Thursday, October 12, 2006

Learn to Love Board Games Again:
100+ Ways to Rejuvenate the Games You Already Own

New Games ... For Free!

Do you have dusty games in the closet that you grew bored with years ago?

Do your kids beg you to play with them, but you can't stand another round of roll-the-die/pick-a-card, move-your-piece, do-what-the-space-tells-you-to-do, and somebody wins a few hours later?

Do you want to add fun and excitement to your life without spending a dime?

In the last fifteen years, board game designers and dedicated board gamers around the world have learned a thing of two about what really makes board games fun for adults. The principles used in modern board game designs can be used to help you rejuvenate your old board games. You, too, can learn to love board games again.

It's time for you to break out the old board games. But I PROMISE you: you're not going to play them the way you remember playing them! This time, you're going to have fun with them. All it takes is a little preparation: no more than ten minutes for any game.

All you have to do is select a few new rules, and possibly write down some instructions on some index cards, for your old game to become fun again. It's like getting dozens of brand new games, better games ... for free!

Follow along with me; you're in for one hell of a ride.

The Problem With the Old Games

The main problems with those old board games are:
  • They're too long.
  • You've already read all the cards. It's just the same game each time you play it, and the game never changes.
  • There's an unfair advantage for the first or last player.
  • There are no real decisions to make - it's mostly dice rolling, or doing what the card says.
  • You can be eliminated early in the game - and that's the best outcome for some of those endlessly long games!
  • Worse yet, you may have to keep playing for hours with no chance to win.
  • There is no interaction between the players; there's nothing to do while others take their turns.
Now I'll show you how to eliminate every one of these problems.

New Rules for Old Games

The following rules are designed to address all of the above problems. They are organized by topic.

Disclaimer: I didn't make most of these rules up, myself! I am borrowing them from a whole bunch of really great games, including games by designers such as Klaus Teuber, Reiner Knizia, Alan Moon, Sid Sackson, Andreas Seyfarth, and so on. For more information on better games, as well as references and additional reading material, please see New Games at the end of this post.

Starting Player

In some games, the player who starts has a decided advantage over the other players. In other games it is the last player who has the advantage. Many games do nothing to address this problem, but solutions are not that difficult. Here are a few options:
  • AuctionA simple auction can be used to determine first or last player. Players bid either money or points, depending on the game, and the high bidder pays the amount or loses points in order to gain the advantage of paying first or last. Alternatively, all seats could be up for auction. No matter what the advantage of first player, some price paid will equalize that advantage. For more information on auctions, see Auctions, below.
  • Initial FavorsGoing first/last is an advantage, so why not offer other players an equal advantage? For instance, additional advantages could be starting with extra money, a few extra points, starting anywhere you want on the board, a bonus spare card to use when you want, the ability to re-roll one die roll during the game, or something similar. Create a set of cards with advantages, including "going first/last". Make one more than the number of players, and either deal them out before each game or let players pick them. If some get picked more frequently than others, you will know that you have to rebalance them properly.
  • Advantage/DisadvantageIn some games, you can balance the starting positions by granting disadvantages to players earlier in the player order, or advantages to players later in the player order. For instance, the starting play may receive less money to start with, with progressively more money being given to each player in turn around the player order. The exact amount of money or points depends on the game. The best measure is to try some reasonable amount and see if all players still only want one position (first or last). Continue to adjust this amount until all positions are equally attractive. In games without money, sometimes points or some other advantage can be used to achieve the same result.

Special Powers

Most games have a decidedly short shelf life for one reason: monotony. Sure, the dice roll differently and the cards get picked in a different order. Wouldn't you love to have a game that is vastly different every time you play it?

There are several easy ways to have the game change each time you play, One way is to create special player powers.

