Desert Island Variants & House Rules

OGers’ Favorite Official Variants and House Rules as of the end of 2014

Acquire – Open Shares – Dale

Joe – That’s not a variant.  Playing with trackable information open is a play style choice, not a variant in my book – it’s functionally equivalent to having everyone track the data on paper, or perfectly track it in their head.  Some people – myself included – prefer that, but I’d never think of calling it a variant.

Larry – I’ve read that Sackson deliberately left the question open and, in fact, the original rules did not specify which way the game was to be played.  If a game’s rules say that holdings are hidden, then playing that game with open holdings would be a variant.  But, as Joe says, this can’t really be considered a true variant for Acquire.

Joe – I fear I was not entirely clear – playing with trackable data explicitly open is _never_ a variant in my opinion.  I prefer to play Euphrat & Tigris with open scoring, for instance, but I’ve never thought of that as a variant – just a memory aid.

Babel – Larry

This variant comes from Greg Aleknevicus and makes a great game greater:

  • Each player has two Temple discard piles.  When you reveal two Temple cards at the end of the turn, the first goes on the first pile and the second on the second pile.
  • This avoids the weirdness that happens with some frequency when Temple cards come up in the “wrong” order and make building difficult.  The variant also opens things up a little bit more and makes for a more interesting and dynamic game, IMO.

BloodBowl – Liga. I really like to play it with the 4 minutes time limits. It is actually a total different game with much more suspance.

Campaign Manager – Ted C.  I teach the game using the whole deck so people can see all of the cards the first couple of games.

Carpe Astra – Ted C. Fabulous game and fabulous designer.  Play to 8 turns instead of the 10 listed in the rules.

Code 777 – Ted C. we play you reshuffle tiles when there are 7 left.  The new version does not have this rule.

Descent – Dale – We use a house rule where the heroes can (during setup) take a new random hero from the deck, but give threat equal to the HP of the discarded hero to the Overlord.  Also, we have some home-made cards available so that every player could choose to have a Tough if they want it.

Die Macher – Player Order

By Rick Thornquist

I love Die Macher, but there is one flaw (okay, maybe two, including the poll cards) which really stands out – the way you choose player order is really lame.  Basically, everyone writes down their bid and whoever bids the most decides who goes first.  The rest of the players then take their turns clockwise.

This is lame for quite a few reasons.  It would take too long to explain all the reasons here, but suffice to say that player order is quite important in the game and that way of determining it does not give the players enough control.

The standard variant is as follows:  Everyone writes down their bid as usual.  Everybody then reveals their bids and <everyone>, not just the highest player, pays their money to the bank.  The highest player then decides where they want to go in the turn order – first, last, whatever.  Then the second highest player decides, taking one of the remaining choices, and so on.

This variant does a great job of fixing the original rule and now gives you the important choice (if you don’t bid last) as to where you are going in the turn order.  I learned this variant years ago and have used it ever since.

Dominion –  Matt C.  we finish off the round so everyone gets the same number of turns.

Elfenland – Ted C.

I forgot the rule but I know I have a variant in the box.  Was it always draw 8 cards after discarding to 4?

Mark Jackson – I wrote this up a long time ago… if anyone wants to summarize it, they’re welcome to try. (It’s a LONG discussion… and I don’t know what the official Rio Grande rules were in English.)

For Sale – Larry

Use the original Ravensburger rules for bidding in the first round.  It’s poker-style bidding, where you only have to match the current bid or drop out.  If the same bid comes back to the person who first made that bid, they must either raise the bid or drop out.

Heck, just try to find a copy of the original game.  The card distribution is superior to the one that Uberplay used in the redesign.

Frisch  Fisch – Joe – Besides using the original rules – not the ones in the Plenary edition, which unintentionally changed two rules and intentionally changed another, in a way that hurts the game – I originally misunderstood the role of money in the scoring, using remaining money as a tiebreaker, rather than subtracting it from route scores.  And having since played both ways multiple times, I prefer my misunderstanding – it leads to more active auctions.

Ted – I like the original German bidding rules not the ones in the English box.

Gears of War – Ted C.  we play when you heal another COG, you give them the card you should discard instead of discarding it.

