Yorke on Games #24 – Watch Your Back in the Conspiracy 2 One-Day All-You-Can-Play League!

Today’s article is an introduction to, and invitation to take part in, the Conspiracy 2 (CN2) One-Day All-You-Can-Play League, sponsored by Face to Face Games Montreal. The goal of this league is to pack as much multiplayer action as possible into one business day: Sunday, August 28th, 2016. The rules, like those of the EMN league happening the week before it (see Yorke on Games #23 for details), encourage playing as many matches as humanly possible between when the shop opens at 10am and closes at 5pm. Be sure to pace yourself accordingly!

There were additional design constraints for this league that are unique to the set. Because it’s based on a Conspiracy expansion, this league had to (1) have draft as its basis, and (2) make all matches multiplayer. If we didn’t use a draft format, a significant subset of cards wouldn’t work as printed. Aether Searcher, for example, goes from being a draft windmill slam to a complete junk rare if its draft ability is omitted. Plus we wanted to keep those tough decisions—like whether to first-pick a ‘real’ Magic card or a conspiracy card—alive for players. So this tournament begins with an exciting MegaDraft of six packs of CN2… but that’s just the start of the fun!

If you’re drafting, put me on speed-dial
If you’re drafting, put me on speed-dial

Given that we were committed to a multiplayer tournament (once again, because many cards in the set are chosen or are designed to care about the number of players), we had to settle on which type of multiplayer format was going to be the most fun to play. Some people don’t like Commander because it’s a free-for-all where grudges and misunderstandings can easily happen. Two-Headed Giant was an option, but a lot of players don’t like having to find (or get stuck with) a partner for a whole day. In the end, we settled on the Star variant because it minimized the role of politics and resolved games more quickly than other formats that required the elimination of every other player. I’ll talk more about Star in greater detail later in the article, but you should definitely check out Kelly Digges’ very helpful primers on it for some background if you’re unfamiliar with it. It’s a blast!

http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/serious-fun/numbers-2009-03-30

http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/serious-fun/star-power-2008-08-05

Without further ado, here’s a brief version of the basic rules:

CN2 One-Day League

Registration: 10 a.m., August 28th, 2016.
Start Time: 10:30 a.m. (additional players cannot join after this time)
Format: Mega-Draft (6 Conspiracy booster packs). Min. 60 card deck.
Entry Fee: $30
Prize structure: The equivalent of three (3) regularly priced booster packs per participant added to the prize pool for “Reward Packs” and final prizes.
Tournament structure: 5-player Star. The winner of each match is awarded three (3) LPs [League Point] and one (1) Reward Pack to add to their pool. In the case of a draw, each player receives one (1) LP and drafts the Reward Pack in snake fashion (winning dice roll gets to choose first). Top competitors and prizes awarded based on total LPs accumulated before 4:30 p.m.

And here’s the complete ruleset:

image005

1) Player registration. The start time for the Conspiracy 2 one-day league is 10:30am sharp, Sunday, August 28th, 2016 at FaceToFace Games Montreal. No new players will be admitted to the tournament after that time, and no games played before that time will count towards the final results. The registration fee is $30, payable at the store counter, which includes the price of the six packs for the starting card pool and prize support. The event closes at 4:30pm sharp, which means that no new games started after that time will count towards the final results (games already underway at that time will be permitted to conclude).

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2) Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will MegaDraft 6 boosters of Conspiracy 2 to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. There is no trading of league cards allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Rares and mythic rares will be recorded.

image009

3) Playing matches. There will be chairs numbered 1 through 5 in a queue, each corresponding to seats at the table. After deck construction is complete, players enter the queue to play multiplayer games of Star format [5 players] on a first-come, first-served basis. Once all five chairs are filled, a game of Star launches. In this variant of Star, you win only when the two players sitting across the table from you are eliminated (it doesn’t matter if you do the deed yourself or not), while you yourself are not yet eliminated. You cannot attack the players to your immediate left or right, although you can target them, their permanents, and their spells, with effects under your control. Players who are eliminated are free to return to the queue immediately for the next game, which will launch as soon as all the chairs are full again (there’s no need for eliminated players to wait around until the game finishes, as in this variant of Star only non-eliminated players can win). The winner of each game of Star gets a free ‘Reward Pack’: they may add the cards contained therein to their league card pool and improve their deck for subsequent games. Rares and mythic rares will be recorded. In the case of a draw (e.g.: two active players’ win conditions are simultaneously triggered by the elimination of their sole remaining opponent), players take turns drafting cards from the pack until all cards are gone.

Spells that mention ‘opponents’ can only affect Enemy A and Enemy B
Spells that mention ‘opponents’ can only affect Enemy A and Enemy B

4) Prizes. The Conspiracy 2 league sponsor, Face to Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of three boosters for each participating player. Most of these packs will go to players during the tournament in the form of Reward Packs from various expansions in Magic’s history. The remainder will be given to the Top 4 players in a 4:2:1:1 ratio payout scheme (or as close to that as possible: specific numbers will depend on the final number of players in the league). Final rankings will be determined on the basis of League Points (LP): each game win during the day is worth 3 LP; each draw is worth 1 LP. In the case of a tie for a final ranking, players will play a single best-of-three duel with their decks to determine the winner. First place will have their name written on the league trophy, which will be displayed in the store’s trophy case.

Why Star Variant?

I’ll start the FAQ section by letting Richard Garfield answer this query (from my 1997 interview with him, which is reprinted in its entirety in Yorke on Games #8):

There is a good reason why five and that’s the first number which has a lot of interesting relationships. If there’s N individuals, it’s sort of the smallest number where I started getting the relationships I’m interested in. So what I mean is I wanted to have some colors which have affinity with each other and some had enmity to each other. So when you have three, say, you got a rock-scissors-paper. If A is a friend of B is a friend of C is a friend of A, it’s very difficult because you have to make your friends your enemies. It’s too simple.

With four, you sort of have a team situation, right, where you might have A and B be enemies with C and D and then friends with each other but then they’re kind of like a team and so that’s really like two colors.

With five, you start to get this relationship where you can have each one being a friend of two colors and an enemy of two colors which can legitimately be allies but still have different interests in the game.

Quite simply, for the original creator of Magic, five is the smallest number with a minimum threshold for representing complex interrelationships. A less abstract-mathematical way of looking at it is this: 5-player Star constrains the importance of politics to the outcome of the game by giving each player clear and publicly-known win conditions (the elimination of the two people sitting furthest from you). In a free-for-all, by comparison, the main skill being tested is your ability to manipulate others, to turn a war of all-against-all into a war of some-against-others (to create an unbalanced structure out of a balanced lack of structure, in other words). Inevitably, in a free-for-all there would be tacit or overt partnerships (generated by bargaining or threatening) that disadvantage less socially adept, unpopular, or strategically compromised players, which can create hard feelings. With Star, you still get the joy of cooperating with your allies (the two people sitting on either side of you), and yet no one can grief you for doing what you’re supposed to, according to the rules—knocking off your opponents in an efficient manner.

Why a Queue for Players?

The winner of this tournament will be the player with the most LPs by the end of the day. The more games you play, the better your chance of gaining LPs, and thus of winning the tournament. The queue system is in place to ensure fairness and make sure that the players who are available to play first get first dibs on multiplayer games (just like being in a queue for an online event). Usually, the first in the queue will be the players who are eliminated first from their Star games, but at the beginning of the day those players who build their decks the fastest will be slightly advantaged, in that they will be free to join the queue first.

What’s a Reward Pack?