Grab some index cards and write down a special rule-breaking power on each one. Some examples:
  • The player gets to roll twice, choosing the best roll each time.
  • The player can add or subtract 1 from his or her roll.
  • The player starts forward of other players on the board by 5 spaces.
  • The player can start from any position on the board - in games with tracks to the end, the player then needs to loop around and return to his or her starting position to win.
  • The player gets an additional privilege, or double the privilege, when landing on certain squares.
  • The player gets a free card whenever he or she lands on a square of a certain color.
  • The player is allowed to choose between two questions, rather than only one.
  • The player picks two cards and chooses one when picking a card.
  • The player starts with an additional piece, additional money, or additional points.
  • Whenever the player successfully performs an activity, such as selling a property, he or she gets an additional 10% bonus in cash.
  • Once per round, a player can veto the use of any other player's special ability by losing a point or paying some money to the bank.
As you can see, the possibilities are limitless. Some of these may not apply to each game; in some games, you will have to balance the powers through experimentation.

If you create only ten special power cards for a four player game, then you have created two hundred and ten games out of only one! With only another ten special power cards, you will never play the same game twice.

Before starting the game, distribute special power cards in one of the following ways:
  • Randomly
  • Player's choiceIf the same cards are picked over and over, this means that the card's powers are not yet balanced.
  • AuctionSee Auctions, below.
For a wilder game, allow players to have more than one power. For an even wilder game, have the powers rotate or change when certain events occur, such as when a player lands on a certain colored square, or when a certain number rolls up on the die.

Limited Ability Cards

This is the same as special power cards, but these cards are used only once and then discarded. Limited ability cards can be more powerful than special ability cards, because they are only used once. For example:
  • Set the die to whatever number you want.
  • Take an additional $100 from the bank.
  • Move your marker to another square of the same color.
  • Pick an additional action card.
And so on. Create a number of these cards and deal out three to each player before the game begins. Even better, turn three cards face up for every player and either auction them off at the beginning of the game, or let players purchase the cards when they land on certain colored squares - but no more than three times per game.

Round Rotation

We all know how a game turn works: I go, and then you go, and then you go, and so on. Like clockwork. It's simple and it's fair, but it doesn't have to be this way.

A more interesting turn progression can add excitement to a boring game. Now you don't necessarily know if you will be going next after three other players go, or maybe earlier, or later.

How do you add intrigue to turn order, while still keeping it fair and easy?
  • Rotating Starting CardThe first player gets a Starting Card. After each player gets a turn, the Starting Card is passed one player to the left. The new starting player then takes a turn, and so on. It's a funky ordering (1234234134124123), but it's simple and fair.
  • AuctionAfter each player has a turn, put each place in the turn order up for auction. For more information, see Auctions, below.
  • PurchaseGoing out of turn can be a card that can be purchased for a set amount, or an increasing amount each round.
  • TradingTurn order can be something that is traded along with other items in the game. For instance, you can give away your next turn to another player for $200.

Round Order

On every player's turn, you do A and then B and then C, and then D. Ho hum. Let's see what we can do about that.
  • RolesLet's say that each player's turn in a game consists of something like: 1) roll the dice and move your piece. 2) Pick and play cards. 3) Trade with other players. 4) Buy and sell properties. For a four player game, create four "role cards", one for each of these activities. Using the above Starting Card system, the first player chooses a role and then all players, in order, do the task on the role. Then the next player chooses one of the other roles and all players do that task. And so on, until all players have chosen roles. The roles are then returned to the center, and the Starting Card passes to the left, as usual.
    Using this method, the savvy player can choose actions that, while everyone gets to do them, they timing in choosing them benefits the selector more than any other player.
    For spice, add another role, such as "Take $100 from the bank" or some of the other limited ability cards described above. This way, not every action will necessarily be taken each round. The great game called Puerto Rico uses this system, and adds yet another feature: unchosen rolls get incentives placed on them, such as $50 each time they remain unchosen. On the next round, anyone choosing that roll gets the additional benefit of the money on the role.
  • PurchaseYou could separate the activities in a round into pieces, as we did above. Then, each player can do them in any order that he or she wants on their turn. Additionally, you can let a player do actions more than once, by having to pay some increasing amount for each time beyond the first. This amount should be sufficient to prevent players from simply winning in one turn!
  • Action PointsSimilar to the above, each player can be given a set of points with which to buy parts of their turn each round. E.g. you get 5 points. Rolling the die and moving costs 2 points, picking a card costs 2 points, and getting $10 from the bank costs 1 point. Players can do whatever they can afford in points each round.
  • NegotiationPlayers could be able to sell off parts of their turns to other players in exchange for fixed prices or a negotiated price. For instance, I could sell picking the card (before it is picked!) to another player for $10. Sorry, no refunds for bad cards!
  • RandomizedYou could have players pick their round order from a stack of round order cards.


