Here's a scenario to illustrate my question. My wife and I were playing Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries earlier this evening - apologies if you don't own this particular edition, but hopefully the basic situation will be obvious to anyone who's played any TTR, even if you're unfamiliar with the map.

We'd both drawn a poor selection of Destination cards and kept only two each. My first play was Orebro - Stockholm. The next two routes were played by my wife: Kobenhavn - Karlskrona, and Karlskrona - Norrkoping. At this point, with a spare red ticket in my hand, I opportunistically played Stockholm - Norrkoping!

With both the southern entries to Stockholm blocked, my poor wife now had no choice, if she wanted to link Kobenhavn to the top right segment of the board, to undertake a cruelly circuitous route, involving three turns and ten tickets, instead of one single ticket and a single turn. I patiently endured the two minutes of dire recriminations and imprecations that followed my dastardly move, and ended up winning the game by in the region of 20 points - hardly a landslide.

I'm just wondering whether this kind of thing would be considered poor sportsmanship in other groups. I ask because there was a question on this very site about whether it was poor form, in Settlers of Catan, to pretend to want to trade for a good, to sneakily fish for information before playing a Monopoly card. To me that seems like a perfectly sensible procedure, but a lot of people seemed horrified at such unsportsmanlike practice!

There's an argument that one should play Ticket to Ride only "by the book" - making only plays that actively help to score Destination cards in one's hands. I would counter that, in an exclusively 2/3 player game like Nordic Countries, blocking one or both of the other players can be just as beneficial as straightforwardly aiming to score routes, if not more so. If another player has drawn and kept 5 amazingly compatible routes and I am going to struggle with my 2, why is it unfair for me to "even the odds" a little by throwing a spanner into my opponent's works? Essentially, I don't understand why it's okay for me to try to crush an opponent by "above board" means, and not okay to do that by "devious" play.

In a game with many players I think a purely blocking move could be slightly more dubious, on the ground that it will probably only mess with some players, allowing others to pull ahead: it's kingmaking, basically, and that can be really annoying. But is there anything wrong with such tactics in a 2-3 player game, where it can obviously be an effective route to victory? Would a player who regularly tries to spoil your plans rather than concentrate on his own be persona non grata before too long?

Certainly it really gets my wife's goat - I'm lucky I'm not sleeping on the couch tonight!

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    You do not actually have to ask people if anyone has a resource. You are allowed to count the stockpiles at any time. So you always know exactly how many cards a monopoly will give you. The point is people cry about dumb things, anything that is not cheating is fair
    – Andrey
    May 5, 2011 at 13:13
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    It seems like your question isn't really about whether it's ethical (it just boils down to the question of whether it's cheating) but instead about whether it's good sportsmanship, wise, or polite. Andrey's comment is the correct answer if you're truly wondering about ethics. May 6, 2011 at 18:50
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    I don't fully understand the distinction people are drawing between "ethics" and "sportsmanship/wisdom/tact/politeness", but perhaps my personal definition of the word is a bit screwy. For me ethics is just interchangeable with "how one should ideally behave", under any interpretation of that phrase. May 6, 2011 at 18:55
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    Sorry, I didn't see your comment in response. You're not far off with your definition of ethics, but it's less about behavior and who you are than it is about accepted principles of right vs. wrong. Ethics considers questions of right and wrong outside of specific applications. The distinction is that it's very possible to do something that's ethical (not "wrong" or against the rules), yet still isn't nice. I think the question of whether blocking is bad sportsmanship is a good question; it's just not the same as the question of ethics. May 6, 2011 at 19:34
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    Honestly, I'm kind of surprised no one has linked to the Penny Arcade comic. NSFW: penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/04/16
    – aslum
    Mar 16, 2013 at 14:40

14 Answers 14


There seems nothing unethical about such a move - opposite to your example of pretending to want to trade (which in my book is clearly unethical because it involves active lying), this move is just one of two main winning strategies:

  1. Get more points for yourself
  2. Limit points of the opponents

There is no lying or obfuscation - you are making it harder to win for the opponent by legal game means without any metagaming (like looking at an opponent's cards or hustling opponents into telling you some information which you shouldn't know while playing by the rules, like in your Settlers example).