At the end of each game of Star, the winner gets a free booster pack to add to their league pool and make their deck better. That’s a ‘Reward Pack’, and the more you play, the better your chances are of winning and thus getting ahold of one. The Reward Pack for each game will be different, as packs from Judgment, Dissension, Conspiracy (the original), Khans of Tarkir, Dragons of Tarkir, Origins, Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon, and of course Conspiracy: Take the Crown, will all be randomly distributed as prizes.

What’s the Overall Structure of the Event?

The whole day follows quite a simple algorithm, which can be parsed as a series of steps:
1. MegaDraft six packs at 10:30am.
2. Build a deck.
3. Get in the queue.
4. Play a game of Star when the queue fills with five players.

a. You lost! Go back to step 3 if it is before 4:30pm.
b. You won! Crack a Reward Pack and rebuild your deck. Go back to step 3 if it is before 4:30pm.

5. It’s after 4:30pm. Collect your prizes if you made Top 4!

It’s as easy as that. So come on out and enjoy the Eldritch Moon one-day, all-you-can-play tournament with us on Sunday, August 28th! Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions before then.

Yorke on Games #23 – Go Mad with the Eldritch Moon One-Day All-You-Can-Play League!

Today’s article is dedicated to announcing (and explaining) the upcoming Eldritch Moon (EMN) One-Day League, sponsored by Face to Face Games Montreal. With the design of EMN league, we looked for a way to boil the league experience down to its core elements—playing as many matches as you can, madly tuning your deck as the tournament progresses, and vying for glory in the Top 8—and then we condensed all of that dramatic action into one business day: Sunday, August 21st, 2016.

In the past, our standard ‘campaign mode’ league tournaments have taken 5-7 weeks to conclude and, while fun and intense, that design presupposes that players are going to be more or less stationary due to their jobs or school. However, with summer vacations just around the corner, EMN league is trying something new: offering a full league experience with only a one-day time commitment! Below is the essential information, in brief… I think you’ll find it a flavorful fit with the rest of the set’s insanity:

EMN One-Day All-You-Can-Play League

Registration: 10 a.m., August 21st, 2016.
Start Time: 10:30 a.m. (additional players cannot join after this time)
Format: Sealed (6 EMN booster packs). Min. 60 card deck.
Entry Fee: $25
Prize structure: Two (2) EMN booster pack per participant added to the prize pool for top competitors.
Tournament structure: Play as many different opponents as time allows, best 2-out-of-3 matches. The winner of each match is awarded one (1) LP [League Point]. The loser of each match may add a “Punishment Pack” to his or her pool. The booster pack must be supplied by the player (either from bringing packs from home or from purchasing them from the store) and can be from any Standard-legal set (DTK, ORI, BFZ, OGW, SOI, EMN). Top competitors and prizes awarded based on total LPs accumulated before 4:30 p.m.

The complete ruleset follows:

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1) Player registration. The start time for the Eldritch Moon one-day league is 10:30am, Sunday, August 21st, 2016 at Face to Face Games Montreal. No new players will be admitted to the tournament after that time, and no games played before that time will count towards the final results. The registration fee is $25, payable at the store counter, which includes the price of the six packs for the starting card pool and prize support. The main event closes at 4:30pm sharp, which means that no new games started after that time will count towards the final results for cut to Top 8 (games already underway at that time will be permitted to conclude).

image006

2) Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Eldritch Moon to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. There is no trading of league cards allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Rares and mythic rares will be recorded.

image007

3) Playing matches. Players are then free to start playing their scheduled matches against as many different opponents as time permits (see sample table above) in any order they choose. The more matches that players can complete by 4:30pm, the more chances they will have to accumulate League Points, although no two players may play each other more than once. Whenever a player loses a match, that player may add a standard-legal ‘Punishment Pack’ to their league card pool, and improve their deck before proceeding to their next match. The loser’s booster pack opening must be witnessed by the match winner. Rares and mythic rares will be recorded.

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4) Prizes. Final rankings will be determined on the basis of League Points (LP): each match win during the day is worth 1 LP; each loss is worth 0 (no draws permitted; players must be play until draws are resolved). In the case of a tie for a final ranking, players will play a single best-of-three duel to determine the winner. The Eldritch Moon league sponsor, FaceToFace Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of two boosters for each participating player. Boosters will be awarded to the Top 8 players in a 8:4:2:2:1:1:1:1 ratio payout scheme (or as close to that as possible: specific numbers will depend on the final number of players in the league). First place will have their name written on the league trophy, which will be displayed in the store’s trophy case.

For New Players

Don’t let all the rules put you off; they’re just there to ensure fairness and clarity, and to resolve disputes in the unlikely event of one arising. In reality, your day is going to play out in a very simple set of steps:

1. Crack six packs at 10:30am.
2. Build a deck.
3. Play a match.

a. You won! Go back to step 3 if it is before 4:30pm.
b. You lost! Crack another pack and rebuild your deck. Go back to step 3 if it is before 4:30pm.

4. It’s after 4:30pm. Collect your prizes if you made Top 8!

I’ll be there in my role of Tournament Organizer to answer any of your questions, but feel free to ask any other players there as well—there’s a decent chance they’ve played league before and will have valuable advice for you.

For Returning Players

I think I can hear some of you saying:

“Hey! Didn’t you just say in Yorke on Games #17 that the Round Robin format wasn’t a good fit for league play?”

I did indeed, and I stand by that assertion, assuming that (a) not all players join the league at the same time, and (b) players are expected to complete all of their scheduled matches. However, in the one-day format, all players do in fact enter the league at exactly the same time, and players are not expected to complete all possible matches on the Round Robin schedule: just those matches that time allows. It’s really more of a beat-the-clock style of tournament than a traditional Round Robin.

“But one of the main things I enjoy about league is that you have as much time as you like to play out your matches.”

Well, the matches in the one-day league are still untimed, so in that sense there’s still no formal time pressure. However, both you and your opponent will be strategically incentivized to conclude your matches as efficiently as possible. The more matches you successfully conclude, the more potential chances to earn LPs you have, and thus the greater chance you have of making Top 8 and winning prizes.

“What about the MegaDraft finals?”

We considered including one, but since the goal was to start and end the tournament in the space of one business day, we calculated that MegaDraft finals were unrealistic in terms of timing. No clear Top 8 could reasonably be decided on LPs by the time the MegaDraft would need to begin in order for the store to close on time. MegaDraft finals are thus off the itinerary for this one-day league, but are likely to return as a way of celebrating the end of the next big ‘campaign mode’ tournament, which coincides with the release of the Kaladesh set. The good side of this omission is that we were able to shave $5 off the entry fee for the event, so you can consider your first ‘Punishment Pack’ as being basically free.

For Everyone

This is one of a very few ‘all-you-can-play’ Magic tournaments on offer, testing speed and endurance as well as skill and luck. There are no formal rounds with a minimum amount of guaranteed free time between them, just an indefinitely large number of matches starting and ending on a rolling basis. Like any endurance contest, success will require pacing. I highly advise anyone who gets a free minute waiting for their next opponent to become available to take advantage of that time to (a) rest, (b) retune your deck, (c) get some food and drink, (d) scout out the other decks in the tourney, or (e) head for the toilet.

Like a Dance Marathon, But With Cards
Like a Dance Marathon, But With Cards

Remember to be patient with your opponent. They’ll be operating under the same incentives as you to grind out (winning) matches, and it will be in your mutual interest to make sure your match is concluded smoothly and efficiently. The best way to do this is to cooperate with each other, be pleasant, and keep each other on track in a polite manner. Most importantly, remember to have fun!