The board comes with the game, but that doesn't mean that you have to stick with it to play the game. You can draw more paths on the board, cross some out, put two boards together to make a larger one, or cover over half of one to make the game shorter.
  • A fantastic way to make games like Othello, Checkers, Chess, and so on more interesting is to play them on larger or smaller boards. Instead of 8x8, try 6x6, 10x10, or 12x12. Try 10x8 or 12x8. For Othello or Checkers, you simply need a few extra pieces.For Chess, you can add not only more of the same pieces, but you can also add new pieces that have different abilities, such as pieces that can move three spaces in any direction, swap places with any other piece on the board, be summoned to right next to any other piece, jump three spaces one way, and two any other, and so on.
  • The best change you can make is to get rid of any squares that say "Do this!" which offer no decision making to the players, and instead replace them with decision making squares. This could be as simple as "Do this OR do this!", or it could be as complicated as "Before rolling the die, pay any amount of money; you add +1 to the die roll for each $100 that you paid." You can add all sorts of other decision squares: "Trade one of your houses with another player", "Pick a limited action card from the deck and auction it", or "Draw three cards, pick one to put in your hand, and put the rest on top of or underneath the deck in any order".
  • For some games, you can create random boards. For instance, say a board has 100 spaces. Take 100 index cards and duplicate the spaces, one on each card. Then lay them down in a random order before each game starts. Each game will play differently.
  • Another thing you can do with boards is make a board that changes during the game. For instance, get some construction paper in an assortment of colors and cut out squares equal in size and color to the game's spaces. Now add the following rule: whenever a pawn lands on a red square, it turns orange. From orange it turns yellow, then green, blue, purple, and back to red. Using this mechanic, the game may start off looking the same, but it won't stay that way for long.
  • Here's another secret of better board games: game flow. Most games are the same activity, over and over, from the beginning until the end. A better games flows, where the beginning of the game is different from the middle of the game and the end game.It's not that hard to achieve game flow for many otherwise dull games. For instance, let's say that pawns landing on certain spaces at the beginning of the board gain 1 chip. Pawns landing on those spaces in the middle third of the board gain two chips, and pawns landing on those spaces in the final third of the board lose five chips. The winner is the one with the most chips when any pawn crosses the finish line.
    You've now got a game with a defined narrative flow: small but important early gains, large gains in the middle, and then trying to hold on to your winnings before the end. Another good thing about this game is that anyone can win right up until the end. In most games, that guy way out in front is uncatchable. Here, he may be in front, but he may also suddenly lose all of his chips while the ones that are hanging back keep theirs.


If you come away with nothing else from this post, I want you to come away with this one, the simplest and easiest change to make to any roll and move game: Play with more than one pawn.

By playing with two or more pawns, you take the simplest action - rolling the die - and change it into a decision making skill - which pawn do you want to move? It's that easy.

But let's not stop there.

Why should all of your tokens be the same? A Captain token works the same as any other token, but it has a different effect. For instance, if a Captain lands on a space, the rewards or penalties for that space can be doubled. Or if you have a game where you send another player back to the start by landing on his token, only a Captain token can send another Captain token back to the start. Any other token landing on a Captain token is instead sent back to the start itself!

You can give each player a Captain token as one of their starting tokens, or you can allow players to upgrade their tokens to Captain tokens at any time during the game, on their turn, or after landing on a certain colored space. Upgrading should be expensive, but not too expensive.

Of course, you don't have to stop at only pawns and Captains. You can give each player a veritable army of pieces, each with its own special rankings and abilities. For most games, however, three types is enough, or you risk the game becoming too complex.

If you play with multiple pawns, you can then have them interact in various ways, like little armies. For instance, two pawns together could make a square impassable. Or you could allow a player to move one pawn to a space adjoining another pawn instead of taking his or her regular turn. You could add rules for pawn positioning. For example, if all of your pawns are on a certain color, do something or gain something. Or if your paws surround an opponent's pawns, take something from them or eliminate their pawn. And so on.


