Gamesmanship in Board Games

by Ironmomo15. Posted on Aug 02, 2020    2    13

I was playing a rip-off version of Catan (Settlers of Zarhemla) the other night and had an incident of what I believed to be gamesmanship/cheating between myself and two friends.

We started the game and I had an extremely powerful position on the placements. Naturally, the game devolved into leader bashing almost immediately, but the rolls were going my way. This escalated to the point that one player (player 2) literally gave away their cards to the other player with the dice, so that player 3 could lock down the "Longest Road" victory points, elongate the game, and get below the 7 card limit. I simply shook my head, because they had made a comment about doing something similar a few turns before. We continued to play the game, which obviously took extremely long at that point, so that we were all within a turn or two of winning.

I won the game, but I told them that the experience had soured my taste of the game and wouldn't play it with them again. We had already played the game many times before, and I know teaming up is part of the game, especially with 3 players. I accused them of cheating, which obviously made everyone fly off the handle. It was a classic, loud, board game argument, and it made an already long night even longer. I'll just leave a small summary over the points because it isn't really the main topic.

Points of contention:

-It's not cheating, it's a 'legal unethical play'. Teaming up is part of the game and I couldn't handle the degree of cooperation.

-This version of the rulebook did not have a specific line that said "You cannot give away cards." I wasn't able to find one online. I've played the actual Catan, they haven't.

-This was now being considered a "mutually beneficial trade" by p2 and p3, despite no physical materials being traded both ways. The possibility of winning by drawing out the game was a trade condition in p2's mind in order qualify as trading.

-The move was ultimately superfluous, as I hit a drought on road-building materials and likely wouldn't have gotten the points from Longest Road. Also eventually won the game.


What is the community's feelings on gamesmanship? I respect giving it your all to win a game, but I feel like there are always many ways to break games. How do you handle someone with the "win at any costs" mentality? Or do you ascribe to it for games? Do you play through games and make house rules after? Do you make rules midway through the game? Should I be aiming my frustration at the game design? Just looking for general thoughts and discussion


drakegaming 1

Group issue not a rules issue. Figure out what type of game night y'all want to have.

al-eriv 1

Nah, I'd rather not play with people like that.

SouthestNinJa 3

I love playing with people like that. Let’s take the kid gloves off and go full cutthroat.

pareidolicfairy 1

If it's any 3 player game, you're always going to get the two trailing players semi-cooperating to stop the player in first place when the first place player has a big lead. This is not your friends' fault, this happens in every 3 player FFA game. Your friends were trying to make a comeback instead of allowing you to run away with the lead. That's not poor gamesmanship.

Also, you still won the game. You clearly could still handle their degree of cooperation if you still won. More important than losing with honor is winning with honor. If you already win a game and still accuse them of cheating (which they didn't even do -- cheating is a secret violation of agreed upon rules behind your back) when they're the ones who still lost, that's just you being really dishonorable and a jackass. Your friends would be in the right if they never wanted to game with you again because of what you said to them that night.


> I feel like there are always many ways to break games

They didn't break the game if you still won it. Teaming up is literally a part of the game too. They didn't break anything. Broken is when a legal action mechanically destroys the game.

> How do you handle someone with the "win at any costs" mentality?

Board games are designed with the expectation that everyone plays competitively. You're supposed to try to win. No one owes it to you to make suboptimal plays as long as they're following the rules. Psychologically, everyone wants to win as much as you do.

> Or do you ascribe to it for games?

I do and my only exception is that I won't torture noobs or players who are currently in last place by attacking them in games where you can attack or take from people. If the other players are currently ahead of me then I will do everything possible against them to win as long as my actions are legal.

> Do you play through games and make house rules after?

Yes but only if there's something we all think is broken and agree on changing. That's happened a few times with some groups I'm in. But if we're currently in the match where we notice something's broken, we just accept that result as a test run and discuss the house rules for next time if we ever replay the game.

> Do you make rules midway through the game?

Never ever do this, this is extremely dishonorable towards the game and the other players. You can remind people of rules that were already written, or remind them of house rules that were already agreed on, but never ever make up rules midway.

> Should I be aiming my frustration at the game design?

Yes. Usually if something bad like this happens in a game and it's legal, it's the fault of the game design. This alternate Catan you played forgot to write a rule about no giving away cards, which means it's the fault of the people who created the game. House rule it next time. But from what I see, Zarahemla actually has a few other rules/mechanics separate from Catan too so maybe the trade rule is intentionally not there, which means you should go buy an actual Catan if you dislike giving without trading.

voneuler 1

Working together to hinder your win was pretty obvious to be the best move and not at all poor gamesmanship. Honestly I think you're the one who needs to reevaluate how you look at gaming.