Acknowledgements

The EMN one-day league is being supported by Face to Face Games in a number of new ways, beyond simple prize support: publicity for the event is being circulated earlier and more consistently by Media Coordinator (and ManaDeprived.com Editor-In-Chief) Kar Yung Tom; a French version of the rules has been translated by staff member Michel Aubuchon to help us reach out to our francophone player base; and Operations Manager Peter Sachlas personally vets each new ruleset I propose, catching errors and offering suggestions for improvement. More and more, the league is becoming the product of a team effort, and I wanted to recognize the work of these gentlemen—all of who have at least one league tournament under their belts—in guaranteeing its continuing success.

Part of the league’s mission is to foster a grassroots casual Magic community and enable unique gaming experiences. League tournaments are created by players, for players. But boutique events like this couldn’t take place without the backing of a really great store like Face to Face Games, and of course the participation of smart, brave players like yourself. So come on out and enjoy the Eldritch Moon one-day, all-you-can-play tournament with us on Sunday, August 21st!

Yorke on Games #22 – SOI League Wrap-Up

SOI League, the third and most recent of Face to Face Games Montreal’s series of league tournaments, has just come to a close after a seven-week meat-grinder of eliminations. For the last month of the competition, nine gladiators have been battling it out with each other just to see who would make the Top 8 and qualify for the finals, with no one giving an inch of ground. The Top 8 was finally decided on tie-breakers with a triple elimination at the end of Week 7. When the dust settled post-finals, it was the store’s own Operations Manager, Peter Sachlas, who hoisted the trophy and won glory after what he called “a cut-throat month and a half of gaming, with players honing their skills week by week.”

Winner Peter Sachlas with trophy, prize packs, key cards, Avacyn, guns
Winner Peter Sachlas with trophy, prize packs, key cards, Avacyn, guns

Tightening the Screw: Why League Play Gets More Intense Week after Week

Each league starts with players cracking six packs of the most newly-released expansion, with which they construct sixty-card decks. Whenever players lose a match, they may at that time add a ‘punishment pack’ (a Standard-legal pack of Magic cards) to their card pool to strengthen it. After they’ve added ten packs, no more packs may be added, and players are eliminated when they take their eleventh loss.

So, as more losses accrue weekly, more packs get added to players’ league pools, and the level of competition gets higher and fiercer, as players vie to stave off elimination with their improved decks. As a rule of thumb, around Week 5 league decks begin to gravitate closer to Standard than Sealed in terms of their raw power level. Players’ decklists also get polished for optimal playability and ‘feel’, since they’re being used in matches week in and week out.

For reference, see Peter’s (the eventual winner’s) decklist below, as it stood at the end of the league season:

[deck]
[Lands]
10 Forest
1 Foul Orchard
10 Swamp
2 Westvale Abbey
[/Lands]
[Spells]
2 Aim High
1 Call the Bloodline
3 Dead Weight
1 Explosive Apparatus
1 Grotesque Mutation
1 Murderous Compulsion
1 Neglected Heirloom
1 Rabid Bite
1 Shard of Broken Glass
1 Slayer’s Plate
2 Throttle
1 Traverse the Ulvenwald
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Briarbridge Patrol
1 Deathcap Cultivator
3 Duskwatch Recruiter
1 Elusive Tormentor
2 Kindly Stranger
1 Mindwrack Demon
1 Obsessive Skinner
1 Pack Guardian
1 Pale Rider of Trostad
1 Quilled Wolf
3 Sanitarium Skeleton
1 Solitary Hunter
1 Stoic Builder
1 Tooth Collector
1 Twins of Maurer Estate
[/Creatures]
[/deck]

Seven weeks is the longest a league in this series has gone, and as there was no great disparity in players’ skill levels or strength of card pools, it was anyone’s guess as to who would make Top 8. From Peter’s perspective, his deck was far from the best and it was an uphill battle to clinch his place in the finals:

I had a strong record at the beginning of the League, with an awesome Abzan build that included [card]Sorin, Grim Nemesis[/card]. As the League progressed, I cut the white so that my deck could be more consistent. However, I got a little lazy and made few changes each week despite losing more and more. Other players kept crying out in outrage that I could ever have removed Sorin from my list (as I had clinched a number of games by slamming him on a somewhat even board). As such, I was almost eliminated towards the end, and had to claw my way back into the Top 8. The deciding match was a nail-biter. If I won, I would make Top 8; if I lost, I would be kicked out and lose out on my chance to play the MegaDraft. Luckily, I was able to get Delirium online at lightning speed and take advantage of my double copies of [card]Westvale Abbey[/card], and my prayers to Ormendahl were answered. I made the Top 8, but just barely!

Demon Redundancy... In case Profane Prince #1 doesn't get the job done
Demon Redundancy… In case Profane Prince #1 doesn’t get the job done

League Finals / MegaDraft Math

Once again, the league’s Top 8 performers were treated to a MegaDraft finals event. MegaDraft is a format where you draft one pack of every Standard-legal expansion, in chronological order according to release date, to create a sixty-card limited deck. So for this MegaDraft, the top eight players of the league got to open one pack of DTK, passing to the left, one pack of ORI, passing to the right, one pack of BFZ, passing left, OGW passing right, and finally SOI passing left. Players recorded their picks as they drafted, so that we were able to recreate the winner’s drafting process.
Because at the end of last league there were 6 Standard-legal expansions in the MegaDraft, expectations were skewed high among those players who had returned to this Top 8. Sifting 84 cards and only using 36 of them meant that players required a mere 43% of their card pool, which led to some fairly absurd builds.

In this 5-pack MegaDraft, players sifted 70 cards and needed to use about 36 of them. They were only forced to utilize 51% of their picks in this case, which meant that the decks they built for the league finals were marginally stronger than an average draft deck (because they were forced to use fewer of their picks).

For comparison, in a regular 3-pack draft, players sift out 42 cards and need to use about 23 of these to make a deck. Thus, they’re forced to use 55% of their card pools on average, which means slightly fewer meaningful choices to make. On the other hand, 3-pack draft is a more popular and better-researched format, which might serve to bridge the power divide. Though the two are numerically comparable, Peter concurs that MegaDraft is the better test of your raw deck-building skills:

In Constructed formats (or even some limited formats that have been around for a long time), players gain an advantage by knowing all the decks and practicing over and over again. When MegaDrafting five different booster packs, deck-building and planning skills are tested from the get-go!

We followed Peter’s picks over the course of the MegaDraft, so you can see how he put together his winning deck by viewing his card selections below. The bolded picks represent cards which he included in his final decklist, and his comments on specific picks are italicized:

~Dragons of Tarkir~

1 – [card]Silumgar’s Command[/card] (Best card in the pack by far. Hesitant to take a multicolored card first pick, but gambled anyway.)
2 – [card]Zephyr Scribe[/card] (Picked this highly with thoughts of Delirium and Madness in last pack [SOI]. Already thinking super long term.)
3 – [card]Youthful Scholar[/card] 
4 – [card]Encase in Ice[/card] (Thought if I was solidly U/B, then there’d be plenty of G/R decks floating around to make this a premium sideboard card.)
5 – [card]Ojutai’s Summons[/card] 
6 – [card]Duress[/card] 
7 – [card]Blood-Chin Rager[/card] 
8 – [card]Aerie Bowmasters[/card] (Having been passed this really late, I started thinking Green might be open.)
9 – [card]Colossodon Yearling[/card] 
10 – [card]Guardian Shield-Bearer[/card] (Having been passed this really late, confirmed that Green was going to be open.)
11 – [card]Center Soul[/card] 
12 – [card]Pinion Feast[/card] 
13 – [card]Naturalize[/card] 
14 – [card]Colossodon Yearling[/card] 
15 – [card]Plains[/card] 

