“War is not like a game of chess where you can sit down to a cup of coffee afterwards and talk about it… the end of a war is one where one player is no longer in existence.” -Matt Snyder
I recently attended a discussion about just war. Which I could not help but relate to our passion for board games. I’m not going to discuss, myself, which or what in war is just but rather the relationship between justifying actions in war and actions in board games. I don’t mean to, in any way, make light of a serious topic like the justification of warfare nor to justify individual instances in any war, in fact, I mean not to.
One thing my wife and I enjoy about board games is discussing the actions we took and the reasons behind our choices. People who play with us may find themselves in a passionate discussion about what we would have done if it was us, or what, in the case of a partner game, the other should have done. Playing games together allows us to learn about the people we play with, how they think, how they make decisions, and as a result, building relationships. In order to defeat an opponent you must know them well, to love them so much that you can begin to predict the decisions they will make.
You have to take into account the proportionality of the actions you are taking.
“How much will it cost me to make this particular move?” is sometimes obvious “if I place my last worker on this farm (in Carcassonne) I will have none to place on my next turn unless I can close this city or end this road.” But how does that affect your opponents, they may need to tie up a meeple to offset yours or place a piece in a different place. My point being that the ramifications of our actions should be thought out as far as possible. The better you know and understand your opponent the better you can predict the moves they will make. This supports the get to know people through gameplay as discussed in player evaluation.
What drives us to play games? Why are games like war? What is the relationship between war and competitiveness?
“It’s nice to get together and play and compete, without having to know each other that well beforehand” -Heidi Roland
Competitive gameplay- We want to win, we want to reach higher goals, set records, yet we also desire the risk of losing: a game where we cleverly or ‘by-the-skin-of-our-teeth’ win. In gameplay we want the other to have a chance, to extend the game by a tie, sending it to overtime, something most rational people do not desire in war.
No war can be entirely justified, just like we make mistakes in gameplay.
When is war just? How does that relate to board games?
According to multiple sources including St. Augustine and the U.N.
A. Declared by a civil authority
Often when playing a game you will lose if all your moves are reactionary and only vengeful. Planning and strategy when deciding your moves are a large part of why we enjoy games and how, often, we win.
B. To restore justice
This is why we must always play a tie breaker or if in losing that we go best of five then best of seven.
C. After all peaceful methods have been exhausted
When do you make a sacrificial move or a take that action at a cost of another move you’ve been planning because you know it will cause the other to take a loss?
D. Have an expectation of reaching a reasonable goal
My wife and I both quickly tire of any game where one person consistent loses no matter how much we enjoy the mechanics involved. When one of us no longer has an expectation of achieving a reasonable goal.
If only in a war situation we could have that cup of coffee afterwards and learn the why behind the decisions each player had made and play the game over again, but when war is declared, there is no coffee left in the carafe.
The drive to win games is similar to our drive to win wars, but our drive to play games is far from our drive to fight in war.