Did I Fire Six Bullets or Only Five?

Posted on Nov 12 2012 by pomomojo in Backgammon, Board Games, Poker

We don’t often associate action movies with playing boardgames, but bluffing seems to be a common bond between them.  How many times has an action star had to bluff when he had no bullets left or guess whether his foe truly would push the self-destruct button?  Perhaps the consequences are not quite so high when playing a game with friends, but the rush when you pull off a bluff or call someone else on theirs is similar.

Poker gets the most attention for using the bluff, and that confrontation of minds is probably one of the reasons the age-old card game has retained its coolness.  You can win millions of dollars with a hand full of mismatched cards or lose millions of dollars because you folded the better hand.

Monopoly is seen as a friendly family game, but any game with an auction includes some form of bluffing.  If I raise your bid on Park Place, am I doing it because I really want the property or am I just trying to get you to overpay?  And if I’m the opposing player, do I let you have a property you obviously don’t need or do I keep raising the bid to get my monopoly?  The auction is really a game of chicken as the last two participants wait to see who will bail out first.

We often think that the goal of Cluedo is to figure out which cards were removed from the deck, but to do that we have to figure out what cards our opponents are holding.  A clever move, then, is to make a guess about the murder that you know is incorrect, just to throw your opponents off the trail.  Will they believe you or will you be handing them a piece of information for free?  It depends on their ability to read you.

Bluffing is not part of the official rules of any of these games.  One can play the game legally without every daring to make a bluff.  Instead bluffing seems to be a metagame element that players bring to the table with them.  Yet, it is precisely that metagame element that helps determine the best player.  The Poker player who can sniff out a bluff will win more money.  The Monopoly player who can squeeze a few more dollars out of an opponent will gain an advantage.  Perhaps the best example of how bluffing is actually a core part of a game is Backgammon.  When some American Backgammon players wanted to make the game more skillful, they added bluffing to the game in the form of the doubling cube.

Even if the battle over the bluff takes place solely in the minds of the players, it, nevertheless, has a tangible effect on the game and how it is played.

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