Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Clue: Museum Caper. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clue: Museum Caper. Show all posts

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Signs of spring: The first backyard boardgame of 2013

Spring has made its long-awaited appearance here in northern Virginia.  The birds are singing, the Washington Nationals are winning (or at least they were before they went to Cincinnati), and the boardgames have finally started to come outside.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ethics in gaming: Reflections on the WBC seminar


[While on vacation in North Carolina, in anticipation of going to the World Boardgaming Championships in Pennsylvania in a few weeks, I scheduled a re-post of one of my most popular articles, a reflection on the "Ethics in Gaming" seminar from the 2011 WBC convention.  Originally appeared 15 August 2011]

Last week at the World Boardgaming Championships, Joel Tamburo led a fascinating seminar on ethics in gaming.  I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at the directions that the conversation took.  Right away, the group explored the question of whether it is ethically acceptable to lie in the course of a game.  The immediate example that came up is Diplomacy, a game only half-facetiously blamed for ruining good friendships.  A consensus emerged that there is an understanding that in a game like Diplomacy, lying is an expected part of negotiation.  Although success requires alliances, winning sooner or later requires betrayal.  So as long as it is understood among players that lying is - or can be - part of the game, then that becomes part of the game's acceptable code of ethics.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ethics in gaming: Reflections on the WBC seminar

First of all, many thanks to DiceHateMe and Monkey238 for their mention of Man OverBoard and Trains Planes and Automobiles on their podcast "The State of Games."  It was great to meet them both and try out Viva Java, which I described in my "Third Day at WBC" post.  I'm very excited for their venture into game development, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for them.

Last week at the World Boardgaming Championships, Joel Tamburo led a fascinating seminar on ethics in gaming.  I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at the directions that the conversation took.  Right away, the group explored the question of whether it is ethically acceptable to lie in the course of a game.  The immediate example that came up is Diplomacy, a game only half-facetiously blamed for ruining good friendships.  A consensus emerged that there is an understanding that in a game like Diplomacy, lying is an expected part of negotiation.  Although success requires alliances, winning sooner or later requires betrayal.  So as long as it is understood among players that lying is - or can be - part of the game, then that becomes part of the game's acceptable code of ethics.

Ethical issues can emerge when games bleed over into real life, however.  If someone's feelings are genuinely hurt by a twist of the knife in a game, it raises the question of whether even perfectly legal game-play can cross a line if it damages personal relationships.  It happens that not all games are for all people; some people refuse to play Diplomacy because it is just too cutthroat for them.  That makes sense, too, because presumably the point of a game is to have fun; if playing under a code of behavior that permits back-stabbing ceases to be fun (for an individual), then the game (for that person) ceases to be worth playing.  I have had two episodes in which perfectly legitimate moves in games actually hurt people's feelings - people very close to me - and led me to adjust the way that I play to accommodate the relationships that I have with the other players.

Another interesting aspect of games that involve lying can bleed over into real life as well.  Sometimes we learn how to lie, or how to detect lying, by playing games in which good lying is rewarded.  Bluffing might be considered lying, so a person who develops skill at poker might also be honing social skills that can be used to take advantage of other people.  One member of the seminar raised the question whether it is morally proper to play a game that practices and develops the "skill of sinning," such as becoming more adept at lying.

I shared an experience I had as a junior office aboard a submarine in the Navy.  It was the custom of the wardroom to get together occasionally at the Officers Club for a game of Liar's Dice.  At one particular session, I was alarmed to learn that I was remarkably good at lying to the captain.  I could just imagine being in a situation at sea in which it would be easier to lie to the captain in the middle of the night than to tell him what was really going on, and I didn't like thinking that I could actually pull it off.  (For the record, I never did, of course.  The Naval Academy Honor Concept is quite clear on this principle.)

I was surprised to learn about games that encourage stealing - Cosmic Encounter, in particular.  I don't mean games like Clue: the Great Museum Caper, in which one player is an art thief who moves around the museum attempting to steal paintings.  I mean that the game motivates a player under certain circumstances to swipe game pieces - like money from the bank - and keep it if he or she can get away with it.  As the others in the seminar described the roles in this game, it struck me as odd and a little outside my comfort zone in terms of what a game should be - or at least, the kind of game I like to play.  And a few others in the group, who were familiar with Cosmic Encounter, said they don't play it for that reason.

The discussion also turned to the question of inappropriate game themes.  I know of parents who discourage or prohibit their children from playing wargames as impersonal recreations of killing on a large scale.  There is some merit to this position as a matter of conscience.  But everyone present at this seminar was quite comfortable with wargames.  One theme that did come up as questionable, however, was that of the murder of an individual.  Joel posed the question regarding the game Kill Doctor Lucky, in which players compete to kill the fictional Dr. Lucky without being detected in the murder.  The tone of the game is humorous, but some might find offensive the notion of trying to get away with murder as the object of a game.  The group did not settle on a firm consensus on this point, though no one singled out Kill Doctor Lucky as an objectionable game in its own right.

