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Subject: Hey Everybody! What do you think qualifies as collusion in an 18xx? rss

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Rebecca Carpenter
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Off in a dark corner of BGG, we started to have a discussion about negotiation that led to telegraphing and collusion. It's such an interesting topic and I'm far from making up my mind on what collusion technically is in 18xx, and what is acceptable and what isn't. Opinions must vary from group to group and I would very much enjoy opening the discussion here in the 18xx forums and reading everyone's opinions.

Are both of clearclaw's scenarios, quoted below, examples of collusion?

Is any type of negotiation collusion?

How much and what kind of negotiation and collusion is acceptable in your group?


CoffeeRunner wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
CoffeeRunner wrote:
Oh no, I not want to collude! surprise How does telegraphing permit collusion?


Two different scenarios:

1) Two players talk and determine a mutually beneficial plan which they then pursue to their mutual advantage and the great disadvantage of all the other players.

2) Two players are complete strangers to each other, and never talk, but their actions in-game work in synchrony with each other to their mutual advantage and to the great disadvantage of all the other players.

In both cases the choices and actions made by the two players are identical and have identical results, but in one case there's negotiation and thus overt collusion and in the other case they are evaluating solely independently, exclusively reading the game-state and making their own moves in response...and achieving the same exact end.

What's the real difference? I think the former is easier and less demanding of the players to accomplish, but that's about it.


I can see where you are coming from, I remember a game of 18VA where two people had played before, started in the west, and worked together to act out an understood plan to connect to lots of coal (or something like that) and cut out the east. I had never played 18VA before and they were actually giggling to themselves as they built the routes (not my regular group). It felt like collusion. But there wasn't an established plan made at the table, maybe they had discovered the strategy in a previous play and were doing what was obvious? If that was the case, with repeated play, I would know how to counter that better. The players were just enacting obvious good play in an established meta. How can that be collusion?

There is a another difference, besides the verbal exchange, in your scenarios: coordinated planning and an agreement reached in advance. Events in the second scenario can be unavoidable, they can be the obvious best move, whereas the talking and plotting in the first scenario is avoidable and therefore collusion. For collusion to occur, there needs to be an agreement made in advance. Particularly an agreement on an outlandish plan, a plan that good play by the non-colluding players couldn't have anticipated. Obvious good actions, like working with the other western coal loving companies to build mutually beneficial track, and cut out the west that has a better late game, isn't collusion because it is obvious (with experience) good play.

This discussion has me wondering if different play groups' definitions of collusion are inherently too subjective to agree on since we don't have an 18xx dictionary to reference? We should work on that I think.

Despite all of the above, I think there's a case for you being technically correct, but by the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.

Here's 18VA



Link to original geek list, item #32.
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J C Lawrence
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So where does the graveyard strategy in '56 fall in your view?
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Jim Allard
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Would collusion (the bad kind) include agreements to not token cities or to place a tile upgrade with track going in specific directions?

JimA
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Andy Mesa
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Continued from the aforementioned thread...

clearclaw wrote:
I don't have much beef with such collusion, or the sorts of collusion that come from jaw-flapping, except for two not so small details: 1) They make the games far less interesting and demanding, and 2) They make the games far more internally efficient (which in turn feeds and exacerbates them being less interesting and demanding).

I do appreciate this argument that negotiation makes the game easier and therefore not as fun. I can respect that, and it's the best argument I've heard against negotiation in games. However, I would posit that the act of good negotiation itself is a challenge that I personally enjoy. Convincing someone to take an action that benefits you over them is just as rewarding to me as finding the optimal move in a challenging board state. Some gain pleasure out of superior knowledge of the board state, and I feel that's no different. It's personal preference, and I've been in (many) games where people have expressly scoffed at my attempts to negotiate, similar to the way JCL stated earlier, and that's fine.
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Rebecca Carpenter
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clearclaw wrote:
So where does the graveyard strategy in '56 fall in your view?

I’m not sure, I haven’t played ’56 since my first two learning games of the system, but I’ll look into it and get back to you.

JimA759 wrote:
Would collusion (the bad kind) include agreements to not token cities or to place a tile upgrade with track going in specific directions?

JimA


I don’t personally care for agreements not to token cities, mostly because I like tokening everything under the sun and such agreements might make the game too easy. If other players wanted to strike such a deal, I suppose I would be fine with it unless it became an overpowering strategy, and whoever got the companies that could broker that deal would be the only possible winners.

gameon39481 wrote:
I guess my interpretation is that collusion is secret and negotiation is public.

