6 Games You're Probably Playing Wrong


by Seb Patrick

From Monopoly to blackjack, you might be surprised to learn that you've been playing some of the world's most popular games wrong all along. Whether it's by misinterpreting the actual rules or misunderstanding the principles of how to win, here are six popular games where mistakes are common.


Monopoly is a game that hinges on “house rules”—passed down through families from one generation to the next, in different combinations which ensure that no two games are exactly alike. But it might surprise you just how significantly the most popular interpretations can differ from what’s been laid out in the rules for several decades.

The concept of auctioning unwanted properties after they’ve been landed on, for example, feels like an idea that someone came up with and added afterwards, which is probably why some people choose not to employ it. But auctions are clearly stated in the rules as being as much a part of the game as buying houses or picking up Community Chest cards.

Do you have to complete a full lap of the board before you’re allowed to buy property? Nope, not according to the rules: You can start buying as soon as you first land on something. And here’s a big one on which people often differ: Are you allowed to collect rent while in jail? Yes, of course you are—there’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t. Indeed, staying in jail is seen as a useful strategic tool in the later, hotel-filled stages of the game.

Popular house rules such as getting a windfall of previously-collected taxes when landing on Free Parking or getting double the usual salary for landing on “Go” were actually included in a special “House Rules” edition of the game last year. Oh, and that rule about going straight to jail if you roll three doubles in a row? It might sound like something your uncle made up, but that one’s been right there in the rules all along.


Many a game of Clue has ended with players in a mad rush to get their tokens to the murder scene, so that they can make the all-important accusation. But this method of ending a game isn’t actually necessary, according to the rules.

While Clue’s rule book stipulates that you can only make a “suggestion” (the bit where you get people to show you the cards in their hand) about a room you’re currently in, the potentially game-ending “accusation” can actually be made at any point. You can make a suggestion in the conservatory for the purposes of eliminating it from your inquiries, before immediately making an accusation that the crime went down in the ballroom.

Seasoned Clue players point out that the writers of the original rule book didn’t take into account the sort of strategic play that involves making your accusation based on others’ actions as well as your own inquiries—and so the rules aren’t actually clear in stating that you don’t even have to make a suggestion before you go on to accuse.

Some recent editions of the game have actually added a new rule that states that you have to go to the central point on the board before you can make that all-important accusation, so mad dashes with the dice can still be a part of your game if you’re playing one of those versions. But they’re not an intrinsic part of the game’s framework, so make sure you clarify which rule you’re going with before you start playing!


While televised poker tournaments have done a lot for the wider public perception of how the game is supposed to be played in a formal setting, the fictional games often seen in movies and on TV shows still have plenty to answer for. So just to be clear: While it may look cool when some guy in a film says "I'll see your $50 … [dramatic pause] … and raise you $50!" in reality that second batch of chips would immediately be handed back to the player by the dealer. In a casino or tournament poker game, you can either call the bet or raise it, but you can't do both one after the other. If you want to raise, you have to declare it immediately.

That process of placing some chips on the table and then gradually increasing the amount with a dramatic flourish is known as "string betting," and is almost universally discouraged, primarily because it allows a player to judge others' reactions to the lower bet before deciding whether to continue.


Having a good vocabulary—or at least the ability to remember which two-letter words appear in the dictionary—is, of course, an important part of being good at Scrabble. But is it the only part? Can you become a top player based on dictionary skills alone, or is there more to it?

Something that people easily miss when it comes to Scrabble is that the game is as much about logic and strategy as it is about being able to solve anagrams. Knowing what words your rack can make at any particular time is of course a key attribute, but just as important is being able to “play” the tiles that are already on the board, those that might be on your opponent’s rack, and those that are still in the bag.

Sometimes it can actually be better to hold off on playing a particular word—even if it would score you decent points at that moment in time—to gain an advantage by playing it at a later point.

While most people know that you can forfeit your turn in order to exchange some or all of the letters in your rack (something that can also be an important strategic move on occasion), it’s less widely-known that the rules allow for players to skip their turn entirely, and simply wait for a better opportunity.

And of course, where you place your tiles is just as important as the words you make with them—and we’re not just talking about picking up double- and triple-word scores. If your play is only going to score points along a single axis, rather than gaining a multiplier bonus for creating multiple new words, then maybe it’s not worth playing at all.


