Decency in Strategy.

This post was originally titled “Is there a place in Carcassonne for people like Frankie Roberto?”

Frankie has adopted a hyper-aggressive form of Carcassonne. He plays tiles usually for the detriment of his opponents, rather than the betterment of his own hand. He enjoys nothing more than scoring a giant X onto the game board, scuppering towns or roads.

This has been dubbed “Dutching” in homage to the Netherlands football team that reached the World Cup Final (2010). They played a nasty game of attrition: setting out to cripple, crush and break their opponents. Their aim was to stop other teams playing, often through vicious fouls and injury.

The clearest example of this is Nigel de Jong’s tackle/kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso:

The question is about decency and ethics in strategy. As this Carcassonne guide notes, “…this play is generally frowned upon by most players, [but] it is entirely legal…”. Crippling your opponents is possible, but morally questionable. Frankie refuses to acknowledge it is ethically wrong, despite regular discussions about his ungentlemanly behaviour. There is a belief that his means justify the ends. Unfortunately, he loses as well as cripples. Just like the Dutch ultimately did.

What would Frankie do?

I can’t agree with him. There is a certain joylessness about destructive gameplay. I used to play Scrabble in an exclusively negative manner, winning games with famously low scores. It’s a skill to win like that, but it nobody finds it fun to play. To win gracefully is more important.

Diplomacy and social reciprocity are the secrets of successful multiplayer, strategy gameplay. The Dutch method eschews them completely in its willingness to steamroller all. The logic of that style of gameplay causes others to play the same way. This is usually why Frankie loses: scorned players gang up and out-Dutch him.

It is easier to win with fewer enemies than with many.

Update: Frankie has been playing much less Dutch recently, even approaching gentlemanly at times. Credit where it is due.


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One thought on “Decency in Strategy.

  1. How can you Dutch Scrabble?

    A lot of people I know who took up playing Carcassonne started to develop aggressive tactics early on. There’s a perverse pleasure in being disruptive.
    A friend told me that the English find the game Go really hard to master because it is a game or measured compromises. Are we just conditioned to gazump?

    If you try to play Carcassonne as competitive sharing of resources, it feels different to play- it takes a whole different skill to win that – who can make the best out of the same luck.

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