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Subject: Things I love about Cribbage, and two things I don't like rss

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Craig Duncan
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I have recently picked up a Cribbage habit. I play against family members whenever I can talk them into playing (alas, not as often as I would like), and otherwise I play on the Cribbage Pro app. I have found myself craving playing it like few other games. And now I'm asking myself what makes it so fun for me?

** The asymmetrical nature of the scoring is a fun element. During each hand the dealer scores two sets of cards and the non-dealer scores one. This often creates a see-saw of lead changes, which injects some drama. It also creates frequent come-from-behind wins, where the non-dealer ends up a point or two shy of victory after scoring his hand, and the dealer's two scoring hands give him, say, 18 points to steal victory. On the scoring front, I also like that it is first-to-hole-121 who wins, rather than scoring all the hands and having the winner be the person who is farthest ahead of 121. The first-to-121 really creates a race-like feel. This feel is what I like BEST about Cribbage.

** The frequent scoring means there are lots of little catching-ups or pulling-aheads, unlike other card games (Gin, say) where there is only scoring after each hand (and thus only a half-dozen or so scoring instances per game, on average).

** I like the tactile feel, as well as the look, of the Cribbage board.

** I like that each discard is a puzzle. True, about half the time it is obvious what to discard. But often it is an excruciating choice.

** I like the fact that there is some non-obvious strategy in the play of cards. When I first started playing I felt that the play was pretty obvious and automatic. And frankly, it it often is. But it is not always that way; I now see there is more to the play of the cards than initially meets the eye. There are times when you should play defensively and times when you should play offensively. There are traps you can set for your opponent. You can use logic to predict the rest of an opponent's hand after you have seen a card or two of it. And so on.

** I like the drama of the play. If I pair an opponent's card, is he going to triple me? If I play a 7 on his 8, will he play a 9 or a 6 for a run? If I make a run of three can he make a run of four? And so on. Lots of opportunity for smack talk here! And lots of opportunity for psychological reads of your opponent. ("That look in his eye means he WANTS me to pair his card so he can triple me!")

** I like the fact that a single game plays fast, but I can do a "best of three," "best of five," etc. match when I desire a longer game.

** I like the fact that when I am playing Cribbage I am playing one of the oldest card games in existence that is still widely played (after more than 350 years). It may sound screwy, but I feel like I am keeping covenant with the past in some small way (continuing the traditions of long gone ancestors). Indeed, it is one of the oldest games, period, that is still widely played (after a small number of other games such as backgammon, chess, Go, mancala, and checkers -- and I like those games too for the same reason).

Now for two things I don't really like about Cribbage:

** His heels/nibs (i.e. 2 points for the dealer when the cut card is a Jack).

I don't mind luck in games. And every card game has some luck. But Cribbage already has a lot. Why add an additional pure luck element?

Yes, his heels adds some tension when the dealer is at 119 or 120. Will he win from the cut, you ask yourself while holding your breath as the cut takes place. But whatever drama that is, I find there is more drama when there is no his-heels-victory, and instead victory comes from a peg battle or a scoring showdown; a win-by-his-heels just cuts all those more dramatic wins out. So I'm not convinced his heels adds more drama than it removes.

True, his heels can help someone who is behind catch up when he gets a lucky his heels. But by the same token it can increase a leader's lead and suck some drama out.

Contrast his heels with his nobs (having a Jack in hand whose suit matches the suit of the cut card). I LIKE this rule. Yes, it is a lucky element, but it does influence strategy significantly. A non-dealer will be reluctant to throw a Jack into an opponent's crib, for instance. So Jacks frequently show up in a non-dealer's hand. (A whopping 30% of the time, according to this statistical study.) And this means that as dealer you can set traps to catch a non-dealer's Jack in the pegging (e.g. see here).

** Fiddly flush rules is another thing I dislike. You can always score a five card flush, but you can only score a four card flush in the hand. If the four cards in the crib make a flush, too bad.

OK, fine, but why make the scoring more complicated than it already is? I have found flush scoring to be an awkward element to explain when I am teaching the game to newbies, for instance.

A four card flush in the crib is still EXTREMELY rare, so allowing it wouldn't make much difference to the game play. And anyway, the difference it would make would be a good difference, as far as I can see. For instance, it would be riskier to throw two same-suited cards to an opponent's crib, and that would create some extra agony when the two obvious cards to discard rank-wise have the same suit...

