House Rules - do you have limits?

  • '16 '15 '14 Customizer

    “Going too far is as bad as not going far enough.” - Chinese proverb

    I read this saying in a book of quotes the other day and got to thinking about house rules for Axis and Allies. Is it possible to go too far?

    I would estimate my game group uses about 90% rules that can be found in official game manuals and 10% house rules. But I love tinkering with rules - it’s as much a hobby to me as building scale model kits. I have a master list I made of things I’d like to add to our game before I say “it is done.” 12 of them are new units and 10 are rule additions and changes.

    What motivates you to make a house rule?

    1. Desire for Historical accuracy - I read history books and see something glaringly inaccurate in the current rules and think “Oh we should change that.”
    2. Boredom - after several sessions the game can become stale and repetitive to me. (Probably faster than for others, I admit.) I think - “Oh, this would add some spice, let’s put that in.”

    What are the pitfalls of too many house rules?

    1. Loss of the identity of the game “Axis and Allies.”
    2. Loss of community - I sometimes find myself unable to comment on the many threads here because my game map and rules are not exactly the same.
    3. New players can get overwhelmed with poorly explained house rules.
    4. Regular players can get discouraged with having to adjust to new changes and quit.

    What stops me from implementing a new house rule?

    1. Sentiment - For example, I have fond memories going back years of strategic bombers attacking ships @ 4, even though that wasn’t historically true. I’ll probably never change that in the rules, just because of its warm familiarity.
    2. Lack of clear thought - it is easier for me to dislike something in the rules than to have a clear idea that improves them. For example, I may not like AA guns shooting down 1/6 planes. But if I am wedded to using six sided dice for some reason, then what would work better?

    What should I ask myself before making another house rule?

    1. Will this rule make the game more fun? This I think has to be the first priority, as that is the point of a game IMO. If everybody is already having plenty of fun, then adding another rule to remember may not increase the enjoyment.
    2. Will this rule make the game more accurate historically?
    3. Is this rule even necessary? For example, I’ve been thinking of adding machine guns to the game. But the argument could be made that an infantry unit already includes machine guns in it, as reflected by their defending twice as good as attacking.

    Is there a point when you should pronounce the game “finished?”

    Well, Axis and Allies is a relatively new game. It came out in the early '80s, which makes it about 30 years old. In comparison, Chess is over 2000 years old. Monopoly is over 110 years old, and I read recently that it is coming out with some rule changes now.

    I would say, stop making house rules when you get to the line where you are having maximum fun, and adding more would only complicate things and spoil it. That is one of the big challenges I suppose - finding where that line is.

    I’d enjoy reading others’ thoughts on this subject…

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Great list of questions, DK.  One that particularly interests me is “What are the pitfalls of too many house rules?”, to which one of the answers given is “3) New players can get overwhelmed with poorly explained house rules.”  I think there are a couple of other potential issues that point 3 partially touches, but which I’d like to expand upon.

    Poorly explained HRs are certainly a problem – but a related point is that even when HRs are explained clearly, new players (and indeed veteran players) can get overwhelmed by sheer numbers when someone tries to add too many HRs to a game.  This applies both to HRs in the sense of general game mechanics and to HRs focusing more specifically on new units / new sculpts (or modifications of existing units).

    I can’t recall the details, but not too long ago there was a series of Dilbert cartoons that illustrates this point.  Dilbert had come up with an idea for a revolutionary device (I don’t remember what) which was simple, useful and highly effective.  The Boss, rather than putting the idea into production in its original form, asked his staff to contributes ideas for additional features that could be built into the device, and asked Dilbert to redesign the device to incorporate these countless extra features (all of which were idiotic, in addition to the problem of their sheer numbers).  The project eventually collapsed because this plethora of dumb and unnecessary additions totally ruined the brilliant, well-focused original device.

    Similarly, I think that the law of diminishing returns can quickly start to manifest itself when too many HRs try to do too much in a single game.  HRs are great fun, and they can help keep A&A fresh (especially given the current lack of new games), so I’m very much in favour of them, but I think they should be used judiciously; to put it another way, they should be used as seasonings to the main course, not as a replacement for the main course or (worse still) as two or three extra main courses to be consumed alongside the original dish.

