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I was recently playing a board game with my 12 year-old son and wife of 18 years. We reached a point in the game where it was my turn to play while my wife could win the game with her next move. Because my son's turn was next, I did not block her, forcing him to block her or else lose the game. I pointed this out to him, and he, half-jokingly, also declined to block her.

My wife and I wound up in an argument about whether goal is to win, or to enjoy ourselves. Tempers escalated, and son ran crying to his room, etc, etc. We eventually realized that we had a fundamental difference of philosophy about playing games, and we both explained our points-of-view to my son, who seemed to understand our different opinions.

How would you have handled this situation? Should we have to set the boundaries of whether we are playing "serious" or not at the start of the game? Should I have just let it go? Any other advice?

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I think your question is actually about the disagreement between you and your wife. I have edited your question to reflect this, but you can roll back the change if you disagree, or edit it some more. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 8 '12 at 7:06
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She's right, is the general rule. –  Dave Clarke Oct 8 '12 at 17:29
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You compromise... and do it her way. –  Brian White Oct 9 '12 at 0:56

3 Answers 3

I think you answered your question in your last paragraph -- you need to agree on why you're playing the game in the first place. It seems you weren't aware of your different philosophies until now - okay, there's a first time for everything. Now that you know this, you can handle it:

Before you play each next game, agree what the point is. There are two ways to play games:

  • If you're playing one round in a game that is part of a long series then it makes sense to keep the rules strict, or else the total standing in the series doesn't mean anything.
  • But if you're just doing a single round of a casual game, the emphasis is probably more on the enjoyment and the laughs.

There's a time and a place for both styles. I have been in similar situations and had big arguments over game rules and objectives. The lesson I've learned is that I need to know what the other players think the game is about: winning or having fun? I'm pretty laid back and would agree to bend the rules a little so as to give weaker players a second chance; for me, the primary purpose of a game is the social aspect, not the competition -- unless the competition is agreed in advance! Then I will tell you exactly what the rules say, but then it's not fun anymore (and then why would I play?).

In your specific situation, I regret to tell you that the mistake is yours: if you don't block another player while you have the chance, and leave the decision to another player, then it's out of your hands and you must accept his decision.

He decided to teach you this lesson, and you ended up learning even more than he intended! I would tell him that he did nothing wrong to make his parents angry. In fact what he did with his move was kinda cool -- praise him for this!

You should focus on learning from this and looking forward to your next game. Chalk this last one up to experience and avoid blaming yourself or anyone else.


Edit: So much for the specific situation. In more general terms you should not let things escalate that much. A loud argument is usually not productive so when you realize that you are having an argument, it's incredibly useful to defuse the situation by backing down. You're not "losing" by doing that.

Especially between spouses, one should always be able to say "let's not get carried away" and suggest to discuss it calmly, perhaps some other time when everybody has had some time to think it over. After all, your argument was not about any fundamental topic (just to name an emotional and serious example, think circumcision). It can also be helpful to offer an apology for getting carried away - it takes two to argue, and one of them is you.

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+1 for pointing out (event without words) that sometimes the "problem" is between spouses because it's hard to predict how you'll deal with every situation... –  woliveirajr Oct 8 '12 at 12:35

I have friends who are seriously into board games. The meet once or twice each week and play until late at night. Sometimes I join them, and this is my perspective on playing games:

People are different, and there is room for each person to be himself in life. A game is not a separate world, but a social event: you meet because you want to play a game, but you also meet with friends to share some common time. A game has rules, and it is (usually) no fun, if someone breaks the rules, but it is not only okay but (I believe) part of the fun that different people play the same game differently. In this group of friends, some play very competitively, others often team up and play cooperatively. And since it is a game, that none of the players confuses with real life, that is part of the fun: that you can try out different strategies and playing styles and see how you feel with them. Sometimes the cooperative person plays competitively … just for the hell of it.

So, basically, I believe that there is no(t much) reason to argue about the "right" way to play. Just as you have to learn to deal with loosing (or winning in a way that does not make the others feel like idiots), you have to learn to deal with the fact that other people are not like you. Maybe that is something that you can teach your child through this game: that people are different and act differently, and still love each other. Because (I suppose) your marriage works well, despite the fact that your wife and you are not clones of each other. Social life is about tolerance etc., and a game is as good a field to learn about that than any other. And you can still learn that at an advanced age :-)

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The problem is you (singular or plural) crossed the line when your son was made to feel bad or to feel to blame although he stuck within the rules and you even told him he had the option to let your wife win or not.

If you regularly play board games, and especially when you play more advanced games, siding with someone or screwing someone over is an option which you are faced with regularly and sometimes every turn. It's part of the game.

The only boundary you need to set is one of respect for all players no matter their choice as long as everyone follows the rules. Also, you don't need to decide on serious or fun, that is also an individual choice. You can't force people to have fun and you can't force someone to be an aggressive player. You just need to choose to play according to the rules, the rest is just good manners.

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