~Magic Origins~

1 – [card]Whirler Rogue[/card] (Was super excited to take this powerhouse card. My rare was [card]The Great Aurora[/card], so it was not a difficult choice.)
2 – [card]Elvish Visionary[/card] 
3 – [card]Reave Soul[/card] (Still unsure of 2-color combination, which is why I was high picking Black cards.)
4 – [card]Somberwald Alpha[/card] (Start getting rewarded for changing to Green.)
5 – [card]Unholy Hunger[/card] 
6 – [card]Timberpack Wolf[/card] 
7 – [card]Disperse[/card] 
8 – [card]Scrapskin Drake[/card] 
9 – [card]Negate[/card] 
10 – [card]Blightcaster[/card] 
11 – [card]Hitchclaw Recluse[/card] 
12 – [card]Ringwarden Owl[/card] (Passed super late; I’m ecstatic that Blue’s still open. Solidly on the Green/Blue plan now.)
13 – [card]Cobblebrute[/card] 
14 – [card]Faerie Miscreant[/card] 
15 – [card]Swamp[/card] 

~Battle for Zendikar~

1 – [card]Coastal Discovery[/card] 
2 – [card]Territorial Baloth[/card] (Really weak pack for me, but card ended up being a powerhouse.)
3 – [card]Snapping Gnarlid[/card] 
4 – [card]Clutch of Currents[/card] 
5 – [card]Swell of Growth[/card] 
6 – [card]Tajuru Warcaller[/card] (Late pick; once again, super glad to have changed to Green.)
7 – [card]Broodhunter Wurm[/card] 
8 – [card]Tajuru Beastmaster[/card] 
9 – [card]Swell of Growth[/card] 
10 – [card]Jaddi Offshoot[/card] 
11 – [card]Fertile Thicket[/card] 
12 – [card]Swell of Growth[/card] 
13 – [card]Kalastria Nightwatch[/card] 
14 – [card]Kozilek’s Sentinel[/card] 
15 – [card]Swamp[/card] 

~Oath of the Gatewatch~

1 – [card]Dimensional Infiltrator[/card] (Not too happy that colorless sources will be hard to obtain, but solid flash flyer for two mana.)
2 – [card]Scion Summoner[/card] 
3 – [card]Nissa’s Judgment[/card] 
4 – [card]Crumbling Vestige[/card] 
5 – [card]Roiling Waters[/card] 
6 – [card]Unity of Purpose[/card] 
7 – [card]Ancient Crab[/card] 
8 – [card]Gravity Negator[/card] 
9 – [card]Tajuru Pathwarden[/card] 
10 – [card]Elemental Uprising[/card] 
11 – [card]Swamp[/card] (Full Art)
12 – [card]Reaver Drone[/card] 
13 – [card]Forest[/card] (Full Art)
14 – [card]Slip Through Space[/card] 
15 – [card]Lead by Example[/card] 

~Shadows Over Innistrad~

1 – [card]Stormrider Spirit[/card] 
2 – [card]Stitchwing Skaab[/card] 
3 – [card]Reckless Scholar[/card] 
4 – [card]Stormrider Spirit[/card] 
5 – [card]Quilled Wolf[/card] 
6 – [card]Broken Concentration[/card] 
7 – [card]Press for Answers[/card] 
8 – [card]Silent Observer[/card] 
9 – [card]Moldgraf Scavenger[/card] 
10 – [card]Fork in the Road[/card] 
11 – [card]Clip Wings[/card] 
12 – [card]Vessel of Nascency[/card] 
13 – [card]Hulking Devil[/card] 
14 – [card]Vessel of Paramnesia[/card] 
15 – [card]Plains[/card] 

In the end, this is the U/G decklist that Peter settled on:

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Fertile Thicket
12 Forest
12 Island
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Broken Concentration
1 Clutch of Currents
1 Coastal Discovery
1 Disperse
1 Elemental Uprising
1 Negate
1 Nissa’s Judgment
1 Ojutai’s Summons
1 Roiling Waters
1 Swell of Growth
1 Unity of Purpose
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Aerie Bowmasters
1 Broodhunter Wurm
2 Colossodon Yearling
1 Dimensional Infiltrator
1 Elvish Visionary
1 Guardian Shield-Bearer
1 Quilled Wolf
1 Reckless Scholar
1 Ringwarden Owl
1 Scion Summoner
1 Scrapskin Drake
1 Silent Observer
1 Snapping Gnarlid
1 Somberwald Alpha
1 Stitchwing Skaab
2 Stormrider Spirit
1 Tajuru Pathwarden
1 Tajuru Warcaller
1 Territorial Baloth
1 Whirler Rogue
1 Youthful Scholar
1 Zephyr Scribe
[/Creatures]
[/deck]

After a bit of a muddled start in Sultai territory, ORI and BFZ filled out Peter’s decklist significantly with tons of Simic beef, which helped him focus his draft. All of the creatures in his final build are rock-solid on their own and either have evasion or bring other creatures into play with them, or draw cards on their way onto (or way off) the battlefield. To protect this assault force he included a suite of combat tricks and a minor control element. Let’s see how his list performed in the league finals.

Peter’s MegaDraft Matches

Peter’s first opponent was Julien Schroeter, a new player to the league who had locked himself for the finals by Week 5, as a fellow devotee of Ormendahl.

Julien, blue mana source at the ready
Julien, blue mana source at the ready

Julien was running G/B Elves, complete with [card]Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen[/card] and [card]Ruinous Path[/card], with [card]Corpseweft[/card] as a Plan B. Peter took the match 2-1, but in his words they were:

Really close games all around. I had to mulligan to 5 in Game 3 and it was looking grim. Luckily, there was a board stall and I wiped Julien’s board when he attempted to crack back, only to be met with a [card]Unity of Purpose[/card] that untapped all of my creatures (some of them already had counters on them, including a 4/4 Awakened Land).

Richard, stroking Ojutai for luck
Richard, stroking Ojutai for luck

In Round 2, Peter was paired against draft dominator and league stalwart Richard Koffler. A Limited specialist, Richard would prove to be a tough matchup for our protagonist. Nevertheless, Peter survived the encounter with another 2-1 result, despite:

…super close games. Huge board stall in Game 3, but I had a looter. After ten or so turns, I made my move, playing my [card]Tajuru Warcaller[/card] and swinging with eight or so creatures that had a minimum of 4-power each. I also had a [card]Broken Concentration[/card] as backup in case I needed to counter something.

Phil, aiming for the 'Dynasty': to win three leagues in a row
Phil, aiming for the ‘Dynasty’: to win three leagues in a row

In the final round, Peter played Phil Martin, the two-time league champ who was gunning for a hat trick. Phil had put together an extremely lethal R/W aggro deck that had knocked out his first two opponents in record time. As this was Peter’s first league Top 8, the smart money would have been on Phil going into this match. To the surprise of many, it was Peter who swept the finals 2-0:

In Game 1, Phil landed a [card]Thunderbreak Regent[/card] on turn 4 and I was already in trouble. With the help of [card]Whirler Rogue[/card], [card]Ojutai’s Summons[/card], and [card]Unity of Purpose[/card], I somehow made a comeback. Luckily for me, Phil flooded out with lands. Game 2 was quick, with Phil also having some bad luck. [card]Unity of Purpose[/card] clinched the final game. What an amazing combat trick! After the games, Phil flashed me [card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/card] and [card]Tragic Arrogance[/card]. I was relieved that he hadn’t drawn them in either game. I had stopped Phil’s winning streak and dethroned the Champion! As such, I named myself “Kingslayer” on the Booster League trophy.

