Theory: Make Concessions a Part of Your Game

Concessions are generally viewed as disruptive, and a while back I talked about how to discourage them. However, there’s a little-explored alternative: embracing concessions, and making them part of a broader strategy. Backgammon and Magic have both taken this approach, and they’re better for it. It’s worth exploring for your games, as well.

Magic has a problem as a tournament game: there’s a fair amount of randomness, and only limited time in which to play rounds out. If a player gets a bad draw in game one of her best-of-three series, she can end up losing valuable minutes in a match whose outcome isn’t in doubt. Those minutes might end up being decisive, especially if one or the other player is piloting a slow deck that won’t allow all three games to be played. It’s disappointing for tournament results to be decided by luck and the clock.

Fortunately, Magic has long since solved this issue. By allowing players to concede, Magic gives them the option of reallocating time that would be spent in a doomed enterprise to games that can still be won. Players can now focus on the interesting games.

What’s more, conceding goes from being aggravating misconduct to being a valid, accepted strategy. It can even lead to interesting choices; it’s not always easy to know whether it’s better to concede and try again or to play a game out. By accepting concessions and giving them a purpose, Magic fixed them.

Backgammon goes a step farther, making the possibility of concession important in every game, not just lopsided ones. Modern Backgammon is played with a “doubling cube.” At the start of your turn, before you roll the dice, you may offer the cube to your opponent. If he accepts, the amount of money or points at stake is doubled. The six sides of the cube mark the six times the stakes can double, going up to 64 times the original pot.

I’ve played a lot of Backgammon recently, and I can tell you from experience: the decision as to whether or not to concede is hard. Probability, the board state, the number of points at risk and how they compare to the number needed to win the tournament–all of these things factor into a single fold-or-raise decision. The choice is tense, vital to good play, and all-around fascinating.

Concessions are usually thought of as a letdown: a game was going on, and then it just ended. Magic and Backgammon demonstrate that they can instead be meaningful and even exciting. When you’re trying to concession-proof your game, give some thought as to whether it might be possible instead to put a bridle on concessions, and make them work for you.