When you are experienced enough in tabletop gaming, you start to see some flaws in game design. I’m not talking about flaws in the sense of “how the hell did the designer not see this”, but more in the way of “this game is almost perfect, but it’s not to be played with my regular group of friends”. Hey, that happens all the time. We are humans after all (well, some of us) and have different backgrounds as well as different ways of behaving upon a game table. There are several factors for thinking a game would not be a good fit for your current group, but the most common is the fact that they feel unbalanced.
When we talk about unbalanced games it usually means that not all players have the same opportunity at winning based on the game’s mechanics, setup or point tracking system. Again, not the designers fault. Those games are tested on different groups with different gamer profiles and usually are given a standard game experience based on the results of that play testing (or at least they should). The thing is that if you and your friends are absolute gaming beast that have eaten its way up and down the BGG ranking, your profiles might be different from one player to another and the game standards might not apply well to you. One thing that differs a lot from player to player is the amount of experience in certain types of games, especially those that involve a strategy or deception mechanic. If I’ve played strategy games regularly all my life, it is normal for me to be a little overpowered when we bring on a new game and it happens to be a strategy game. It is not my fault, nor the designers, nor the geek who brought the game. It’s just life (and the fact that I am awesome).
So, in plain words, the game is not unbalanced, the players are. If you are not competitive by nature, that’s fine. No need to worry then, just enjoy the game night for what it is: a group of friends who want to have fun (uouooo wanna haaave fuuun… Cindy Lauper anyone? No? I’ll just shut up then.). If you have that internal need to win every single game you play, look for the nearest psychologist and buckle up, because there is no easy solution for your problem. Trust me, I know it. I suffer from the same I-have-to-win-this-game-or-I-will-hate-you-all syndrome. First thing is to admit it and secondly is to go easy when playing games. We all know it can get pretty intense sometimes, so just hide the knives and be cool about losing or no one will want to play with you, you psycho!
One of the most common solutions to unbalanced gaming groups is house ruling. With just a twitch here and there you can setup the game to fit your group like a glove. House ruling is a common practice amongst long-time gamers, and it helps improve the gaming experience by altering the ruling of the game, without affecting its main mechanics, based on the needs of the group. So, for example, say that you have mastered Dead of Winter and feel that is no longer a challenge for your group (you liar) then you can add or modify some of the ruling or secondary mechanics to help fix that, like double the zombies you get each turn, having two traitors, or taking out all the weapon cards of the game on the setup. That means you have a hardcore version of the difficult version on a zombie game. You are badass.
It’s the same when we talk about unbalance game groups. You can modify ruling for a single person (or part of the group) if you all agree that the poor geek has an unfair advantage for just being awesome. Most common house rule in this case is to modify the points acquired, if you play point tracking based games. If you are playing games that are not point based, you can try withdrawing some privileges to a player, like set a maximum amount of cards in hand in Samurai Sword or the amount of starting meeples in Carcassone. Just be sure that the modification works and everyone (including the affected player) is having fun, otherwise you will just be bullying the person that usually wins for the simple reason that you want to win, ,.
One of the most common house rules for a game to have is usually regarding the setup, and more specifically the first player selection system. If you play with a regular group the same game for more than a couple times that rule of “the first player is the one that visited a cave more recently” becomes annoying, because there are games where first player is coveted as f**k and you cannot go out of your way on a weekday to go visit a freaking cave. This problem gets worse when you usually sit on the same spot at the gaming table, meaning that you know beforehand what the turn order is going to be. There are simple solutions to this problem, but one I use a lot is to select first players with an app. It’s easy, nerdy and assures a 100% luck guided selection system. With the app I use (called Chwazi) you can select first player or even form groups based on the number of groups you need and the number of players there are. It works great and people love it.
Well, there you go. I left you with a couple things to think about for your next game session, so if you end up with a new way to face the problems I talked about, leave a comment! Also, leave your favorite house rules so other players can check them out. Be generous my dear geek!