    I think that one potentially good way to get the best of both worlds is to develop a large number of self-contained HRs, covering all sorts of game mechanic variations and/or new unit types, but to use only a few selected ones in any given game.  Prior to the start of play, the players would consult the list and agree upon a small number of HRs which will be used in that game.  This approach has several advantages: it keeps things manageable; it potentially adds lots of variety because, if different combinations of HRs are chosen each time, this means you never play the same game twice; and it allows the selection to be tailored to the skill level of the participants (in the sense that a group of experienced players might be comfortable using a greater number of HRs – and more complex ones – than a group of novices).

    A related point is that, in the same way that the game can be overloaded by the addition of too many HRs, the game can be overloaded by HRs which are excessively complex.  To some extent this is a matter of personal taste: some players actually enjoyed highly-detailed, complex, intricate HRs, whereas others (myself included) prefer HRs that are short, simple, clear, easy to remember and easy to implement.  My feeling is that the longer and more complex a HR becomes, the greater become the chances that it will simply collapse under its own weight and that it will never actually get implemented (or that it will prove to be impracticable if it does get implemented and that it will quickly be abandoned).  I’d say that one test to apply to see if a HR is viable would be to ask oneself: when this HR gets used in play, do I find myself spending more time applying the HR than devoting myself to the game’s other tasks?  Do I find that the mental effort required to remember and implement the HR is preventing me from concentrating on the OOB elements of play?  If the answer to those questions is “yes,” then I’d say that the HR is an undesirable distraction rather than a pleasant additional treat.

  • '17 '16

    Interesting principles in both posts.

    Another thing which call for implementing a HR is when you get new unit sculpts from HBG, for instance.
    You need to find a specific combat value to them.
    Because players who have them in their tray, usually want to use them on the board.

    Also, too many pairing of units can get the combat resolution clumsier, and time consuming.
    Simply because loosing a given units change another unit combat value.
    All players have to watch these changes.

    For example, Artillery and Infantry is simpler because you loose the Infantry first, and it goes away with his bonus.
    But with Tac Bomber and Tank, if you loose the Tank first, you can forgot that their attack at 4 was due to the Tank pairing with it.

    A battle having a few units is manageable but with alot of them and many more unit types, it becomes a real challenge.

    So, introducing more straight forward unit value, and giving the weaker and cheaper unit the pairing bonus is a way to stay within more interesting limit for HR.

  • Customizer

    We have a number of house rules, I think 12 or 13 at last count, but we don’t use all of them. I think a couple has been thought up but never used in a game yet simply because when we do get to sit down for a game, we just don’t want to bother with a “new” rule.
    Other HRs we have used a few times but have sort of fallen by the wayside, the result of sort of an extension of the reason for never using the other new rules.

    One we came up with is giving cruisers an AA capability. Whenever any fleet of ships is attacked that has one or more cruisers in it, then each cruiser would act like a land based AA gun – each cruiser could fire up to 3 shots @ 1 at the attacking planes before the first combat round. After that, combat proceeds normally.

    I thought that was a good idea to give cruisers a special ability and make them a little more worth purchasing. However, we often forget to implement that rule until the first few turns are already played and it doesn’t seem fair to start using it after that. Also, whomever plays Germany I don’t think likes that rule on round 1. With 1 UK cruiser in SZ 111 and 1 UK and 1 French cruiser in SZ 110 being attacked mostly by planes, a lucky roll by UK could decimate the Luftwaffe before they even got to fire a shot. So that HR tends to not be used.

    I have given some thought to saying that HR is only in effect beginning Round 2 so it wouldn’t be so potentially devastating to the German Luftwaffe but still might provide some impetus to buy new cruisers in later rounds.

