Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pirates and Ultimatums

Earlier this week Ziggyny posted about a logic puzzle where there were 5 logical pirates dividing treasure and the captain had to propose a division of their loot.  It turns out the optimal division is 98 pieces of gold for the captain, 1 each for 2 of the other pirates and 0 each for the last 2 pirates.  Of course in any 'real' situation where 5 bloodthirsty individuals were dividing up loot the guy who seriously proposed to take 98% of the money and leave 2 of the others with nothing will get murdered.  Figuring out these sorts of puzzles when you start with the stipulation that the pirates are all extremely logical and want to maximize their earnings above all else is all fine and good but of course in real life nothing works like this.

In real life if you play the Ultimatum Game (one person divides the spoils and the other either accepts the division or decides that nobody gets anything) people tend to offer fair splits in North America.  While it might seem illogical to turn down an 80/20 split and get nothing that is exactly what happens and in fact it makes perfect sense that people behave this way.  If you live your life accepting 80/20 splits you will get treated like a doormat forever but if you are willing to hurt yourself to get revenge then everyone will know they have to treat you fairly.  I know this is true in games because I have seen it firsthand:  I watched a game of Settlers where one player consistently bargained too hard and chiseled people and after a few rounds he suddenly found everybody was screwing him over any time they could.  He ate the Robber Baron every time it came up and his settlement spots were taken from him for spite.  He certainly profited initially but in the long run he lost the game because everyone decided that he was being a jerk.  I have also seen games where a player made a few generous trades early on and spent the whole game being chiseled by the other players; they wouldn't accept a fair trade knowing that their target was weak and willing to give in.

Now it is absolutely true that there is nothing wrong with asking for a favourable trade in Settlers and hoping it works; the only crime is irritating people.  The trouble with this is it is so far removed from the pure logic puzzle of the 5 pirates.  There are people out there who play Settlers extremely hard, negotiate like bastards, and drive everybody crazy (Not that *I* would do that, I am innocent, seriously!) but manage to do so while being charming and without making enemies.  There are also people who play less hard but aren't sufficiently charming or perhaps can't tell when they need to back off to preserve a good trading relationship and who end up with enemies aplenty.  There is definitely a correlation between being a hard negotiator and being considered a jerk but it is not a causal relationship at all.  You do not want to be the patsy nor the jerk in a trading game, the best reputation is tough but fair.

Ziggyny and I get into this nearly every time we play together.

"Get Sky, he's winning."

"No, look at my position, I have no chance, get Ziggyny, he is going to get the Theatre and win."

"Don't listen to him, unless you gank Sky he is going to buy the Guild Hall next turn and crush us."

"Ziggyny is going to get a *second* frigging Steel Ship unless you get into the Shipyard, you gotta stop him!"

I don't know if it is good or bad that so much of multiplayer games revolves around who can browbeat the other players more efficiently but there is no denying it is true.  It also makes any logical evaluation of games like the Pirate scenario with real people completely impossible.

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