The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings
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HTI and Core Skills

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No mountains, no valleys
Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
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Every so often there will be a debate somewhere on BGG about the value of hidden trackable information in games, let's say Small World as an example. Usually one person says something like this:

A: I don't really like HTI in games, conceivably you could just memorize all the relevant tiles as they were revealed, so all it serves to do is punish players for not having a perfect memory.

And often the conversation will take one of these two forms.

B: could house-rule it so that the points are kept face-up?
A: Yeah, that's what I already do, and explain to new players the rules I prefer to play with. They tend to be fine with it.
B: Okay, well, great. Enjoy the game then.
A: Thanks, you too!


C: What's wrong with that? Lots of games reward players for having good memories, like the way you need to keep track of questions in Spyfall or previous answers in Time's Up. Why can't this be another one of those?
A: Because it's not a core skill of the game. The main strategies to Small World involve stuff like thinking spatially and planning how you're going to spread your pieces out. All of that can be done without a memory component.
C: You're just jealous because you don't have every single skill needed to do well at the game!
A: It's kludgy as it stands, and elegant to get rid of. Why would anyone play this way?!
C: Because I trust the designer to have made the optimal challenge to reward a wide variety of skills, not some guy on a forum!
A: Well, you're a swamp troll too.

I can understand both sides--I have several friends who prefer the house rule in this situation, but I normally default to the rules as written when playing with people I don't know.

The reason A has a point and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, I think, is that memory doesn't feel like a very core skill to the game. If I were trying to describe the things you need to consider to do well at Small World, I'd start with the spatial stuff mentioned above, the timing of when to go into decline, the economic valuing of the different races as the bid process proceeds, etc. But "memorizing/guessing by pile size who's the leader and attacking them, except if it doesn't make sense to do so geographically," is not high on my list (if at all). Yeah, considering how to keep different factions in balance is part of the game--and a part that can often be gauged just by taking in the current board state--but I have no objections to house-ruling away HTI in this and similar games.

So where does this overlap with werewolf, etc? Well, it normally doesn't reach that point, but sometimes I feel as if players want to punish others, not for tangential skills, but core ones. Valley-type explosions sometimes go like:

D: You're not allowed to lynch me, it's not fair, you always do that!
E: Well, who should we lynch then?
D: I don't know, someone else!
E: What are your reads? Who do you think is good or evil?
D: Stop demanding I post content, waaaaaah!
F: So so far I think H is good, their reaction to the stuff G was saying felt really natural and uninformed. I think J is evil, they seem kind of nervous and concerned with keeping up appearances. Between the lynch leaders, I would vote K but mostly because I think L's timewarp was kinda goodish?
E: ...[vote f]?
F: What's even the case.

If D is able to enforce a rule of "the ability to give meaningful thoughts and defend your positions is not a core skill of werewolf, and players like me shouldn't be punished for not having it..." then what is? What are you allowed to bring to the table?

The rebuttal is, sometimes players are more glib and methodical than others, given the format. (I'm someone who finds it a lot easier to write walls of text at my own pace than communicate socially in real time, which as a friend said, is probably why I gravitate towards forum games, while struggling more in the video format.) So if you have experience with some players, you will (if playing to your win condition) eventually come to evaluate them relative to "their baseline." Which is also how we get paranoia lynches.

I don't know what the solution is here, other than "don't go full-on with that rule above." This is one reason why people whose natural inclination is to be more communicative as good than evil really have to try to balance by raising their evil game, because even if some of us do try/succeed at it, we're still going to get punished if nobody else can. More no-meta games, for sure, would allow people to be rewarded/punished for grasping/lacking core skills.

"But can't I just make my own game no-meta by using a sock puppet/trading accounts with a friend so nobody knows it's me?"

No, and if you have to ask this I'm nightfalling you.
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