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Table Talk Poll Results

by on July 9, 2014


The table talk rule can sometimes be a controversial aspect of the game and has sparked some pretty intense debates in the past. I’ve shared my own thoughts in several places, but I thought it would be interesting to survey a sample of the community and see how they feel about table talk. On the one hand, some players argue that this is a cooperative game that is all about strategic decision-making in a team setting, and thus anything that stands in the way of open communication is counterproductive. On the other hand, other players feel that the table talk rule is integral in that it forces players to trust each other’s decisions and builds in more suspense because no one knows what the other players have. Of course, this whole debate takes on added teeth when it comes to the issue of two-handed play, which technically violates the table talk rule. Although I have my own opinions on the subject, I always like to start at a shared starting place, so here’s the actual text of the “table talk” rules from the rulebook:

Players are permitted and encouraged to talk to one
another during play, and to work as a team to plan and
execute the best course of action. Players can discuss
anything they would like, but they cannot name or read
out loud directly from cards in their hand, or from cards
that they have seen but the rest of the players have not. 

What is expressly prohibited by this rule is players naming cards in their hand or directly reading out loud the text of cards in their hand. Of course, some players argue that the “spirit” of this extends even farther to even hinting at what might be in one’s hand, even though this is not explicitly forbidden. So how does the community treat this rule? Here are the results of the poll here at TftC, with a total of 276 votes:

* 49.28% of respondents chose “It is pointless and I ignore it completely”.

* 25.36% of respondents chose “It depends on who I’m playing with; I will follow it if there is a danger of one player dominating.”

* 15.22% of respondents chose “It is an important part of the game and I follow it to the letter.”

* 10.14% of respondents chose “I will talk about cards in my hand, but won’t share information about the encounter deck.”

From these results we can see that about half of respondents completely disregard the table talk rule. This is not surprising to me at all, given the popularity of two-handed play, the mindset of other players I’ve met, and the opinions voiced on various forums. It really speaks to the oddness of a rule when half of players completely ignore it. Imagine 50% of players saying that they ignore the rule about progress being placed on the active location first! I’ve always personally felt that the table talk rule was an odd fit for the game and should have been properly included as a guideline, rather than an explicit rule.

About 15% of players, on the other hand, felt very strongly about the importance of the table talk rule and follow it completely. This is not an insignificant portion and shows that some do believe that it has a role to play in this cooperative game. Finally, the last 35% of players follow the table talk rule on a conditional basis, either because they want to avoid having one player dominate by essentially playing for everyone, or because they follow the restriction on sharing information about the encounter deck only. My own vote would actually fall into the category of those who follow the table talk rule only if there is a danger of one player dominating. Basically, this means that when I play with a brand new player, I will follow the table talk rule, because I want to avoid playing the game for them, telling them what cards to play, etc.. Otherwise, I tend to disregard it, as I find the most fun in multiplayer comes from free communication and strategic planning, and the people I tend to play with don’t end up running over each other.

Still, I think it’s important for everyone to consider the perspective of all sides of the issue, rather than taking a hard line. Readers, what are your thoughts on the table talk rule? Fun? Pointless? Useful? Frustrating?



From → Poll Results

  1. I voted disregard. When, for example, playing with my little brother, semi-experienced, we play open-handed. I like the aspect of talking how to get that Hill Troll down or who takes Gandalfs Map and just getting the most out of your cards and strategy. When I would play with a new player I guess I would disregard so that I wil be able to help him learn the game and the cards. I have no experience with other experienced players, don’t know any in the Netherlands, but as I said before, getting your strategy to work is just one of the most fun parts of the game and how better to achieve victory

  2. How better to achieve victory than together (with player A his Gimli taking one hit from a Hill Troll and player B snaring the creature in the forest the next round for example) Talking is just one of the keystones of game in multiplayer and to get the most out of it, this rule will be disreagerded a lot of times.

  3. I totally disregard the rule. I think it would diminish the experience, making it more of a game and less of an adventure.

  4. I feel it is a pointless rule. Its a daggone coop game. If people are that worried about one player dominating the game, then that is a problem with the player. Not the game.

  5. I always disregard the rule as well. My wife and I are continually chatting about what cards we have / what strategies to employ / what we think we should do next. This is a strategy game, and we both prefer knowing all of the possibilities in order to make the wisest decisions.

    On the other hand, I DO appreciate the spirit of the rule when playing with new players. When we teach others how to play we try to explain what moves we make with our own cards, and why, but I won’t get involved with the new player’s hand unless they ask for help. There’s nothing worse than being “taught” a new game by someone who just plays every hand for you while you sit and watch.

    Overall though, it’s a pointless rule that goes against the strategy of the game and the theme of friendship and teamwork that is portrayed in Tolkien’s work.

  6. Nusse permalink

    We kind of agree to communicate about the situation and about what we can do, things like “don’t worry about that enemy, i can handle it”, but that’s about as far as we go, we never EVER mention cards in hand.

    I largely respect that rule for various reasons:
    – in a cooperative game, i like any option that makes the game more difficult (the people i play with don’t always agree with me).
    – when i don’t know my friends’ deck, it’s more interesting to me to see their cards as they are played as hearing about them before they’re actually played. Last tme we played, i was so cheered up by a well-timed Wizard’s Voice. It’s a great feeling, and isn’t that at least one of the reasons we play games?
    – finally, that way, most of our conversations are more about the narrative aspect of the game rather than technical decisions.

    • Banyan permalink

      This. We table talk all we want about visible cards and game state, and say things like “don’t worry about that hero being damaged, I’ve got a plan”, but never directly mention cards in hand. Also, if a player gets to peek at a card, only that player gets to see it. For cards like Denethor where a decision about the card(s) they are peeking at has to be made, they have to make that decision alone. I agree about enjoying seeing cards as they are played; Its always awesome to see Gandalf show up to save the day when you weren’t expecting him.