But these are minor complaints. And at least saying "Two for his heels" is fun in an antiquated way.

Long live Cribbage!
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George Leach
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I totally agree with his heels and the awkward flush rules being poor elements of the game rules. I don't see why you shouldn't play without them though, particularly if you're playing with the same small group of players. Card games only improve and grow if people can recognise the problems and implement the changes.

As BGGers I think we should all be playing Larry Levy and Dave Parlett's modern takes on traditional games in regular rotation with the Euros being lauded around the place.
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p55carroll
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I've had the same feelings about the game. In some ways it's a screwy old game, and yet it's compelling. And there's something cool about perpetuating traditions.

The "flaws" are so minor that I'd rather just live with them myself. If nothing else, doing so keeps me in touch with the standard form of the game--the game as most everyone else in the world plays it.

Of course, if everyone had thought that way, Cribbage would never have evolved from a five-card to a six-card game.
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Aaron
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Great write up of my favorite game. My wife still gets caught up in the flush rule.
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Martin G
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Very nice! I've geekbuddied you as we seem to have similar taste in card games and family games.
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Bishop of East Anglia
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I agree with all your comments. When I was at uni I spent many many many hours playing cribbage. I still have the board that went with me everywhere. I doubt I've played a game of it in 15 years now.

Screwy with his nibs is right.

I think varying the rules is a slippery path. I'm now to the point of resisting any rule variations in games as it makes anyone I teach anything to an anarchist when they play anyone else. It reduces the portability of games. Play a game ten times by altered rules, go away from it for 2 years and try and play someone else and you're subversive.

When I played an online game of Junta here 4 years ago it turned out for 20 years many rule interpretations I'd been taught (by an Australian), and then introduced to tens of others, were house rules. I'd played so often and so much I didn't need to check the rules.

I have one player here who houserules everything (he's a teacher) so we've had to stop playing Alhambra due to arguments with people who played with him first.

These things can kill games.

It's screwy but his nibs is the rule. You don't want some mad dentist in New Zealand who loves the game and loves houserules to teach 50 people a different game called Cribbage that looks the same- and have them playing it and passing it on as they do their OE round the world.

just my thought
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Aaron
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SamNzed wrote:

I have one player here who houserules everything (he's a teacher) so we've had to stop playing Alhambra due to arguments with people who played with him first.




I have a friend that does this with every game I bring over. It drives me nuts. Sometimes he starts making new rule suggetions before I'm even done explaing the real rules!!
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Bishop of East Anglia
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Magrot wrote:
SamNzed wrote:

I have one player here who houserules everything (he's a teacher) so we've had to stop playing Alhambra due to arguments with people who played with him first.




I have a friend that does this with every game I bring over. It drives me nuts. Sometimes he starts making new rule suggetions before I'm even done explaing the real rules!!


Yep sounds like a similar case.

I think BGG members should propose a protocol on how to introduce house rules and naming conventions to games when you teach them.

edit: So if Peter really wants to persist with his rule variances to Power Grid as he plays it every Friday night to different players, he has to tell them it's 'Power Grid: variant-PSmithNZ' or somesuch.

An international naming convention for this would
a) identify it's different,
b) identify the school or creator of the variants
c) help me avoid being sucked into some of the abominations I've come across.

So when George returns to New Zealand he can ask before we play PowerGrid-PSmithNZ what the difference is, and decide if he wants to play with reversed purchasing order of fuel to allow people who have played well to capitalise on their early success by getting to buy fuel first before the laggers.
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p55carroll
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If you read the rules to the older Five-Card Cribbage, some of these little anomalies start to make a little more sense.

For instance, during the cut for deal, the nondealer immediately pegs 3 points (to compensate for the dealer's first-crib advantage). It could be that 2 points for "his heels" is a way for the dealer to possibly get back at the nondealer for those "free points."

As to the flush, in Five-Card Cribbage a player's hand only consists of three cards plus the starter, so you can have three- or four-card flushes there. The crib is four cards plus the starter, so it has a couple possibilities that the players' hands don't have: a run of five (5 pts) and a flush of five (5 pts). To simplify, the five-flush is the only kind that counts in the crib. Makes it easy to remember, since these two special crib-only hands are worth 5 points each.

