Book Report: New Rules For Classic Games

Lafayette, Louisiana is blessed with one of the best public libraries in the south. Many summers were spent raiding its shelves.  One afternoon in the early 1980s, I discovered New Rules for Classic Games by R. Wayne Schmittberger. It is without a doubt my first major influence as a designer.

In 2000, when my wife Debra convinced me to get serious about game design, my first exercise was in trying to fix broken games.  I snagged licensed property games from eBay and rewrote them.  I disassembled the structure of $2.50 garage sale games.  I sought out the games with the worst reputations.  Always in this process, I kept myself asking “how would I have written this?” and “if this were my design, how would I improve it?”

This book was inspired my approach.

Chapter 1 starts simply enough with a few simple variations any of us may have seen around our family table–simple variations on familiar games like Monopoly, Mastermind, Hearts, and the like.

The muscle of the book really gets moving in Chapters 2, 4 and 6.  This is where Schmittberger begins pushing variants to address problems and shortcomings in existing games.  The subtitles of these chapters–Fixing a Flaw, Changing the Number of Players, Handicapping–make clear his intention in writing them.  These aren’t just variants for the sake of variants.  This book is about variants with a purpose.

Chapter 7New Ways to Use Game Equipment–is filled with ideas for us game designer types.  Most of his ideas center around recycling game sets and boards but there’s still plenty of good material to be worth your time.

Middle Chapters 8 – 13 cover all the games you’d expect from a book written in this period–backgammon, checkers, chess, go, and the like.  A personal favorite of mine are his rules for simultaneous play diceless Risk.

Chapter 14 covers mechanisms for play-by-mail.  Modern readers will generally find that this section superfluous.  One dated chapter in an otherwise timeless book is hardly a mark against it however.  Particularly with the fantastic coda Schmittberger delivers in Chapter 15.

This closing chapter is where it’s at.  Chapter 15Creating Your Own Winning Variations–is the place Schmittberger completely surpasses most of his contemporaries.  Rather than simply presenting a collection of variants  extolling the variants he’d created, Schmittberger offered six solid pages of advice on creating your own variations.

In this unassumingly slim book, R. Wayne Schmittberger achieved a great deal.  He offered variations but more importantly offered the reasoning behind these variations.  As a designer, writing good variations is the first step toward learning how to improve your own designs.

New Rules For Classic Games is a great book.  Buy it.  Read it.  You won’t be sorry.

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