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5 Crucial Rules of Every Game (Not Found in the Rulebook)

Games need rules. Without them, they aren't games at all, just a bunch of assholes running around with a ball throwing Monopoly money and darts at each other.


Without rules, we'd have to deal with bullshit like Connect Two.

Along with the written, formalized rules we all know and are familiar with, every game also has a big list of unwritten rules that everyone knows to follow. Violating these unwritten rules often isn't illegal, but in the big outside-the-game picture, this often results in very real repercussions whose very existence has obvious influences on the game world. This makes the study of unwritten rules a useful tool to understanding how games really work, or at the very minimum a helpful explanation as to how you became such an unwelcome presence in other people's homes.


It's because you fucked the Connect Four board.

#5. Do-Overs

I take approximately 2,000 swings during every round of golf, and yet at the end of each round, my scorecard shows a mere 500. What's happened here? And more importantly, why don't my golfing buddies complain?

Fuse/Getty Images
It's not because they can't count.

It's because we're playing golf with a pretty generous allowance of "do-overs." Golf is more fun if you can play the ball off the grass, instead of the mall parking lot you originally hit it in. Many amateur golfers don't force their friends to play their worst shots, looking the other way if someone needs to kick their ball back out onto the fairway. The do-overs make the game more fun for everyone, which is why we use them despite the fact that "fun" isn't mentioned once in Ye Olde and Ancient Official Rules Booke for Golph.

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Which is a little surprising, considering the Scots are no strangers to good times.

You can see the same principle at work with beginning chess players when they make colossally bad, game-ending plays. Why suffer through that when allowing a do-over makes the game more fun, and not incidentally speeds up the learning process? This gives a bit of a hint as to when do-overs are considered acceptable: It depends on what's at stake. If the game's being played for fun or to learn, then the fun or learning opportunity is most important, so do-over away! But if money's at stake? Well, consider Tiger Woods, whose many requests for mulligans in the last few years have been repeatedly denied.

Junko Kimura/Getty Images News
Wait. You're not the real Tiger Woods at all, are you?

So why is this so important? Well, if you know roughly how acceptable do-overs are in your game, you can adapt your strategy to take advantage of it. If it's golf, then maybe you'll play riskier shots. If it's chess, then maybe you'll take riskier chess shots (I've basically forgotten how to do chess). And even though you're obviously playing more for fun than money, you can still win if you take advantage of the do-over rule appropriately.

Which was secretly the point the whole time.

#4. Gambling

If a guy puts a $20 bill down on the edge of a pool table, you know what's going on.

Roel Smart/iStock/Getty Images
This fellow thinks you have a pretty mouth and wants you to follow him to his car.

Or, perhaps more likely, it means this game is being played for money. It also means, if you play pool like me, that you're about to lose $20. Or find out what a pool cue tastes like.

shutswis/iStock/Getty Images
Woody, I'm guessing.

But if someone slaps a $20 bill down on the side of the board during a game of Sorry! -- what the hell does that mean? How badass can an 8-year-old be? Board games are just totally the wrong venue for wagering, and this act is really inappropriate, and not a little intimidating. And in games that are the right venue, like poker or U-12 coed soccer, there are a lot of unspoken rules around the size of the bets. Bets in the single- or double-digit range can be fun among friends. Mortgage payment-size bets, or the wagering of entire children, might be less fun.

So why is that important? Well, as mentioned, bets are a great way to intimidate a less-confident opponent, providing all the varied advantages that intimidation sometimes offers. And more simply, if you're trying to maximize the amount of your winnings, it's helpful to know what everyone's comfort level is with wagering. Too low a bet obviously minimizes your income, but bet too high and no one bets (or plays) at all.

ACS15/iStock/Getty Images
Meaning all your Hungry Hungry Hippos training and the hippopotamus-themed trash talk
you rehearsed were for nothing.

#3. Arguing the Rules

Many rules are open to interpretation or rely on judgment calls that are made with limited knowledge. Some examples include balls and strikes in baseball, ins and outs in volleyball, and elbows to the throat and other debatable fouls in basketball. Even a few board games, especially "party" games, have rules like these. Consider the decision charades players have to make when deciding whether an answer is "close enough" or whether an opponent's gesture is legal.

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"We rule that it was legal but sexually confusing."

Every time there's a call that's open to judgment, there's room for arguing. But there are a lot of unwritten rules about how much arguing is permissible. If you're playing with friends, anything beyond good-natured disagreement is likely to get you banned from all future Scattergories nights. But in some professional sports, arguing the calls isn't just common, it's expected, even necessary. Look at baseball managers: In the entire history of baseball, not a single call has ever been overturned, and yet about once a week, a baseball manager somewhere will completely flip his shit and start beaking off in an umpire's face. Whether it's to influence later calls or to fire up his players, no one really knows. Maybe he's just tired of watching baseball that day.

amnachphoto/iStock/Getty Images
"Sometimes I just want a bath."

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