Troll Proofed

Inspired by my post Horrible Proofing Person and the comments I received on Facebook, Twitter, and the Blog, I looked up some other rule sets (and took some suggestions). How did other games handle odd player behaviors?

Not all of the items below strictly relate to the scenario I mentioned in my other post, but some do, and I think all are fascinating. Really, the question is: how do designers deal with fuzzy situations?

Sometimes, somewhat seriously. Others, with a big smirking grin. All of these I think are useful as references and inspirations. I also included the one I'm going to toss in for Wozzle.

Love Letter

"A player could cheat when chosen with the Guard, or fail to discard the Countess when that player has the King or Prince in hand. We suggest that you don't play with knaves who cheat at fun, light games."

This is great. Instead of creating a very complex rule set to keep players honest or weakening the game by cutting the card, they instead simply say "Hey -- don't play with jerks."

Combat Commander Europe

"Important: In Combat commander, the motto "a rule means exactly what it says" should be the order of the day. In other words, as quoted from another fine game, Totaler Krieg!: Do not infer or imagine more to a rule than is stated in it. When in doubt, interpret strictly."

I love this and feel like the two most common rules questions for Farmageddon would be answered by it. The Genetic Super Worm states you reduce the cost to Fertilize by half. Everyone always assumes that means you can steal the crop or harvest immediately. It doesn't say that. Note: There is a slight wording tweak that'll be implemented in a future printing if, fingers crossed, we get another.

For Foul Manure, it states you cannot play Action cards to the crop, Fertilize it, or Harvest it. So many people ask if they can play a Foul Manure to it. But, as Foul Manure is an Action card, no. Note: Again, if there's another printing, I finally figured out how to make this card crystal clear. Ultimately, the fault for the confusion lies with me, the designer.

Once Upon a Time

This is a storytelling game with some mechanics to turn it into a game of sorts. But, they never lose site of what experience they want you to have.

"The object of the game, though, isn't just to win, but to have fun telling a story together."


"These rules are intended to encourage people to tell enjoyable and believable stories, and to ensure that the game is as fast-moving as possible. In practice, a gentle reminder is usually enough to prompt the Storyteller to correct herself, and losing her turn isn't necessary.

Challenges shouldn't be used as a tactic to take the story away from a player who's winning. And they definitely shouldn't be used to harass younger or less articulate players."

X-Wing Miniatures Game

Many miniatures games require a tedious, rigid use of rules and tape measures to fix movement. X-Wing brilliantly uses simple movement templates you follow in seconds. However, sometimes the table can get a bit cluttered. No worry -- use your best judgement.

"To execute a maneuver through another ship, the player should hold the movement template above the ship and make his best estimation of where the ship should end its movement. [...] Both players must agree on the ship's final position and facing."


Design pal Gil Hova told me that Sid Sackson noticed that player 2 playing Focus from his book "A Gamut of Games" could break the game by mimicking exactly player 1's move. His fix? Don't play with that player. He apparently fixed this more thoroughly in a second edition.

Snow Tails

In Snow Tails, a game about sled dogs, if a player is spending too much time on his or her turn, the other players can award him or her the Big Pause token. Get it? Eh? Eh? Thanks Geoff Engelstein and Gil Hova.



I'm still doing some tests to verify that the troll tactic is indeed just rude, and not a game winner. But, in the meantime, this is the rule I inserted. Well, not a rule, but a comment.

"Designer Note: Instead of buying Points to win, a Wizard can hoard Coins to impede the ability of others to play. While holding onto some Coins can be a good tactic, hoarding all isn’t in the spirit of the game. In lieu of a complex rule, Wizards should instead best each other with spells and cards! Remember, Wizards hate trolls."

Update: Werewolf

On his personal site, Max Temkin (one of the guys behind Cards Against Humanity) writes about how to play werewolf. In one section titled "Being a Great Player," he covers the topics of this post quite well. It's a long section, so I just recommend you hit this link and read it.

Do you know of other examples?


I think your slight addition is perfect, it gets the point across with a piece of light humor.

I now have to go through my games and check for more of these. It's interesting to see how they handled it as well as analyze the problems the comments were written to prevent and see how you could have tried to prevent them.

I have to say, the "solution" of a rulebook telling you to not play with jerks or cheaters does nothing for me- I can figure that out on my own. It's not a fix so much as a problem that the game designer just wants you to ignore.

The Love Letter example- which I think is a brilliant game that I play all the time- particularly bugs me. Lying about what you have when a Guard is played on you is just flat out cheating, and often is provable that's what happened later. The Countess is a bigger problem, because it is very easy to forget about it and accidentally cheat, and the only solution offered is "that person is a bad person for forgetting." We just house-ruled it that if you caught it, you're eliminated immediately, which isn't perfect. It bugs me because it's an ugly bit in an otherwise perfect game.

However, something like Once Upon a Time doesn't bother me as much because it's not trying to be a strategy game, and is framed appropriately.

I can totally see your point. I gotta admit, I would have never thought of this problem in the first place on my own. I must be pretty naive? But, in Love Letter, I would never think to cheat or lie. And I don't play with people who would, either. This all came about when I discussed my game with Chevee, who is an absolute troll. Gotta be a criminal to catch a criminal, as they say.

Cheating and trolling are some of my favorite issues - this series of posts was a great idea!

It could be my play group, but I don't find the Wozzle issue particularly problematic. In my experience, only competitive players really think to troll (or cheat), and so as long as the game's incentives don't promote the bad behavior, you don't see much trolling. Here are the three cases where I have seen trolling (and cheating) becoming a problem:

1. As you pointed out, when trollling makes you win.

2. Grimming. When a player who's losing perceives that she cannot make a comeback, and then has the opportunity to troll. This is one that DOES happen occasionally in my play groups, but I feel like if this happens your game has bigger problems (namely, competitive players can fall behind and they don't think they can catch up).

3. Slightly off topic, but in response to the Love Letter cheating solution, I don't think their goal is, as Dave said, " telling you to not play with jerks or cheaters." I think the writers' goals were to remind potential jerks and cheaters that nobody likes to play with them. That said, I only really see cheating happening in my groups and playtests when players can forget to do something bad (oops, I forgot that the robber was on my hex and I took resources anyway in Catan. Oops, I forgot that this card is now more expensive and I didn't pay enough man for it in Magic.)

Oh and here are a couple really high profile examples of trolling (and cheating) solutions that everyone probably already knows:

Munchkin - Players should make decisions in 2.6 seconds. When there are disputes, the owner of the game makes the final call.

Magic: the Gathering - Some cards say "search your deck for a card and put it into your hand." When a card wants you to search for a specific subtype of card, however, Magic always makes you reveal that card to your opponent to make sure you're not cheating. (Obviously rules-y solutions like this make much more sense in games that are played at a tournament level, where the incentives for cheating can become way more extrinsic.)

Great contributions, thanks!

Great article topic, Grant.

I think a solution like this works wonderfully as simple reminder, perhaps even a disclaimer for some games, that not every situation can or should be addressed by a rule.

The largest downside I see is that a rule or note like this will be read by the person teaching the game but unlikely to be passed on to other players while explaining the rules. Still, I don't think any downside overshadows how important it can be to keep the unaddressed aspects of a game in perspective.