If you're a rigid, either-play-it-by-the-rules-or-don't-play-it-at-all kind of person when it comes to board games, then I'll apologize in advance: You, my friend, are going to hate this week's column. I'm about to rain chaos into your orderly world.
Sorry, but at least you know going into it.
For family game night, rules are really recommendations. You're completely free to play your game the way you want to with the people in your world. Just have fun while you do it.
There. I said it.
Rules, Schmules - Let's Play
Yes, I'm serious about this whole “rules optional” thing when you're playing at home. Really.
When it comes to playing board games with your kids - especially if your younger players are under seven or eight years old - the two most important parts of your family game night are family and fun.
You'll notice that follow the rules didn't make the list.
You should focus on the time you're spending and the interactions you're enjoying with your family. That's vitally important stuff. It deserves the majority of your attention.
Whether your child successfully navigates that sharp turn near the start of Candyland or instead goes careening onto a nearby path that's practically half the game away really doesn't matter. Her laughter as she plays and spends time with you is the big thing. That's your goal. That's why you're here.
After all, you bought the board game. You own it. It's yours. You can do anything that you want to with it, which probably explains why so many games are missing pieces. But I digress...
If you arbitrarily change the rules of your game so that everybody who's playing has even more fun than they were to begin with, that's fine. The “game cops” won't burst through your door and sweep away your copy of Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan. Trust me on this one.
“Wait a minute,” I hear you cry. “Rules are the foundation of civilization! They're the cornerstone of our country! They're the ingredient list on our creamer and the warning labels on our pillows!”
That's all well and good and true. I fully support following the rules when you're playing with teens and older kids, or when playing games with new people at conventions.
During times like those, please, by all means, use the rules. All of the rules. Plus the “frequently asked questions” documents and the notes from the designer. All of that stuff is great. Go for it. Goodness knows I do.
But when you're at home with your family or your younger kids, fun beats painstakingly accurate play every time.
Remember the Goal
Why should you even consider abandoning the rules? Because it's way too easy for parents to lose focus and start fixating on the wrong things in the middle of a game. (Dads, I'm looking at you.)
Focus on the fun. Focus on your family. If you're all having fun but you bust a few rules in the process, so be it.
Rules are great and they're very important for all kinds of reasons. But if you break a few in the name of having an awesome time with your kids, I won't call the Rule Cops on you. Promise.