Errata: What to do when Defeat is Inevitable
Sometimes, especially near the end of the game, you can tell that you just aren’t going to be the winner. This week’s question asks what to do in such a situation. Is it wrong to walk away?
A Non-Winner asked, “I was playing a game of Settlers of Catan and knew I was going to lose. The game was only half way done, but I was very far behind in points and had been blocked in by roads. It was clear I wasn’t going to win. What should I do? Is it OK to concede and leave the table and join a different game?”
First, a word about unwinnable situations. I think a great many players see themselves behind the leader and think the difference is insurmountable, when that really isn’t the case. Yes, your way back may be more difficult or improbable, but it is still possible. I’ve been far behind in innumerable games. The vast majority of those I lost. But every so often, I can achieve a come-from-behind victory that is sweeter than any other win. I can remember an especially epic game of Talisman where I had to make several unlikely checks in a row, made them all, and beat another player for the crown.
Often when a player says the game is unwinnable, what they mean is that their victory is unlikely and they don’t want to put in the effort. I consider this extremely unsportsmanlike. You need to play hard as long as there is even the glimmer of hope that you might win. And, while it may still result in a loss nine times out of ten, at least you fought the good fight.
But let’s assume that the game actually is mathematically unwinnable. Not just improbable, but impossible. In a two player game, if both players can see the victory is inevitable, then there is nothing wrong with the losing player conceding early. That gives them time for another game or a new play. But that whole analysis changes in a multiplayer situation.
With multiple opponents, your decision to leave the game could dramatically alter the balance of power and give a windfall to one player over the others. In that case, leaving the game is detrimental to the fun of others and, again, would be unsportsmanlike.
So what to do there? Well, use the time to explore new strategies. Or play for your own score, giving yourself the most points possible. Either of these options keep you in the game, keep you interested, and provide your opponents with the right challenge. Unless the game allows you to bow out, or has a natural breaking point where you can leave without impacting the other players (such as between rounds in a card game), you should stay in the game. But whatever you do, don’t become a Captain Chaos. Ugh.
Got questions about strategy, specific games, or the hobby in general? Post them in the comments here, email me at geekinsight at gfbrobot dot com, or send them to @GeekInsight on Twitter and check back next week for answers!