Speaking of Five-Card Cribbage, another thing that has always annoyed me a little in the now-standard Six-Card game is starting over at zero and continuing play when the count reaches 31. I don't know why, but something has always just felt wrong about that. Well, in Five-Card Cribbage, there's no starting over; play simply ends at 31.
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Hank Meyer
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The tiny amount of variance added by cutting the 'right Jack' rarely wins a game outright for the dealer....much of the pegging/discarding strategy of Cribbage is worth studying so that you can arrive on 'fourth street' (the last 30 holes) at a distance that gives you the advantage; namely, within about 20 holes with the deal...this means you will have THREE hands to reach 121, while your opponent will get to count only one hand (non-dealer counts first)...if, by a variety of circumstances, the dealer winds up within 1-2 holes of 121, well, there are only four Jacks in the deck, so the pone (non dealer) has a tiny chance to peg out by not cutting a jack.....4 chances out of the remaining unseen 46 cards.
Some of the archaic rules about flushes in the crib, etc, are just part of the historical development of this excellent two handed game. All of the rules combine to form a basis for accurate discarding and pegging strategy.
Cribbage is far more than just being 'cut in' for a big score...yes, there is certainly some luck involved, but the blend in this particular case is pretty novel.
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Philip Thomas
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His Heels is just the logical extension of his nibs. In every game where a jack is turned, the dealer will have a jack the suit of the turned card in both his hands. Hence 2 points.

Admittedly this logic should also get non-dealer one point for his heels. It also doesn't explain the timing. But nothing's perfect.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I love cribbage, including the quirky little rules, which I see as giving the game character. I mean seriously, look at its provenance. Designed by a poet in the 17th century? For me, taking out rules would rob it of flavor, even if it weren't for SamNzed's very well stated explanation of the perils inherent in doing so.
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p55carroll
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Sphere wrote:
I love cribbage, including the quirky little rules, which I see as giving the game character. I mean seriously, look at its provenance. Designed by a poet in the 17th century? For me, taking out rules would rob it of flavor.

Yeah, but in the 17th century they played Five-Card Cribbage. The modern six-card game has already robbed the original of its flavor.
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Craig Duncan
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Thanks for all the great feedback, everyone!

Some thoughts:

Jugular wrote:
I totally agree with his heels and the awkward flush rules being poor elements of the game rules. I don't see why you shouldn't play without them though, particularly if you're playing with the same small group of players. Card games only improve and grow if people can recognise the problems and implement the changes.


I'm fine with people playing with houserules if they want. Hey, if people are having fun gaming, great! (Though I agree with SamNzed that you should clearly let people know that you are teaching them a variant.)

For my part, though, my annoyance at his heels and at the flush scoring is very minor, and is outweighed by the appeal of "keeping convenant with the past," as I mention in the OP. So like Sphere, I always play with those rules myself. I'm just wistfully wishing that way back when, Sir John Suckling (the guy credited with adapting the rules of an early game called Noddy to create Cribbage) hadn't included the two elements that annoy me.

HankM wrote:
Cribbage is far more than just being 'cut in' for a big score...yes, there is certainly some luck involved, but the blend in this particular case is pretty novel.


Totally agree that the skilled Cribbage player will win significantly more often than the unskilled player (e.g. see my post on this here). I'm just saying that unlike "one for his nob," his heels doesn't really create new opportunities for skill that I can see. That is, I can't see that it takes a skilled game and makes it slightly more skilled. It seems to me it makes it slightly more luck-driven.

I guess one could say that his heels makes the asymmetric scoring of Cribbage even slightly more asymmetric --- and in my OP I identified the asymmetric scoring as a good thing (it adds drama + it's this asymmetry that drives the various board position strategies, which I have come to see as very important and interesting). Maybe someone could convince me, then, that his heels is for the best overall. However, I still find myself wishing it weren't there. I do, though, enjoying saying "Two for his heels!" since it has an fun old-fashioned feel. So maybe it is worth it for this ornamentation. David Parlett, in some of his writings on card games, speaks of the "decorative elements" of various games. His heels is certainly decorative.

Patrick Carroll wrote:
If you read the rules to the older Five-Card Cribbage, some of these little anomalies start to make a little more sense.

For instance, during the cut for deal, the nondealer immediately pegs 3 points (to compensate for the dealer's first-crib advantage). It could be that 2 points for "his heels" is a way for the dealer to possibly get back at the nondealer for those "free points."

