Demonstrative Play

The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds by Georges de la Tour c.1635

The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds by Georges de la Tour c.1635

The most important point of gaming is to have fun. It is important to have fun and allow your opponent to have fun. I think this is the true reason for sportsmanship: to give all players a fair chance to have fun. You may get destroyed by a superior opponent and be a sore loser and have a miserable time but if your opponent displayed good sportsmanship he gave you every opportunity to have fun.

I was raised on sportsmanship. It was as much a part of my sports education as how to hit a ball or tackle someone. When you lose, don’t say anything. When you win, say less. My father was my coach and at times refrained from giving me a good position to avoid even the appearance of favoritism.

I’ve applied this outlook towards my gaming as well and would like to discuss the cornerstone of gaming sportsmanship: Demonstrative Play.

Gaming, whether with boardgames, miniature games or card games, is an intellectual pursuit. Knowledge and experience guide our choices in the game. Information on the current gamestate is integral to this process. The point of demonstrative play is to offer our opponents all the information they are entitled to without forcing them to ask for it. It would be impossible to describe all situations and ways of demonstrating clearly what we are doing during a game. Instead I am going to focus on some of the key areas I notice when playing those who are not very demonstrative.


A ubiquitous component seen in nearly every game. How we handle dice can have a big impact in how easily our opponents can follow our actions. To start we should define two dice states: Live Dice and Dead Dice.

Live Dice are dice who’s results currently count in the game. Generally there are two ways to use dice in a game. The first is to generate a random number. One or more dice are rolled and their pips summed. These dice are live until the total has been completed and both players agree on the result.

The second is to judge a number of successes. A target number is given and each die is compared to that number. Any die that fails can be considered dead.

With dice it is acceptable to touch and move dead dice but not live dice. In some games a handful of dice are rolled and successes counted. To make it easier to count successes it is often easier to remove failures. Even so care must be taken to maintain as much visibility on the dice as possible. Pick up the dice with the fingertips one at a time. The idea is that at no time should it be possible to nudge a failed dice so that it counts as a success.

Before the Roll

Another time to be demonstrative is before you roll your dice. Some games build a dice pool based on modifiers meaning that a different number of dice are rolled each time. It is best to build the pool on the table in easily countable groups of 2 or 5 (depending on the total) before picking them all up. This gives both players time to see and agree on the number of dice rolled before it is too late. It’s never fun to squeak out a success and then have to re-roll because you had too many dice.

Rolling the Dice

I don’t want to go too deeply into the mechanics of rolling. There are a lot of ways you can roll fairly. I would say if your opponent can see the dice bouncing on the table and coming to a rest on their own you have made a fair roll.

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