Dogmatism in Board Games

three player chess board

I bought a three-player chess board recently. The game is certainly a novelty, and this board just looks good too! I like the chaos factor of turning the one-on-one game into a one-on-one-on-one brawl. There's probably some meta gaming involved where two players can team up on the third. Allowing players to team up two-against-one can actually be a good thing. Chess is quite unforgiving when people at different skill levels play each other one-on-one. The less-skilled player is going to lose, and really they're going to not just lose they're going to be slaughtered. It can be more fun for two low-ranking players to team up against a high ranking player. Players don't even need to discuss this. Outright table-talk ganging up two-against-one is frowned upon. Really the game naturally self-balances risk and reward among the three players. As one player extends to attack a second player the third player may sneak in a jab on the first.

But I'm not here to sell you on three-player chess. I'm here to talk about dogmatism!

Introducing three-player chess requires familiarizing everyone with how pieces move on the board. I like to start with a discussion. We lay out the blank board, set a piece down and talk about where it can go. Mostly we agree, and then there's a few particular cases we end up talking through too, just to make sure we agree on things before the game begins and don't end up arguing at a crucial moment in the middle of the game. Talking things out like this and building up our ruleset on everyone's existing intuition is fun and seems to be more effective than busting out a rulebook for everone to read through.

Remember when early-years Netflix hosted competitions to build better recommendation algorithms? They would give people cash if they could build a system that would recommend movies at some better satisfactory rate than what Netflix currently scored themselves at. Somewhere I've heard (and I'm unable to verify this after a few cursorary searches) either Netflix themselves, or a competing team, found a certain movie that was what I'll call a "Heavy Predictor." They found if people rated "Dude Where's My Car" (2000) with a high score they could predict that person would almost certainly also love a whole other set up movies, basically just other dumb-funny films. If people say they don't like Dude Where's My Car you know almost for certain they won't like anything in that set of other dumb-funny movies.

That you can find something like a Heavy Predictor is awesome! I have a Heavy Predictor for music taste. I like the band The Mountain Goats. If I'm talking to someone about music and I find out they like The Mountain Goats I know I'm probably going to like a lot of their music recommendations.

Bishops Move Diagonally

Back to three-player chess.

There's one rule in three-player chess that splits people into two groups. And it is a rule I didn't expect. It is about bishops. How do bishops move on a chess board?

I say bishops travel diagonally. Everyone actually agrees about this. But there's a whole set of people that add an additional stipulation. They say bishops always stay on their own color. There's a White bishop and a black bishop. This is completely true in traditional 8x8 two-player Chess, but the color-stipulation doesn't hold up against the geometry of the three-player Chess board. I consider the black-white constraint a derivative fact of the more fundamental rule, simply, "bishops travel diagonally." In my opinion, people are being dogmatic when they argue that bishops must stay on their own color. I think they're holding too tight onto an idea they've always taken for granted when in fact the idea is not part of the fundamental essence to begin with.

What's funny is the rulebook doesn't do a good job spelling out how to resolve this. The rule states with words just, "Bishops can move diagonally any number of squares." But then the illustrations in the rulebook omit showing a bishop crossing straight-diagonally through the center square going from corner to corner. Was this ommission intentional? Why didn't they write a note about this? Oh no. I'm just now realizing the rulebook authors may also be polluted with this "bishops must stay on their own color" dogmatism.

Note: I don't take this game too seriously. I'll play either way. I obviously have my own opinion about what is correct but I'll yield to someone else's interpretation in order to have a good time. What I find especially funny, and why I use the word "dogmatic," is often people that enforce the color-consistency rule varition they are the people that won't even admit it may make sense for bishops to simple move "diagonally" with the baggage of these weird color restrictions.


Where does this specific manifestation of dogmatism come from? I suspect some people have simply invested lots of time studying classical Chess and their must be a lot of theory and strategy based on the idea of bishops staying on just one color.

I want to talk about a few other dogmatic things I've seen in board games.

This Game Supports only N (or only between X and Y) Players!