A common mistake people make when playing blackjack is to only play your own cards—or, perhaps more significantly, to consider that yourself and the dealer are on a level playing field. In truth, due to the fact that you have to beat the dealer, the odds in casino blackjack are so heavily stacked against you that the only real way to come out on top is by counting cards.

If you don’t have the ability to see through cards, then at the very least familiarize yourself with some tables of probability beforehand—there are plenty all over the internet, although bear in mind that odds differ hugely depending on how many decks your particular casino uses. At the very least, be aware that the number on the dealer’s face-up card can have a far bigger effect than you might imagine on whether that 16 of yours is worth sticking or twisting on.


Everyone knows that when you get to the end of a game of pool—whether eight-ball or nine-ball—and you're looking to pot the eight-ball, you have to first nominate the pocket you're aiming for, and that sinking the ball into the wrong pocket will forfeit the entire game. Right? Well, no, not exactly.

While that's a fairly common house rule in pub-based games, it doesn't actually have its origin in any official or tournament-based set of rules, either in the U.S. or U.K. In fact, you're perfectly at liberty to pot the black anywhere you like, without declaring a pocket first.

In addition, while the most popular penalty for a standard foul in a casual game is for the opponent to be given a "free" shot, tournament rules generally dictate the much harsher outcome of getting the "ball in hand"—that is, being able to place the cue ball anywhere on the table before the next shot.

"American Mall," Bloomberg
Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

Live Smarter
Why the Soundtracks to Games Like 'Mario' or 'The Sims' Can Help You Work

When I sat down to write this article, I was feeling a little distracted. My desk salad was calling me. I had new emails in my inbox to read. I had three different articles on my to-do list, and I couldn't decide which to start first. And then, I jumped over to Spotify and hit play on the theme to The Sims. As I listened to the upbeat, fast-paced, wordless music, my writing became faster and more fluid. I felt more “in the zone,” so to speak, than I had all morning. There's a perfectly good explanation: Video games provide the ideal productivity soundtrack. At Popular Science, Sara Chodosh explains why video game music can get you motivated and keep you focused while you work, especially if you're doing relatively menial tasks. It's baked into their composition.

There are several reasons to choose video game music over your favorite pop album. For one, they tend not to have lyrics. A 2012 study of more than 100 people found that playing background music with lyrics tended to distract participants while studying. The research suggested that lyric-less music would be more conducive to attention and performance in the workplace. Another study conducted in open-plan offices in Finland found that people were better at proofreading if there was some kind of continuous, speechless noise going on in the background. Video game music would fit that bill.

Plus, video game music is specifically made not to distract from the task at hand. The songs are meant to be listened to over and over again, fading into the background as you navigate Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom or help Link save Zelda. My friend Josie Brechner, a composer who has scored the music for video games like the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, says that game music is definitely written with this in mind.

"Basically, successful video game music straddles the balance between being engaging and exciting, but also not wanting to make you tear your ears off after the 10th or 100th listen," Brechner says. Game music often has a lot of repetition, along with variation on musical themes, to keep the player engaged but still focused on what they're playing, "and that translates well to doing other work that requires focus and concentration."

If you're a particularly high-strung worker, you might want to tune into some relaxing classical music or turn on a song specifically designed to calm you. But if you want to finish those expense reports on a Monday morning, you're better off choosing a fast-tempo ditty designed for seemingly pointless activities like making your Sims eat and go to the toilet regularly. (It can help you with more exciting work responsibilities, too: Other research has found that moderate background noise can increase performance on creative tasks.)

These types of songs work so well that there are entire playlists online devoted just to songs from video game soundtracks that work well for studying. One, for instance, includes songs written for The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Super Smash Bros., and other popular games.

The effect of certain theme songs on your productivity may, however, depend on your particular preferences. A 2010 study of elementary school students found that while calming music could improve performance on math and memory tests, music perceived as aggressive or unpleasant distracted them. I was distracted by the deep-voiced chanting of the "Dragonborn Theme" from Skyrim, but felt charged up by the theme from Street Fighter II. There's plenty of variety in video game scores—after all, a battle scene doesn't call for the same type of music as a puzzle game. Not all of them are going to work for you, but by their nature, you probably don't need a lot of variation in your work music if you're using video game soundtracks. If you can play a game for days on end, you can surely listen to the same game soundtrack over and over again.

[h/t Popular Science]


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