I don't think any game with more than 2 players and meaningful interaction can be devoid of political/social manipulation, vote on the leader, king-making, whatever you want to call it.

This is why it's best not to take such things (winning and whether that means anything -- or whether it means anything more than winning a popularity contest) too seriously, and just enjoy the game.


I agree that there is always a social interaction that I lack a word for (anyone got one?) that can sway players’ decision making and it’s wise to not to take it too seriously - that is unless the social manipulation is more terrible than not getting to play the game.

I’m not sure of all public negotiation isn’t collusion, but it is easier to counter.
 
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J C Lawrence
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CoffeeRunner wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
So where does the graveyard strategy in '56 fall in your view?


I’m not sure, I haven’t played ’56 since my first two learning games of the system, but I’ll look into it and get back to you.


Ultra-short arm-wavey summary: We both buy up shares in the company the other floats so that the company is fully capitalised (from being sold out), and then we sell down to go do out thing. In short we both get a bunch of shares on the cheap and we both get fully capitalised companies when all the other players are struggling to get much of any capital at all. It isn't a guaranteed win for one of the pair, but it is very strong.
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J C Lawrence
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Copying quickly from the other thread:

CoffeeRunner wrote:
How can that be collusion?


I use a couple of litmus tests (which are mostly variations on the same ur-question):

1) Is the behaviour viable without any prior agreement?

2) Could an identical result be reached by independently operating players?

Only if both answers are "No" would I call it collusion.

Andy Mesa wrote:
I agree with JCL that whenever you're working with another player, it's collusion. Except it's not like poker, where you're both making money; in the end only one person is going to win. The whole point of the game is to exploit the situation to your benefit over anyone else's.


Simple: First let's eliminate all the other players from contention. Then second, once that's done, you and me will have it out and only one of us will be left standing.

I struggle to find anything inherently unacceptable about that.
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Eric Brosius
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I see 18xx games as natural examples of "coopetition". There's both risk and reward in operating in close proximity to others. If an 18xx game is ruined by players working together, the design should be altered. One such alteration would be to, like in Bridge, forbid any meaningful discussion. Note that in Bridge, you can't have pre-existing avreements that are secret from your opponents; this rule is hard to enforce.
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Andy Mesa
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I think the "bad" kind of collusion would be as stated, one which is done in secret. If I'm secretly colluding with someone to play a certain way to assure victory between one of us, and the other player can do nothing about it because they don't even know about it, that's objectively unfair.

However, if I offer another player any kind of deal, such as "if you lay that tile down, I'll lay this tile down" or "if you buy shares in that company I'll also buy shares in that company" or more controversially, "if you don't place a token here, I won't place a token here" then there's nothing stopping any other player from offering a better deal, of the offered player from not accepting the deal, or better/worse, accepting the deal and not following through.

When I make deals, I always phrase it in a way that simply recognizes a benefit to the offered player by making a certain play, that may also benefit me. The opposing players may (and often do) state that there are other options that benefit them and not me, and that's entirely fine. That to me is part of the game; especially in game simulating a period where this is literally what people did.
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Andy Mesa
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Eric Brosius wrote:
I see 18xx games as natural examples of "coopetition". There's both risk and reward in operating in close proximity to others. If an 18xx game is ruined by players working together, the design should be altered. One such alteration would be to, like in Bridge, forbid any meaningful discussion. Note that in Bridge, you can't have pre-existing avreements that are secret from your opponents; this rule is hard to enforce.

Agreed, and "coopetition" is by far my favorite mechanic, which is why I'm excited to delve further into 18XX. Also, Eric, my recent listening of yours and Joe Huber's comments on 18XX in The Long View podcast were in part what have inspired my opinions on this, along with calandale's.
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Rebecca Carpenter
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clearclaw wrote:
Copying quickly from the other thread:

CoffeeRunner wrote:
How can that be collusion?


I use a couple of litmus tests (which are mostly variations on the same ur-question):

1) Is the behaviour viable without any prior agreement?

2) Could an identical result be reached by independently operating players?

Only if both answers are "No" would I call it collusion.


I like this litmus test a lot, seems very adaptable. It leads me to wonder if you approve of collusion, but your next reply to Andy sort of answers that.

