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Home teaching (Topic Discussion)
There Will Be Games

Growing up, I played a lot of tabletop games with my parents and brother. Yes, there was Monopoly of course, as well as other roll-and-move games such as Winnetou, but also tableau builders like Ogallala and a stock market game called Das Börsenspiel which required a little more strategic thinking. It was mostly my brother who would teach us these sort of games, and my parents would teach us trick-taking games like Skat and Doppelkopf. So in this article I want to look at how I learned those games and how the rules were taught.

Of course, some of my memory is a bit vague, going back around forty years to when I was around six or seven, but I do clearly remember that I learned the first few games by actually starting to play. Sure, my brother would explain the rules first, but then early games didn't really have many rules. It was mostly about getting from A to B as quickly as possible by rolling dice and maybe making some decisions along the way. So it was easier for me to just start rolling dice and asking questions as I went.

It was also my brother who introduced the first house rules. First of all, and probably not really a house rule, he would put sweets on the goal space for the winner to have. However, he also made sure there were sweets for everyone else, be it less for second and third places, so that nobody would go empty-handed. That was not only sweet of him, but also ensured that I would be happy to continue playing games with him.

In fact, making a game more fun has been the main reason for introducing house rules back then and it is still the main reason these days. Growing up with a brother, my parents had to adjust game rules to ensure we wouldn't fight or table flip. I don't recall any of those house rules specifically, but I do recall being allowed to re-roll dice or maybe have an extra turn to allow me to catch up, so that I wouldn't get frustrated and felt that I still had a chance to win.

I'm sure we also made rules mistakes in games. Mind you, I think we played Monopoly correctly - at least mostly. We did auction off properties, if the person who landed on a space declined to pay the full price. We also traded properties between each other and we even allowed the building of houses only when a player owned all properties of the relevant colour group.

Yet, there may have been other games that we played incorrectly. The thing is, I don't know what these rules mistakes might have been, because I no longer play those games and can't check the rules against my memory of how we played them. So there is a good chance that those rules mistakes became house rules in our family.

That's actually another way how games groups these days sometimes propagate rule mistakes and effectively turn them into house rules until a new member points out the mistake, at which point there is probably a huge discussion of whether the long honoured way of playing the game should persist, or if the actual rules should take effect.

As a parent myself now, I wonder if my wife and I have created house rules of our own without knowing, simply by teaching the rules wrong to our daughter. Of course, I wouldn't know, until our daughter points our mistake out to us, but I do think that we may have played Smallworld slightly wrong with her.

When it comes to house rules, we didn't really introduce any, other than maybe to make gameplay a bit faster. Saying that, I remember playing Smallworld with her a few times in a two-player game, and we decided to control two different races each, making the game effectively a four-player game, but allowing the two races to help each other, which made for an interesting and fun experience.

Overall I think it's interesting that things such as house rules and making rules mistakes feel like a new idea, but clearly have been around for a very long time: at least for decades, probably longer. So when you think back to your own board game past, you can probably think of other things you did then, but didn't have a name for, and that you still do now.

I'd love to know what your board game memories are. Did you learn from your parents or siblings? Did you play games with friends and would they be the ones teaching you, or would you be the teacher? Are there rules mistakes you made back then that you only now realize were mistakes? Please share your experiences and memories in the comments below.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #307011 11 Feb 2020 04:52
My parents didn't play a lot of games with me growing up, except, for some reason, when there was extended family about. Then, it was a light dutch set collection game (Thirty-One), before Canasta, Euchre as I got older. I heard about Monopoly and I don't know when I first played it but I was besotted with it as many kids actually are and got given a copy for a birthday or christmas or something, which only just died, 30 odd years later, but I can't recall playing it that often with my immediate family. Same with Cluedo. We played homespun Scattegories though, I remember that. My parents still play that one, mum will stare at all the things I have and pick it everytime. Dad is a bit more adventurous but I think in another age he would have been right into it, I know he played some Risk and Diplomacy pre-kids.

Anyway - yes, I have my own kids now, games are great for socialisation stuff. Following procedures, cause and effect, magic circle, winning and losing gracefully, all that stuff. That's what they are really soaking up, I hope. Also, absolutely, yes, tinkering with systems. Why does this rule exist? Etc. Especially with my youngest who really enjoys making his own games. Probably the most longstanding house rule we have is that in Zooloretto there are bonus points for babies.
edulis's Avatar
edulis replied the topic: #307013 11 Feb 2020 09:35
My dad introduced me to Axis and Allies sometime when I was in the 4th or 5th game, which really lead me into 'serious' gaming. My dad had been at a several weeks long training for work in another state and he and some fellow classmates decided that a board game might be a good idea rather than hitting the bar every night. Not sure how they choose Axis and Allies or why my dad was the one who came home with it. All the toy soldiers fascinated me, I was still into GI Joe at the time. My dad taught me and my sisters to play and one of his work friends would also join us. My sisters opted out pretty quick, but I was always ready for a game.
We played all the Gamemaster series games for years, but Axis and Allies was always the favorite. I recruited various friends to play over the years and I bought the old man the Xeno games expansion. The expansion lead to many long weekends of Axis and Allies games. Man I miss those.

We had a few 'house rules' that were really just playing wrong. One day a friend of mine who we had taught to play was bored and actually read the rule book and set us straight on how subs and transports really worked .
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #307017 11 Feb 2020 12:06
Although I know, from my mom, that her and my father tought me to play Candy Land, I have no memory of it. My grandmother teaching me backgammon and my great uncle from England teaching me cribbage are some on my earliest game memories. Interspersed are many games of Uno, Aggravation, Flounder, Rack-o, Careers, and Life (the proper one with Linkletter promissory notes).

Looking back games have been pretty big in the background, something I hadn't thought of until now. Migration into old Avalon Hill games at 13ish was likely natural. I even taught my grandmother to play Gladiator. She did well incidentally.