Rules are awesome. If you're a fan of games, this is an inescapable truth for you. Every game you play is comprised of a set of rules, ranging from elementary to near-incomprehensible. If it's a digital game, the rules are there; you just can't see most of them. If it's an analog game, though, it becomes your job as a player to know the rules. How else are you supposed to play?
Certain clever game designers have recognized the sheer importance of rules in game design, and have even recognized design itself as a sort of game. The result is games that are about rules – games that make and break their own rules as they're played. The most well-known of these rule-based games is Richard Garfield's Magic: The Gathering. But we're not dealing with that right now.
The most accessible of these rule-based games, however, is a little family game called Fluxx, designed by self-proclaimed hippy Andy Looney over at Looney Labs.
In Fluxx, the object of the game is to win. How you win, however, is in a constant state of, well, flux. At the start of the game, each player is dealt three cards, and a starter rule for the game placed on the table. This rule is always the same: during a player's turn he/she draws one card, and plays one card.
Players can use the cards in the game to create new objectives - called Goals - and create new rules for drawing and playing cards. The majority of Goal cards in the game involve special cards called Keepers, which players collect and play in front of them. A Goal might state that the player with both the Milk and the Cookie Keeper cards wins, or the player with both the War and Death cards wins. Winning Fluxx is a matter of timing - making sure you have the right Keepers at the right time, and being careful not to play a Goal which helps out one of your opponents.
Because of the game's unpredictability, it's just as likely that a game will take 2 minutes to play as it is that it'll take 30. Having nothing to do with skill, a player dealt the right cards at the right time can win the game in a single turn. That's not to say that the game is without strategy. A clever player can change the rules to his advantage, and hold off playing certain cards until the time is right. Still, the game can end quickly and unexpectedly, making for some pretty anti-climactic experiences.
That's why Fluxx is marketed as a family game. It's fun to play, but sometimes your 8-year-old nephew is going to beat you. When that happens, just smile and let him enjoy it; you can still kick his ass in Magic.
Scott Jon Siegel is a fledgling game designer, and fancies himself a bit of a writer on the topic as well. His words and games can be found at numberless, which is almost always a work in progress.