Dat trophy tho
Dat trophy tho

To Be Continued

Once again, a well-deserved congratulations to Peter Sachlas on his breakout league win! Looking back, Peter had this to say when I asked him for his overall impression of his league experience:

I greatly enjoyed the camaraderie throughout the whole season. Seeing familiar faces each and every week and discussing deck changes was a lot of fun. I also greatly enjoyed the deck-building process and seeing the evolution of everyone’s decks. In the end, I had a fantastic time with a great group of players, and I urge everyone to participate in a Booster League if they get the chance in the future. See you all in the next League!

Yorke on Games #21 – Do Game Celebrities Have Greater Moral Responsibilities?

In my previous article I developed “A Taxonomy of Bad Games,” which was meant to disambiguate the various ways in which games can be “bad”: poorly-designed, morally pernicious, or just played poorly. Each of these categories roughly correlates to the “MDA” framework laid out by Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek in their paper “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research.” Today, instead of focusing on how games can ruin people (and their fun), I’m going to focus on how people—especially famous people—can ruin games, through their actions both inside and outside the game they are associated with.

YorkeTable1

Specifically, the fundamental question I want to address is whether or not game celebrities have greater, equal, or lesser moral responsibility for their actions than non-celebrity players, and why.

In one sense, it looks absurd to claim that a murder committed by someone like football star O.J. Simpson (just a hypothetical example here: we all know he was found not guilty… on that charge, at least) would be morally worse than a murder committed by a relative unknown. After all, murder is murder. In another sense, it looks perfectly logical to claim that a murder by a Simpson-level gaming celebrity brings with it evils that do not accompany lower-profile felonies.

“Wasn’t me”
“Wasn’t me”

The safest way to proceed is to assess the plausibility of each of the possible viewpoints. Let’s discuss.

The Case for Lesser Moral Responsibility

This argument finds its expression in the folk belief that artists are justified in having unpleasant characters on the basis of the value of their cultural product. Often, the implicit assumption is that the vice generates, or is instrumentally connected to, the artistic value. Take, for instance, the following declaration: “Sure, David Bowie was a cokehead… but that boy could sing!”

Philosopher Bernard Williams’s discussion of painter Paul Gauguin brings this issue sharply into focus: would the world be a better place if Gauguin did the morally right thing and stayed with his family, or if he abandoned them (as he did) and produced a dazzling body of artistic output as a result?

I see what you did there, Paul
I see what you did there, Paul

The strength of this argument rests on whether the vice is inseparable from the good of the art. If we can establish that Bowie could sing just as well without the cocaine, or that Gauguin could have been just as prolific and talented a painter if he hadn’t been so callous to his family, then we have no justified reason to accept this kind of bad behavior from creative types, just as we don’t in the case of the average person. Counterfactually, we might ask ourselves: “What if breaking laws/customs/rules makes us a better at activity X? And does the objective value of activity X outweigh any relevant moral considerations?” But this type of speculation, although philosophically interesting, has little basis in fact, or bearing on practice.

In the world of gaming, the link is even more tenuous. It would be bizarre to claim that Tiger Woods was a better golfer directly because of his extramarital affairs, or that Mike Long should be permitted to verbally threaten his opponents because it makes him better at playing Magic. In short, we have no reason to apply a more flexible standard of morality to game celebrities. Even the special pleading case for stars suffering from the pressures of fame is thin and unconvincing; there is nothing that speaks for those being more onerous than the pressures of normalcy.

The Case for Equal Moral Responsibility

The position of equal moral responsibility can be roughly summed up by the maxim, “Lying is lying, no matter who’s doing it.” And that would be a good position to take, except that it’s not. It ignores the important differences that facts regarding personal identity imply for the moral weight and expected consequences of our actions. Its weakness becomes clear considering simple examples: when Barry Bonds lied about taking steroids, his actions were criminal; whereas if Joe at the gym lies about taking steroids, no one cares. Analogously, if I cheat at a friendly game of chess, it’s (merely) shameful, whereas if Bobby Fischer cheats at chess, it’s morally outrageous and possibly criminal because there are stakes with actual monetary value to be gained or lost at his level of professional play.

In 2011, Magic Hall of Famer Guillaume Wafo-Tapa was discovered to be using inside information—an unpublished card list from an upcoming expansion—to gain an unfair competitive edge. He faced an 18-month suspension from the game for doing so. However, if a player that no one had heard of got ahold of the same information and had no way to capitalize on it, would the DCI have handed down such a severe penalty to him or her? It seems likely that it would have been more in Wizards’ interest to cover up the information leak, and move on. It was at least in part because Wafo-Tapa was a prominent figure in the game, and well-situated to fully exploit that information, that an example needed to be made of him.
So it seems clear that there exists a double standard between what we consider acceptable behavior for game celebrities and what we consider acceptable behavior for the everyman, which makes the contention that both have the same moral responsibilities seem absurd. But why is it worse when celebrities do bad things than when non-celebrities do the same? I examine some possible explanations for this phenomenon below.

The Case for Greater Moral Responsibility

Success and celebrity come with a certain set of advantages: there is usually (at least some) financial consideration given to the star players of any game. There is social capital as well, in that people are more disposed to defend or assist people who are famous than people who are unknown. And, in the game itself, fame can also be used to intimidate lesser opponents to leverage even more wins.

One way to make sense of the position that celebrities have greater moral responsibility is to claim that it is the cost that must be paid for the inherent advantages that fame brings with it. The star’s handicap, if one can call it that, is that he or she is always under the spotlight and must behave well as a consequence of this. But this is a strange way of looking at fame, and many celebrities certainly wouldn’t accept the offer of stardom if it meant that they always had to be on their best behavior.

However, there are multiple more convincing reasons for thinking that game celebrities have greater moral responsibilities than relative unknowns. I analyze a few of these below:

1. Ambassadors of the Game
2. Role Models
3. Just Deserts
4. Wider Scale of Influence
5. Rule-Following Profession

1. Ambassadors of the Game
This is the idea that the actions of a game’s players—especially the actions of its stars—reflect directly on the value of the game itself. We witness this dynamic in religion, politics, and economics as well as gaming: what the Pope does and says as a representative of the Catholic Church greatly impacts that institution, both positively and negatively. The emergence of Donald Trump as a serious contender in the upcoming presidential race is a troubling symptom of the state of American culture as a whole. The opinion of a well-regarded stockbroker can make or break companies. So, if game celebrities care about the institutions of their chosen games (and they ought to, given the depth of their individual investment in them), then they have good (self-preserving) motivation to behave as well as they possibly can. On the other hand, a non-celebrity may lack the power to affect the reputation of the game they play, and thus have a more circumscribed version of this moral duty, if any at all.

2. Role Models
When you are famous or successful, a certain number of people will copy you in the hopes of bringing fame or success into their own lives. Some will even imitate you in the spirit of genuine admiration, with no expectation of return on effort. The role model argument holds that the celebrity is partially morally responsible for the actions of their fans, or at least the subsection of them (usually children) who are susceptible to emulative behavior. A duty is posited here that the star should not engage in any activity that would be harmful if imitated (e.g. drug abuse or violent crime). Again, there is very little risk of emulation for merely average players, so this duty is again mitigated for them.