Probably the biggest icon associated with board games is the ubiquitous die roll. You roll the die, you move your piece, you do what the space says (pick a card or answer a question). And probably the biggest cause of boredom associated with board games is this very mechanic.

We've been doing this for hundreds of years. Isn't it about time we bring our games up to the twenty-first century? And by that, I don't mean simulating a die roll using a computer!
  • Draw DeckMake a batch of 36 cards, with each of the 36 possible dice roll combinations on them. Shuffle. You may optionally remove up to five cards at random. Each player then picks a card instead of rolling. When the deck is exhausted, reshuffle and repeat. While this method is not much better than dice rolling, it at least ensures a roughly fair distribution of rolls for each player.
    Consider giving each player his or her own deck of die rolls. Each player is still picking randomly, but each player is going to be assured roughly the same total results over the course of the game. That means that the way a player plays is going to have more effect than the numbers that come up on the dice.
  • Card HoldingSimilarly, unless you're playing a game where the highest number is always better, give each player a hand of three cards, or a set of three die results to choose from on each turn. A player then picks back up to three cards at the end of his or her turn. This can also be used as a way of limiting turns that can be played out of order, if you are using that; you only pick back up to three when play passes to the next player.
  • Draw vs drawA game designer named Bruno Faidutti wrote about the difference between drawing a card and then playing vs playing a card and then drawing. The former adds some more excitement to the game, at the expense of being slightly less strategic. A player may have to think longer on his or her turn if he or she is suddenly presented with a new option. The advantage of the latter is that you have every other player's turn in which to think what you will do next.
  • NegotiationPlayers could be able to negotiate movement. As an example, let's say that there is a pool of 30 movement points available to all players for one complete set of rounds. Players can negotiate with each other how many movement points they get, through trading or requesting favors. If deals cannot be made, the points are distributed evenly among the players, perhaps with a penalty.
  • Action pointsMovement is made for action points. As an example of how you can use action points for movement, you could give each player ten action points to use on each of his or her turns: one point moves your token one space, three buys you a card from the deck, five buys you $100, and ten points plus $1000 buys you an upgrade to a Captain token. Experiment. Be warned that action points can lead to apparent brain death in some indecisive players (what we call "analysis paralysis".)
  • PurchaseYou could allow each space moved to cost a certain amount. For instance: Not moving at all gains you $10, moving one space is free, two spaces is $10, three is $30, four is $60, and so on.
  • Push your luckUsing this variant, you still roll dice, but you can roll as many times as you want before moving your piece. You can stop whenever you want and move the total of all dice rolled. However, if you roll a 1, you lose your entire turn (or at least your entire movement) and cannot move at all.

Action Cards

This is just another word for limited activity cards. These may be familiar to you from Monopoly, where landing on a certain space may give you a Chance or Community card.

The difference between those cards and these cards is that Action cards offer you choices. Making the better choice then becomes a learning experience.

You can either replace the action cards that you already have in your game with new ones, or you can add new action cards to otherwise blank squares on the board.

If someone lands on the space, or buys the card, or whatever, you can either give the card to the player, offer the player a choice of one card from three, or turn up one card for each player in the game (or each player minus or plus one) and auction off the cards. See Auctions, below.

Using the "turn up one for each player" method, you can also have "bad" cards. Each player then has to join the auction in order not to get a card.

Players can "draft" the cards: Turn over twice as many cards as the number of players. The player whose turn it is takes the first card, the player on his left the second, and so on until reaching the player on his right. Then reverse the direction. Using this method (called Rochester draft), the current player gets the first and last card.

Example action cards:
  • Choose one: take $100, move your pawn three spaces in any direction, or roll two dice on your next move.
  • Pick an item out of play and auction it off. If you win the auction you pay the bank. If anyone else wins, they pay you.
  • Draw three negative cards and hand them out to three different players any way you choose.
  • Lay a bridge down anywhere on the board. This bridge connects to spaces on the track with a shortcut and can be used by any player who lands on one of the spaces.
The possibilities are endless, of course. Just ensure that all cards allow for choices to be made, and that most cards are about equal in overall value.


Similar to action cards, missions are a staple in certain types of games, such as war games and train games.