Get the Goods/Gloria Piktoria/Reibach & Co. – Larry

Here are the highlights (the full variant is on the Geek):

  • Each player begins with face-up 2x card (and no Wild cards)
  • Early players get fewer actions on first turn
  • It costs 2 actions to take Wild or 2x card (including your beginning 2x)
  • It also costs 2 actions to play 2x card

HEROICA – Liga – We always play with the Battle HEROICA official rules: one player (usually me) using the monsters and other players the Heroes.

Inspeaquence – Nate [Nate – most of the house rules I play with come from playing with Peter Sarrett]

1) Must make complete sentences that are questions.

2) May not form question as “what is not?”

3) Guesser gets one guess, and may only do so after team has signalled their question is complete by ringing a bell

Kreta – Joe – When this game first came out, we enjoyed it – but discovered an issue; because there’s an advantage to causing scoring (some control over which areas score in the future), with the rules as written someone who gets an early lead can often push the endgame and win, simply by calling for scoring every turn.  As that’s not very interesting, Dave Andrews proposed a simple variant – before you play the Castellan, which triggers scoring, you must first have played as many cards as there are currently behind you in scoring.  This has made for much tighter games, as players who are behind can take a turn or two before triggering scoring, before the leader has the option; it’s still best to be ahead, but the early runaway doesn’t occur.

Liar’s Dice– Nate (once again from Peter Sarrett):

If you haven’t yet touched the betting die, you aren’t on the hook to lose anything to collateral damage (an exactly correct bet which normally causes all other players to lose a die).

Loopin’ Louie – Nate (from the Gathering)

We always play tournament rules at home, which is that winning a round means you start the next round with one fewer chicken.  To win the game, you have to win a round in which you start with only one chicken (or win three rounds).

Mark Jackson – we do the same…

Manhattan – Ted C. when we played a lot, the big and little monster variants were nice changes.  Don’t play that game enough add them these days. [Ed. sometimes called the Godzilla variant]

Metro – Ted C.

We play deal two tiles to each player at the beginning of the game after you play, draw a tile at the end of your turn so you always have two to choose from instead on one.

Monopoly – Mark Jackson

I use the tournament rules for trades outlined in Phillip Orbanes book, The Monopoly Companion:

  • You may only trade Title Deeds, cash, and GET OUT OF JAIL FREE cards. You can’t trade anything else, [italics in original text] like “immunity” from paying rent if a traded property is landed on, or a promise not to build houses in the future. (Chp 2, The Rules Explained)
  • All trades are based on assets owned at the time of the trade. No options or immunity from paying future rents may be granted, nor may partnerships be formed. (Chp 6, Tournament Monopoly & How You Can Play It)

The game is faster, cleaner & generates less ill will between players.

Parade  Accidental misinterpretation for owning majorities (1 good point versus one bad point) – Frank

Power Grid Nate – We use the Funkenschlag payout charts for Power Grid, because it keeps the money a little tighter and consequently the game more interesting.  This is another variant I’ve adopted from Peter Sarrett that I really like.

Prophecy Short Game variant. Became an official rule in the Zman version – Frank

Mark Jackson: Prophecy is a lovely experience with this variant – without it, it’s very, very long.

Liga: we play without the final battle. Since I’m used to play it with my daughter the first collecting 3 artifacts wins

Robo Rally: we play it with time. After the first player complete the move start a countdown. All other players have just 30 more seconds to finish the move. Cards not played are drawn at random from player’s hand.

It’s been a long time since I read the rules, but I thought that this was in the rules!  Maybe it was in the old rules and isn’t in the current more recent ones?

Quandary/Loco/Botswana/. . . Nate:

Don’t know if this counts, but in the version I have you are free to choose any tile you want after playing a piece.  We play that you may not take a tile from the color you played on.  It’s possible that this is the real rule in one of the many other versions of the game.

Return of the Heroes – Ted C.

We play the board wraps around all sides to make movement faster.