3. Just Deserts
Regardless of the specific grounding of one’s moral framework, it generally chafes to see evil rewarded and good punished. If a star behaves poorly, people will come to believe that their fame and success are undeserved and resent them for it. Therefore, a celebrity has a prima facie duty to behave well to satisfy the public’s expectation that good actions merit good outcomes and bad actions merit bad outcomes. To do otherwise is to tempt the caprices of fate. It’s much harder to positively or negatively associate one’s out-of-game character to one’s in-game performance when that performance is middling at best, as is generally the case for the everyman.

4. Wider Scale of Influence
Magic Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas has slightly more than 53,400 Twitter followers at the time of this publication [@lsv]. By comparison, I consistently reach around 15 people with my tweets [@CCYorke]. Thus it is not unreasonable to assume that what LSV has to say about professional Magic play will be considered by a larger number of people, and taken more seriously, than anything I have to say about it (poignant though my insights may be). Similarly, if he were to be caught up in some sort of scandal, it would negatively impact a lot more players than if the same thing happened to me, just by the sheer force of numbers, economically as well as socially.

5. Rule-Following Profession
This final consideration takes into account the unique nature of the game celebrity’s vocation. A game celebrity, by definition, rises to prominence by following rules: the rules of the game, cultural norms, and also the laws of the country. Failure to follow any of these would have meant that their rise to fame would not have occurred. This is why it is logically as well as morally offensive when we see game stars get caught for cheating at their game, behaving unlawfully outside of it, or being generally offensive; they are acting counter to the essential ingredient of their success, making mistakes that not even a rookie could afford to make. Since you’re well aware by now of my love of taxonomies, here’s a breakdown of all the ways that players can polarize public opinion with nothing more than their own behavior:

YorkeTable2

While the value of any of the five reasons offered above for game celebrities having greater moral responsibilities than their non-celebrity counterparts might be reasonably questioned when taken individually, I take it as evident that their strength as a whole easily outweighs their theoretical competitors.

Conclusion

A role of prominence is voluntary: it requires active collusion and cooperation at every step. So, too, is the implicit acceptance of the increased ethical responsibility which accompanies such a role. It is much like accepting a job, with all of the written and unwritten expectations your employer has for you. Failing an unwritten expectation can be as hazardous for your continued employment as failing a written one.

No one can force you to play a game; no one can force you to win; no one can force you to be a star. However, choosing to do all of these things makes your actions more notable, impactful, and socially relevant than if you refrained from doing so. And if you slip up at the highest levels of game celebrity, it should not be surprising that you can be forced to stop playing, and therefore to stop winning, and therefore to cease being a star.

Yorke on Games #20 – A Taxonomy of Bad Games

There are bad games, bad games, and bad games. And typically, we don’t bother unpacking the meaning of these very different uses of the word ‘bad’, which correspond roughly to ‘immoral in nature’, ‘poorly designed’, and ‘poorly played’. Today, I’m going to take on the task of creating a taxonomy of games with a very specific purpose: to disambiguate the kinds of factors which lead to bad gaming experiences, which will hopefully lead to a ‘Now You Know’ moment for readers by the time they reach the conclusion about why they’re not having fun in various gaming situations. Recognizing what makes bad games bad is the first step in discovering what makes good games good, and helping us have positive lusory experiences (which is the point of playing in the first place).

Pie Chart Demonstrating Value of Knowledge
Pie Chart Demonstrating Value of Knowledge

But First

In our last installment, ‘Games as Contracts’, I made the following extended analogy and argued for the utility of its application to our everyday gaming practices:

Games are like contracts in that both are entered into voluntarily, with full consent given to follow the rules (the formal equivalent of the terms of a contract). The consideration, or payoff, of the game for both parties (players) is a positive lusory experience—the joy of a game well played. For the payoff to be possible, both players have a (largely implicit) mutual obligation to take the intra-lusory goal of the game seriously and pursue it to the best of their abilities (demonstrate capacity), and to not ruin the experience for the other players (demonstrate competency).

This is why I claimed that offers should only be made to play games which are known or expected to produce positive lusory experiences, and to players who are not known or expected to be cheaters, triflers, or spoilsports (or, I here add, lackwits). It wouldn’t make rational sense to offer (or accept) a contract to game with someone otherwise. “That’s Sneaky Lou. He wants to play Snakes and Ladders with you”, hardly sounds like an enticing lusory experience that we ought to race to sign up for (we’d be in for a bad game, against an even worse opponent, so contracting to game would be irrational).

But I’ve already tipped my hand here to the careful reader, for despite my catchy article titling, games themselves are not in fact contracts (although they do share many features with them). More to the point, contracts are a prerequisite for games. There must be some sort of understanding that exists between players before they can play together: a serious, mutual commitment to the goal of having fun. Bernard Suits calls this the ‘lusory attitude’; we can recast it in Nietzschean terms as the ‘will to game’: accepting a ruleset because it enables a certain type of (desirable) gaming experience to occur.

The offer and acceptance of the ruleset precede the gaming experience, and also give it shape for its duration. The distinction here is subtle, but important: it is the distinction between signing a contract and fulfilling it. So, to clarify: games are the act of fulfilling certain kinds of (typically non-legal) contracts. That statement doesn’t make for a good article title, but it does have the virtue of greater conceptual precision.

“So… We can play Commander now?”
“So… We can play Commander now?”

And Now

It’s evident from the previous discussion that choosing to play a game with a morally bad, perverse, dull, frivolous, or otherwise defective opponent will yield a ‘bad’ lusory experience in the sense of it being ‘poorly played’, and thus dampen your will to game (at least with that person). However, there still remain (at least) two other senses of the word ‘bad’ as it refers to games, that are far more general in effect: ‘immoral in nature’ and ‘poorly designed’ games. Rather than making you want to avoid a particular player, these kinds of bad make you want to avoid playing the games themselves. But these two axes of evaluation are importantly different, in a manner which becomes most striking when presented in table form with examples of each category:

YorkeTable

The Taxonomy, Explained

When I use ‘good acts’ and ‘evil acts’ as terms to describe the things moral and immoral games encourage their players to do, I make no distinction as whether the good or evil occurs in-game or outside (after) the game. Also, I am not grounding this account of morality in any particular philosophical or religious framework, but keeping it at the populist level: ‘good’ and ‘evil’ actions are just those that the majority of humans would find (respectively) praiseworthy or reprehensible. Diplomacy and Werewolf, when played well, require that you to lie to other people in order to win; while Russian Roulette and boxing require you to partake in an activity wherein physical damage to yourself or others is an inevitable consequence of your actions. Lying and hurting others are generally regarded as undesirable, regardless of where your particular moral foundations are rooted, and so I have no reservations about describing these games as immoral.

image007

It is seemingly a more subjective task to classify games according to the quality of their design, although games with absolutely no latitude for the exercise of skill (once the underlying structure of the game is made evident) are easy to categorize as ‘poorly-designed’. Calling a game ‘well-designed’ requires me to regard it as enabling activities that are completely absorbing and flow-generating. Indeed, one of the reasons that the deceptions that inevitably occur in Diplomacy cause so much negative emotional feedback is that the game is so engrossing in its play that you put your whole self into it: the betrayals thus transcend the fiction of the game and become personal. The various stakeholder roleplay games that are now routine fare for corporate retreats and graduate school seminars, on the other hand, often require players to educate themselves on real-world topics in-game, and then use that knowledge to arrive at a greater understanding of other people’s interests and goals in relation to their own, in order to cooperate toward a group victory. While equally engrossing as Diplomacy, these games are of immediate and long-term intellectual and emotional benefit to their players, and are thus morally commendable.

