One of the more common complaints expressed by those who hate Ameritrash is the constant crow cry of a game being ‘unbalanced’ or ‘broken’. It does make some sense that this occurs in these brand of games really, after all the more complications and exceptions you place onto a rule set, the more chance you have of breaking it in some way. It is for this reason that fans of the game begin developing house rules as a ‘fix’, which of course leads to the second crow cry from many of our gamer cousins.
“House rules?!?! After I paid all of this money for the game the designer expects me to do his job for him as well?!?!”
I find that attitude somewhat bizarre. Not slapping on 1 or 2 minor house rules to fix a problem is like refusing to look out the window before you head off for a walk, because well the weatherman should bloody well just get his forecasts right in the first place damn it! I often wonder how such people would act when in the market for a new home – would they knock back the perfect house just because they don’t like the wallpaper or because the kitchen needs a little remodeling?
House rules normally are very simple to implement, and with the advent of the internet you don’t even need to come up with them yourself, you can simply apply other people’s ideas if you lack the imagination or time to come up with your own fixes. Of course, a lot of this comes down to a simple question – is the game worth ‘fixing’ in the first place? That’s a subjective question, but I personally like to divide a rule set into 2 parts, the core rules and the chrome.
The ‘core’ rule set is the ‘skeleton’ of the game, so to speak; the main mechanic that drives the game and which all other rules hang upon. Eurogames tend to be built almost exclusively of a core rule set. If the core rules are broken then in most cases anything short of redesigning the entire game won’t help. An example of this for me is Medevil; the core rule set is so bland and uninspiring that I simply don’t think it’s worth playing, and therefore I won’t bother trying to develop house rules to make it play better. I’ll just play something else entirely.
On the other side there are the ‘chrome’ rules. These are the touches and extra bits which are hung onto the core rules to bring more flavor and nuisance to the game. Ameritrash games tend to have a lot of these, and it’s normally these rules which cause problems. The good thing is that because chrome rules aren’t part of a games foundation but rather more like its branches, they can be altered a lot more easily without sending the entire game crashing down, due to them having a lesser impact on the rest of the game then core rules do. That is why this is the ideal level to be applying house rules at. As an example I will use the game Doom. I love the core mechanics in this – the combat dice are brilliant, the scenario base a lot of fun and the options one is given throughout play I find very interesting. On the other hand I don’t like how hard it is for the marines to win – the balance is simply too skewed away from their survival for me to have much fun with it. Fortunately addressing this issue is simply a matter of tweaking the chrome rules a bit; be it changing the way ammo is acquired, giving the marine more armor or lives to increase his chance of survival, or simply designing easier adventures. Such fiddling around the edges are unlikely to affect the game in ways you can’t foresee, but can address the problems you have with it to make the whole experience much more enjoyable.
So when people argue that they should not be forced to implement house rules in order to fix a game, I simply argue why throw out a perfectly good game just because it has one or two issues you don’t care for?
Of course, ‘fixes’ are not the only reason to implement house rules, the other big reason is to customize the game and give it your own personal stamp. You see this all the time in other hobbies – car enthusiasts will buy parts to modify their vehicles and customize it, people who love to cook will experiment with spices to give the dish a bit of their own signature, photographers will experiment with light and lenses and so on. Tinkering with something you enjoy is a lot of fun, and house rules are really nothing more than taking a light hand at playing designer. And really, who is more qualified at custom building your ultimate game experience than you yourself?
So while a nice set of problem free rules is a great thing, one should not be afraid of pulling out the hammer and have some fun nailing in a few house rules. They aren’t quite as sacrosanct as Matt Thrower would have you believe.