  7. Slipup: You said 25% follow the rule and 25% follow conditionally. It’s actually 15% who follow the rule and 35% who follow conditionally according to the results you posted.

  8. Mndela permalink

    Another question inside is: how about the player who plays Denethor or Some Risk Light…? Everybody sees the encounter cards, but in fact, only the player who plays can… 😛 I never played the stricted way, but maybe, if there were a possessive player that say what to do with all card i could say: wait, only me can watch these encounter cards. ^^

  9. Don J. permalink

    Here is my logic, at least, I will pose it with a question: is the game cooperative or is it not? Are the players a team, or are they simply players sharing a field? I ask that because when I think of table-talk, I think of sports players huddling up and forming a plan, assigning roles and making sure no one steps on another players toes (playing Gandalf when the other player needed to, for example). I think the players are a team, and a team needs to cooperate.

    Okay, the encounter deck isn’t a thinking enemy and perhaps the sports team analogy falls apart in that sense, but I converse with my co-op buddies when we are forming a plan of attack for Dynasty Warriors or trying to stall the awakening of the Great Old Ones in Eldtrich Horror. So it just seems odd and trite that I suddenly have to censor myself when I play (currently my favorite) game. Even worse, is how people bend table-talk: “No, no, don’t do that. We’re okay. I have a certain Ishtari in my hand” and “I can’t say what the next encounter card is, but it sure is treacherous.” It’s ridiculous.

    Now, I am no tournament player, and I can’t say what’s fair in that arena. Perhaps the rule is useful for maintaining structure in that sense, but it has no place at my table.

  10. If the designers of the game intended players to have perfect information of each others hands then they wouldn’t have made a rule expressly against it.

    Two-handed playing is “cheating” and gives an unfair advantage that tips the balance of the game.

    However, it is useful for theory crafting effective strategies against challenging scenarios, so while it might not fly in a real-world or competitive scenario, it is important to delve deep into the gameplay and provide rich commentary on the possibilities within this game.

    I strictly enforce the table-talk rule unless we are teaching a new player in an EXAMPLE situation.
    Play through the game in a few steps, observing all rules outside of table-talk, so that you can give explanations of the cards and the mechanics as they play through a round a half.
    Then reshuffle everything and play for real.

    This rule is not unfounded in other games; it is common.
    Otherwise we wouldn’t be playing the game with two sided cards, we would be playing the game with tiles and miniatures.

    Within the themes of Tolkien literature, very seldom does Gandalf give away his plan, explaining everything right on the nose. We seldom get a glimpse at his greater power, but more often than not he is the instrument of our rescue. Even still, there was a time Gandalf fell into shadow and left the party.

    Clever hints at what might unfold if we proceed with a suggested plan adds to the spirit of the game.
    At the end of the day, if the only way you can have fun is with perfect information between all parties, then there are plenty of other games that more suit this style.

    • Also, an addendum, one of the best ways to teach someone how to play, outside of openly talking about hands, is to have them design their own deck.

      They will learn a great deal about probability, resource curves, balancing between spheres, and how each scenario might need a tweaked deck.

      Play the first game with monosphere 30-cards. Second game, monosphere with an additional 20 cards added. Third game venture into designing the whole deck from scratch incorporating their starting sphere and a complimentary sphere.

      My wife has commented that she learned more about strategy when forced to build a deck herself. She felt really good about it.

      After a failed venture into Khazad-Dum, her response was “Well, now I know what I need to change about my deck.”

      Winning is fun, but even in defeat you have an opportunity to grow.

  11. Gwaihir the Windlord permalink

    I, for one, would be one hundred percent for the rule if it weren’t a cooperative game. Think about it as if you were a part of the Fellowship: if you had a Rivendell Blade in your pack for the entire journey (a.k.a. it was in your hand for the whole game), would you wait until the battle started before saying, “Oh yeah, I brought this along, but I couldn’t tell you because it’s against the rules”?
    Perhaps this is a slightly eccentric description of the table talk rule, but the point is still the same: cooperative means working together, and if anyone is struggling about whether or not to play a card, it’s much easier to just say, “Should I play Asfaloth?” than saying “Should I play this unique mount attachment that can put progress on locations?” Anyway, that’s my argument for table talk (partly because if I do try to follow it I forget it anyway ;).

    • Gwaihir the Windlord permalink

      By “it” I mean the table talk rule . . . how I wish WP would let me edit my comments!

    • Yea, it drives me crazy when Mitch, in the progressive series, constantly says “I have a certain grey wizard in my hand.” It is with the rules, but I oddly find it irksome. I feel either ignore the rule, as I do, or follow don’t discuss hands at all.

      By the way, I would ask supporters of this rule (for the sake of it being a rule) how they feel about smaller than 50 card decks. RAW only tournament decks require 50 cards, but I consider it a hard rule for all decks.

  12. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    In my opinion, it only slows the game down. Games with rules like this, are very annoying to me, because there’s no precise ruling. You can describe what you want to do, and allude to cards, which is really just a convoluted way of telling somebody what’s in your hand. Like the rule in Shadows over Camelot, where you can indicate somewhat your hand strength, but you end up using euphemisms or code names for the actual numbers, and it just has such a waste of time to me. I feel there is enough Randomness in the game, from staging to Shadow cards as you often point out, to keep the game from being too predictable or too easy. Still provides enough of a challenge in my mind. Plus I only really played aside from the beginning, two handed solo. So this is not applicable to me anyhow

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