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Some would call it cheating. The perpetrators sometimes call it creative play. These players are the kind of people who think it is ok to peek at the bottom card while shuffling a poker deck to give themselves an edge, or glance at the cards in player's hands seated next to them when that player is casually holding their cards and not secreting them close to their face. They forget they have evidence that Col. Mustard isn't the killer and claim that they, "cannot disprove you," leading to your unfortunate accusation. They tell you go fish, even when they are holding the card you are looking for. They rearrange ship parts on their spaceship boards after grabbing a new part, or put parts back into the supply from their save space after finding out that they don't fit. Many of the people who engage in this sort of behavior don't believe it is wrong, they sort of see it as a game within the game, to see how much of an edge they can acquire without getting caught.

In the old west, these players could be shot. Unfortunately, we live in a more civilized time, where that sort of thing is frowned upon, no matter how much better it would make the world.

I got to thinking about this question after asking this one regarding Treasure Map. At first, I thought that the card was badly designed. Since the game's golden rule for following card rules is, "Do everything that you can," this card would require a 3rd party to verify that you don't have a Treasure Map in hand. My reasoning was flawed, because I was thinking about the card in terms of a tournament setting where monetary gain might influence players to cheat. Then it got me thinking about the large set of games with closed information. In most of those games, the designers don't expect players to have a third party verify that players aren't "playing creatively," and designers don't expect players to do so.

In an open information game, it is much more difficult to cheat. There is no information that needs to remain hidden, so cheaters can't just look at your facedown hand. Rearranging pieces that are open information is fraught with much more peril, because the cheater might be playing against someone with a good memory, "Wait, my King wasn't in check?"

What are some good ways to influence a cheater to not "play creatively" in your group? Please understand, I don't want answers like, "Talk to them, and tell them that you think cheating is wrong." Creative players don't see it the way you do, and no amount of reasoning will change their mind.

Bonus points for suggestions that do this subtlety. (i.e. "Oh, the video camera? We always record all our games. It makes it much easier to post session reports on the Geek that way.")

Edit: It might be time for some clarification. The comments, and the only answer so far seem to indicate that the only answer is to just not play with cheaters. I am uncertain how one could provide a good answer for, "how do I play with cheaters?" when one has no experience in playing with them, or has made no attempt to play with them. As an example for how it is possible to play with cheaters, I will give an example from my own past. My family is very good at Clue, and we take extensive notes. everyone records not only the cards that they have received from other players, they also indicate what player makes a supposition, which players cannot disprove a supposition, and which player did. After a couple of games were declared invalid because a player with a disproportionate amount of "mistakes" said that they couldn't disprove a supposition, and multiple players notes showed that they clearly could have, we instituted the following rule. Before saying, "I can/cannot disprove you," a player was required to pick up their cards (previously, people just used their notes marked with the cards they owned) and repeat, "MURDERER, with the WEAPON, in the ROOM," followed by their answer. Galaxy Trucker has players play with one hand behind their back, and although it doesn't prevent cheating, it makes it harder to cheat. Poker has you burn cards.

What I am looking for is people who have experience playing with cheaters, and what steps they took to help reduce the cheating. It can be general advice, or specific to a game. My hope is that someone has had some experience in this matter.

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+1 because I find this an interesting game design problem also. (Consider Fury of Dracula, which has hidden information but contains an audit trail which prevents Dracula cheating.) –  Tynam Apr 18 '12 at 8:36
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If I work out that someone is a "creative player", as you so generously term them, I would just not invite them to play in my games ever again. Simple as that. Treating cheating as though it's some kind of valid strategy is just wrong, and cheaters need to learn that there are consequences for their creativity. On a related note, I'm always delighted when WotC give cheats and unsportsmanlike players massive multi-year bans from competitive play. It's not "unfair" to them or their Magic careers. They brought it completely on themselves. –  thesunneversets Apr 18 '12 at 9:21
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Creative players don't see it the way you do, and no amount of reasoning will change their mind. I disagree with your assertion. If you take "reasoning" off the table, about all you have left is squirting them with a spray bottle or thwacking them in the nose with a newspaper every time you catch them cheating. –  Sterno Apr 18 '12 at 12:38
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@thesunneversets On a related note, I appreciate that the MTG rules are pretty good about making sure player actions are verifiable using open information (e.g. "search for a creature card, reveal it (to demonstrate you didn't pick another card), then put it in your hand"). The one ugly edge case is morphs -- which is why not showing your opponent your morphs at the end of the game gets you a game loss. –  Alex P Apr 18 '12 at 14:27
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There is still some interesting culture clash in competitive MTG. Players from some backgrounds look at tournament infractions more like fouls in basketball. If you lost the match without being one infraction shy of a DQ, you didn't do everything you could to try to win. –  Affe May 24 '12 at 22:22
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6 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As I see it, you have three options that aren't "stop playing with them". In all situations, you're going to have to accept that cheating might happen in the game.

