Here’s a fun experiment: suggest playing a game of Monopoly and predict the responses you’ll receive. More often than not, you’ll be hit with an audible groan and the familiar refrain of “Has anyone ever actually finished a game of Monopoly?” Admittedly, I used to be anti-Monopoly myself. (During high school, my friend Meg and I maintained an in-progress game of Monopoly in her mom’s basement for more than two years before finally giving up.) Then, while processing the Philip E. Orbanes papers here in the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, I discovered that my family had actually been playing the game incorrectly for years. (That $500 bill we’d been slipping under the Free Parking square? Not in the game instructions. Making everyone travel around the board one time before they could acquire anything? Nope, not a rule. Auctioning properties? Never heard of it.) My family’s informal additions, ironically, were the cause of my distaste for this classic board game. When I asked my mom why we didn’t follow the authentic instructions, she shrugged and said that this is how she learned to play.
Many of my friends have had similar experiences. Their families’ “house rules” have influenced how they played (and continue to play) board games and other amusements. This winter, I spent more than five harrowing minutes ranting to my bewildered boyfriend about why he couldn’t have a dictionary or a list of two-letter words on-hand for a (no-longer) leisurely game of Scrabble. His family had historically brought these resources to the table when they set up the Scrabble board, while mine instituted complex rules about word challenges and lost turns. (At some point in the 2000s, the Novakovics also established a “three-tile minimum” turn for Scrabble, because my youngest brother would always, without fail, put down two tiles to spell a word such as ‘TOE’ for three points, right where the next person had prepared to play all seven of their tiles on a Triple Word Score.) Following this revelation, I turned to a cohort of clever board and card game enthusiasts* to learn about their own versions of house rules, and I was not disappointed.