Conveying false information to other players in order to influence their behavior to one's own advantage.
Players have a possibility to convey false information to other players in order to benefit from the situation. Usually the basic information for Bluffing is something about the current game state, as is the case in Poker. It is possible, however, that Bluffing concerns other game components such as past events and actions, players' goals, and even players' strategies and intentions. One of the simplest games of this kind of Bluffing is an iterated version of Paper-Rock-Scissors, where the players try to outguess the other player's action based on previous plays and social clues.
Poker uses Bluffing as one of the basic characteristics of the game. The players do not have direct information about the other players' hands but try to guess the relative values based on the play of previous rounds, social clues, and how the players are playing the current round. Bluffing in Poker thus means that the player is trying to give a false impression to other players about the actual value of his hand.
The classic board game Diplomacy has all the information about positions of the players' armies and fleets available to all players. Bluffing in this game is based on giving the other players false information about the current strategies, goals, and agreements between the players. The game even has a specific diplomacy phase for giving the players the ability to scheme together with players against other players.
Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is a board game where players are co-operating but some players are traitors they need to bluff that they are ordinary players. Dead of Winter has a similar feature, but where it is not certain that there is a player with opposing goals; all players however have personal goals that need to be fulfilled to be eligible to be part of a common victory. These personal goals can requires players to hide their intentions (so that other players don't ruin this even if the game is geared toward co-operation) but also allows any potential traitor to hide their goals behind personal goals.
The spy is one of the classes in the Team Fortress series. Players of this role can mask themselves to be seen as being other roles and belonging to the opposing team. Performing as the other roles and team without shooting (since this removes the disguise) through various forms of Bluffing is however required to place the spies in positions where they can be most efficient for their teams.
Using the pattern
Uncertainty of Information, Asymmetric Information, and Player Unpredictability are the primary requirements for Bluffing to be possible in a game. This since players need some part of the game state to be unknown to other players to be able to try Bluffing and the Bluffing players' actions cannot be too predictable. Further, players need to have the means of giving each other Indirect Information about game state or player intentions, i.e., players can make guesses regarding the game state based on other players actions and players can use this do to actions with the main intention of misleading players trying to make guesses. While Indirect Information supports Bluffing well, the activity can still be possible in games with Direct Information but becomes more challenging since the Bluffing becomes limited to players' goals, strategies, and intentions; Chess and Go are examples of where this type of Bluffing can exist.
Social Interaction provides a flexible basis that easily can support these kinds of attempts at misdirection and therefor Bluffing. More precise examples of this is where Negotiation is possible, with Trading, Betting, and Bidding as specific examples.
Another types of Bluffing is possible in games with Performance Uncertainty. Here players can pretend to be less skillful in the actions performed to try and trick other players to make wrong assumptions when deciding on what actions and strategies they will be taking. Knowledge of other players and their ability to perform actions, or even more generally their ability to play specific games or games, can in these situations become Real World Knowledge Advantages that hinder their abilities to bluff.
An explicit type of game element that can be used for Bluffing is Alarms when these can be activated by players' actions.
Bluffing can be directly designed to modify some other activities. One example is Bidding (though being able to pretend to bid on something when not doing so) and Alarms (by being able to set of false Alarms).
Can Be Instantiated By
Games with Symmetric Information can be difficult to combine with the possibility for players to bluff since other players can be able to deduce goals and intentions of those that try to bluff.
The possibility of Bluffing in games creates uncertainty about results and thereby Tension, especially for the Bluffing player. Bluffing modulates Social Interaction between players, and players bluffing must be able to control their Emotional Engrossment. This is especially true if the game is played face-to-face, i.e. with Player-Player Proximity or Unmediated Social Interaction. It should be noted that even though Player-Player Proximity can require more skill and produce more Tension, it is not a requirement. As long as the possibilities and channels for Negotiation exist, there is a possibility for Bluffing. Bluffing in most cases leads to at least a possibility of Betrayal but not always since the influence a bluffer might be aiming for does not necessarily need to be negative for the player being affected.
Having the possibility to bluff in a game provides players with Risk/Reward choices related to if they should bluff or not. That players can differ in how good they are at Bluffing means that the pattern opens up for Social Skills influencing the gameplay. This in turn can affect if and how players take on any potential Social Roles of a game, e.g. if they will try to dominate other players. In games with Surrendering, e.g., Poker and Texas Hold'em, the possibility of a player to do skillful Bluffing can increase the chance of other players Surrendering to that player.
Can Be Instantiated By
Asymmetric Information, Beat the Leader, Betrayal, Betting, Gameplay Mastery, Indirect Information, Imperfect Information, Negotiation, Performance Uncertainty, Player Unpredictability, Secret Goals, Social Interaction, Trading, Uncertainty of Information
Can Be Modulated By
Possible Closure Effects
Potentially Conflicting With
An updated version of the pattern Bluffing that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.