The Examples, Defended

It was much easier to first find uncontroversial examples of poorly-designed and immoral games than it was their opposites. This mirrors the main theme of Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, and helps explain the interesting phenomenon that while depictions of Hell are plentiful and graphic, descriptions of Heaven are few and vague. As a species, it seems we’re much more closely attuned to things that go wrong and need improvement: we can find consensus on what is painful much more easily than on what is pleasurable. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot.

The original Game of Life [contained 95% more moral fiber]
The original Game of Life [contained 95% more moral fiber]

I didn’t want to get into a debate about whether chess is a well-designed game or merely passable, so I excluded it from the column of non-moral games (leaving aside the unlikely historical question of whether its dominant theme of regicide has ever been used as the inspiration for revolution, which might have led to its inclusion in the immoral column). Also left out is bingo, as its main use is gambling, which typically straddles a moral dividing line I don’t want to focus on today (plus, the fact that money is involved boosts the drama of an otherwise emotionally sterile play experience—recognizing sounds as numbers and then marking them down—which for some helps mask the fact that it is, structurally speaking, a poorly-designed game). The examples I did use are, I hope, generally unobjectionable and get the point across.

The infamous ‘Wheel of Torture’ used by Filipino police to make abusing suspects more entertaining for them
The infamous ‘Wheel of Torture’ used by Filipino police to make abusing suspects more entertaining for them

Some games, like the Wheel of Torture, need no explanation because they’re just what you expect them to be from their name. Others are childhood staples or mass market games that I will assume the readers have familiarity with. A few outliers, however, are rather obscure and need introduction.

Chore Wars is a role-playing game designed by Jane McGonigal (described in her book Reality is Broken) to make housework fun. You get experience points by doing dishes, vacuuming, and so forth, and compete with other household residents to get the buffest avatar. In a similar vein, Health Month is an online game that award points and tracks your self-reported progress toward specified health goals. While not the most stimulating genre of game out there, these games do have positive real-world payouts, represent the better side of gamification, and are clearly less tedious than completely deterministic games like Snakes and Ladders.

Free Rice is a quiz game that donates 10 grains of rice to needy people around the world for every question you correctly answer. The addictiveness of the game comes from the combined facts that the quiz questions are themselves well-constructed and get harder with every correct answer, and that every correct answer gives you visual feedback on the amount of rice you’ve earned for donation. You feel like you’re getting smarter and more charitable at the same time, which is a truly unique gaming experience.

While the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Spin the Bottle are both probably well-known to readers, some might wonder why I have deemed them to be poorly-designed. Research in game theory has established that in iterated versions of the Prisoner’s Dilemma you always get the best result by cooperating in the first game and then adopting a tit-for-tat strategy forever thereafter (I had this version in mind when I classified it as moral). In non-iterated versions, defection is always the rationally preferable strategy. Once this is known, this thought-experimental game becomes less intriguing.

Spin the Bottle, on the other hand, is poorly-designed because there is no possible inherent interest in the principal mechanic of the game: spinning the bottle itself. If sufficient care is taken to remove or greatly reducing individuals’ spinning skills from the equation (e.g. requiring two full turns of the bottle before its result is taken as valid), then the game consists exclusively of a indeterminately-long series of random people being pointed at and kissed. The only goal of the game is its own continuation, so long as at least two active players want an excuse to kiss each other. While socially expedient as an ice-breaker, this game is only interesting because of the relative entertainment value of the physical rewards (and punishments) it randomly distributes, and not because of any merits inherent to its structural design.

Finally, anybody who thinks that Punch Buggy isn’t an immoral game hasn’t gone on a long road trip with a sociopathic pre-pubescent male relative who used it as a pretext for giving you at least a dozen bruises.

Conclusion

To the vast majority of game-agnostic civilians out there, “a game’s a game”. Playing Pass the Pigs is as good a way to pass the evening to some as playing Civilization is to others. But just because the man on the street can’t taste the difference between a White Zinfandel and a Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Au Paradis doesn’t mean there isn’t an important one.

Now, I haven’t developed this taxonomy of games in order to lay claim to being a connoisseur, or to enable the snobbery of others. People usually know who they are, and what they like, and I don’t harbor any judgement on that basis. It is a shame, however, that we often lack the lexical terms required to justify those likes and dislikes to others in an intelligible fashion.
It is my hope that by categorizing games in terms of the moral intent behind them, and the structural quality of their design, we can arrive at a more judicious method of critiquing games and profitably interrogating their role in our lives. If what we do shapes who we are (and if it doesn’t, what else does?), then it stands to reason that the games we play directly contribute to shaping our character and tastes (or at least help us discover what we’re not willing to do, and dislike). Along this line, games could be used as tools for moral introspection (e.g.: “I think I’m a good guy; so why does successfully deceiving others in Werewolf feel so good to me?”) or aspiration (e.g.: “I’d like to combine my love of games with my desire to do good in the world; maybe I should log in and play Free Rice for an hour.”). On a more mundane level, this taxonomy (and others like it) could help us select the games we play to better match the characters we are, and/or the goals we possess, which means more fun for everyone.

Yorke on Games #19 – Games as Contracts

Different players of the same game will sometimes have varied expectations of each other’s behavior, or indeed, altogether different understandings of what a game is and what playing one entails. Such misunderstandings are regrettable but generally avoidable if players share a similar framework for making play behavior intelligible. Today, I will outline a framework for understanding games as contracts in the hopes of minimizing the frequency and intensity of such disputes in the future.

Step 1: Understand what you’re getting into
Step 1: Understand what you’re getting into

What is a Contract?

At its most basic level, a contract is a voluntary, mutually-binding agreement between two or more parties that is enforceable by law. If your cooperation is being coerced, then the contract is void. If what you are contracting to do is illegal, then the contract is void. If you make a quasi-contract with yourself (to lose five pounds in a month, for instance), it is non-binding because it is not really a contract. By definition, you need at least one other signatory for it to formally qualify as a contract.

Step 2: Agree to mutually satisfactory terms
Step 2: Agree to mutually satisfactory terms

Contractarianism

Abstracting from the legal definition of contracts yields the philosophical position of contractarianism, the idea that the morally right way to behave is that which all rational agents would consent to under ideally fair conditions. In other words, I can’t expect anyone else to enter into a behavioral contract that advantages my interests over their own. Unlike mundane business contracts, ethical contracts have equality built into their fabric, and cannot be used as tools for generating personal gain.

Step 3: Stick to the rules
Step 3: Stick to the rules

Games as Contracts

Games can be profitably interpreted as contracts: voluntary agreements that bind the behavior of all players for their duration. Specifically, the game rules constitute the explicit, written terms of the contract. All players are expected to abide by these (i.e., no cheating). Not doing so constitutes grounds for immediate termination of the contract (i.e., the game ends), and perhaps even for compensation on the part of the non-defecting player at the expense of the player responsible for the violation.

From a contractarian perspective, the act of agreeing to play a game is tantamount to an acceptance by all involved parties that it is mutually rationally desirable to abide by the explicit rules of the game, and also (implicitly) to play seriously, to the best of one’s abilities (i.e., no trifling) and to see it through to its conclusion (i.e., no spoilsporting). To defect from these terms would not only be condemnable in terms of morality or etiquette, it would also indicate that one of the player’s decisions—either the decision to play, or the decision to defect—was irrational to begin with.

To understand both how common and how practically important implicit contracts are, consider the following everyday activity: You jump in a taxi, and give the driver a destination. While nothing is written down, it is minimally and universally understood that (1) the driver is obliged to take you to your destination (if it is within a reasonable distance and not, say, in another country), and (2) you are obliged to pay the driver the amount indicated on the meter (if it is within a reasonable amount and not, say, triple what you’ve paid for the same distance on previous occasions). These are, in a sense, mere conventions, but they carry legal consequences if violated. You could, for example, be charged with theft if you jump out of the car without paying, and the driver could be charged with discrimination if they refused to drive you where you wanted to go based on your sex, race, or age.