  1. Add incentives not to cheat (such as the answer from Kevin about automatically losing the game, or a game appropriate penalty, such as stealing a card from the offending player)

  2. Change the rules to incorporate enforcement (player A asks player B if they have card X, player C confirms B's answer). Of course, this is likely to change the balance of the game (player C then has extra information about B's hand), but done carefully you could end up with a great game.

  3. Accept that cheating is part of the game. This works very well for some games, but terribly for others. For example, poker where you can cheat in any way, but are disqualified from the round if detected can be good fun (but I wouldn't recommend playing for money).

You mentioned detecting cheating after the fact, by recording the game in some way (eg pen and paper or video camera). Sadly, I don't think recording a game will solve your problem - a player who believes it's ok to cheat is likely to say "so what?" when presented with "proof" that they cheated.

Of course, some games just don't work well with cheating - for example, I can't imagine Cluedo working with cheating players and no modifications. Seriously, in this situation, just don't play with the cheaters.


As an aside, with a group of people who engaged in "creative play", we tried applying the rules to the card game Cheat to other card games:

Loosely, this means all cards are played face down, and the player declares what the card is. Others can challenge the declaration by declaring "Cheat" and flipping the cards - if the cards are not as advertised, the player who played them is penalised. If the cards are what was declared, then the player who challenged is penalised (with the penalty varying depending on the game). With players who cheat in other ways (say hiding cards, or false shuffling) then you can also call them on that too - as long as you declare what "creative play" you're calling them on.

It's worth noting that even in these games that were designed to allow "creative play" there's still some honesty required - "I think you're dealing from the bottom" - "No I'm not". Consequently, if players are going to be dishonest, you can't really stop them.

So, practically, I would probably:

  1. Settle on a game that the "creative players" think is interesting enough to play by the rules (good candidates are games with built in lies and deceit such as Cheat or Bang! - or games with intrigue such as Settlers), or

  2. Find house rules that all players are happy with, or

  3. If you really want to play say, Cluedo, and players are breaking the mechanics by being "creative", find other players.

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I know you don't want answers that say, "Talk to them, and tell them that you think cheating is wrong", but, honestly, it's players distaste for direct confrontation that allows cheating to happen. Cheaters prosper only because we let them get away with it. If you see it happening and you can prove it, don't tolerate it. No one wants a cheater in their group. If they don't listen to reason, it's best to remove the troublemaker.

There are probably many of passive aggressive ways to try and influence a cheater in your gaming group, but directly telling them that their behavior is unacceptable is going to be your best strait forward solution. Don't tell them something like cheating is wrong. Don't frame the conversation about the definition of what cheating is. Frame it around the fact that no one else has any fun when the offender acts like he does. Tell them that their behavior is unacceptable to the group, defeats the purpose of the game, and that if they don't alter their behavior they will not be welcome in your group. It's best to do this as a united group. A little social shaming goes along way to fix bad habits, and you don't want it to look like it's just you being whiny.

Of course this is assuming we are talking about a true dyed in the wool cheater. Sometimes people make honest mistakes, and I've seen sore losers make a big deal out of this kind of "cheating". If you are going to confront someone, don't come on too strong for a first time offence. Let the punishment fit the crime. Saying your are pretty strict about following the rules is probably enough to deal with honest mistakes situations.

Catching someone in an elaborate sting operation is probably going to be counter productive. And no one want's to play games where they feel like they are guilty until proven innocent when it comes to fair play. Part of good sportsmanship is trusting your opponent to play fair and sometimes letting minor rules issues slip by.

