Rant: Kibitzing in board games

At a game night a couple of weeks ago I was playing a game of Spyfall with a group. My wife doesn’t enjoy games that involve her having to lie or deceive so she was watching this game, but she has played it before and she knows the rules. (In Spyfall, each person is dealt a card that tells you a location except for one person, who is the Spy. The goal is for the Spy to hide long enough to figure out the location before everyone else figures out who the Spy is.) I was dealing out cards to everyone and she asked to know what location we were at. Without really thinking about it, before I even looked at my own card, I showed it to her. She looked confused, then passed me the card. Everyone instantly knew I was the spy, I tried to fight it but there was just no hope.

Obviously what I should have done (and did for the rest of our games that night) was just to deal her one of the location cards we weren’t using before shuffling the ones we did use for that game. It was a reminder of how kibitzing in board games is easy to allow, even unintentionally, and the effect it can have on games (this one was totally broken, we should have just started it over at that point, even if I wasn’t the spy I would have had an unfair advantage).

What is kibitzing? It’s when someone who is not playing a game offers commentary on the game being played, such that the players can hear it. The easiest example I can think of is if a group of people are playing poker and a guy walks up to the table, sees someone’s hand, and shouts “Wow, three of a kind! Nice!” prompting everyone else at the table to fold.

The Spyfall game I referenced was a lapse in judgment on my part, I normally make a policy to never show anyone outside of the game any hidden information I have in a game I’m playing, especially social deduction games where the whole point is to read people. I have everything to lose and nothing to gain by showing this information, and in the worst case the game can be broken by information like this being revealed to other people because of something external to the game. It’s questionable that my wife should even be allowed to see a location card at all since she’s not playing the game, but she knows how I feel about this and she did close the head of her hoodie so that most of her face was obscured. It was a casual game of Spyfall so I think everyone was OK with it.

Obviously, if you’re not playing a game, revealing hidden information about that game to the other players is rude. I could argue that people shouldn’t even seek out that information in the first place. I’ve had a lot of experiences similar to this that have really soured my game experience.

I’m sure it’s a pretty common situation where I’m playing a game and we’re pretty far along and there are a couple of people nearby who are hanging around waiting for us to finish up (maybe 10 minutes away from being done? Close enough that it’s not worth it for other people to pull out a short game and play that). Maybe they just got to game night a little late, or their game finished up ahead of ours and they’re ready to join up with our group to play another game. Many times what will happen is the spectators will give advice to players, or maybe just distract them with conversations unrelated to the game. What ends up happening is that instead of our game taking 10 more minutes to complete, it takes 30 minutes, and usually people, including myself, get frustrated.

I have a policy that I never give (serious) advice on what to do in a game while the game is being played unless I’m specifically asked to by the person seeking advice. Of course I will never miss an opportunity to suggest that a player buy as many Curses as possible on their turn in Dominion, but that’s different. I may give some generic tips when explaining a game, and I’ll suggest that players take a course of action that benefits me in games where that is relevant, but these are different things. A lot of people out there would rather figure things out on their own.

But when you aren’t in a game, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to comment on that game. Even a comment like “looks like Adam is winning” or “who’s winning?” before the game is over can affect the outcome of the game. At best it derails the game and makes it take longer (usually resulting in the people causing the distraction to have to wait longer to get in a game!) and at worst it compromises the integrity of the game.

There’s a regular game night that I often go to, and I have to arrive late. Most of the time there’s a game in progress and I have to wait for it to finish. I always bring my 3DS or something to do by myself while I’m waiting for this game to finish; many times I’ll even sit at a different table until they’re done. Yes, I enjoy the company of the people I play with, but I enjoy it a lot more when I’m in the same game as them — to me it’s about the same as them texting or being distracted while they’re playing. So while it feels a little weird to sit by myself while I’m waiting for them to finish up, I feel like it’s the best thing to do.

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