|Signing of the Constitution of the United States|
U.S. Government. Public domain
|(c) Rio Grande Games|
Used by permission
I wanted to disagree, but on the other hand, I remembered that part of the challenge in Acquire is exactly that kind of "mindfulness of the game state." Some felt that requiring people to reveal what others should keep track of amounted to dumbing the game down. My position was that it all came down to what the group as a whole around the table at the time thought was more fun - the ease of play from not having to remember, or the challenge of keeping track and outwitting each other. Out of fairness, the consensus needs to be settled explicitly before the game begins.
Another question emerged regarding the giving of advice at the game table. Some felt that solicited advice was okay, but unsolicited advice was rude. I felt more that in a multi-player game, one player giving a second player advice was unfair to the third player by negating an advantage he might wish to exploit. The question also came up whether it was unethical to give deliberately bad or misleading advice in the interest of winning. I certainly felt that misleading an inexperienced player for the sake of winning a game bordered on unethical play. But in the general case, there is no harm in trying to convince another player to do something to one's own advantage and a mutual opponent's disadvantage.
We discussed at length the difference between negotiation, in which players try to convince each other to take a specific action, and advice, in which players share the benefit of experience so that others can enjoy the game more or stay competitive in its outcome. But with the negotiation topic came a few other questions, like whether it was okay to engage in a "psychological metagame" to manipulate an opponent. Most of the participants in this seminar were men, and the question came up whether it was fair or not for a woman to enter a tournament dressed in a way that might be distracting to male competitors. (None asked the counter-question - whether it was fair for a man to do the same - largely because it seemed so implausible in the context of the people present and the make-up of the general WBC population.) I don't think we reached a consensus on this point.
I described a kind of psychological posturing that I experienced in a high school chess match. My opponent would capture a piece with an aggressive sweep of his capturing piece, which he would bang loudly on the board where my piece had been, and then slam my piece on the table next to the board. It was a gesture of great assertiveness and, I thought, hostility. At first I got angry, which distracted me from my game, but later I just considered it immature. When I was able to gain a piece advantage by laying a trap for him, his demeanor became a lot more cautious for the remainder of the game.
A very interesting question came up that reflected a real dilemma I've faced in a few tournament games, particularly with a less-experienced opponent. To what extent is a player obliged to correct an opponent's apparent mis-interpretation of the rules - or, put another way, may a player remain silent when an opponent wrongly interprets a rule to one's own advantage? An example might be an opponent who fails to take into account a bonus to which he might be entitled when calculating the outcome of combat. We considered this topic a tricky area. We agreed that it is not necessary or ethically compelling to point out when an opponent mistakenly believes that he does not have a certain option - say, for example, thinking that he may not attack when in fact he may. On the other hand, if an opponent does not claim a die roll bonus to which he is entitled by the rules, one that would have changed the die roll outcome if it had been invoked, then some of us felt that it was ethically necessary to playing the rules as written that a player call attention to the mistake and calculate the correct bonus result.
I was reminded of an article I read some time ago about a player who won several DBA tournaments using loaded dice for combat. The community was generally shocked.
A question came up regarding political correctness vs. respect for historical significance: There is apparently some discussion on consimworld that a game whose German SS playing pieces are printed black with white writing glorifies Naziism. This notion was new to me. I was aware of a certain inadvertent slight to Japanese in the original printing of Midway whose American search counters said, "Jap CV," "Jap BB," etc. The term "Jap" was of course a pejorative nickname for the Japanese among Americans during and after World War II. Intent notwithstanding, Avalon Hill agreed that it might seem insensitive, and recommend players add a period after "Jap" to change it to an abbreviation for "Japanese." In any case, someone in Thursday's seminar hypothesized how people would react to a World War II game in which German counters were printed in pink and yellow. Functionally, the game would play exactly the same, but we agreed that most wargamers would have a hard time with it.
Toward the end, we revisited the question of theme that came up last year - whether games can be inappropriate depending on the topic that they "represent." Joel brought up the art project / psychology test Train, in which players are trying to ship cargo to its destination but only gradually come to realize that the cargo are human beings and the destination is a concentration camp. He also mentioned Letters from Whitechapel, the game in which one player as Jack the Ripper attempts to conduct serial killings and escape capture. Somebody brought up Guillotine, in which players execute French nobles during the revolution, but I remarked on the difference between the box art on Letters from Whitechapel, which is very dark and foreboding, vs. the very light, comical art and tone of Guillotine, which would be very hard to take seriously.
All in all it was another fun conversation, a session of challenging assumptions and raising those not-so-hypothetical questions that emerge around a game table from time to time at the most unexpected moments.