Basically this move could be similar to a situation in Settlers when you put a robber on someone and also yourself - you are losing something (a turn in TTR) but in certain situations limiting the opponent more.

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    I think it's more similar to playing a blocking road in Settlers. See this discussion for more: boardgamegeek.com/thread/68652/the-infamous-road-block-strategy
    – tttppp
    Jan 10, 2011 at 13:06
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    Hmm, does asking "does anyone have any stone they'd be willing to trade?" really count as lying? I guess it's certainly obfuscation. But in many ways it's nicer than just playing the Monopoly, because you get to find out if people have stone they'd be willing to part with - if they really, desperately NEEDED it they wouldn't (or shouldn't) say anything! Jan 10, 2011 at 17:05
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    @thesunneversets - I would say, that it is more lying because you are not hiding (obfuscating) your intention under another "true" (Not implying false information) sentence , like "anybody knows, if there is still some stone available?", but implying that you are asking for the sake of a trade, which you are not actually going to make. In the obfusction category would fall a similar move, where you trade away something and in the same turn claim it back with a monopoly - here you didnt cheat out any information, but just acted maybe a bit unsportmanlike. Jan 11, 2011 at 13:43
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    @Gundabad: I respectfully disagree. I don't believe that an action that is in your best interests is therefore ethical. However, I think those are just variations on "What is acceptable in our group?", and the answer to that question varies from group to group. You might play with people who don't mind the "fishing" tactic mentioned above; I might play with people would would deplore it. Neither of us are right or wrong, but we'll likely have a better time if we play within the expectations of our respective groups. Apr 8, 2011 at 1:44
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    If you have agreed not to play a certain way before starting, or are playing in a location where a house rule is standard, then it would be unethical to go back on your word or break a rule (in effect, cheating). Otherwise, actions permissible within the scope of the rules and motivated only by in-game factors, regardless whether a group likes them or not, are still ethical. They may not make you popular, but there is a difference between something that is looked down upon and something that actually violates ethics.
    – Gundabad
    Apr 8, 2011 at 17:44

Well, it depends on how much longer you want to keep playing board games with your wife! :-) Every gaming group tolerates a different level of "screwosity" - people making blocking moves such as yours only to derail an opponent. My group loves it. It sounds like your wife doesn't. It's not specific to Ticket to Ride. If your wife wants to play where you can only advance your own cause, then you'll have to adapt to that.

In all fairness to you, your wife possibly made a tactical error. If there's a critical leg in one of your routes, you need to claim it first. You don't have to build your route in order. We don't know if she had the card to do that though.

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    Personally I try not to start building routes that are heading towards a "bottleneck" until I have the cards in advance! If I was her I wouldn't have started building from Kobenhavn towards Stockholm, telegraphing my reliance on the Stockholm-Norrkoping corridor; I'd have hoarded cards and waited to build Stockholm-Norrkoping first. The way she went about it was relying on me not to rock a boat that I could see setting sail, practically daring me to make the block. I guess she tends to overestimate my desire to keep the peace between us! Jan 10, 2011 at 21:32
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    "It's not specific to Ticket to Ride." True, but I would say that Ticket to Ride has a uniquely large culture of players who are interested in playing "kinder" games. Check out the multiplayer in the apps, you'll see lobby after lobby of "no blocking" games, where you'll be shunned if you do anything too aggressive. I don't think it changes the answer at all, but just something I do think is somewhat distinct about TTR in actual play, and that you should always talk about expectations with new players.
    – tdhsmith
    Dec 17, 2019 at 21:18

The only time a situation like this can become unethical is in a multiplayer game. As long as every player makes moves with a goal to win it is perfectly fair. On the other hand, if a player desires that they are going to carry out some personal vendetta this game, and instead of working to win just tries to block one other player, letting a third party get ahead it becomes a problem.

I can imagine situations like "if you go there, i am going to spend the rest of the game just blocking you so don't" That is not a game i would want to be in. But maybe someone would.