Behavior in games, too, constitutes an implicit contract between their players, although the consequences for defaulting are typically moral rather than legal. Player behavior should reflect the intentions behind the rules, as well as their written word. After all, the intention of entering into a contract is to enable a certain type of activity, the purpose of which should be taken seriously by all participants. So if your opponent in Magic doesn’t care about reducing your life total to zero, but rather spends all of their time trying to get as many +1/+1 counters as possible on their non-creature permanents, there is ample reason to be aggrieved at this behavior; they are trifling, by playing a different game with you than the one they’d contracted to. And if your opponent rage-quits one turn into the game, when no meaningful plays have yet been made by either player, then you can be justifiably irritated with them; they have been a spoilsport and truncated an experience you’d both contracted to generate via your mutual efforts. These issues, though not frequently discussed, exist in tandem with the more easily-identifiable contract violations involved with blatant cheating.
Despite the consistency of all three of these “layers” involved in contracting to play a game with another, there will still be a great variation in the aesthetic quality of game experiences from one match to the next. This is in part because each opponent will bring different attitudes, different values, different customs, and have his or her own unique personality, imagination, and skills to the game. Let’s turn to these considerations now, and see how these can be analyzed under the contract framework.

Step 4: Respect customs of civility
Step 4: Respect customs of civility

Player Obligations

Some players will insist that they have absolute freedom to play the game however they like, so long as their behavior does not violate the wording of the rules. Non-threatening taunting, for example, is rules-neutral behavior—it is neither part of the formal ruleset, nor is it forbidden by them. A few players will even suggest that utilizing taunts to tilt their opponents is behavior that is demanded of serious players: not using every advantage at your disposal is taken to mean that you’re not fully committed to winning the game.

Taunting is, however, forbidden by the customs of civility. And, just as in a contract one is not free to break the laws of the nation, neither are games an occasion to freely break with culturally-encoded norms. Expressing one’s individuality cannot come at the cost of violating the social contract that a game represents; otherwise, the framework within which such expressions of individuality are made possible comes under threat. Being a dick, in short, is self-defeating behavior.

Of course, the content of the previous paragraph is contentious. In some sense, games represent exactly the kinds of heterotopic spaces wherein safe, condoned violations of norms are permitted to occur. In fact, some are specifically designed to enable such violations: spin-the-bottle comes to mind as an example of a game that is custom-built for the purpose of transcending social boundaries. Some games have their own culture, their own norms, which supersede even those of the surrounding meta-culture, and exceptions are occasionally built into the law to account for these. For instance, physical assault, which is typically illegal, is condoned in the sport of boxing; and poker represents a collective redistribution of wealth which, if conducted outside the framework of the game, would be simple theft.

But taunting (and other posturing behavior) is employed in the culture of competitive gaming precisely because its violation of the norms of civility is calculated to shock, anger, confuse, or otherwise cloud the mind of an opponent, to make them perform suboptimally in the game in question due to dilution of focus and the arousal of strong and disturbing emotions. If it is the (arguably moral) duty of the player to try to win employing any means permitted by the rules, then why not denigrate or otherwise attempt to psychologically rattle an opponent? It is just this: by playing games in such a way, we become morally bad people, and most games are simply not worth playing if the cost of admission is “become an asshole.”

Further, if the (sub)culture or institution of any game explicitly or tacitly accepts or encourages such aggressive behavior among their player base, then it is a morally defective game (if not in theory, then in practice), and the act of playing it de facto makes you a morally worse person. We might describe such games as “asshole factories.” If every player of Game X that you’ve ever met is an asshole, then you have a strong prima facie reason for believing that Game X is an asshole factory.

Put differently, physical assault isn’t okay just because it’s allowed by the rules of boxing. Despite its overwhelming cultural acceptance, boxing is just a morally bad game because its rules allow physical assault. Boxing makes its athletes morally worse off than they would be if they refrained from doing so. Being fans of boxing, then, makes us morally complicit and at least partially culpable for the routine physical assaults which take place within it with our knowledge and support, regardless of the fact that all the fighters involved have given their full, informed consent to hit and be hit. Once a game like boxing is identified as having a corrupt ruleset or institutional structures, players have a moral obligation to either avoid such games or work toward reforming them.

Step 5: Boycott asshole factories
Step 5: Boycott asshole factories

Avoid Bad Contracts

It would be inadvisable to play cards with a criminal. If they don’t feel bound by the law, they (probably—though not necessarily) won’t feel bound by the relatively lower-stakes violation represented by cheating at a game. Although one could imagine a possible counterexample in a gangster who felt that “Murder is just good fun… Poker, on the other hand, is sacred,” such a perverse inversion of the normal ordering of values is unlikely.

If we consider cheating at a game to constitute an instance of immorality—and I see no good reason why we should not—then we have a vested interest in not playing against less vicious types of immoral people as well. If their cheating goes undetected, they will have a strong edge on us, making the contest unfair. If their cheating is exposed, the experience of enjoyment of the game will be greatly diminished by the arousal of unpleasant emotions and the bureaucratic tedium involved in having the cheating event reported, documented, and resolved. Thus, playing a cheater is a lose/lose situation. It is no wonder that they are universally reviled in gaming communities.

The next category of player, unpleasant or taunting players, generate a slightly murkier analysis: there’s no logical reason to avoid playing with them, except that generally you’d prefer not to. The player who is content to violate cultural norms—to be discourteous, abrasive, and posturing—is either immoral, or toying with it (while at the same time, they might actually mistake their behavior as being moral, because it has been accepted by the institution of a morally degenerate game, and paraded as acceptable).

There are two models for understanding and dealing with such a player (though neither is applicable to professionals): the virus model and the social Darwinist model. The virus model contends that discourtesy begets discourtesy: it spreads from player to player in a like manner to contracting a virus, and the only defense against becoming an unpleasant player yourself is to quarantine yourself away from them. The aim of employing this strategy is to starve the virus of victims, and thus hopefully make the rate of incidence of unpleasantness will go down, and eventually disappear from the community.

The social Darwinist model is the position that a life of micro-aggressions constitutes its own punishment—the stress built up inside oneself from being consistently antagonistic means that it will inevitably be in one’s own self-interest to quit the game and leave the gaming community on the simple basis of self-preservation. This factor, combined with the accretion of animosity in all of one’s previous opponents, will mean that the aggressive player will be cast out from the herd or face such a high frequency of toxic behavior in response that they will exile themselves. Why should this be? The reason is simple: Imagine that you have a choice between two opponents, A and B. A is courteous and pleasant; B is sneering and boorish. Whom would you prefer to play against? What does your choice say about you?

Step 6: Recontract as often as is pleasing
Step 6: Recontract as often as is pleasing

Conclusion

Given the choice between getting involved in a good game and supporting an asshole factory, the good game will always be rationally preferable from a contractarian standpoint because it is sustainable in the long run (being an asshole is behavior that is parasitic on other people providing sufficient good will to tolerate you, which is a non-renewable resource). And given the more practical choice between an intentionally unpleasant opponent and an unintentionally even-tempered one, it will always be more rewarding to enter the contract of a game with the latter than the former. These facts about games and gaming are themselves quite simple and straightforward; the contract model I’ve outlined above is simply a metaphor that helps us remember that, in games as much as business, who you’re working with matters just as much as reading the fine print to the outcome of your mutual venture.