Create missions on cards like you create action cards. Example missions: occupy the following three spaces on the board, have one of your pawns in each area, collect three cards of a certain type, land on an opponent's Captain piece, etc.

Each mission card gives a reward for completion, such as points towards winning, money, a special bonus item, or some such. You can have easier and harder mission cards with worse and better rewards.

Mission cards can be made available to the players in a number of ways:
  • Flipped up at the beginning of the game. The first player to complete a mission takes the card.
  • Two or three dealt randomly to each player at the start of the game. Mission cards can be kept open or closed. You may be dealt a new one every time you complete a mission.
  • You could allow players to buy mission cards for a price, or after a certain event.
  • Mission cards can be auctioned off at certain times during the game. See Auctions for more information.


If you already basically know all of the cards in a trivia game, you can still play the game by adopting the mechanics of the game of Balderdash, itself adopted from the old game of Dictionary.

Each time you read a question, have each other player write what they think is the right answer OR any answer that they think might fool other players into thinking is the right answer on a piece of paper. You write the correct answer on a piece of paper. Collect and mix up the answers, and then read them aloud. Have each player pick which he or she thinks is the right answer.

Each player gets a "point" if they wrote the right answer, or a "point" if someone picks their answer if it was wrong. Play to a certain number of points.

For games where you've seen all the questions, you may find it suddenly hard to remember the right answer. Sure, if no one tries to confuse you, you can remember a certain obscure date. But if someone writes August 8 and the real answer is August 9, you may get confused. And many of the answers are likely to be hilariously wrong.


In any simple game of roll and move, you can make the game more interesting by allowing players to purchase things that they generally get automatically. For instance, if a space says that you get a card, you can give each player money at the beginning of the game and assign point values to each card.

Players then have a limited amount of times during the game that they are allowed to get cards, and must choose when to get them. Alternatively, you can have a constant pool of flipped up cards, and allow a player to buy any face up card for it's price when they would normally get a card. This gives even more decision opportunities.

As mentioned elsewhere, you can also offer face up cards for auctioning or drafting.

You can flip up a number of cards and then negotiate with other players as to who gets what. You can set a time limit, so that if players don't agree within one or two minutes, no one gets any cards. Or you can give out the cards with a penalty if players can't agree.

You can also have one player divide a number of cards into piles, and then have another player choose which pile he or she gets and which one he or she leaves for the dividing player.


If your game has conflicts, such as the ability to knock one player back by landing on his or her space, you can offer other choices to the players.

A player may be able to buy insurance from the bank; one insurance card is good for avoiding one setback. Actually, you can offer insurance in almost any game where something bad can happen to a player.

Alternately, you may be able to buy enhancing strength points. When conflict occurs, each player decides how many points to add to the conflict, and the higher value wins. You can have the attacking player decide first, and then the defending player, or you can have both sides choose secretly. You can also opt to allow uninvolved players to toss strength onto either side of the battle.

You may be able to negotiate truces with other players, where your pieces won't send his or hers back for a certain number of turns. You have to decide before the game starts whether these type of deals are enforceable!


