Balderdash, from Robert McAdams

November 28, 2006 |

Over the holiday my family and I played a board game we've played many times before named Balderdash. The game is pretty straightforward. A dealer pulls a card containing several categories … a name, a date, an acronym etc. The entries are almost entirely unknown to the players. The goal then of each player is to make up a trivia fact that is believable to the other players. These fake facts are added to the real one and read by the dealer to the table. Points are awarded for picking the truthful fact, as well as getting other players to pick the one you conjured. The dealer scores by convincing the other players not to pick the correct one. This got me to thinking about the markets, life and bluffing specifically. When prices change, people wonder why. The truth is always that the supply/demand relationship has changed, but there are many people willing to fill in the "answers". What are the motives of those supplying the answer. In the game, one of the strategies employed is to pick the answer that you made up in an attempt to convince other players to do so. Do market participants ever do this? Generally, the more believable the fact you make up, the better. But sometimes, a preposterous answer works wonders. People simply can't believe its made up. When several answers have equal believability, the ludicrous answer stands out. The players almost talk themselves into believing it. Do we ever talk ourselves into things we know are bold faced false? When I was the dealer I always read the true answer somewhere near the middle. I know that in any list, the first and last thing a person hears sticks in their mind. Is the first explanation given for a market move the one that will be believed going forward, even when a better truthful answer comes along? I would like to hear more about bluffing from your readers.

Sam Humbert adds:

Santa brought us a game called Blokus last year, and, as mentioned by Tom Ryan, kids are eerily capable at it. Like Checkers and 9-Ball and (circa 1982) Space Invaders, it has a beautiful simplicity that hides much depth. Also, Blokus can easily be 'handicapped' by a simple rule such as 'adults must play their pieces from smallest to largest' (i.e., starting with the 1-square piece). I like to play the kids even-steven, subject to a some such simple constraints or rules-changes, but I find that not all games lend themselves to this. (Though many do: e.g. at Go Fish, I play level with the kids if I enforce on myself 'wait one full turn before asking for a card I just picked up!') Another great game to play with kids is Mille Bornes, though it seems not to be as widely circulated nowadays. They do make a new version, but I bought a 1970s set for a few dollars on eBay. It is self-handicapping because the kids gleefully gang up on Dad, taking delight in fixing my wagon again and again… until they get close to 1,000 miles and need to turn their attention to each other.


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