Playing Not to Lose

I see this all the time. People become unable to win, because they are so afraid of losing.

Case 1: Magic: the Gathering

New players tend to block too easily, because they fear losing life, or they don’t block enough, because they fear losing their creatures. They might not attack because they think the opponent might be holding some trick. Sure, these are all valid strategies, but if you let some notion direct your playstyle too much, you just can’t win, because you are shutting down important avenues to winning from yourself.

Case 2: Werewolf (or originally Mafia)

In Werewolf, people often don’t their decisions through. They would much rather survive then die, so if someone else is accused, they’ll happily join in, just because it means they are not losing during that day.

In a small enough group, even one such player can mean the end of the humans (or innocents), because the balance between werewolves and humans is so delicate, or because the werewolves can use this knowledge to their advantage. If the werewolves can point to someone and get the support of these humans easily, there isn’t much that can stop them.

Case 3: Ticket to Ride

In Ticket to Ride you receive four tickets in the beginning of the game. You have to keep at least two of them, but you may keep all. The point is that they have varying point values and you get that many points for building the routes in the tickets. On the other hand, if you don’t build a route you’ve chosen as a ticket, you lose that many points.

I always keep all the tickets. Sometimes it might not work out, but in order to win the game, you need to finish those routes, because at least one player will. If its not you, your chances are quite lean.


This is part of human nature. Actually a part of primate nature. Losing something is given much weight than losing something. This is quite understandable, from an evolutionary point of view. If you have the food you need, there’s no reason to risk your wellbeing.

In a way, this is the reason we, as a species are so lame and boring. Not taking risks is a pretty good way to survive and all the rogue individuals, who do dare, just die away. But we need those individuals. For better or worse, we need the idiots, who are ready to go to the north pole with very poor equipment, or circumnavigate the globe with no real idea what they’ll run into during their journey, or taste their alchemical concoctions (which apparently is the reason Isaac Newton didn’t discover anything big after turning 24).

In order to win in a game, or in life, now that survival is pretty much guaranteed (at least in the west), you need to take risks. We just aren’t wired that way anymore, because throughout most of our history, staying back and letting someone else take the chances has been working out well.

Think about WWII, for example. Quite a few brave and able men died in those battlefields. How many of them had children? Not many. The survivors were often those who weren’t fit or managed to get themselves out of serving in the frontline, yet they are the ones who have since gone on to have children. Evolution is a strange thing…

So, while you might lose a game because of this, you might still be on the right tracks for life…

One thought on “Playing Not to Lose

  1. In some old WH40K system, it was possible to build a Word Bearers chaos space marine army that was unable to lose, because most of its points were in summonable troops. It would’ve been always possible to get a draw by NOT summoning the troops into the battle. I considered making such an army for a moment, but decided that it would’ve been too boring to play…

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