I've mentioned auctions many times in this post, because auctions are a great way of keeping all players involved at all times. What you may not know is that there are many types of auctions that you can use in your games. Try them each out until you find one that you like, or use a different type each time you play.
  • Blind BiddingThis covers a whole genre of different types of auctions, but the essential idea is that every player at the table takes a certain amount of money, or writes down a certain number of points, and then all players reveal the bids at once.
  • CircleThis is a traditional circle auction, each player in turn either upping the bid or passing.
    Again, like blind bidding, you can decide that only the top bidder pays. A very nasty variant here is that the top two bidders both pay but only the top bidder gets anything.
    In this version, you can give the first player to withdraw from the bidding either a bonus or a penalty.
  • FreeformA traditional freeform auction, where each player shouts at any time, and someone says "Going once, going twice, sold!"
  • ChineseI don't know where the name comes from, but in this variant, each player secretly assigns any amount of money or points to any or as many items as they want. Each item is then revealed, and the person who paid the most for that item wins it. Or, each point or dollar spent on an item gives you an additional chance of winning the item, which is determined by drawing from a hat, but you may end up with nothing if you have bad luck.
  • Combined biddingIn some cases it may make sense for players to be able to combine bids. For instance, if there is a group of items being auctioned, two or more players can combine their bids, splitting the results if they win.
  • Auction tokensYou can give each player a set of auction tokens with which to bid, each token having a different value. If a bid is successful, the bidder loses the token. That leaves the other players better chances of winning future auctions.
  • NegativeYou can have people bid on not acquiring a bad item. Or, you can set the price of an item, and lower it one step at a time until someone is willing to buy it.
  • One per playerYou can have one item available for each player. Each player will get one item, the highest bidder picking the first item, and the lowest getting whatever is left over.
  • FutureYou can have the results of one auction influence future auctions. For instance, the second highest bidder may be given a bonus to his bid for the next auction. Or the lowest bidder.
  • Divide and ChooseWhile not exactly an auction, you can have one player divide items into separate piles, and then have the other players choose which piles that want. The divider gets the last unchosen pile.
Of course, there are many other variations of auctions. Feel free to pick the one you like best, or have the auction style vary randomly each time an auction is called for.

After the bidding, there are many ways to determine what happens next:
  • The top bidder pays the bid and all others keep theirs.
  • The top two bidders lose their money, but only the top bidder gets anything.
  • All players lose their money. If players were bidding on multiple items, the top bidder gets first choice, and so on.
  • Same as above, but the bottom bidding player gets his or her money back. You can also let anyone who bids 0 get nothing but receive something small as a compensation.
  • Or, lowest bid could get nothing at all.
  • And so on.
You also have to decide where the money goes. If it's a bank auction, the money probably goes to the bank, or the player whose turn it is (unless the player whose turn it is won the auction, in which case the money goes to the bank). If it is a player's item up for auction, the money probably goes to the player. Another possibility is for the money to be split among all the other players.


Trading and negotiation are very much like auctions, only more than money or points are being exchanged for one or more items, and the parties are not required to accept the highest offer. Instead, multiple items, money, or points can be traded for multiple items, money or points. Basically, anything the traders can agree to within the bounds of the trading rules.

You will want to determine before the game starts what things can be traded and what cannot be traded. For instance, can houses be traded? Turns? Future promises of assistance? For future items, can players renege on their promises, or are they bound to keep them?

A good practice is to limit promises to only a single game round, which is much easier to remember. For players with sensitive temperaments, you may also want to exclude promises and behavior, and limit all trading to only physical items that can be transferred between player instantaneously.

Can non-involved players also take part, or is trading only between two participants? Can you trade only on your turn?

You will want to set time limits for any trading session, as the open nature of trading can tend to drag a game out.

Set Collection

You already know set collection from Monopoly, where you have to get a set of two or three properties from the same group. You can add this feature to most games.

For instance, you can keep track of how often a certain number is rolled or card is picked, and give a special bonus for the third or fourth time.

Normally cards are simply picked and then played. If you allow players to pick cards and hold them for later use, you can then give bonuses for playing multiple cards of the same type at once. For instance, if the card says "Collect $20", you can have two cards of that type played at once collect $50. Now a player has to decide whether to play the card now, because he or she needs the money now, or hold the card for a potential greater reward.

The same can apply to most any type of item in a game.


So many games are just too long. And I admit, adding new features like the ones above could potentially make them even longer.

Furthermore, most games are pretty one dimensional. You try to get to the end of the board. Or you try to get the most points. That doesn't leave many avenues for exploring different strategies.

