Terrible Lessons from Fantastic Games

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As children, we were taught how to behave, to be respectful, and to treat others fairly. As we grew and began socializing with others, we were taught about playing fair. I am sure all of us at one point or another were told that being a poor sport could result in a time out, or even worse, being shunned by your friends. This has held true for all our lives, and is paramount to a quality gaming experience. No one wants to play with a spoil sport, and especially not a cheater. But what happens when a game tells you that being sneaky, lying, or even cheating is OK?

By now I am sure most of us have played a hidden identity game, such as Mafia, Werewolf, or Resistance. In each of these games, only you or a few others know your hidden identity, and you must work to keep that information private as long as possible. To win, you must not only figure out the identity of the other players, but possibly lie about your own. But wait, didn’t we establish that lying is bad?

Sheriff of Nottingham takes lying to your friends a step further by having you do it directly to their face, and purely for your own self interest. Each player takes turns playing as the Sheriff, who is the gatekeeper of Nottingham. While you are the Sheriff, all other players are merchants trying to smuggle goods into town. They do this by secretly placing cards into a pouch and presenting them to the Sheriff as they enter. They’ll the Sheriff what’s in the pouch, and the Sheriff must decide if they’re lying or telling the truth. While it is possible to win the game without telling a single lie, illegal goods produce the most victory points–and you don’t want to be telling the Sheriff that you have those.

In most cases, Sheriff of Nottingham turns into a delinquent game of “who’s a better liar,” and if you aren’t already worried about the social implications of all the skilled sociopaths sitting at your table, you are also allowed to bribe the Sheriff to get out of being searched. Which, if I recall correctly, was another thing my parents told me I should never do.

Maybe the greatest offender of all is a little game called Cheating Moth, where you are encouraged to cheat in most unscrupulous ways possible. It’s a simple game where you and your friends take turns playing cards onto a stack in the center of the table in sequential order. If you are unable to play a card, you must draw an additional card from the deck, which is detrimental, considering the object of the game is to be the first player to empty their hand of cards. But the rules state that you may do anything in your power to get rid of the card in your hand, from hiding them in your sleeve, dropping them under the table, or giving them to other players when they are not looking. You can throw them across the room, hide them in the couch pillows, or conveniently drop one in the kitchen when you leave to get snack.

You might be thinking you have it all figured out, which worries me, because you are probably thinking you will just toss you hand aside and walk away from the table as the undisputed winner. Well the catch is, one of the players is the Guard Bug. If the Guard Bug catches someone cheating, not only do they have to return the card to their hand but the Guard Bug gets to give them a card from their own hand. The game does not encourage snitching, so unless you are the Guard Bug, you cannot call other players out on their tomfoolery. That said, you are allowed to cheat, but you better be good at it.

Tabletop game developers know that social quirks and human nature are some of the most powerful tools in creating exciting games. It’s not all that strange that they would explore styles of play that encourage our darker sides, and allow us to go against everything we have been taught. In the end, even when you are hiding cards and lying to your friends, everyone should remember that these are just games and that even if you are given permission to be a dirty cheat, you should always be a good sport about it.

What are your favorite games that promote “unsavory” actions? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Drei Magier and Robert Hornbeck

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