Ever play Dominion? It is a popular deck-building board game. One of the first! OK, respect to Magic: The Gathering, and Pokemon. Dominion was the first non-trading deck-building game I ever saw. Each player didn't have to invest money into collecting cards for their own deck, instead each player competes with each other buying cards from a shared market.

Wikipedia agrees with me that Dominion is the first deck-building game like this.

The point of the game is to end with the most points in your hand. There are a certain amount of point cards. Players compete to have the most points by the time the game ends and the game ends when either all of the most-valued point cards are bought, or a certain number of piles of action/defense/ability cards are bought.

I remember, years and years ago, hanging out with two friends getting ready to play a round of Dominion. There were three of us. Then two other friends walked in the door. They saw we were playing Dominion and got stoked. Neither of us knew many people that knew Dominion. We asked if they wanted to play. Yes, they wanted to play.

But wait. We had three. These two more in the door put us at five players. The game is only "rated" to play between two to four players. How could we possibly play with five? Turns out the two new players didn't knew. The number of players in the game is not intrinsic to the games fundamental rules. Anyone that thinks you can't play base (or any expansion, fight me) Dominion with 5 players is being Dogmatic. The nature of the game is not whether you're playing with two or three or four or five players. The nature of the Dominion is buying ability cards that adapt to the situation. What about playing base Dominion with five players really breaks the game? Nothing. Does it break perhaps some people's existing strategies? Perhaps. Well, get over it! Dominion is a great game for one because the nature of the game requires you to shift strategies as different ability cards are laid on the table.

No Retro

A quick one here. About taking turns back. I call it, "no retro." Someone makes a move and then they realize something else and they take it back.

Well here's my opinion: you can take a turn back as long as it doesn't affect anything, and within reason.

Just a small touch here.

Did you rethink your turn before the next person made their turn? Well, too bad for them. My opinion is people should be able to take turns and regret and rethink them within a reasonable amount of time. Of course, this is a hard hill for me to die on. There are so many small things that can be considered "no retro," like immediately taking your turn back when you see an opponent reaching for a now-attacking piece.

No retro with grace with reason.

Turn Order

This is a fun one that I'm surprised I've only see occur in one game so far. Instead of taking turns in order clockwise around a table I've found one game which inherently takes turns in a semi-random fashion: Cosmic Frog.

Cosmic Frog is a straight-forward game with beautiful art and fun mechanics. But the best part is no one ever knows when their turn will happen. Instead of a game like Settles of Catan (or pretty much any other game) players never know who will make the next move. Each player has some number of cards (6?, who cares) and those cards are shuffled together and drawn from a deck. Each player is guaranteed they will get a certain number of turns but no one knows what order those turns will happen in. Someone could have three turns in a row then have to wait eight turns before their turn happens again. And even then they never knew that they would have two or even three turns in a row to begin with. Don't worry, this game has a mechanic called "oomph" where players can react to other players making turns against them when it happens.

I like the concept of random turn order as it presents itself in Cosmic Frog. Nothing about the game itself strikes me as dogmatic, but it makes me wonder where people would start to get dogmatic about turn order in different games. Could you shuffle a deck of two-colored cards and play Chess? No, that would lead to immediate check-mates. Could you shuffle colored cards and play random turn order in Settlers of Catan? Honestly, I believe yes, but it would certainly be a different game.

It is fun to think about something like turn order and wonder about how it effects different games. If you think it really really matters you probably have a point. If you aren't willing to try playing a game with a certain spin on the underlying rules you may be being dogmatic.

Summary of Varations of Known Dogmatisms


I can't talk this long without making myself a hypocrite. What do I hold dogmatic in games?

My dogmatism is this: play fast, play based on intuition, play based on experience, and certainly do not over think anything. I call it Manana. Manyana. You know, Spanish. I'd take the time to figure out that ~ N but I won't. Play fast, play games and maybe beat people tomorroe.


My chess stats

Check out this weird circular chess board variant board where you can move through the center:

Two places I've started discussion on reddit and Board Game Geek asking people what they think about the diagonal bishop black white rule: