Rule #1: Have fun.
Rule #2: Let your opponent(s) have fun.
Rule #3: Play appropriately.
Play your best.
I can't just say, "Play this way" when playing a game. There are times when you should go easy on a player, take, for instance, when playing with your two year-old children. There are times when you should forgo logic and even the rules, aiming just for silliness, and there are times that you should play with all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon.
Point being, play the way the game was meant to be played. If you're playing a deep-brained Euro game, put time and effort into your moves, don't randomly slap something onto the board; if you're playing a light game, like Fluxx, for example, don't spend twenty minutes contemplating your move. I personally have a wide appreciation of boardgames, but have been increasingly interested in deeper-think Eurogames, like Stone Age and Agricola, and feel that an opponent should put out their best effort--turns should be tense, there should be a lot of thought; players should play to improve their situation, hinder or block mine. I'm disappointed if someone plays this type of game and doesn't put in the effort I feel they should. On the other hand, if I'm playing something silly, like Pictionary, I don't need someone being an a-hole about rules.
Also play the way the group expects to play--this may mean tweaking the rules to fit your group, and game selection is an important thing to consider. If your group expects to play a fast, silly game, don't bring out Agricola. If a certain person hates economic games, bidding games, dexterity games, don't bring those to the table. Of course, exposing people to new games is great, and you should be able to expose friends to new games, but there are times that you should use your better judgment. One of our friends, for instance, enjoys random games and games with short playtimes. Longer games, and games with a lot of deep mechanics, like Puerto Rico, aren't her cup of tea. She has played them, she thought they were okay, but definitely not her thing; she will still play them, but we know she gets the most enjoyment from goofy games with a lot of socializing.
All these rules could be considered my social contract for playing games, and this rule is perhaps the easiest and most important to have a discussion about, but it is unlikely to happen. To a small degree game selection plays a part in passively stating expectations (sorry for the alliteration)--"I want to play something short," or "I want to play a fighting game." How much easier would it be, though, to say, "I want to play a game where the game doesn't get in the way of me socializing," or "I want to play a game where we sit thinking for four hours, and the joy of playing comes from trying to outmaneuver my opponent's brain." Okay, those were a little wordy, but it seems overly practical to discuss beforehand what each opponent expects from a game.
That's it. Go home now. More posts next week.