Andy Mesa wrote:
I agree with JCL that whenever you're working with another player, it's collusion. Except it's not like poker, where you're both making money; in the end only one person is going to win. The whole point of the game is to exploit the situation to your benefit over anyone else's.


clearclaw wrote:
Simple: First let's eliminate all the other players from contention. Then second, once that's done, you and me will have it out and only one of us will be left standing.

I struggle to find anything inherently unacceptable about that.
 
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Abn Rgr1978
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Neither of the JC's examples are collusion.

A look at the (a) definition might be useful:

Collusion -

secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.
"the armed forces were working in collusion with drug traffickers"

Which, in my opinion, would limit "collusion" to game discussion which are not public as several 18xx rule sets specifically allow open negotiations and agreements, they are just not binding. Or sitting down to a game with a previously agreed upon plan of action between players which other players in the game did not know about.

For VA " Players may engage in public, verbal discussions and enter into public, verbal agreements. Such discussions should be reasonably brief in order to speed play. Performance is not enforceable except by moral suasion: a player who has performed an action under such an agreement in the anticipation of future action by his partner has no other recourse if his partner reneges on the agreement. Secret discussions or agreements, whether verbal or written, are prohibited."

So it appears actual "collusion" is cheating and to the best of my knowledge rarely (almost never) occurs in 18xx.

Much of the problem with overt negotiations are they delay the game and can appear to take advantage of the experience level. Those based on personal relationships are generally frowned upon but not forbidden by the rules. Some players hate any such negotiations but they are not collusion and are not against the rules.







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Paul Schorfheide
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I generally have no problem with open agreements during a game or asking advice/offering color to players. I often egg on the train rush when behind, with the caveat that it helps my position. I have made and kept deals, and made and broken deals.

My complaint is deals spanning multiple games. I have not yet seen it in 18xx but it can be quite a problem in Diplomacy. Some deals take the form of semi-permanent alliances between some players and others are "revenge" for back stabs even to the detriment of the "victim." I think these deals ruin games and turn into a twisted metagame. 18xx seems to give you enough ways to keep the pressure on colluding players or to powerfully stab someone that I haven't seen a powerful juggernaut form (but I only have 20 plays or so)
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J C Lawrence
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Aye, I can't think of a game which isn't improved by every game starting on a clean slate as regards the players and their histories. But then I'd also say that games which don't start on such a tabula rasa aren't distinct games but rather episodes in a periodical, where the total magazine is the actual game.

I find cleanly distinct games more useful and interesting.
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O.Shane Balloun
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AbnRgr wrote:
Neither of the JC's examples are collusion.

A look at the (a) definition might be useful:

Collusion -

secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.
"the armed forces were working in collusion with drug traffickers"

Which, in my opinion, would limit "collusion" to game discussion which are not public as several 18xx rule sets specifically allow open negotiations and agreements, they are just not binding. Or sitting down to a game with a previously agreed upon plan of action between players which other players in the game did not know about.

For VA " Players may engage in public, verbal discussions and enter into public, verbal agreements. Such discussions should be reasonably brief in order to speed play. Performance is not enforceable except by moral suasion: a player who has performed an action under such an agreement in the anticipation of future action by his partner has no other recourse if his partner reneges on the agreement. Secret discussions or agreements, whether verbal or written, are prohibited."

So it appears actual "collusion" is cheating and to the best of my knowledge rarely (almost never) occurs in 18xx.

Much of the problem with overt negotiations are they delay the game and can appear to take advantage of the experience level. Those based on personal relationships are generally frowned upon but not forbidden by the rules. Some players hate any such negotiations but they are not collusion and are not against the rules.


Great discussion, Rebecca!

I'm with AbnRgr. Collusion has to be secretive and with the purpose of cheating or deceiving. It is denotatively impossible to collude openly.
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Michael Theiss
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I think that was part of what make rail barons. Some games like 1870, 1856, and 18VA are easy to do that in. The other players better negotiation or they are in for a hard game learned.
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Andy Mesa
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paperemail wrote:
I think that was part of what make rail barons.

Thank you.
 
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Christian Moura
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Quote:

I'm with AbnRgr. Collusion has to be secretive and with the purpose of cheating or deceiving. It is denotatively impossible to collude openly.


That is just one definition. When discussing multi-player games, collusion is frequently used to describe same actions by the players which are not against any rules of the game, or cheating. Implicit collusion in poker, for example, is a common definition for a situation that occurs in tournaments. In that situation, there is no deceit, and the collusion taking place is clear. These are situations where players don't raise their bets to force other players to fold, irrespective of the strength of their cards, and rather check their hands all the way to the end with the purpose of working to eliminate one short-stacked player.