    One HR we always use is for a tech. Thing is that it rarely comes into play because we seldom get tech in our games. Still working on a way to get tech into the game yet make it not so expensive or at least not detract from buying other military units. Perhaps say that a percentage of every nation’s income must be for tech only. The wealthier nations could roll for tech each turn while the poorer nations would have to build up for a tech roll. Also, I am totally into using the tech tokens so if you don’t get a breakthrough, you don’t just lose that money. You can try again next round.
    The tech that we use the HR for is Heavy Bombers. We use BOTH dice in combat and SBRs. So a Heavy Bomber has the possibility of getting 2 hits in combat, or raking up to 12 points in damage on a factory. We have been doing that ever since the first game in which they nerfed the Heavy Bombers by saying you can roll 2 dice but choose the best result. I think if you are going to spend the money for the research to get the heavy bombers, you deserve the extra capacity.
    If I ever play a game where they won’t allow that, I simply won’t try for tech, or at least not heavy bombers.

    Anyway, I totally understand what you guys are saying. While we have 12 or 13 HRs drawn up, we usually only use 2 or 3 in most games because too much more would be a pain to remember. Also, while I love collecting the extra sculpts from HBG (Self Propelled Artillery, Tank Destroyers, Light Cruisers, etc.) we have yet to add them to the games for the same reason. Also, if you add too many new unit types, I think you will have to design a new battle board. We have even considered going to a D12 system, which would be great to add new units, but again we don’t have a battle board for that and I guess we are too lazy to make one.

    At one time I was trying to figure out values for new units but I started going too far, including early war planes, late war planes, light, medium and heavy tanks and several types of “elite” or “Specialized” units (SS, Guards, Commandos, Marines, SNLF, etc.). It was then I realized, along with some suggestions from other forum members, that I was carrying things too far. While it may be a neat idea to have so many different unit types to choose from, you have to set some limits or you clog up the game and lose the fun.

  • '17 '16 '15

    I won’t quote the whole thread but yea pretty much agree with all of it. I started out playing Avalon Hill Games. Russian Campaign the most. Their “What If” scenarios made the games a lot more fun when you started to get a little burnt.

    A main game  with options to spice it up would seem like a good way to go. Stray too far and… well it’s probably hard enough to get people to play to begin with. 🙂

  • Sponsor

    I also believe it’s important to identify reasons for house rules, especially when asking others to play them. I really appreciate DK for threads like this because it not only allows us to share our house rules, but also to analyze our motives behind them. With that said, I would also like to offer another diverse dynamic between all of us and that is “style”. Years ago I opened a thread called “delta rules” and the idea was that all house rule customizers could offer house rule solutions for what we perceived as problems with the Global game. This thread was evidence of how black and white we all were to the way we think the game, and seeing as we were trying to find common ground between us, many many arguments surface to the point of disrespect (which lead me to the regrettable action of deleting the entire thread).

    My point is, gamers have a certain style in which they prefer to game… for example: Catan is a trading game, dungeons and dragons is a role playing game, risk is a strategy game etc… and although we are all here discussing axis and allies, we can’t help the urge to add favourite mechanics from other games into our axis & allies experience. I love contemplating house rules for axis and allies and I spend a lot of time in this house rule forum, but I have my own creative style just as all of you do.

    I tend to Frankenstien many of the ideas I find here, and I’m also proud to say that I’ve manifested some original ideas (as have all of us). I consider my intuitive style as trying and mimic or fall in line with the game mechanics that already exist within the axis & allies family, however, I can go completely off the rails sometimes as proven by my “delta deck” house rule. The point is, many fans of dungeons and dragons very much enjoy the math of that game, and a wide range of modifiers and profile abilities may tend to “stylize” a particular set of house rules. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as it is just our individual way of wielding our craft, and it is especially rewarding when you have a group of players that dig your style.

  • No a have no limit. The limit is me.

  • '22 '21 '19 '15 '14

    I use House Rules primarily as a means to balance the game by sides, either in 1v1 or Multiplayer games.

    My strong preference is for rules that are self contained, very simple to explain and to memorize. Among these I tend to favor HRs that adjust income or the way income is collected, as opposed to rules which change the way units interact.

    In my playgroup the Unit stats/interactions are usually the last thing we will alter, because the combat system is regarded as kind of sacrosanct at this point. It’s taken us all so long to get used to the particular costs, attack/defense values and combat relationships of the OOB units, that messing with any one of them seems to throw a major wrench into things.