Here are some ideas to help solve these problems. We'll start with how the game ends.
  • You can end the game after a certain number of rounds. E.g. twenty times around the table, and that's it. Whoever has the most points or money at the end wins.
  • You can add a card (or mark a card) as the game's end. At the beginning of the game, mix the deck and then separate it into two parts. Mix the game ending card into one half of the deck, and then place that half underneath the other half. Now the game will end somewhere near the bottom of the deck, but the exact time will be a surprise.
  • You can have the game instantly end on some event, such as the third time a 12 is rolled on the dice, or as soon as someone lands on a green square from a blue square.
  • I don't recommend limiting the game to a specific time (such as one hour) as that may encourage people to drag the game out on their turns if they are winning.
Alternate ways to score games:
  • First of all, you can add additional scoring mechanisms to the traditional one used in the game. For instance, you could say that holding a certain card at the end of the game is also worth ten points or ten dollars. Or having your pieces on certain squares.Or you could keep track of certain events during the game. For instance, every time you land on an opponent's piece is worth five points; on their Captain is worth ten points. At the end of the game, add these points to your total.
  • You may have to collect various different things during the game, and your final score is whatever you have the least of. For instance, if you have 2 blue coins, 4 red coins, 5 green coins, and 7 yellow coins, your score is 2. That keeps you striving for balanced items as the game continues.
  • Another interesting twist is the required game token. You can have any score you want, but you can't win the game at all unless you have also fulfilled some other condition, such as having acquired a certain type of card, moved your pieces onto a certain square, or gained one of each type of favor. It is best not to use something that relies too much on memory, unless you will be writing things down.
  • You can also simply change the scoring altogether. Instead of scoring based on who reaches the end first, you can score based on what squares you landed on on the way, for instance: 1 point for each square of a different color, but each additional square of the same color is an additional 2, 3, 4, etc points. Or vice versa, giving bonus points for additional colors, and only one point no matter how many squares of one color that you land on.


Here are some examples to get you started:
  • Candy Land"Not another game of Candy Land," you may think to yourself, as your daughter pulls out the candy-coated box yet again. If you've played this game one too many times with your child, he or she is ready to take it up a step. It should be just a little challenging, but still not too hard for a young person.
    Basic: First of all, each player gets two pawns, and must decide which pawn to move each turn. Secondly, each player has three cards face up in front of him or her. On his or her turn, a player decides which card to use, moves one of his or her pawns, and then draws another card. The game is now just a little more bearable.
    Intermediate: After twenty games of that, you can add one more rule: a player can toss out two cards of the same color to move to the next square of any color, but they only draw back one card. So you can only do it twice during a game, and your hand loses flexibility.
  • ChessYou don't mind your grandson wanting to play Chess with you, but it's really not a challenge for you. How do you keep from being bored?
    Basic: First you make the board 10x8. You get two additional pawns, and your grandson gets two pawns and two Footmen, each of whom can move either two spaces forward or three spaces sideways. If a footman reaches the other side of the board, it can promote to a Rook. Your grandson is still learning the basics of strategy and tactics, and now you have a new set of interesting problems to handle.
    Intermediate:Your grandson gets a special power: he can move two pieces, one after another, so long as neither takes off your King. You also gain a special power: you win if you take off his King OR Queen.
  • Chutes and Ladders.Whoopee, another roll-and-move game with no decisions to make. Let's spice this one up.
    Basic: Each player gets a special power: one person picks from the deck of special powers and gets: "Each time you land on a multiple of nine, you gain an additional die to roll on each of your following turns. You choose which die to use when moving." Another player's power is "If you land at the bottom of a slide, you may climb two levels and jump off on either side."
    Intermediate: That's still a bit of a bore, so add this rule: you can move either forward of backwards on your turn. You get 5 points for landing on a square that is a multiple of five, and twenty points for ending the game by landing on the last square. The game is over in any case after exactly thirty turns by both players, unless someone ends it by landing on the last square. Add up your points at the end to see who wins.
    Advanced: 1) Each player has three pawns, a Captain and two soldiers. 2) In the upper half of the board (51-100), a player can land on another player's piece. A pawn landing on a pawn gives 5 points, and knocks the attacked pawn straight down two levels. A pawn landing on a Captain, or a Captain landing on a pawn gives the Captain 5 points and knocks the pawn straight down 4 spaces. A Captain landing on a Captain gives 10 points and knocks the Captain straight down 2 levels. Follow whatever rules are involved on the space on which the knocked down piece lands. 3) Whenever a piece lands on a space, cover it with a white piece of paper. If a piece lands on a space with a white piece of paper, it gets a free move, and the white piece of paper becomes a black piece of paper. Skip spaces with black pieces of paper when counting for normal movement. If a piece gets knocked down and falls on a space with a black piece of paper, it continues falling another level. If this results on it falling off the end of the board, the pieces is eliminated from the game. In this variant, you don't have to have a turn limit, because the game will eventually end when the spaces are all covered with black paper.
  • Checkers (Draughts)This is an old standby, maybe a bit boring.
    Basic:Start by trying the game on a 12x12 board, and two kings in your back row.
    Intermediate: Each player has a secret mission to control two squares in the opponent's second row. You win the game in either the normal method or by accomplishing your secret mission.
  • Sorry!This pick-and-move game provides for few choices during the game, but is a great springboard for some deeper fun.
    Basic: each player holds a hand of three cards. On the player's turn, he or she picks a card and then plays one.
    Advanced: Auction off starting positions using points. Each player has four pieces: a spider, a goat, a swan, and a dog. The spider leaves a web marker on any space from which he moves. Any piece other than a spider that lands on a web marker is stuck; instead of taking your turn, you may remove a web marker from a piece by playing any card. The goat knocks a piece back whenever he overtakes any other piece, even if it doesn't land on your space. The swan cannot be blocked, and if you land on him, he bats you back ten spaces. The dog moves to any other one of your other pieces on the board if you play a five and choose to move him.
    If you land on a colored square, a mission card is put up for auction (players bid the number of turns they are willing to give up for it). It is a simple round auction, where only the winner pays. The mission cards require the player to arrange their pieces into various pattern on the board. Completing a mission gives you a free move as well as four points. Each piece you get "home" gives you five points. The winner is the player with the most points when someone gets all of his or her pieces home, or by the end of the fortieth round, whichever comes first.
You get the idea, I hope. If you need some suggestions for a specific game, just email me.