Here is another definition, from Wikipedia, that might be better suited to 18XX and games generally:

In the study of economics and market competition, collusion takes place within an industry when rival companies cooperate for their mutual benefit. Collusion most often takes place within the market structure of oligopoly, where the decision of a few firms to collude can significantly impact the market as a whole. Cartels are a special case of explicit collusion. Collusion which is overt, on the other hand, is known as tacit collusion, and is legal.
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O.Shane Balloun
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Epee wrote:

In the study of economics and market competition, collusion takes place within an industry when rival companies cooperate for their mutual benefit. Collusion most often takes place within the market structure of oligopoly, where the decision of a few firms to collude can significantly impact the market as a whole. Cartels are a special case of explicit collusion. Collusion which is overt, on the other hand, is known as tacit collusion, and is legal.


One should be more circumspect about applying definitions from a legal framework—which are often the result of negotiation between legislators or the result of policymaking, legislative, judicial, or otherwise—to a nonlegal paradigm.

It should be obvious that the 18xx world is not meant to reflect a legal paradigm, and therefore the definition, while theoretically probative, is inapposite. In fact, the 18xx world thematically embodies the pseudo-historical concept of the railroad magnate (or, if you prefer the cynical term, robber baron) in a time far before antitrust law was put into place, at least in the United States, in 1890, making the notion that collusion should be inhibited counterfactual at best.

This economics-based definition of collusion is as rooted in political policymaking concomitant with the Sherman Antitrust Act as anything else, and is therefore not neutral anyway.

Even if you were to divorce interpretation of a correct definition of collusion from the theme of the game at hand and speak generally, poker is not a good counterexample precisely because real money is on the line, and the rules of poker have evolved so as to ensure no one player is eliminated from the table by other players working together to temporarily elevate his elimination over their own self-interest in each hand.


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Haleigh K
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I would like opinions In my group we have 3 experienced players and one inexperienced. One of the experienced players consistently uses the inexperienced player as a pawn both to his advantage and to the disadvantage of one of the other players. Is this legal? It does not seem fair at all to me.
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Eric Brosius
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desra019 wrote:
Is this legal? It does not seem fair at all to me.

It's legal but I think it's bad behavior. The goal is to help the new player learn, not steer the inexperienced player into bad decisions.
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desra019 wrote:
I would like opinions In my group we have 3 experienced players and one inexperienced. One of the experienced players consistently uses the inexperienced player as a pawn both to his advantage and to the disadvantage of one of the other players. Is this legal? It does not seem fair at all to me.


Depends on how he's doing it. If he's simply taking advantage of the inexperienced player's mistakes and doing a better job of it than you and the other experienced player then them's the breaks (for the most part). If he's actively talking the inexperienced player into bad plays that benefit him under the guise of teaching him the ropes then, well, that's pretty obnoxious. But why would the new player listen to him rather than either of the other of you?
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Haleigh K
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He does the latter and she listens to him more than the rest of us because she trusts him. She does not recognize she is a pawn even though she has been told. Sometimes he encourages her to start companies close to him so that he can collude for mutual benefit but it is not really collusion because he makes almost every decision. It is like he is running his company and a second one for his benefit. This person, the pawn, is not very intelligent and does not see a lot of the strategies in the game. I don't know what to do. I have suggested ground rules before but they are always broken. I may just not play with the pawn anymore. I agree, it is obnoxious.
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Pete Goch
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desra019 wrote:
He does the latter and she listens to him more than the rest of us because she trusts him. She does not recognize she is a pawn even though she has been told. Sometimes he encourages her to start companies close to him so that he can collude for mutual benefit but it is not really collusion because he makes almost every decision. It is like he is running his company and a second one for his benefit. This person, the pawn, is not very intelligent and does not see a lot of the strategies in the game. I don't know what to do. I have suggested ground rules before but they are always broken. I may just not play with the pawn anymore. I agree, it is obnoxious.


I have a hard time seeing how that would be enjoyable or worthwhile for any of you...even the one pulling the strings. If "the pawn" hasn't noticed a pattern in the outcomes of these games and you've already tried to limit "negotiations" with ground rules I'm not sure, realistically, what else you could do.
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J C Lawrence
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Play a few no-advice games: Players are simply not allowed to ask for or give advice, recommendations or suggestions to other players, period. See what happens.
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