Daily Archives: February 13, 2009

Virtue as a Weapon

I’ve noticed that I win Risk more often when I don’t play to the end. If victory is declared between 2 or 3 people, then I’m more likely to win than if I have to continue to fight. Part of it is a failure to plan to the end. Once people start getting knocked out, I fail to see how the balance of power has shifted. Sure, I may get someone’s cards, but now a check on a different player has been eliminated. Besides my personal failings, however, there is simply the fact that when only one person can win, then only one person does so. If more people can win, then you’re simply more likely to win.

Last time I played Risk, my friend decried permanent alliances. He said they weren’t fair. This seems to suggest that permanent alliances have a lot of power. There’s also the time I played Risk with my friends where we were allowed to barter for cards, and two of my friends used a rather novel strategy. One friend simply gave the other all his cards. I had a lot of problems with that alliance, and eventually only won because we declared a joint victory at the end. It’s perceived as unfair only because a permanent alliance is so powerful that it’s really difficult to take out.

I had nothing of the sort in the last game of Risk I played, but I did have two alliances that lasted throughout the game (and we played to a three-way tie). At the very endgame, my life was threatened. The weakest player (Enemy) on the board was trying to bargain with my partner (Partner) to the West. Then, there was my friend in Australia (Friend) who was also rather weak. There was a choice: Either Partner took out Enemy, or Partner tried to take out Friend and then weaken me. Afterwards, Enemy would take out me. A lot of talking went on.

In Risk, I generally appeal to self-interest. There was an interesting appeal to self-interest that involved virtue, however. Throughout the game, I had been pressured to betray my Partner, and my partner had been pressured to betray me. I refused to betray my Partner. (This was mostly because it wasn’t going to serve my best interests at the time; if you can’t completely destroy your “friend”, you should think especially hard before you betray them.) Because of my loyalty, my partner never betrayed me. Well, that, and the troops I placed that would make his life difficult. (Another common negotiating tactic is to say that all we’ll do is fight each other, which will allow everyone else to gobble us up.)

During the course of the game, Enemy had earlier noted that we were approaching the endgame and alliances wouldn’t mean much. I used this statement against him in the final negotiation. I told Partner that Enemy had pretty much guaranteed that he would betray you. Do not trust him.

I’m not going to say that this argument persuaded Partner because there were many other arguments, and I can’t purport to know Partner’s thought-processes. Still, I think it’s an illustration of how you can use virtue as a weapon. A person is more likely to enter into an agreement with someone they can trust instead of someone they cannot trust. You can breed distrust, and get them to agree to your bargain rather than your opponent’s bargain.

I’m not going to say this is profound or anything, but I hadn’t previously realized how virtue can be viewed through this instrumental lense.

That being said, it’s not an ironclad law that one would enter into an agreement with a trustworthy person versus an untrustworthy person. It really does depend on your own self-interest. Some people really stress self-interest versus virtue. You can use that to your advantage to isolate them when it comes to alliance building. However, if that person has way more to offer than you do, then you may not have any bargaining power. It doesn’t matter that the dog will betray them later because it would serve someone’s interests now.

I think it’s best not to use the loyalty argument as your only card, but when put together with other arguments, it does help. It may even tip the scale if you’re at a slight disadvantage in terms of what you can offer.

Anyway, I’m going to think more about Risk and the power of alliances and virtue. Maybe I’ll come up with an interesting style of play I can share later.