I brought up Guillotine as another game with a potentially questionable theme.  Players represent executioners during the French Revolution competing to execute the most prestigious nobles.  The game even includes a few true historical figures - King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre.  But the rendering of the nobles and the action cards and the nature of the game rules are so comical that the game comes off as light-hearted, despite the rather morbid theme.

Subsequent to this discussion, I recently ran across a review of Letters from Whitechapel, in which one player attempts to carry out the role of Jack the Ripper while the other players try to apprehend him.  I find this game a little more disturbing than Kill Doctor Lucky and Guillotine for several reasons.  First, Jack the Ripper was a real serial killer, and his victims were real women.  The notion of playing this role by moving around the board attempting to kill prostitutes crosses a line, for me, because it represents a ruthless real-life murderer who was never caught.  Second, the game art sets a dark, somber tone, not at all a light-hearted deflection of the nature of the theme as in Kill Doctor Lucky or Guillotine.  Had I known about this game at the time of the seminar, it would have been an interesting addition to the conversation.

Surely there are few themes more objectionable to depict in a game than the Holocaust, and yet I'd read an article about a game called Train based on that very topic.  Actually, to be fair, Train wasn't so much a game as a work of art, or a psychological demonstration.  Still, it goes to show that there are some places in history that just aren't appropriate for re-visiting in the form of a game.

(c) Looney Labs
Used by permission
I think the overarching theme that developed from this seminar was that games have their own internal codes of ethics, but that as social exercises, they can also affect relationships.  On the one hand, if someone pulls off a brilliant betrayal in Diplomacy or manages to completely deceive all the villagers in Are You a Werewolf, then the rest of the players can only shake his hand and congratulate him on a game well played.  To some extent, though, trust relationships are formed or developed over games, and their social effects can bleed over into real life.  So we need to be mindful, when we play, that the people and the relationships linger after the box gets put away.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mother's Day in the Museum

One of my wife's requests for Mother's Day was a family game.  Now, in my family, negotiating a consensus on a game to which everyone agrees is not easy.  I gave our two younger sons a list of 60 four-player games that we owned, that my wife likes, and that are age-appropriate for my youngest (ten-year-old) son.  I told them that they could each eliminate up to twenty games from the list.  That left twenty or so from which Kathy could choose.  She settled on three options, and from those the boys agreed to play Clue: The Great Museum Caper (designers John Labelle and Thomas and Dave Rabideau, publisher Parker Brothers).  (Surprisingly, this was not an easy process.)

This 1991 title was a gift from one of my siblings many years ago, and it has become an old reliable family favorite in my house.  Despite the title, this game is not at all a variant of the traditional and familiar Clue.  Rather, the game is a terrific mix of co-operative and competitive gaming.  Each player gets one chance to be the art thief, who by hidden movement attempts to make his or her way through the museum, steal paintings, and escape the other three players, who attempt to coordinate their efforts to catch the burglar.  The player who escapes with the most paintings in his or her opportunity as the thief wins the game.

The non-thief players ("detectives") can coordinate their efforts and have at their disposal video cameras and motion detectors, but the sensors don't all work at the same time and they are not sufficiently numerous to cover all the paintings vulnerable to theft, let alone all the numerous escape routes by which the thief can exit the museum.  The thief can disable cameras and motion detectors and even turn off the power to the entire security system, but he or she can get cornered if careless and end up caught red-handed by the detectives.

The really exciting aspect of this game is the hidden movement.  Sneaking around as the thief, who is always vulnerable to discovery and capture, makes for very suspenseful play.  The other players, meanwhile, feel as though they are fumbling around, trying to find the burglar somewhere in the huge museum with limited lines of sight and inconsistently functioning cameras.  The advantage goes to the last player to be the thief, because that person knows exactly how many paintings are necessary to win the game.  Our customary family rule, therefore, is that players take turns as thief from oldest to youngest.

As the oldest at the table on Mother's Day, I was the thief first.  I made my way through a back window into the center room of the museum, where I disabled a camera, then stole a painting.  Everyone knew basically where I was once the first painting was removed (they are each alarmed and so alert the detectives when "lifted").  I was able to make my way into the red room in the back of the museum - my favorite escape route, as it has two doorways for entrances and two windows for exit.  It also happened to have two paintings, so - in full view of the camera in that room - I stole both paintings in the red room.  Luckily for me, the detectives were moving slowly (due to low die rolls) and the first window I tried was unlocked, so I was able to escape with three paintings.

That turned out to be enough, as it happened.  When my wife was the thief, I happened to stumble upon her after only two turns and caught her before she laid her hands on a single painting.  Each of our sons ended up getting trapped in a room - in my youngest son's case, the power room, when he tried to disable the entire security system.  So as the only successful thief, I won the game (and some notoriety for catching Mom on Mother's Day).

It was admittedly a success born of a little dice luck and a little lucky guesswork, but that didn't take away from the fun and the suspense of playing.  We really like this game.