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    Upvoted for raising a good point. Whether or not blocking another player's progress is obnoxious in a two-player game (and I agree with everyone that it isn't really, and those who perceive it as such are muddled in their thinking) - the issue becomes a lot more thorny in a multiplayer game. Even if aggressively blocking your nearest rival while you are in pole position may increase your chances of coming first, it can dramatically and "unfairly" change the final placings. And kingmaking when you aren't even going to win is a VERY contentious issue, of course... May 5, 2011 at 17:53
  • I still don't see how that's unethical. It's a game. You are not cheating by helping one player over another. Once you have lost there is nothing to play for other than spoiling the game for others. It may not be nice but as it a game, it's hardly unethical.
    – Codeguy007
    Nov 24, 2017 at 5:11

You know, it never occurred to me to ask whether playing a completely legitimate move in a competitive game is "ethical". The designers already figured that out when they made the rules.

Now, if you are making up your own house rules that say you can make binding contracts with players, like "if you give me the Edinburgh route, I'll let you build to Stockholm" then you are not playing the same game. Good designers and HUSBANDS should figure out that kind of game balance in advance.

I'd honestly say that IF a player is pressuring another player to not compete, because "well, I did something nice for you whenever" then stop playing games with them. That's not game playing. That's some ugly passive aggressive relationship stuff. You should play games to AVOID situations like that. I'm not saying it happened in your case, but I have seen it sour more than one social event.

Just go with this scenario in the future: You are playing hearts. The other player is trying to run the hearts (aka getting a lot of points, and causing the other players to lose points). Should you stop them? If you play with people that answer that question differently, your games won't be very fun, I can tell you.

There's a reason there are rules to games. It's to answer questions like the one you brought up.

"Essentially, I don't understand why it's okay for me to try to crush an opponent by "above board" means, and not okay to do that by "devious" play." Exactly. And players are free agree upon house rules before a game starts. That's totally cool, and can solve a lot of problems. But you should really agree(!), and before the game.

Bohnanza is one of the least cutthroat competitive games I've played. You trade with people, yeah you can lie or not, but a deal is a deal. Most people enjoy taking the attitude that every deal you make should benefit both parties (but you more, of course). It makes for an amiable and less competitive game. Even so, cutthroat players will have a blast promising all kinds of "future considerations" if you give them what they want NOW. Awww, there's been an unexpected market change in soy commodities. Ah well, I'd catch you up next game (Ha!).

One more comment and I'll shut up. :) There are situations where you think you are playing one game (like a fun online multi-player WW2 FPS), and you find out quickly that you are really playing the victim in someone else spawn camping game. Yeah, that sucks. It's due to poor game design. By contrast, TTR, Settlers and Bohnanza are examples of good game design.

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    Spawn camping is different. It is beneficial to the player. I think the best example of bad play is driving the wrong way in a racing game. You are not going to win, but you sure as hell are going to ruin the fun for everyone else
    – Andrey
    Jul 25, 2013 at 13:41

I don't know why this is even a question. The goal of a game is to win, and half of winning is preventing others from winning before you are able to. If blocking a route prevents your opponent from winning, then how could anything be unethical about it?

If you aren't allowed to do anything to affect other players, you are all just playing solitaire on a shared board. You may as well just each grab a deck of cards and play real solitaire at that point.

Also, this is a completely different situation than the Settlers example, but I think that is perfectly valid strategy as well. There is nothing in the rules that says you must make a trade when you ask if anyone is willing to trade a particular resource. And like others have said, asking if they have any they are willing to trade doesn't mean that they are going to tell you they have said resource.

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    Maybe I'm reading into your answer too much, but "I don't know why this is even a question" seems kind of hostile, and could be dialed back a notch or two. May 4, 2011 at 15:32
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    @LittleBobbyTables - No hostility intended - I seriously don't know why this is a question. Unless you are knowingly breaking the rules of a game, nothing you do can do within the game can be considered unethical. Not nice, sure, but unethical? No. Unless, of course, there's a definition of unethical that I'm unaware of (which is possible). May 4, 2011 at 15:44
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    It's a question because I do play games with a lot of people who are perfectly (ish) happy to be beaten by you pursuing your strategy on your side of the board more effectively than they're pursuing their strategy on their side of the board. But if you go over to their side of the board and start making moves that don't increase your positive victory points, just negatively impact theirs, they get really angry. Without debating the precise definition of "ethics", I feel like there's definitely room to consider whether it's legitimate to play in a style that makes others feel unhappy! May 4, 2011 at 17:50
  • @thesunneversets - I agree completely, but that's a different question. The answers here all seem to be talking about "ethics", not whether or not it makes others unhappy if you play a certain way. But I do believe that playing that way is not playing how the game was intended to be played, so at that point, you're playing with "house rules". And if you have an established house rule, either explicit or implicit (e.g. you don't want to upset your wife), then not following it would be akin to breaking the rules and in that case would be unethical. May 4, 2011 at 21:10
  • Well, I think like you, basically. But we've never established any such explicit house rules in my group and people always complain if you seem to be nobbling their strategy at the expense of promoting your own. I don't necessarily understand what you mean by an "implicit house rule", but if it's "generally implicit" that blatantly sabotaging other players' strategies is bad, then that does seem to me a wider question of ethics... even if the rules do not condemn, or indeed seem to encourage, such a play style. May 4, 2011 at 21:16

In my opinion this is a justifiable move. You compared it with the pretend trades in Catan. I'd say that the Catan situation is much more borderline than this: One exploits a player's trust to gain an advantage. In your situation you are merely speculating on your opponent's goals and sacrifice a turn to make a counter move.

It all however depends on your group. If it's a very non-confrontational group then this move will get you more criticism than in a cutthroat group. You'll also have to be prepared to handle the consequences when the rest of your group adapt to this play style and become more confrontational themself.

In Tock/Dog (Pachisi variant) games we usually play all nice and non-confrontational at the beginning. But at some point one person just has too good of an opportunity to send someone else home and takes it. After that, war is pretty much inevitable and people send each other home as often as they can.


It's not unethical at all, unless you're playing a game agreed to be "no blocking."

Note that it's less effective in the Europe version, so is done less in that flavor, but even then, blocking is a part of the strategy set for successful players of all flavors of TTR.


I would approach this on two levels: 1) the game, and 2) the opponent.

From a purely GAMING point of view, I see nothing wrong with it. "Blocking" is a feature of most games. And in most games, "it's all relative," meaning that it pays to make a move that may hurt you some, but your opponent more.

I'd think twice about using such tactics if your opponent was your wife. Because it could cost you in some other arenas.

(I once wrote a short story about a "mixed" couple playing "mixed doubles" tennis, "we were both pulling our punches because it was our [respective] mates on the other side of the net.")


In Ticket to Ride we aim to "play nice" and not perform pure blocking moves for several reasons:

  • provide a more friendly and casual atmosphere
  • save the less experienced players from getting slaughtered

Playing to win at all costs is a surefire way of peeving off at least half my gaming group (including any female spouses), but in a competitive setting, why not?

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    I always feel like "slaughtering" a less experienced player is okay if you do it in a nice way (i.e. being willing to demonstrate to them how they might be able to beat you the next time), as opposed to a horrible gloating one. Competitiveness for its own sake is bad, but so is playing very suboptimally in a game which is designed to have winners and losers... Jul 25, 2013 at 12:49

We definitely block in our group, though not as much anymore, since I've discovered that I'm usually too tight for trains for routes to be able to do it much. I've really hosed myself sometimes.

If you play online, you'll definitely see blocking moves played.

  • At the end of the game I missed being able to claim one of my routes because I was one train short. If I hadn't built Stockholm - Norrkoping I'd probably have had it! Then again, if I hadn't built Stockholm to Norrkoping my wife would probably have built the Lieksa - Murmansk 9-length route and gained a whopping 27 points! So it's all about weighing up potential gains and losses. Jan 10, 2011 at 17:08

People block all the time but it is nice to agree upfront whether blocking is on the table.


The game mechanics are clearly designed around blocking. There are finite number of routes between any pair of cities, and the number of routes available decreases if the number of players decreases. Ticket to Ride is a strategy game. Destination Tickets are part of that strategy. Do you go for the routes that make sense in the short term, or do you secure the key routes to keep from being blocked? Do you concentrate on your own Destination Tickets, or do you block others? Do you go for the routes you really want, or do you avoid them to keep from tipping off your opponents to what you're going for? I've gone for routes that aren't part of my Destination Tickets just to screw with the other players' minds, and distract them from I'm really going for. That's part of the game.

Oh, and as far as Settlers of Catan is concerned, if you really want to piss the other players off, trade a bunch of a resource, and then reclaim it with monopoly.