I expect my opponents to try to play optimally and would never hold it against them as persons or as an unethical act.

Otoh it might actually be illegal to trade away cards without any counter offer from the receiving part, in regular Catan it is. But if your version didn't define trade as both parts offering material goods then the move was (imo) legal and ethical.


It might not be gentlemanly, but if its legal, then you don't have a leg to stand on. This means that you probably have to retire this game from that playgroup if its going to cause issues. Calling them cheaters is not nice, even if you were in an emotional state, and isn't going to do you any favours.

They weren't cheating because they thought that what they were doing is legal. If its not forbidden in the rules of the game you were playing (legality in Catan actually doesn't matter here) then your accusation was doubly unfounded.

I'd be interested to also hear your answer to another comment, that asked if they'd done a 1 for many swap (totally legal in Catan's rules) whether you'd have reacted any differently?

lancebanson 2

Long as it's legal per the rules, it's fair, but it can mean someone's being a turd. Either way, I get the feeling we're only getting half the story. Y'all sort yourselves out.

Also incidentally, the 'no giving away, or effectively giving away cards' clarification is in the appendix/clarifications area of the rules, or whatever you want to call it, if you wanted to go look again.

lesslucid 2

> I accused them of cheating

In general, I strongly advise against doing this. Cheating means intentionally, knowingly playing outside the rules, in order to obtain an advantage you know is illegitimate.

Cheating is almost always hidden.

If a player does something that is ambiguously maybe / maybe not allowed, in full view of everyone, that's not cheating. Perhaps they have made an error, but if they were cheating, they would hide what they are doing.

Also, the time to call out a disallowed action is when it happened, not at the end of the game.

Also, "I think maybe giving away your cards is not an allowed action" is a reasonable way to raise this concern, "You're cheating!!" is not a reasonable way to raise this concern.

> Should I be aiming my frustration at the game design?

A good design - like Settles of Catan - should have answers to these question in the rulebook. Less thoroughly tested designs may have errata on BGG. If neither is available, you have to negotiate with the other players over whether a particular action seems like it is an intended strategic component of the game or a game-breaking exploit.

> I respect giving it your all to win a game, but I feel like there are always many ways to break games.

...a well-designed game should have already been through an extensive development process where experienced testers did everything they could think of to break the game. A great game design should shine, really show its best qualities, when players are all working hard to do all they can to win within the rules of the game. (This may not apply to some social games, party games, etc, but it should be the rule for strategy games). So if there are apparently game-breakingly good strategies available, players should feel free to use them. The development team should have identified these strategies already and found counters to them. If you really can break the game just by taking the best action you can on each turn, then it's a degenerate game and you can safely not play it again, but it's pretty rare that a game will actually be broken in this way. Often a game seems broken on a second or third play, because someone will have found one of the main strategies in it, but nobody has found the main counter to that strategy yet. Often, further play will reveal that this flaw isn't what you thought it was.

superdvader 3

OP. If your gaming buddies did follow the rules of trading correctly would you still be upset?

Specially, if they did trade one card for many just to gang up on you then would that have kept you from being annoyed at them?

I’m trying to see if it was the breaking of the rules or the fact that they formed an alliance against you that got you riled up.

person0042001 12

As long as the play is within the rules it’s fine. That player used a strategy to elongate the game giving them time to make a comeback.

robotco 5

as long as what someone does is legal within the context of the game, there's nothing to feel bad about it. in this case though, your friends did cheat. you have to make a 'trade' in catan; you can't give away cards for free. just make sure you're all clear on the exact rules of the game before starting, and consult the rulebook if there's a major dispute.

DelayedChoice 14

If you want something to cite next time

> Trade - May I give away resources or buy services with them, for example, to avoid being bothered by the robber?
> Answer
> No. On Catan, a trade always involves giving and taking resources. Consequently, Catan’s trade law does not contain a “trade” of something for nothing or for immaterial goods such as services.


Huh: TIL.

We have never had a case as described by OP, but we did get people with ports offering to trade for others at their ports for a one card fee. EG; I have a sheep port and you have no ports you can trade me 2 sheep and 1 card and I will trade the 2 sheep in my port and give you what you want.

We could have done this with a place holder trade card, but we usually didn't.