House Rules for Chess with kids

I introduced my Chess Club (comprising of eleven-year-olds) to several variants of chess.

The children instantly broke up into three groups of 4 and started playing Bughouse chess.

That’s chess where if you take an opponent’s piece, you can pass it to your teammate to play as a reinforcement in their game.

I need pieces! Give me pieces!

repeatedly overheard during the club

The next day’s club, with different kids, was not so uniform.

  • One pair played Horde Chess, where a full set of black pieces faced off against 36 white pawns
  • Another played Alice chess, with two boards next to each other. Pieces teleport between boards after every move
  • They then played Atomic chess, where all the pieces explode when taken.

They two kids asked me if they were allowed to combine Atomic chess with Alice chess.

It’s a little sad that they felt the need to ask permission, but the answer was

Absolutely! That sounds amazing!

And it was amazing.

Every so often they had some rules question about the new interactions, and I mostly gave them two possible options and allowed them to choose the more fun ruling.

Chess with mods

And then there were these two boys.

I noticed they each had a bishop stacked on top of a castle on their board.

They told me the piece had to alternately move like a bishop and then alike a castle on each of its turns.

Their knights were atomic and would blow up.

They decided the king could do castling any time it was in a line with a castle.

These two boys got it. I mean really got it.

Each new game they played had new and different rules that they made up without hesitation.

For once the games weren’t simultaneous attempts at an early scholar’s mate.

Relating this to ttrpgs

In tabletop roleplaying-games, (in my experience) most groups house-rule as a matter of course.

It’s nice to be reminded that tinkering with gameplay doesn’t have to make a thing more balanced, or pure, or focused.

It just has to make it more fun.

Further reading

My previous posts about kids-at-play

Shut Up and Sit Down’s video on chess variants.

Wikipedia article called List of chess variants

Schoolyard Pokémon Battles

I’ve talked before about children playing Among Us on the schoolyard by making up the rules and trying acting within genre expectations.

I recently saw a schoolyard Pokémon battle in the same style.

The kids, who were about 11 years old, stood opposite each other a few meters apart, and took it in turns to summon or attack with their mons. It went something like this:

Child 1: (Throws pokeball) Go Litten!
Child 2: Oh its a fire pokemon! I know, Gyarados I'm choosing you!
             (Picks a pokeball off an imaginary belt and throws it)
Child 1: (looks up into the sky at where Gyarados' head should be) Oh no. Litten, Scratch!
Child 2: Gyarados DRAGON RAGE!
Child 1: Oh dang it. Come back Litten)
             (mimes holding out a pokeball to retreat Litten from the battle)

I was loving this.

These children aren’t being immature – they were simply comfortable enough with themselves to openly play imaginative games without any concern for derision or mockery.

Though they were taking turns, there was no strict set of rules, just an unspoken understanding that they would conform to the idea of a Pokémon battle as much as possible.

Then something happened.

Child 1: (throwing pokeball) Pikachu, I choose you! 
Child 2: Awww it looks so cute!
             (dodders closer to Pikachu, doe-eyed, then leans down to pat the Pikachu)
Child 1: Pikachu, Thundershock!
             (Child 2 jolts around, mimicing being electrocuted by a mouse)

I gave them a cheer and a laugh in approval.

They were so genre-aware.

They were engaging in unbridled imaginative play with no concern for the social optics.

They were playing the world, not the rules.

True, pure free-kriegsspiel.

Ballamb, a legally-distinct-mon, air type. My concept, art by Becca_3D.

How to use Pokémon cards and tabletop slither.io

I saw a group of four or five 8-year-olds playing with Pokémon cards recently. The kid who owned them poured a bag of a hundred or so onto the table and they picked six cards each. The kids took it in turns playing cards onto the table (regardless of the evolutionary stage of the card) and then attacking other player’s cards (completely ignoring the mana costs for doing so).

Obviously they had a vague idea how the game was played, but were making up most of it

I let them get on with it.

At one point somebody had played a poison Pokémon, maybe a Nidoran? We’ll assume it was this exact card:

Source: Bulbapedia but I guess its copyright Nintendo?

The kid played the card and attacked with it.

What should have happened: Assuming the card had sufficient energy cards attached (a poison and one other energy card of any type), it would have done 20 damage (before applying weaknesses and resistances). Additionally there would be a 50% chance the target would be poisoned, meaning it would take an extra 10 damage each turn until it feints.

What happened:

‘I attack that one with my sting, it does 20 so its dead’

‘Nooo that’s not how it works, because he is poisoned it means every time he is attacked he takes an extra 20’

No flipping coins, no initial 20 damage, no weaknesses and resistances.

Was it balanced? No

Were they having fun? Yep

Tabletop slither.io

I also saw a group of six-year-olds the other day playing with multilink cubes

These things. From wikimedia

They scattered the cubes out across the surface as unconnected singles. They then each chose a cube and began hoovering around the table, and whenever they connected to other cubes they added them on.

At one point one kid accidentally knocked the front of their snake into another kids and then had to dismantle it into its constituent pieces and start over.

So they were playing slither.io. But they could choose how quick or slow to move their snakes with only “hey, that’s too fast” as a mediation tool.

Was it balanced? No.

Were they having fun? Yep

Playground Among Us

I would’ve thought that a social deduction game with randomly assigned traitors would be about as immune to adaptation for the playground as any game could be but boy oh boy, was I wrong.

It was a group of ten-year-olds this time.

Yes, your assumption is correct, I work in education.

On the playground they gathered and closed their eyes. One person secretly chose a couple of others to be the imposters.

Then they all went around doing ‘jobs’ on the ‘ship’ until someone ‘died’.

But it was a playground without pipes and tunnels and vents, where they should’ve all been able to see each other and keep track of who might be the imposter.

As canny as ten-year-olds can be, they can also be oblivious.

Inevitably one of three things happened

  1. The imposters were found out after the first two murders
  2. The imposters positioned themselves near a group and fake-shanked them all before they could call a meeting
  3. Some non-imposters got bored, decided that they had been imposters all along, then piled in on option 2.

It was the least successful of these games. Its rules made the least sense and were adhered to the least.

And yet they keep on playing it.

Is it balanced? Dream on.

Are they having fun? Yes

Here’s a reward for reading the above ramble

Glog spell: Misremember

Range: Touch

Target: Person

Duration: [dice] hours

The person will misremember a rule, law, instruction or regulation from within a body of rules, laws, instructions or regulations. You can add, revoke or rewrite up to [sum] sentences.