    I find HRs for new units or altered units endlesslessly fascinating to read on these boards, but I almost never get a chance to adopt them in actual games, because my players just don’t have the patience. It’s bad enough when a normal unit undergoes a price or ability change from one official game to the next. My players still gripe about expensive tanks or defenseless transports/carriers. So trying to get them to change something that is written directly on the map key or on the battle board, just for kicks, and I can pretty much forget about seeing that happen haha.

    I’ve learned to pick my battles, and for the most part I leave the units and the combat system alone. Though I do enjoy musing on it and thinking about possibilities in the abstract. Instead my actual HR games tend to focus on HRs which can be added on top of the existing game, without fundementally altering it. This way, when I try to encourage my players to adopt the HR, I don’t have to say “forget everything you’ve learned” cause now we are going to do it this way instead. A&A takes too long to learn in the first place, to just abandon the boxed rules in favor of house rules, and expect my players not to flip.

    Income bonuses work well I find, or rules which highlight some particular aspect of the gameplay by awarding additional money. I’ve used these for VCs or as flat rate bonuses based on the game round etc. But usually fairly simple. I prefer basic or universal bonuses to the “national objective” model introduced in AA50 and the 1940 games, since objectives by nation are harder to track/memorize.

    Other things I’ve experimented with are things like turn order alterations. Or reverse engineering a nation like China, such that it works the way other nations do.

    Also technology expansions, or other systems which can be grafted onto the normal game without replacing the OOB systems.

    Another thing I am interested in are ways to randomize the start conditions. Which might be things like a bid for both sides, or some initiative roll at the outset to liven up the play. These are like “one time event” HRs, that effect the conditions of the set up, or at some set point, but are not ongoing.

    I think I’m like most people here though, for all my HR aspirations, it’s very rare that I play with more than one or two HRs in effect during any given game.  There is something to be said about adopting the most popular forms, or where your “House” looks the same as everyone else’s hehe. If possible I will try to achieve as much as possible through a bid process, or at least something that could be understood as a bid or bid alternative. Working with something that most people would be familiar with already.

    This section is probably my favorite on the boards. A lot of really creative ideas and very thorough analyses go down in the HR section. Thinking too deeply about the game, will eventually lead you down here, to the abyssal plain. Where all ships wind up after sinking, but sometimes with buried treasure on board  haha!

  • '17 '16


    “Going too far is as bad as not going far enough.” - Chinese proverb

    What motivates you to make a house rule?

    1. Desire for Historical accuracy - I read history books and see something glaringly inaccurate in the current rules and think “Oh we should change that.”
    2. Boredom - after several sessions the game can become stale and repetitive to me. (Probably faster than for others, I admit.) I think - “Oh, this would add some spice, let’s put that in.”

    There is another reason, you should add, it is about OOB rules that you feel broken somehow.

    Both of your popular threads:
    The aberration of the defenseless transport

    Reality wrecking destroyer rules need a revamp…

    were adressing real issues about units interactions and don’t seem to fit into the 2 main motivations quoted above.
    And it generates many interesting possibilities for HRs.

  • '16 '15 '14 Customizer

    Good point, Baron - thanks! And thanks to all who responded - it is very interesting reading!

  • '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16

    @der-kuenstler For some reason I’m just finding this thread now. I mostly agree with what others have said. The only thing I want to add is that if you want to play with more than the simplest of house rules, you should feel good about creating play aids to support those rules. Seriously, go out and print your new rules, in full color. Put some thought into how to design and lay out a chart or a cheat sheet that will help players remember and use your rules. Cut them out so they’re the right size, and then laminate them or print them on heavyweight cardstock. If your rules involve any special pieces, buy sculpts for those pieces or use some paint or something to convincingly alter the closest available piece; don’t just slap a chip underneath artillery and say “OK, now it’s a self-propelled artillery.”

    If you’re not willing to put in that work to make things easier on your players, then why should they put in the work to test out your house rules? It can take 8+ hours for a single playtest; if you invite 3 friends over, that’s 24 hours of other people’s time. You should be willing to put in at least 10% of that (2 hours) on creating play aids to improve that experience. If you’re not, maybe that’s a sign that you’re having so much fun imagining new rules that tickle your fancy that you’re not really thinking hard about whether those rules will be fun to play with for others.

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