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@user1873 I feel like if you're going to make assertions right from the start about what will or will not work, this is really a thinly disguised rant rather than a problem seeking solutions. –  Sterno Apr 18 '12 at 12:59
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@user1873 Part of the discussion should be that a game is a community event, and they should stop being selfish. Of course you can always appeal to their selfish nature. If no one likes playing games with them, they will have no one to play games with. –  CaulynDarr Apr 18 '12 at 13:00
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@user1873 I stand by those assertions backed by my vast experience as an adult human being. Oh and basic logic as well. People can break the rules so long as people don't enforce the rules - tautology. People who are unreasonable are unreasonable - tautology. Humans react to social pressures from their in group - the entire scientific field of psychology. –  CaulynDarr Apr 18 '12 at 13:29
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I agree talking to them is the best answer, and refuse to play if they keep cheating. I'd also emphasize not to mistake an honest mistake for cheating (and assuming a house rule is in play that isn't is a common example in Monopoloy....) There are some things you can do in a competitive game to enhance the audit trail, but they are game specific and often more trouble than its worth in a casual game. –  TimothyAWiseman Apr 18 '12 at 20:19
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How about adding a new rule to the game you're playing. Let the cheater play a cheating position, either openly or hidden, with the agreed limitation that he or she can't possibly win; or else they must keep track of every cheat they do and get scored on how well they cheated with the possibility of wining that way. Most times it's not about defeating your opponents but more about getting away with it. Creative people deserve creative scoring!!! Also, this will remove the incentive to cheat in the long run and bring said creative person back to the corroborative nature of the game.

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Interesting answer. Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you started. –  Tom Au Apr 23 '12 at 23:21
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Incorporate the cheating into the game. I don't know how well this ports to all games, but when I was in the Army, we use to play with a house rule in Spades that if you got caught reneging, the hand was immediately over, the reneging team lost their bid and the other team automatically made theirs. Before that, there was constant fighting between the two groups, of which I was in the rule following group. As an added benefit, paying such close attention to the cards made me a much better player.

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I love that there's a card in Magic The Gathering (well, one of the Un-sets) called Cheatyface, that you can play for free if you can sneak it in without an opponent noticing :) –  thesunneversets May 25 '12 at 10:58
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Do you value strategic decision-making and technically-precise play? If so, my advice is that it's not worth it to play with cheaters, because their "game within the game" gets in the way of actually experiencing the game. It's possible to play serious and deep games against cheaters within a tournament structure, but that involves tights rules for managing game state (usually with some component of making hidden state auditable), third-party oversight, and huge penalties for getting caught. And, even then, sometimes they delegitimize the whole tournament.

My experience with cheating in friendly play (this was with RPGs, though) is that a game where some players cheat and others don't but cheaters aren't punished with anything more than momentary ridicule eventually turns into a glorified bullshit session -- everyone's playing fast and loose with the rules, just in difference ways: the cheaters are cheating, and everyone else is just goofing around or fudging the game rules to impose ad-hoc penalties on the cheater.

The easiest option if you want to play with cheaters and value a real game is to play online, using dedicated software. A pen-and-paper Clue game might require the honor system, but an online implementation can force correct game actions on cheaty players.

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my experience with RPG cheaters involved a player rolling 20s far too often. this was accomplished with skillful dice rolling and a specially manufactured die that had a high number hemisphere (high numbers were all next to each other). we eventually required playersto roll from a cup. the heater tried to slide their dice out. we had to enforce shaking the cup thoughly up and down,and fully inverting the cup. dedicated software is a good answer,limiting cheating to only those hackers who can decod the random seed generator. –  user1873 Apr 18 '12 at 21:48
    
@user1873 Sounds like he could've saved some money by just buying MTG "spindown life counters." :) –  Alex P Apr 18 '12 at 22:45
    
It was a spindown counter. It has been ages since I RPed, so I didn't remember that detail. –  user1873 Apr 19 '12 at 0:57
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If they merely like lying, and not cheating, then a card game called "bullshit" or cheat where you put the cards face down, and state what cards you're putting down.

If someone suspects the person's lying, they can claim that the person's lying. They might do this because one player has said they're discarding "three tens" when they themselves have two tens.

If the person was lying, then they have some sort of penalty, whereas if they weren't lying, the person suspecting that there was lying has some sort of penalty.

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I believe that game is called Bullshit. The object of the game is to lie, so lying isn't cheating in that game. –  user1873 Apr 19 '12 at 3:48
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Cheat is one of my least favourite games, purely because people think it's acceptable lie when challenged after they've said "4 Aces" when laying 5 cards, the top four of which were aces. The offending party always thinks they're being clever as you can't prove whether they laid 4 cards or 5 cards. –  tttppp Apr 19 '12 at 11:53
    
@tttppp headdesk. –  Andrew Grimm Apr 19 '12 at 11:58
    
@tttppp We actually allow that. If the challenge is "too many cards", then the previous player checks the 5th card to see if it's correct. Of course, this still requires some degree of honesty. When we play cheat, we allow players to cheat however they wish except lying when challenged. For us, it works very well - and we'd just stop playing with someone who lied when challenged. –  Timothy Jones Apr 20 '12 at 0:41
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