I would say, due to the nature of the game, that it IS unethical, and hear me out as to why: the whole point of the game is building a NETWORK of trains and trying to earn the most possible points out of that network.

Building on a single section of track that is nowhere near your actual network, just to prevent another player from building their own network, seems to fall outside the spirit of that, especially thematically (it's hard to imagine a railroad company halting production of their own project just to travel across the country and sabotage the production of someone else's project).

In fact, I think that is why some of the later games addressed this. For example, Ticket to Ride: Europe added the "stations" - it basically makes blocking completely useless because if you only blocked one section of the track, then you basically just wasted your own turn because your opponent can use what you built to finish their own route. IMO, the fact that they added that mechanic to later games indicates that it was not intended to be a tactic in the original games either.

The other thing to consider is how the game is actually played - turn based. By only being able to build one stretch of track at a time, it's pretty difficult to NOT give away what you are going for. It makes it very easy for an opponent to block you, especially on tracks that are only 1-2 trains long. So it also seems unfair when you need to connect 3 sections of track and it takes 3 turns to do. I think it would be different if you could connect as much as you wanted on your turn, then if you left something open to be blocked, fine... but if there are 3 places to block you, it's just not possible to cover all of them on 1 turn, meaning you are helpless against being blocked, which changes it from "a valid strategy" to "not fair", because there is nothing they could do to prevent you from blocking them, so they feel cheated rather than outwitted.

I mean, let's take a real look at the situation described in the original "question" - the wife has to complete 3 small routes to set up her network. If she had played the one that had been blocked first, what's to have prevented you from taking one of the other legs instead? If she played Stockholm-Norrkoping, you could have still blocked her by playing Norrkoping-Karlskrona (a 3-train route, so slightly harder to block, but not impossible by any stretch). So really, what options does she have to complete this 3-leg route without being blocked, if you are intent on blocking her? There aren't really any, which is why it feels "cheap"/"unfair" to be blocked.

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    Blocking isn't unfair: Player A has as much option to block Player B as vice versa. And blocking can use up your trains, making it more difficult to complete your own routes.
    – AndyT
    May 4, 2017 at 10:33

Short answer: Pure blocking - and almost any other in-game tactic - is ethical if and only if everyone playing the game agrees, outside of the context of the game, that that action should be permitted in the game.

Long answer:

The key thing to understand here is that ethics should most properly refer to decisions and agreements made outside of the context of the game. The structure of competitive games is such that you are inherently discarding normal moral considerations to allow enjoyment of contextually unrestricted competition that need not have effects outside of the game.

But all players get different things in different quantities out of playing games. Because of this, players may prefer there to be additional "rules" outside of those specified by the published version of a game itself. Things go well when these house rules are explicit, and poorly when people assume "everyone does it like that". Or worse, "it's unfair"/"not nice"/"bad" to do this thing in the game, and people disagree.

As others have said, the key is to make agreement outside of the game prior to starting it. Agreements made outside of the game have normal moral and ethical considerations. But - contrary to what at least one other person has said here - there isn't much limitation on what you can agree to allow inside games, up to and including clear-cut lies, and (in a multi-player context) sabotaging a player when it decreases your own chances of winning, placement, or absolute score.

For all of these things it is completely valid to not want to play with those behaviours, but also completely valid to enjoy the additional tactical and strategic considerations that they bring to the game. For instance, allowing sabotaging other players in a multi-player game even to your own detriment can lead to extremely sophisticated game-theory considerations across multiple games, that can drastically enhance the scope of a game. People can then "play" with whether and when things like vengeance or reputation building can be valuable across multiple games. On the other hand, some people might prefer the nature of a given game (or all games) without those considerations.

All of these viewpoints are valid, the key is to have agreement on what is permitted inside the game and what is not. Because if you don't have this agreement, you're not truly playing the same game, and this will tend to lead to conflict.

The one thing I would warn against in terms of permitting things in game, is permitting bringing outside considerations into the game itself - e.g. I'll give you this chocolate bar in real life if you do this thing in the game. This destroys the separation between the ethics of the real world and the ethics of the game, and has the effect that all real-world ethical considerations are now part of the game. As far as ethical considerations go, you would in effect no longer be playing a game at all at that point.

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