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Three Great Variations Add a Twist to Classic Games

Three Great Variations Add a Twist to Classic Games

I’m not usually a fan of “house rules.” In general, the game designers get it right and homebrew modifications tend to add unnecessary complication or subtract from subtle strategy. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the wisdom of crowds creates brilliant modifications that result in better play. Here are three classics that have some wonderful off-menu rules.

Carcassonne

carcCarcassonne is a classic title and one of the most frequently cited “gateway games.” It provides a fun and interactive experience in a relatively short time frame. What’s more, it lacks intimidating complexity. New players can jump right in and have a good time without having to sit through a ten minute rules explanation. And part of that is because of its simple turn structure. Each turn, you draw one tile and place it. But is that really the best way to go?

Grabbing only one tile at a time really limits your options, and drawing at the beginning of your turn means that everyone has to wait while you think. House rules to the rescue!  Instead of playing as the rulebook demands, give every player a “hand” of three tiles. That way, you can plan a little bit from turn to turn and try to grow the city in a way that will help your future placements. Plus, you draw your new tile at the end of each turn. That way, you can look at it and think about your next move while the other players are acting. By the time it gets back around to you, you should already know what to do. This dramatically reduces downtime and helps the game move more swiftly.

These two changes are very simple and easy to understand. They don’t require any new rules or add in complexity. But they provide everyone at the table with a better experience.

Werewolf

werewolfWe’ve talked about several Werewolf variants before, but it’s worth calling out Texas Werewolf again. Originally created for online play by boardgamegeek user BlackSheep, this version of Werewolf makes it far more likely that you will have a special power. And it also means that you never quite know who or which team has access to the which powers.

Traditionally, everyone gets a particular role to play. That role may or may not do something special.  Several roles consist of unpowered villagers. (Vanillagers, if you will.) But Texas Werewolf works a little differently. Instead of getting one role, you get two. First you pass out a couple of Team roles – maybe Werewolf, Seer, Sorcerer, and the like. But then, after everyone has been established, you pass out a second set. Things like Hunter or Tough Guy. The Hunter kills someone when he dies. So you might get a Seer who is also a Hunter or a Werewolf who can retaliate.

The variability in powers really helps to create a system of confusion and doubt. Plus, you can get some wild games where particular powers or combinations can make for exceptional and memorable games.

Agricola

agricolaFor many people, Agricola is the defining worker placement game. And in the full game, you get dealt a hand of occupation and minor improvement cards that can be played for points and special abilities. You get your complete hand at the beginning and these cards often inform your strategy. While you won’t be able to play them all, you’ll try to get a few synergistic abilities going in order to get one up on your competition.

Sadly, the random draw can have a negative impact on an otherwise strategic game. Some players might happen to get better combos than others. But there’s a way to address it. Rather than deal the cards out randomly, instead have a draft. Deal each player a hand of occupations. They each take one and pass the rest. Then take one from the new hand and pass the rest. And so on. Do the same thing with the minor improvements.

In that way, particularly great cards tend to get more evenly distributed, and you get to see a lot of what the potential cards are. You might have some idea of what opponents are likely to do and can move to counter it. Of course, they’ll do the same to you. But it really injects into the card draw the same strategic considerations you see elsewhere in the game.

Do you have any house rules that you use?  Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credits: Z-Man Games, Bezier Games, and Lookout Games

Featured Image Credit: Z-Man Games

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