As to the flush, in Five-Card Cribbage a player's hand only consists of three cards plus the starter, so you can have three- or four-card flushes there. The crib is four cards plus the starter, so it has a couple possibilities that the players' hands don't have: a run of five (5 pts) and a flush of five (5 pts). To simplify, the five-flush is the only kind that counts in the crib. Makes it easy to remember, since these two special crib-only hands are worth 5 points each.


Very interesting reflections, Patrick!

I'm less sure about the his heels idea. After all, the first non-dealer gets plenty of turns as dealer and thus plenty of turns to score his heels for himself. Still, the first non-dealer will on average get fewer turns overall as dealer, and thus, fewer chances to score his heels. So maybe it is indeed an evening-out device (though it is an odd sort of counterbalancing device insofar as it is counterbalancing another counterbalance device, namely, the non-dealer's three points at the start of a game of five-card Cribbage).

As for the flush scoring rules: I agree, a "five card flushes only" rule for the Crib is less of an anomaly in five card Cribbage since in that game, the crib is only place where a five card flush could possibly appear. Interesting idea.

Patrick Carroll wrote:

Speaking of Five-Card Cribbage, another thing that has always annoyed me a little in the now-standard Six-Card game is starting over at zero and continuing play when the count reaches 31. I don't know why, but something has always just felt wrong about that. Well, in Five-Card Cribbage, there's no starting over; play simply ends at 31.


I think stopping at the first count of 31 would remove some strategy. A good way to trap a Jack, for instance, when you have two Jacks yourself is to save your two Jacks for the very last. With a bit of luck, the first count to 31 will have squeezed the low cards out of your opponent's hand, leaving him with just a Jack to play in the second count. Then if you have first play in the new count, you play your Jack, he plays his, then you triple him for a profit of four points. That sounds improbable to pull off, but it can happen with surprising frequency. That trap wouldn't be possible if play stopped with the first count of 31. Another trap that happens in a second count is a 5-trap using a 7 and 6 (see here).

So continuing on with a second count adds some strategic possibilities. I'm glad that six card Cribbage can have more than one count to 31.
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Craig Duncan
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Just a note to mention one more thing I like about Cribbage, but which I forgot to mention in my OP:

** Memory plays little role in Cribbage. Sure, you surely ought to remember the ranks of the two cards you discarded to the crib. But remembering that is chicken feed compared to the role that memory plays in games like Gin Rummy or Schnapsen.

In those games, to play well you really need to remember the rank and suit of the cards that have been played. I'm bad at that. I can manage to keep track of the high ranks (Aces and Kings) and special cards that have been played in Tichu, say. But instruct me to remember suits as well as ranks, and then I struggle. (Don't get me wrong; I enjoy Gin and Schnapsen. But my enjoyment comes from something other than playing them well!)

In Cribbage, by contrast, memory plays next to no role (beyond remembering your two discards, as I have already said). Perfect for people who have sieve-like memories like I do!
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p55carroll
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cdunc123 wrote:
In Cribbage, by contrast, memory plays next to no role (beyond remembering your two discards, as I have already said). Perfect for people who have sieve-like memories like I do!

But terrible for people who hate to count points.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Yeah, but in the 17th century they played Five-Card Cribbage. The modern six-card game has already robbed the original of its flavor.

I'm not as old as you, Patrick. I can hardly remember anything before the 19th. And I like cribbage, 2-handed, standard rules.
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I love cribbage. It seems the perfect game while waiting around to play something or as the wrap-up to a long afternoon or evening. Of course, I'm happy to play any ol' time, too, and would throw over a multi-player with strangers in favor of the same time spent over cribbage with a sharp opponent.

For awhile, I'd take a cribbage board with me into coffee shops, hoping someone would recognize it and ask to play—a cup of coffee being the prize for their trouble, win or lose. Never happened.
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George Leach
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There's some argument that we're arguing apples and oranges here. Patrick has already touched on this but Power Grid and Cribbage aren't particularly comparable games. Power Grid has one set of published rules and was released recently. It's still in print and the deisgner is still with us. It was designed for our times and in the context of the various Euros we have around now.

