Lying in Games

I’m curious how people feel about deliberate deception in games. Consider a game of Diplomacy. A player deliberately lies to you, betraying you for their own gain.

  1. Are you angry about this?

  2. Does the fact that Diplomacy is “supposed” to involve lying matter to you? What if it is another game where lying is permitted but not particularly encouraged by the theme?

  3. Do you mark the player who betrayed for vengeance in later games? Or do you mistrust them in later games? This is a tough one for me, because while the ideal answer is “no” (as far as I’m concerned), how many times are you gonna get snookered before you wise up?

My answers, if anyone cares:

  1. Nope.

  2. Nope. As far as I am concerned, social engineering is allowed by any game unless it is expressly forbidden.

  3. Ideally, no. I try to calculate the benefits and costs for each new situation in each new game, well, anew. In reality, it is hard to say I am not influenced by this kinda behavior.

  1. No. I wouldn’t be angry at the player. I might be irritated at myself for falling for the ploy, especially since the game is all about lying and betrayal.

  2. First question: No. Second question: I don’t know. I can’t think of a game that allows lying, but doesn’t encourage it.

  3. Oh yes. I will have my vengeance.

Hi Telefrog,

To clarify, in almost any game that isn’t multiplayer solitaire, there is the opportunity to do stuff like say “Hey, Tom’s ahead. I’ll do X and you do Y and we’ll take him down a peg.” And then, after she does Y you do Z and screw both players. Does that make sense?

There’s an episode of “This American Life,” that has an interesting segment on Diplomacy.

Tom M

Ah, gotcha. If the ultimate goal of the game is to be the last guy standing, then no. In fact, I’m probably the jerk trying to do it first!

  1. Not angry, but I do have a memory and that player won’t be trusted by me again. I may get irritated in the short term.

  2. If it is a game where lying is encouraged that would probably eliminate the irritation in answer #1. If it is permitted but not encouraged… We used to play Age of Empires at lunch and one guy stabbed me in the back a couple times. It took a long time before I entertained any alliances with him, but it didn’t affect our relationship outside of the game at all.

  3. Yep, I’ll remember.

I won’t play games like this for exactly this reason.

Doesn’t bother me, but I’ll also never play Diplomacy again. Every game I have ever played seemed to result in 2 people deciding to “split” a win and just steamrolling everyone else. Which isn’t much fun in my opinion. Once you remove the whole “anyone can betray anyone” aspect it loses something.

Something like BSG or Dead of Winter is good times. That tension of betrayal can be great.

Yeah, I prefer cooperative games by a wide margin.

I love games where lying is a core aspect of the game (like The Resistance or Sheriff of Notingham). I’m generally happy with people lying during games where it’s allowed but not a core aspect of the game, but only if the lie is self-interested.

I played a game of Cosmic Encounter once where a player I was about to co-operatively win the game with lied about his card, intentionally throwing the win to a third player (costing both me and my friend both). His justification after the game was that it was a funny action. I avoid playing board games with that guy now, and when I do I only play games with no possibility of kingmaking in them. If that player had used a Force Field to cancel our alliance at the last minute and won the game by himself, I would have happily congratulated him on his cunning ploy, but I’m not going to suffer a game with someone who intentionally does actions that aren’t self-interested for the sake of a bad sense of humor.

Forgot to address the last question: Probably because I enjoy lying in games, I am most often the one no one trusts in games we play. Especially in games where lying is common, I take a player’s personality into account with what they’re saying. If they’ve lied liberally in the past, I’ll remember, but only for the sake of trying to win a game. I don’t go for vengeance across multiple games at all, however. But I don’t really mind when other players do. It often plays into the in-game narrative well.

I actually think that’s an interesting other question- how do you react to players who don’t play to win? In cases where the player is merely behaving according to whim, I absolutely agree with you and would not keep playing with them. But what about Kingmaking when the player in question is absolutely unable to win herself? It seems silly to make them “go through the motions” when they do have another way to affect the game state, but I think most gamers rightly see persistent Kingmaking as a flaw in game design.

I personally do just go through the motions rather than choose a winner. I see my actions as giving me practice- doing the best I can and hopefully learning something- and the lack of a Kingmaking end to the game makes people more likely to play again.

I probably would play kingmaker supporting a new player to board gaming (for instance) and someone was stuffing them instead of giving them a chance to learn reasonably (I do not think you have to let a new gamer win per se).

I think I approach kingmaking similar to how you do. Kingmaking is hard to quantify… In a game where there’s a clear second place and I know I can’t win, instead of kingmaking, I prefer to take down the second or third place player to raise my end game rank among the players. Some players call this kingmaking because it may make it impossible for a second place player to win when they otherwise might have. If moving up a rank isn’t possible, I may use my actions to bring top players closer to each other so the end game moment is more exciting for me to watch play out. That might also qualify as against the spirit of the game, depending on who I’m playing with. That said, I won’t argue for my ability to do that. If it’s going to make people unhappy or ruin the atmosphere, I’d rather have fun then exact control over the game-state.

Yeah, if you have no hope of winning, trying to take someone down with you isn’t really a bad thing to me.

Depends on the context really. If I’m out because a lead player screwed me over, then it’s to be expected imo.

So, I’m slowly growing to loathe competitive boardgames with my friend-group that plays them, mostly because of stuff like this. It just isn’t “fun” or “interesting” to me, even if it’s a core mechanic.

For instance, we usually open boardgame nights w/ a round of Coup to see who plays first in the next game. One guy always “knows the Duke” (it’s a game about bluffing which government officials you have influence with, allowing you to take or block actions in-game), collecting high taxes. It’s his constant play until he collects enough coins to knock off other players. It’s not really interesting to me, so I usually just call bluffs on players within the first turn or two until I’ve accidentally won or (more commonly) died first.

I tend to enjoy the “building up” and efficiency-maximizing element in games like Boss Monster, Infernal Contraption, Eclipse, etc. (yeah, I know, one of those is not like the other. We play all three a lot). I kinda just want to sit in my little corner of the board and peacefully take 3rd or 4th while the superpowers duke it out and lie, cheat, and steal to win. But inevitably, I get my stuff screwed with by someone, or am forced into interactions via the game mechanics, and I find it a lot less fun.

A really recent example was us all playing Betrayal at House on the Hill, where in the final act of the game, a sudden turn of events usually turns one or more players against the others as the “traitor.” I wound up being the traitor and had to endure a pretty painful 40 minute mop-up of everyone else “discretely” discussing their plans to beat me using codewords they’d made up when I stepped out of the room after the turn. Now, in this particular case, the betrayal came very late in the game and the mechanics of that particular betrayal meant that my chances of winning were effectively zero unless the players behaved very foolishly, so a part of my frustration was just knowing it was a long walk to the finish line, but I didn’t really find the “deception” mechanics in play there (e.g., the players trying to distract me from their true motives by having some people take the fall for others to succeed) very compelling, either.

All of which is a long lead-up to my final answer. It might just be because I don’t really like competitive games right now, but:

  1. A little, yeah. Usually not at the player, but the mechanics.

  2. Not particularly, due to the above answer.

  3. When we have our palette cleansing round of, say, Red Dragon Inn after a big long game like Eclipse, I’ll always turn the full force of my offensive cards toward whoever dealt my little “kingdom” in the previous game the biggest/most frustrating blow. I recognize that it’s petty, but then again, I’ve been begging them to play one of the dozen coops game we own between us for months now :(

If the game is about lying, bluffing or backstabbing (for example, traitor games) then I wouldn’t get mad or hold it against the player. But I have no desire to lie or be lied to by my friends, so I have little to no desire to play those games. I would certainly get mad at someone who behaved that way outside of those games, and possibly hold it against them. But that’s why I play cooperative games and competitive games with little politicking or indeed much interaction, like most worker placement games.

So how do those who have problems with lying in games feel about poker? I noticed all the games mentioned were strategy with a least some element of role-playing (even if it’s just ‘role playing’ an general or ruler). You would think that any sort of role playing would justify lying since it’s not the player but the character lying, but I think most would be less concerned with lying (bluffing) in poker even though that is straight up your friend lying to you with no levels of separation from a character or role within something like BSG.

Or maybe the simplicity of having your buddy bluff you directly is less problematic.

I find roleplaying a morally evil character in any game quite stressful. It’s an interesting exercise, but I don’t enjoy it.

  1. I’m not angry about it, the rules are what they are.

  2. This ties in with 3), but I can’t think of a game that actually encourages lying. The slate doesn’t fully clear between games, and someone who regularly chooses to play a liar will lose trust and find himself isolated. It’s not a good strategy.

A bit more problematic is something like Werewolf, where roles are assigned randomly, and some require lying. I don’t like them.

  1. I think it’s reasonable to assume that somebody who uses lies in one game will do so in the next as well. He should be treated with appropriate mistrust.

Stating the assumed value of your hand is not a lie when this value can in fact turn out to be true through the further course of the game. Saying “I hold a full house” when you don’t is a lie, but that’s not what betting does.