Cheat, Heckle, and Strip: Tabletop Gamesmanship 101

April 16, 2015

I’ve been an avid tabletop games player since before I can remember. I can thank my dad for this. Since I was just a baby, he taught me how to move the pieces in Monopoly, how to count the points in Scrabble, and most importantly, how to accept defeat with something at least vaguely resembling grace—although I’m still working on that last one.

It was my sister who taught me that it was possible to cheat, when as a six year old, she convinced a four year old version of me that “favu” was a type of Egyptian pyramid and that I ought not challenge her Scrabble play, marking the last time I’ve ever trusted her. It was my brother who taught me how to cheat well, if for no other reason than that he gave me endless opportunities to practice. I’m sorry, Mike: I didn’t actually top-deck Monster Reborn all of those times—it was taped under the nightstand. And it was my friend Andrew who taught me that cheating, although easy once you know how, is almost always a less satisfying way to win than skill. I’ve won too many patient games of Risk—turtling in Australia until I swept to sudden victory—to discount the sheer satisfaction of understanding that you played better, harder, smarter than your competitors.

I consider myself an expert in the card-and-board game genre, and in my hearty experience I find that it is often underappreciated at Georgetown, deemed too nerdy by people who don’t consider Cards Against Humanity a tabletop game (which, by definition, it is) and too boring by people who have had a game console for at least ten years. What follows is a dual-purpose guide, meant to provide baptism to the uninitiated and spiritual guidance to those who’ve already embarked on the path to tiny plastic nirvana. Heed my advice (or go directly to jail).

First, let’s explain nomenclature: a tabletop game is a game played by two or more players frequently involving but not limited to: cards, coins, chips, boards, game-specific pieces, alcohol, dirty stories, electric swing music, sex jokes about members present at the table, and dice. This primarily differs from video games in two functions: 1) that the game itself is physically present, and not electronically represented on a screen, and 2) that there is a strip-version of the game that doesn’t end in one fully clothed participant, with everybody else naked. Trust me when I say that that gets very weird, very quickly. Sometimes I regret all the hours I spent practicing Halo.

The most important part of playing in a tabletop game is being a good participant, which means that you need to act in your own self-interest. Again, it’s not fun at all if somebody beats you when aren’t playing your hardest. This also means that you need to make other players feel bad for screwing you. Let them know that they’re the biggest jerk imaginable—not that this will stop them, but because it will incite them to belittle you and in turn allow you to gain more satisfaction when (if) you win. As the saying goes, “treat others as they have treated you before, because you tricked them into doing so.”

Another aspect fundamental to the game experience is how and when to heckle your opponents. Unless they’re about to flip the table and leave, I can answer these questions: the how is “without mercy,” and the when is “always.” My favorite method—and I’m not making this up—is to find an idol of some sort (which in my case, is a 5-pound bag of coffee with a skull on it that I have because (SHUT UP I DON’T HAVE AN ADDICTION, OK?!) and, having named it, speak only through it. “Two rocks for a sheep? Well, what does the Satan-baby think? What’s that? Burn everything? Right, I need at least three rocks.”

Playing board games with my dad are some of my most treasured childhood memories, and I wouldn’t sacrifice them for anything. That’s why it makes me mad when I see such a vivid interpersonal form of contact go underappreciated by such a large swath of campus. So go forth and conquer, Hoyas, and make a point of winning. Unless you’re playing strip Cards Against Humanity, in which case you should lose, and lose fast. Nothing tests friendships quite like seeing how desperate they are to put clothes back on you.


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