The Ethicist: Board Game Edition


There's a board game I quite enjoy playing, The Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. It's a quick two-player game that plays a lot like Stratego, but is a tad more complex and interesting. Fantasy Flight Games, the company that makes the game, was mostly focused on using the Lord of the Rings license for the main Lord of the Rings board game and War of the Ring, but in the height of excitement for the series that came with the new movies they released some throw-away games, like The Search and The Confrontation. They charged $50+ for the games they cared about, and around $20 for the throw-aways.

As it turned out, The Confrontation was, according to most strategy board game afficianados, a better game than the main Lord of the Rings game. The main game wasn't bad, but The Confrontation was better designed and more tightly constructed. Plus it was cheap. The company sold out of The Confrontation and, after several new printings, decided to release a new version: The Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Deluxe Edition. What distinguishes the Deluxe Edition from the standard edition? The box is larger (though the components are mostly the same size), making it less portable. There are a few additional components, but nothing to really change the game, just a few extra characters and an extra power card for each player. The main difference is that the Deluxe Edition costs $40, while the regular edition costs $20. Also, the Deluxe Edition is available for purchase, while the regular edition is out of print.

This led me to a quandary. I quite like The Confrontation, but I don't really like it $40-worth. But the original version is unavailable. Then I found Thought Hammer, a board game store based in Austin, Texas that has a great selection, very reasonable prices, and ships anywhere in the country. They still carried the standard edition, so I leapt on it and ordered a copy.

My order arrived today, and upon opening the box I discovered that they had sent the Deluxe Edition. I checked the manifest; they had listed the product code for the standard version. I checked the order that they e-mailed me. Still the standard version. I checked my bill. I'd only been charged for the standard edition, but I'd been given the Deluxe version.

So the question is, do I report this and possibly pay the extra money for the Deluxe version (I assume that, if they wanted to correct the mistake, they'd give me a choice of keeping and paying or exchanging for the standard edition, and at this point I'd rather just keep the Deluxe version and pay extra) or do I just take it as a windfall and stay quiet?

This actually reminds me of another ethical quandary that this game presented to me. It actually involves playing board games rather than buying them. I was playing The Confrontation with a friend. It was very friendly and nobody was taking the game seriously at all. We got to the end and were down to two pieces, and those pieces had gotten into a fight. My opponent had to choose one of seven cards to play, and I knew what cards she had. Six of those cards would result in me winning the battle and the game. If she played the other remaining card, however, she would escape the battle and set the pieces up in a way such that she would win and there would be nothing I could do about it. I saw what she could do to win, but she didn't. The game slowed down as she examined her options, read the card text, thought hard, and eventually said "I don't think there's anything I can do to win."

A further wrinkle: Based on the situation and her musings, it became apparent that she didn't quite understand how one of the pieces worked, and this was the key to the winning strategy. But if her mistake was pointed out, it would be functionally equivalent to telling her how to win. Bear in mind that she had played this game dozens of times before, and was in fact the game's owner, so not telling her the rules wouldn't have the character of picking on a newbie who had never played before.

So my question is: What is your obligation in these circumstances? It's a friendly game, no pressure. On the one hand, it's disingenuous and annoying to sit back and say nothing. On the other hand, it sort of defeats the point of a strategy board game if you're telling your opponent how to win. It's like explaining to your opponent how they can put you into checkmate in chess as you're playing the game. And then there's the complicating issue of the rules. I generally feel that with new players you're under an obligation to correct any mistakes about the rules and let them go back on foolish decisions that betray a lack of understanding of the game. But what if a more experienced player makes a mistake based on a misreading of a card, and you notice that they're making a mistake? Are you obliged to correct them, if it functionally means telling them "look at this rule more carefully: It will explain how to beat me?"

In the end, I took the middle ground of dropping vague hints and suggestions. "I think there's a way for you to win," that sort of thing. With respect to the rules, I told that she should "read the cards more closely." In the end, she didn't figure it out, made a bad decision, and I won. I felt bad about winning, though, and she seemed a bit annoyed. She tried to argue that we should call it a draw for the club record, and I agreed to that, but the President put it down as a win for me. It's not the end of the world or anything, she and I are still good friends. Nonetheless, I wonder if I could have handled it better. What do y'all think?


Pfft. She owns the game, it's her fault for not realizing a good move.

I don't know if I'm totally with Kelsey, but I certainly think that you were more than fair in telling her that she was missing something and should read again. As you say, it's her game and she's had every opportunity to figure out the rules. As for the outcome, I think it's reasonable for you to feel awkward about having won by knowing something she didn't, but I actually don't think it's fair for her to be irritated about it or ask that it be put down as a draw. This is how games work: you start with rotten gameplay based on a combination of inexperience and incomprehension. You lose lots of games because of either or both of those qualities, but ideally as you lose games you learn from your opponents' gameplay how to remedy your own. She now knows something about how to play and win that game that she didn't know before. She knows it because you knew it and won with it. You were not concealing it. You didn't cut out that section of the rules and hide it in your pants pocket; you read the same documentation as she did and picked up something she didn't. So how could that possibly be a draw? I'm siding with the president.

In all honesty, losing graciously is something I always have to work to accomplish (and, I must admit, I get lots of chances to work on it). But I nonetheless value it highly and get very irked when other people don't. In my book, if your opponent beats you neatly and narrowly with some brilliant thing you didn't know about, the correct response is, "shit, I'm totally using that next time." Or mock sulking which is not to be used to conceal actual sulking. Actual sulking is unsporting.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on April 1, 2006 1:24 PM.

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