This case is a good example of how the most complicated issues can arise from the simplest rules in the simplest games. It came from a game called Hex Hex. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it’s essentially a card game version of hot potato. At the beginning of each round, a “Hex” token enters play. When the Hex is passed to a player, he or she must use one of his or her cards to pass it off to someone else. Inability to do so results in the player being “Hexed,” causing them to lose a point (called “voice”) and causing the person who passed them the hex to gain a point of voice. There are various ways the Hex can be modified and bounced around, most of which are irrelevant to this case and won’t be discussed here. The three most basic cards for passing off the Hex are Turn Aside Left, which passes the Hex to the player to immediately to your left; Turn Aside Right, which passes the Hex to the player immediately to your right; and Pass Across, which passes the hex to a person across the table. The first two cards are pretty self-explanatory and have never really caused any problems. Pass Across, while it might seem self-explanatory at first, is actually where the dispute arose.
The problem is that its effects can be dependent on the seating arrangement of the players. Consider a four player game in which there is one player sitting on each side of a square table, like so:
In this case, the interpretation is quite simple and easy to put into practice. Pass Across sends the Hex to the player directly across from the one who played the card. The problems enter when there are different numbers of players in different configurations. Consider, for example, a three player game in which the players are sitting at regular intervals around a circular table, like this:
No player has someone directly across from them. In addition, no matter who Pass Across sends the hex to, they could have been reached with a Turn Aside Left or Turn Aside Right card. Is Pass Across even a valid card in this scenario? This was actually the easiest scenario to resolve. As the game rules provide no real direction, in this case I would recommend allowing Pass Across to send the Hex to either of the other players. In this way, you avoid having a large section of the deck become entirely useless, as rendering Pass Across invalid would do. It is also in keeping with the somewhat vindictive, screw-the-other-guy-over spirit of the game (all in good fun of course) by allowing players to choose who they wish to target with the Hex.
However, a three player game was, as I mentioned, the easiest difficulty to resolve. Consider instead a five player game taking place at a rectangular table, with two players on each length of the table and one at its head, as shown below:
Certain scenarios in this configuration seem quite simple. Player A plays a Pass Across card and sends the Hex to player E. Player D plays one and sends it to player B. The issues come in with that troublesome Player C. If each person can only use Pass Across to target the player directly across from them, then Player C cannot use the Pass Across card at all and no one can target him with it either. One could make the argument that Player C’s diminished capacity to receive the Hex is balanced by his diminished capacity to pass it on, but this line of thinking is not without its issues. The inherent randomness of dealing out a hand of cards could result in a scenario in which Player C has no Pass Across cards in his hand and thus is immune to a card that the other players likely possess while suffering no disadvantage for his immunity. Conversely, he could also be dealt a hand of nothing but Pass Across cards, and thus be entirely unable to act if the Hex is passed to him through other means.
Ultimately, though, this seems like a poor solution for the simple reason that it forces the rules to treat one player differently than the others in a game that is ostensibly supposed to be equally balanced. Now that we’ve ruled out the solution that we don’t want to use, it’s time to discuss what we actually do want to do in practice.
The solution my group came up with was to allow Pass Across to send the hex to anyone not adjacent to the one who played it. I will admit that this is not a perfect solution. It results in some counterintuitive restrictions. For example, Player A and Player E can no longer Pass Across to each other even though they are sitting directly across the table from each other. While it is not a perfect solution, it is a fair one. Each player can Pass Across to exactly two other players, and each player can receive a hex via Pass Across from those same two players. If you’re still bothered by the counterintuitive inability to Pass Across to someone directly across the table, try removing the table from your thinking and instead imagine the group just sitting in a circle all facing directly towards the center.
Perhaps more importantly though, this solution is good enough. By the time we reached this conclusion, my gaming group and I had discussed the issue for probably at least a half hour. Everyone was getting sick of the discussion and somewhat irritated with each other. At that point, it didn’t really matter what solution we went with, as long as we got back to actually playing the game. This may sound ironic on a blog dedicated to debating and discussing game rules, especially in a post that has already gone on so long on such an apparently simple issue, but rules debates in a game, while sometimes necessary, are frequently counter-productive. The most basic point of playing a game is to have fun, and a lengthy discussion on the finer points of the rules can bring that objective to a screeching halt. Those who don’t have a stake in the debate and aren’t involved in it can get bored and irritated with the players who are holding things up. Those involved in the debate can get frustrated and even genuinely angry at each other if things go too far, always something to be avoided between friends if possible. The next time you’re playing a game and a rules question comes up and no obvious solution presents itself quickly, consider just conceding the point, even if it would put you at a disadvantage. Think about it this way: which would you rather do, reach a quick, amicable solution that allows you to keep playing, even if you are inconvenienced, or hold up play for an extended period of time by engaging in a debate with no clear answer just to gain an advantage?
That kind of debate is better held after the game, when there isn’t so much riding on it and you’re not holding anything up by having it. Or better yet, write up the question and the arguments and send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org. You and your friends can keep gaming, and that way, if the answer isn’t what someone wanted, they can get mad at an anonymous person on the internet instead of at you.
Whew! Thanks for sticking with me through all of that folks, this was my first case and it kind of spiraled out of control in terms of length. There’s more to come soon, and the more you send in, the more I can post. My own gaming history can only provide so much, you guys have to provide the fuel to keep this blog going.
Until next time, happy gaming, and I hope to see you in court!
P.S.: If you’re a Hex Hex player, or just an interested reader, and you have another seating configuration you’d like a ruling on, feel free to submit it and I’ll add it on to the end of this post.