Oops…I Just Realized…

In this modern age of board gaming, there are plenty of games available with a variety of rules, mechanisms, and complex things to remember during the course of a game.

Turn orders, action points, if/then’s, when/if’s, round phases, end-game triggers — just to name a few…

And even if you are experienced with these elements, each game may handle an aspect slightly different. Remembering all the little rules and details can be daunting and most likely during the course of play, a mistake — an “oops” will happen.

So, my question is — how do we handle a mistake once caught?

I just realized — last round, when I moved the Robber I forgot to take one of your cards, Mr. Brown Player.

To start, I guess the answer depends on what camp you live in.

  • Board Game Rules Fort Knox — There are some players who may say that you are responsible for your own turn and once your turn is complete, all bets are off. Now, if you are in this camp, it would also then be a requisite to put impetus on all players to police the active player’s turn. If the active player ‘forgets’ to take on a negative consequence, it needs to be caught — by someone — before the next turn begins.
  • The Merciful Meeple Summer Camp — Games are meant to be fun and we should all lighten up. Mistakes happen and if it is noticed, then let’s either be willing to pause to fix…or just let it slide. Play on, friends!

My guess, though, is that most of us actually fall somewhere in between. I know I do. Games should be fun. Sometimes they are complicated and hard — so showing latitude and grace feels right. That said, games work…games are fun…because of their design — thus, it is important to follow the rules. I play games for fun & competition — the competitive aspect gets tossed out the door if the rules aren’t taken seriously.

So, where’s the happy medium? Ideally, it would be simple. But the reality proves it not to be. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Isolated mistakes — and by this, I am speaking about a mishap that only impacts an individual player. For example, I forgot to collect $200 when I passed Go; when I killed that monster, I should have earned a point of health back; I forgot to pay 20 credits when I hired the carpenter last round.

Generally, this should be easy to fix. In the name of fairness and fun, just let the mistake be corrected.

BUT — should there be a ‘statue of limitations’ on correcting mistakes? 1 full round? 2 full rounds? 15 minutes?

Multi-impact mistakes — Here I am thinking about scenarios in which Player A’s mistake, if corrected, will impact Player B. Alfred states, “Excuse me friends, when I finished that last turn, I should have earned a stone.” Buford replies, “But there was only stone left in the supply and I purchased it so that I could finish building a house for my farmers.”

Correctly fixing the mistake helps Alfred, but suddenly feels like a punishment to Buford. In cases like this, I tend to learn towards backing up and getting things right. If the stone earnings action had not been missed, Buford would not have had any stones available to purchase and thus would do something else with his turn. Give Alfred his stone and let Buford replay his turn.

Should Alfred have paid better attention? Yes. (But again, there can be a lot to remember on a turn. Sometimes real-life distractions happen.)

Thanks, Obi-Wan, but that’s not exactly what I meant.

Is Buford being punished for Alfred’s mistake? Not really…if anything, he was getting an advantage that he didn’t deserve. Maybe Clifford is trying to catch-up with Buford and is glad that his rival didn’t receive an unfair benefit.

On mistakes like this, frequency matters. How many times do you allow these late mistakes to get fixed? Furthermore, how long before the ‘unwind’ is too difficult, or maybe impossible to figure out? One turn? Two turns? A full round?

The harmful mistake — This is much like the previous scenarios, but take it a step further. Alfred forgot to take the last stone that he earned on his turn. Buford played a special card from his hand, which allowed him to get that stone and then build his house, earning victory points and a new worker.

If Alfred’s mistake is recognized and ‘corrected’, Buford has to re-do his turn, because the stone supply is now empty. The harm to Buford is now everyone knows he has that special card. He can’t use it this turn now, so he performs a different action. Then, on the next player’s turn, Clifford uses his Steal a Card token and goes for Buford, since he ‘unfairly’ is aware of what is in Buford’s hand.

In the previous instance, Buford was annoyed, but not harmed (at least in the name of general fairness). But in this case, Alfred’s mistake has improperly been negative to Buford and unreasonably positive to Clifford.

In cases like this, I would tend to lean toward the maxim that “your mistake should not hurt someone else”. It stinks you didn’t get your stone, Alfred but Buford shouldn’t have to pay the price for it.

BUT….what if Dirk, watching all of this happen as player #4 can see that Alfred’s mistake (which is not being corrected, because Buford has already shown his hand) means that Buford builds the farmhouse that Dirk would have built on his next turn — because he already had all the resources necessary to perform that action. NOT fixing Alfred’s mistake has now had an undesirably negative impact on Dirk — Buford benefits and Dirk gets left in the cold. Thanks, Alfred!!!

So, what’s right? If only we had the Men in Black to help us out.

I bring up this topic, because this past weekend — I was apart of multiple plays with complex games, in which little mistakes occurred — and each of these categories were triggered at one point or another.

My general stance and hope:

  • Fairness over rigidity
  • Fun over bossiness
  • Responsibility — when push comes to shove, be willing to acquiesce if you were the one who made the mistake
  • Honest and Attentive Game Players — this is possibly the most important aspect, but the trickiest because not everyone has the same ethics, philosophy, or competitive mentality — and you can only control your own actions. Ideally, though, if all players in a game desire fairness, decisions will be made more easily. If all players stay attentive and pay attention to their fellow gamers, then we can help catch each other’s miscues. When players pounce on mental lapses as part of their competitive strategy, just expect more arguments and frustration.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What is your general stance on gaming mistakes?

For more board game discussion, follow me on Twitter @boardgamecrock1

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