What's Next?

I hope you learn from this article that there's a lot more out there in board gaming than you may remember.

Board games still have a lot of things going for them: they are social, they are intelligent, they require patience, they are cheap, they are portable, they don't need electricity, and they teach good skills. They can also be a whole lot of fun, if you're willing to make the leap I did into the modern world of board games.

Very few of the above ideas are wholly mine, most come from some great games and gamers around the world who are still creating board games. You probably haven't heard of them, because you thought people only play video games now. But there are more than ten million people who can prove you were wrong!

New Games

Some of the games whose mechanics I included above include: Puerto Rico by Andreas Seyfarth, Tigris and Euphrates, Ra, and Modern Art, by Dr Reiner Knizia, Tikal by Dr Wolfgang Kramer, Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber, Can't Stop by Sid Sackson, San Marco by Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum, and many more.

These games are available at local hobby game stores around the world, or online at places such as Funagain Games or Time Well Spent.

You can find out more about these games, and many, many others, at Board Game Geek, the Internet's largest site for board game information.


Great minds think alike. A wonderful book with similar ideas about renewing old board games is New Rules for Classic Games by R. Wayne Schmittberger.

Other great books include a series of books by America's godfather of game design, Sid Sackson. Click to find his books A Gamut of Games, Beyond Solitaire, and many others.



Anonymous said...

An amazing (and rather exhausting too... well, a bit) post Yehuda. Thank you so very much!!!


(a very happy one)

Gerald McD said...

Outstanding! This was a LOT of work, and you did a great job. I certainly hope some people can apply your suggestions and enjoy more gaming, even without purchasing new games. I wish I had thought of some of these a number of years ago, when our grandchildren wanted to play Candyland, Uno, and Chutes and Ladders frequently (because we hadn't seen the neat Eurogames at that time and hadn't experienced these mechanics and options). The games would have been more bearable for me and more challenging for the grandkids.

This is one of the best examples of "thinking outside the box" that I've seen in the real world. Cool post!

Sheesh Kabeesh said...

Just got around to reading this absolutely fabulous post. Some great ideas. I have just tried out using a hand of 3 cards in the game of Sorry! (one of my daughter's favourite games) and it makes it in to a different, more strategic, game.
An excellent post.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Thanks, gnome, GG, and montegue!


Yehuda Berlinger said...

But beyond, what may happen yet

the sabra said...

why'd u stop ur little linking sentences game? though i was wonderin whether itll EVER end, i was also amused by it. nu nu.

Anonymous said...

I made some advanced rules to make the board game "Lost Treasure" from 1982 more interesting: