We play a board game once a week. Before our last session read a good strategy article for Great Western Trail, followed the strategy suggested there and won by a lot (This wasn't our first time playing the game).

After the game, I told my friends about the guide and the main suggestions. Some of my friends said that reading the guide gave me an unfair advantage and that it is a form of cheating. While I don't see it as cheating it did give me a huge advantage.

How should we properly approach setting up these rules/expectations so no one is frustrated?

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    Hey, as is, I believe this question may be too opinion-based (there's no real objective answer to is it cheating or not, the answer there is: whatever the group decides is what it is). One possible question here that isn't too opinion based is how to properly approach setting up these rules/expectations so no one is frustrated. You can edit the question to be that if you feel like that helps.
    – Cesar M
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 6:21
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    You don't mention if this was the first time you played the game. The answer regarding the social contract is great, but remember the terms of that contract will have a huge amount of variation. First time plays might be expected to be "rules only", if you're playing the same game regularly reading strategies may become OK if you're struggling to keep up with the others.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 10:00
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    Just a general Stack Exchange note: please try and integrate edits into the body of your question rather than marking them as a separate section. Thanks! Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 10:15
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    Obviously: no. This is not even opinion-based. Knowing the rules/strategy is not against the rules. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 18:36
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    Any parallel example should suffice to correct those. e.g.: Is studying chess openings before playing chess cheating? Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 2:16

4 Answers 4


This is all about your social contract1 - some groups play to win, in which case the behaviour you've described seems perfectly reasonable. Other groups play more for fun, and fun can often be reduced if one player is significantly better at the game than everyone else.

I'd wouldn't go so far as to call it "cheating" as you didn't break any of the written rules of the game, but it's obvious here that your friends had less fun because of your actions. At that point, it's behaviour that should be avoided.

How to avoid it? You already know the answer to that - talk about it beforehand, but with your group not with the Internet. Whatever you agree with your group that lets people have the most fun is the right answer (and sometimes that may involve people finding that they would have more fun if they played with a different group).

1. Link to Role-Playing Games SE, so obviously refers to some RPG-specific concepts, but the concept of a social contract applies across any group setting

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    Reading the a strategy guide to get better at a game isn't that bad. Even in a friendly situation if a player ends up getting better and going from always being dead last to a very string win because they looked up some strategies on how to play I don't think that would be bad.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 21:10
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    @JoeW Moving somewhat into MtG terminology, if you're a group of Johnnys and suddenly a Spike starts playing in your games, you may well not enjoy it; I know at least one person who didn't like playing Dominion with me because they wanted just to fire off big combos, whereas I played more competitively and ended the game before those combos could go off. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 21:28
  • I think you missed my point, I suggested a scenario where one player was always doing poorly and used a strategy guide to improve their play and enjoyment of the game. While you are suggesting players who don't necessarily care about others enjoying the game or not.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 0:06
  • I think that if someone that is always dead last gets better and that improves fun for the table, that's good. If that happens and it decreases fun for the table (because the others like beating up fish), things may need to change. Similarly, a Spike that joins a table to win not caring or noticing what the table wants is a problem - but it's a "likes beating up fish" problem. "Real" Spikes don't want to beat up fish - they want to beat others that challenge them. When that is not the game at that table and they insist that they're right is when it becomes a problem.
    – Mycroft
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 19:11

Nope it is not cheating and should not be considered such at all. The problem is that assuming you can't would mean that you are limited in what you can do to improve your skill at the game which may make it more enjoyable for you as a player.

You asked "Does reading strategy guides before a game night count as cheating?" and my response is when would you be able to read a strategy guide that wouldn't count as reading it before a game night? Would it also be considered cheating to play the game with a different group (or online) where you are exposed to better players and pick up a better strategy?

I think what matters more is how are you playing the game in general. Are you playing it in a competitive way while the rest of the group wants to focus more on enjoying the game?