Cribbage is an entirely different beast, as are all traditional card games. Few are/were published with one set of rules nor are variants seen as a bad thing. Explaining the variants it's not seen as a chore nor is it unexpected when sitting down to play a game with new opponents. I personally prefer games to have rules set in stone with labelled variants but I'm aware that traditional games of all sorts have evolved hugely over their lifetime.
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Jugular wrote:
There's some argument that we're arguing apples and oranges here. Patrick has already touched on this but Power Grid and Cribbage aren't particularly comparable games. Power Grid has one set of published rules and was released recently. It's still in print and the deisgner is still with us. It was designed for our times and in the context of the various Euros we have around now.

Cribbage is an entirely different beast, as are all traditional card games. Few are/were published with one set of rules nor are variants seen as a bad thing. Explaining the variants it's not seen as a chore nor is it unexpected when sitting down to play a game with new opponents. I personally prefer games to have rules set in stone with labelled variants but I'm aware that traditional games of all sorts have evolved hugely over their lifetime.


I agree.

Hmm yes sorry for the Power Grid analogy. The Alhambra reference was not too good either.

I was taught Cribbage by my pedantic father, and I've taught nearly everyone I have played with. I can't offer examples of rule changes for Cribbage down under.

I'm not sure if you know 500 but there are some virulent rule divisions here without Hoyle-syle authority anywhere in sight and people swearing their rules are the way the game must be played, and always has been. In particular I've found players with Aces having precedence over Bows (or bowers) and scoring of misere at 300 and 600, insistence of needing to play the joker if you have no cards of the suit led, and other variant rules. I'd say it's got so bad it's now many different games here.

This all reminds me of the Association Football story. It only dominated the world when in 1848, a group of representatives in Cambridge drew up a definitive set of rules. When the country's leading clubs and schools got together to form the Football Association in 1863, they used the Cambridge Rules as the basis for a new set of FA rules. These rules were taken around the world by the British Navy.

Had the South Americans added extra points for a goal from outside the penalty area, and the Eastern Europeans allowed holding the ball we would not have football today. There are faults in the game but having a clear agreed set is ideal I think.




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George Leach
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I agree that football wouldn't have been so successful without standardized rules and few games reach the point of having tournaments without a set of standardised rules but that doesn't mean they aren't played by variations. Go is played by different rules in different countries (though only minor in differences) and tournament rules can differ depending on the sponsor or where it is held.

I think the issue is greater with team sports where you have lots of stakeholders in a game, including spectators. Where players build up split-second reactions, having differing rules could really throw them off their game.

Again, is it comparable to a traditional 'parlor' game?

Anecdotally the name 500 has 'infected' a number of traditional card games. I've seen trick-takers, rummy variants, and fishing games all called 500. I think it's just an easily remembered name that just gets tagged on to a game when people can't think what it's called!
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SamNzed wrote:
there are some virulent rule divisions here without Hoyle-syle authority anywhere in sight [...] I'd say it's got so bad it's now many different games here.

Another way of looking at it is that these variants are a sign of success. I learned some recipes from my grandmother's notes in the margins of Escoffier, which I, in turn, have modified for my own preferences. That said, it can be a drag to negotiate a checklist of variants before play.

As for Cribbage, I love it, but I hate winning or losing on a turned jack.

If you'd like to try a three-player variant, score pones in tandem (i.e., move both non-dealer pegs whenever either non-dealer scores). I've even whiled away some time with a solo memory-based variant (via Pagat?) where you play once through the deck.
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I was talking this over with my sister who reminded of Bernard when I was at school who lived near us, who used to play Eucre with 8 cards each and you had to discard three and the player who was first player got to nominate trumps.

It was so horrible and 20 years ago so I had forgotten.
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Nice review! My wife and I have both recently started really DELVING into Cribbage. It's a fascinating little game and we really enjoy the asymmetrical scoring mechanic as well. There is a lot of luck involved but also some very important decision making that can alter the difference between a win and a loss. I really don't mind the Nobs and Flush rules, although the Flush rules are definitely strange.

A great game and a great review!
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SamNzed wrote:
I think varying the rules is a slippery path. I'm now to the point of resisting any rule variations in games as it makes anyone I teach anything to an anarchist when they play anyone else. It reduces the portability of games. Play a game ten times by altered rules, go away from it for 2 years and try and play someone else and you're subversive.

Variants and house rules are the reason we have these games the way they are today. It simply makes zero sense to declare that no longer allowed after one completely arbitrary point in time. It's good to have official sources for reference, but it's more important for people to just accept that there are many ways to play any game, and in fact there should be. It's people arguing about one single "correct" way to play that kills games.
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