Mark Jackson: There are “official” tournament rules, used when combining the base game with Under the Shadow of the Dragon and/or Helden in der Unterwelt (Heroes in the Underworld):

  • Add +1 to the movement allowance
  • The world is round. You can leave it, and enter at the opposite tile.
  • The Dragon, and the Nameless One and his guards start at on the map
  • The dragon events, dragon man, and the servants of the nameless one start in the bag
  • The starting markers for the dragon quests (which give a scroll) start at the board
  • Each hero may buy one item (bazaar market or city of magic market) at the start of the game with his starting money
  • As long as you didn’t start your quest, you may exchange it at the castle.

San Marco – Larry

  • If you insist on playing this with 3, I use a simple method to ensure that each player gets to be first chooser and second chooser an equal number of times

Settlers of Catan – Foodstamps – Dale * Hey, Dale stole mine! – Rick *

Mark Jackson: The published “Fishermen of Catan” variant has the same effect & also make the coastal regions more valuable. (

Streetcar – Ted C.  I posted a variant years ago to not run your streetcar when you are finished, but to let others take two turns and do a mathematical wrap up.

Tichu – Ted C.

We play without the special cards.   Hahahahahah, just kidding to see if you actually read this far.

lol – Rick

[Ed.: left this in to see if readers get this far.]

Time’s Up – Larry

  • You can pass in the first round
  • The guesser doesn’t need to provide the complete name
  • Let team that ends a round use remaining time at start of succeeding round

Word Blur – Nate:

We say that you can’t use the modifier for “sounds like”, since it’s kind of weenie and is the only one that is about the sound of the word and not the object represented.  Instead, we allow people to use that spot for “ish”, which is often very helpful.
For some excellent additional variants, see –

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Desert Island Variants & House Rules

  1. Pingback: Desert Island Variants & House Rules -

  2. nherperger says:

    Hi Larry. Back when you did your Gathering Impressions for 2014 you mentioned a variant or two that you thought would make Basari: Kartenspiel a better game. What were they?

    • huzonfirst says:

      Wow, sorry about that. My plan was to write a review, together with the variants, once I’d played the game more and tested the variants. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to play it since the Gathering! So I’m hoping I remember the suggested variants correctly.

      The issue I have with the rules in the box has to do with the Worker Action (Action A). With the other two actions, you know exactly how many VPs or gems you’ll be getting. With the Worker Action, though, it’s a total crapshoot: maybe you get lucky and get 3 or 4 workers, or maybe you’re cursed and you only get 1. Take it from me, devoting an action to getting workers (possibly even paying gems to do so) and then revealing only 1 worker really bites!

      One of my opponents in my game was William Attia. After we finished, we discussed our impressions of the title and we both agreed that having the number of workers be based on chance was something of a weakness. My variant was to say that if a player revealed a card from winning the Worker Action, it had to be worth at least 2 workers. Thus, a card with 1 worker became a 2 worker card and all the other results stayed the same. It would be a bit of a problem to indicate this, but one idea would be to simply turn the card over and you would have to remember that a card back = 2 workers. I felt that that would take away a bit of the chance element and remove the one real frustrating aspect of the game.

      William had another idea. At the beginning of each round, he said, why not reveal the top card of the deck? THAT would be the card won by anyone who successfully took the Worker Action, so that everyone knew ahead of time what was at stake. If no one wound up taking the Worker Action, the card would be placed on the bottom of the deck. We agreed that that could alter the action selection thinking in interesting ways.

      So those are the two proposed variants, without a bit of playtesting to determine if either represents an improvement. If you or anyone else tries either one of these, please let us know how it turned out. I’d love to know and I’m sure William would as well!

  3. Garry Lloyd says:

    Nate – re: Loco/Quandary/Botswana – I think Flinke Pinke, which was the original version of the game, had the rule that you couldn’t pick a “share” of the same colour as the card you played.

  4. Aaron Fuegi says:

    I wrote up a bunch of variants many users ago at: The ones for Mu (which can make a huge difference – in our group this great game had become nearly unplayable for some of us without the variant due to very problematic endgame situations), Mamma Mia (small change), and Schnappchen Jagd (tiny change) I particularly recommend.

  5. gamekahuna says:


    Your variants were part of the inspiration for this and we linked to you in the last line. Thanks again for all your contributions!


Leave a Reply