  • We are all very competitive. Enjoying playing and also winning.
    – Cohensius
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 18:21
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    @Cohensius That makes the question sound even more confusing. Seems to me they would like to get the advantage from reading some strategy but are just upset that they didn't think if it first.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 18:53
  • Well, I was confused aswell. We were 4 guys, one was cool with that, the second called it cheating, the third did not however he was upset that long before the game ended it was clear that he has no chance to win.
    – Cohensius
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 21:06

I think it's a particular issue with this game, which can be played at two different levels - as a 'friendly' game with family or friends, where people unfamiliar with the game stick to the most obvious cow-collecting strategy whilst leaving the progress of their train and what buildings they build mostly to channce.

Or at a 'competitive' level, where getting your toll buildings out in optimal locations is key, followed by 'playing the mechanics' to extract maximum value from placing buildings, buying workers, and managing station upgrades, certificates and objective cards.

There are so many aspects of the game that, if just one player knows, effectively 'spoil' the experience for the others, who will find themselves falling further behind as they pay over their tolls and lose critical workers to the player in the know. Even starting on the building tile and nabbing a key spot for your toll building could give a game-long advantage over someone who starts off thinking 'let's buy a cow', which no competitive player would ever do.

In a family setting the onus is on the player in the know either to relax and deliberately play the game for fun, or to offer to share their knowledge to bring others up to speed.

GWT is a complex and very well-designed game, where knowledge is a huge advantage!


TL:DR Immoral yes, cheating no.

Firstly, it's not technically cheating. If there are publicly available resources and all your friends have internet access and knew in advance what game they would be playing then you've not done anything that another player could not have done if they chose to.

If you should however depends on your motivation for playing a game. If its to win at all costs, ie in a tournament then by all means research a game and give your self every advantage going. There is not friendship lost in that situation.

If you are playing games for enjoyment of spending time with people and to just play the game then researching strategy before hand make the game less fun for everyone.

It's less fun for you because you don't get the joy of discovering a game for yourself. isn't it fun to look at a games rules and think how you would approach it, not what some internet article tells you to do?

You also make it less fun for every other player. A game is at its most enjoyable when all players are of an equal level, No one enjoys winning or losing by a huge margin. Who wants to spend over half a game knowing they have already won or lost?

To manage this I would suggest the following, firstly don't read strategy guides before playing a game. Would you buy a computer adventure game and then follow a walk through rather than trying to solve it yourself? Would you buy a puzzle book and copy what's in the answers pages on to the puzzle pages?

If you are teaching a game that you're are more experienced at the way to manage this is to share some of your knowledge and warn about pitfalls but still letter players discover their own strategies. When I play games such as World Without End I know all the events off by heart, so I try to warn players and things that might happen. Similarly if I'm playing Carcassonne I know the tile distribution, so If know all 6 Cloister tiles have been player why wouldn't I share that information with my opponent? I want them to have same public knowledge that I have and they can then choose what to do with that information.

Reading your question you say you told your friends AFTER you had read a strategy guide. If I was your friends I would be really annoyed with you as well. I'd be struggling to understand their motivation for doing so and would conclude winning a game meant more to them than actually playing a game and spending time with them. So no you didn't cheat but its was certainly morally dubious.

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    Immoral is quite a harsh word to use for an action like this. If the group had already explicitly set an expectation that reading about the game was no ok, then maybe. But without that, or any attempt to keep the action secret, immoral is a bit further than I'd go.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 9:57
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    Maybe so but I'm trying to get across that if that had happened in my group that one player secretly researched strategies for a new game and didn't share that information until after I do very annoyed. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 11:29
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    @StartPlayer Sure, but that's imposing your personal code onto other groups. Nothing fundamentally makes you more right than a group which encourages this kind of competitive play, and those groups are certainly not immoral. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 12:05
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    This wasn't a new game according to recent edits to the question,
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 12:09

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