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In games that allow you to 'backstab' other players (such as Diplomacy and Cosmic Encounter), it is often very important to make other players think you are going to do one thing while really planning on doing another. When I play games like this, I have trouble making other players believe me, and sometimes lose because of this fact alone.

How can I get better at lying convincingly at key points in the game to improve my odds of victory? Are there any vocal, behavioral, or facial tells that I should try to minimize? What words should I say and what should I be thinking when I try to lie? How can I apply this knowledge to figure out when other players are lying?

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In The Resistance, if I'm a spy and there's suspicion on me, the only way I can keep from cracking is to convince myself that I'm not a spy. –  shujaa Aug 9 '12 at 3:05
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@shujaa I've definitely played Resistance before, been picked for a mission, and only when I looked at the voting cards remembered "oh yeah, I'm supposed to play the red sabotage card aren't I?". The best way to lie is to forget the truth :) –  Tacroy Aug 9 '12 at 16:52
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7 Answers

As with any other skill, practice makes perfect.

Learn from your mistakes and learn from your successes. Learn from other players who have fooled you into believing their lies.

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One way to get better at lying (at critical points) is to tell a few "white lies" at NON-critical points in the game, when there is apparently nothing to win or lose. If you can get away with lies at such times, it will be good practice for the critical time when your lie does matter.

If you get "caught," all is not lost. Then the thing to do is to tell the TRUTH at a critical point in the game. Because if people now think you are lying, it would be a "double" double-cross.

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I play a lot of board games, with the same group, and people know that I am a lier (in game I mean !) and that I will backstab them if this makes me win the game. They also have the habit to target me as first priority in conquest games.

Nethertheless, I still manage to convince them at key points to believe me and to make choices that actually help me.

In short, the reason is I almost never actually tell a lie, and I almost always believe in what I say.

Here are some of the things that could help :

  • I have the habit of explaining why I do something or why someone should do something. I always give good, true reasons here. I also know the rules really well, so people get in the habit of listening and trusting what I say.
  • when I want to manipulate someone into a move, I don't even do it deliberately. I start as usual to explain why it would be good to him or to both of us to do this or that. I just fail to underline that it gives me a good opportunity to backstab in a few moves (it must not be obvious)
  • another key point is believing what you are saying and so avoid lying. Lying by omission is much more difficult to detect ! For games with hidden victory points like Dominion or Small World, you can highlight the recent turns in which some opponents have gained a lot (and forget to remind them it was your turn earlier in the game).
  • For instance, in a 2 player game (magic the gathering), I was able in a tournament to make someone forfeit a game he should have won on the spot, simply by pointing to one of my cards in play and basically saying, this counters your strategy right ? It was true, except I forgot to mention that I wasn't allowed to play this card at this precise moment so he should have won. And I almost believed I could use it at this point so he also believed me.
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Having not played this game, or played in the group you're playing, I can't give specifics, but I can talk a bit about my experiences with subterfuge in other contexts. (poker is a classic for this)

The first, most important thing is that you need to have a story in mind that you want the other person to believe. Simply saying no when you would normally say yes is an easy discontinuity to ferret out, especially when some of your other in-game behaviour doesn't match. Check out some poker commentary; every now and then, they can tell almost exactly what the player is trying to represent, even though the cards are different. If poker is too boring, check out stabby's team fortress 2 videos. He also mentions what he meant for his targets to believe.

Try to keep track of what your recent visible actions have been. If the story you'd like your targets to believe doesn't make any sense together with your history, it won't work. Try to account for the other player's perspective. Any knowledge helps. In poker, if you're trying to represent an ace, you need to make sure your opponent doesn't have one already.

If your target has incentive to believe your story, it makes it easier. Give them an angle for possibly double-crossing you. Make them believe you are too far behind everyone and feel like being king-maker. Give them a clear benefit in the deal with a small, obvious way that you 'plan' to take advantage, so they can think they're ready to defend.

One important thing, as has already been mentioned, is to not lie most of the time. If the culture that you a playing in is about always being cut-throat, then you need to shake that up. Give a few games away, act on impulse or emotion for a little while, but most importantly do this in such a way that it looks&sounds like your lies. As a kid playing memory tile games, I'd often point out the correct tiles for the others and they'd think I was lying and go for something else. You might have to be careful with this. If you mess with the social contract too much, the game becomes frustrating for other players to the point they may decide they don't like playing with you.

Lastly, pay attention to the pace of the game. If you make most of your decisions quickly or even flippantly, you need to match that speed with your lies. The bonus with that is that the faster things are going, the smaller the misdirection has to be. If the game is usually a slow, thoughtful process, you'll have to think through all of the details of your story before putting it out there for others. In any case you need to be a lot quicker with your thought process when lying than during normal game-play, so it can often be helpful to slow down the game, think through a story, then discard the story and give the truth.

I hope that's helpful.

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Sorry about all that text... –  tugs Aug 16 '12 at 19:33
    
Re: the social contract - if you aren't playing, say, The Resistance to win that game of Resistance, then I don't want to play with you. Even if you're on the other team... it's not cool to establish some sort of meta-game at the expense of your teammates' ability to win a particular iteration of the game. –  The Chaz 2.0 Jan 23 at 23:31
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I personally use the following approaches in any game in which you need to tell your opponents something that is not true:

  • Tell a lie that is close to the truth, but still can give you an advantage in the game. The smaller the lie is, the harder it is to detect it.
  • Lie casually at non-critical moments to confuse detection strategies that your opponents may use. For example in a game in which card drawing is an aspect, now and then say "yes!", or "ugh" after drawing a card, just to give your opponents the idea that you drew a brilliant/terrible card, regardless of the quality of the card. Or for example in Settlers of Catan be happy with a resource that you have many of already or be neutral about receiving a resource that is very useful to you. Make it hard for your opponents to detect the truth so that detecting a lie is also hard.
  • Remove aspects that regard your lie from your own view, so you don't accidentally look at them and give away your lie. For example, in poker, put your cards face down when deciding to rise so you can not look at them and see that they are bad and perhaps make a facial expression that gives you away.
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Read this book: How to Win Friends and Influence People. You can find it as a PDF. It sounds old and corny, but it's chock full of exactly what your need in Diplomacy.

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Don't Backstab other players. Don't lie at key points.

If you never lie, you will be much more convincing when you finally do lie.

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That doesn't work in our group because we're all very wary of that strategy (we've seen it many times before). My question wasn't really about WHEN to lie, but about how to do it effectively when I need to. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Aug 9 '12 at 15:23
    
@CrazyJugglerDrummer, certainly, but my answer isn't about when to lie either. Your effectiveness at lying is based on past lying. If you never lie, your current lie will be more effective. –  user1873 Aug 9 '12 at 16:21
    
As I said, in the groups I've played with that strategy doesn't work. In a group of more trusting and gullible people it might have more success, but we play very competitively. Thus, we base our decisions on the current state of the game and will always lie if it benefits us, effectively erasing any usefulness previous actions might have on predicting someone's future behavior. –  Gordon Gustafson Aug 9 '12 at 23:49
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@CrazyJugglerDrummer, Then lying is useless. If your opponents and you will always do the most beneficial current move, your opponents will always always know what you will do regardless of the lie (in an open information game). In a game like Cosmic Encounter with hidden info, not lying most of the time will make your lies believable. –  user1873 Aug 10 '12 at 0:18
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