to make the rules and this means that you can play the games the way you like them best.  I really like playing World Domination RISK so when game night was at my house we played World Domination.  Some of the other Game Night Bros preferred Mission RISK.  By implementing house rules we were able to play both kinds of RISK without overdoing either version.


Before your next game night determine if you have any unwritten house rules or if you want to use one of ours.  Just be clear before the night starts as to how these rules will work and make sure everyone is agreeable.  Using the house rules will keep your game night fresh, free of controversy, and provides an added benefit to the host by allowing them to play the games with established house rules that they like or to make one up that night.

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