Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/58777/index
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Cheating

Greg
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I read this fantastic article last week and was reminded of some old inspirations. It concerns a UCLA professor teaching game theory (a subject which has much less to do with theories about games than you might anticipate) by telling his students that their upcoming exam would be much harder than in previous years but would not be subject to any rules (From the university, criminal laws still applied). I think it's interesting to read about what people did when freed of the restrictions of the usual rules and given permission to cheat.



I won't rehash how the UCLA students approached the problem, that article has already been written so you can click the link if you're curious. Instead I want to think a little bit about games that allow activities that would traditionally be considered cheating. Predictably the first game that comes to mind is Cheat, but since I wrote about Cheat just a couple of days ago I'll leave it alone for now.

Instead let's talk about Cosmic Encounter, specifically the card "Filch". This card is controversial enough that they included two versions of it with the game, one that you can include for a regular game and one that involves enabling cheating:

"You may cheat and take your ships from the warp (to colonies) or cards for the deck or discard pile, even when you are not entitled to them. If caught in the act, you lose one ship to the warp and return the items you were caught filching. You don't have to reveal this flare unless you are caught, but once it is revealed the deck and discards are placed next to you for easy access."

This card is a game changer, I've many fond memories of it and some frustrating ones. In one game a friend who had a reputation for being clumsy knocked the piles in the warp over several times and used his reputation to make people think nothing of it, only at the end of the game did he reveal how often he was doing that to retrieve ships. I also had a time that I was shuffling the deck and dropped half of it into my lap, a few turns later my opponents noticed that I had a huge hand but by then it was too late to catch me in the act. I enjoy lies and bluff and byplay and it's provided a ton of fun in that respect.

It's also caused a fair amount of frustration. A player can only use one flare in a turn, so does stealing something count as their use of a flare if they don't reveal it? We eventually ruled yes, but it caused some confusion and upset. It also produced an unreasonable situation when obtained by the Masochist:



The player simply smiled, leaned over the table and picked up the entire deck, while daring us to call him on it since he wins the game by running out of ships. While there are some temporary solutions to this, none of them seemed ultimately effective, at some point the player either hits zero ships and wins or picks up the whole deck, which can be used to revive all dead ships and score a conventional victory.

Cheating mechanics can add a lot to a game and create fun memories, but can also serve to destroy an otherwise enjoyable game if not handled carefully. It can also be challenging to distinguish between the cheating allowed by the game and what is still considered cheating. A simple example of this exists in Munchkin:



There are an awful lot of one things that would otherwise be against the rules. An uncreative power gamer might simply declare that they've won, normally the victory conditions would prohibit this, but they can ignore that and win anyway. More creative players start declaring their one thing to be "I will give myself the permanent ability to prevent any level up gained by a player who is not wearing their shoes on their head." The intention of the card was somewhat different and clarified in later editions, but this version followed the same pattern of producing a lot of fun and memorable plays but sometimes ruining the game for everyone.

It would be outstanding to create a game that allowed and encouraged players to cheat in ways that produce fun without enabling situations that ruin the game for everyone. I've had some success with elements of Room Wars but it'd be great to do a larger scale thing around this theme. This idea knocked against something else I'd seen a few years ago:



Kaiji is an anime that's mostly about a person thrust into playing gambling games with his money, freedom and ultimately life on the line. All of the games are rigged in some way, either by him or someone else or both. Some of the best moments to come out of the series were the various ways in which games had been designed to allow the players to abuse the rules and the tricks they used to achieve this. I'd love to organise and run a games day along similar lines, though perhaps without someone losing an ear and deciding that a tissue box will fix everything in what is probably a blood loss induced delusion.

The way I imagine this working is that each player comes in, empties their pockets, sticks their bags into storage and generally puts their out of game possessions to one side. They receive a small pile of envelopes each and enter a hall with a number of tables, each with a different board game set up. The rules of the tournament are that players put down envelopes to play the games, winning the envelopes everyone puts down if they win. Breaking a tournament rule is instant disqualification, but breaking a game rule only disqualifies you from that game and only if you're caught three times during one game. The envelopes themselves contain things like duplicate cards for the games or vouchers to enlist the help of the people running the tables in cheating. I think it'd be a fantastic thing to run and to play.

Maybe one day.
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