Have you ever disagreed about the rules for a game?  Sometimes, consulting the rulebook will resolve the issue, but all too often rulebooks are unclear and the disagreement remains.  What do you do?

Disagreements are liable to crop up in many areas of life.  From deciding on company policy with your business partner to deciding on a house cleaning policy with your marriage partner, some issues can be very difficult to resolve.  Let’s look at the options.

Things can be more complicated with several different people, each with different opinions, so I’m going to keep things simple today and just deal with a disagreement between two people.  Let me illustrate this with a situation that came up in my education business.

We have a website that allows students to watch videos teaching them Maths, English and Science.  There are over 1000 videos all grouped into appropriate topics within each subject.  When you look at a particular section, you see a list of videos, each of which has a title, a description and a thumbnail (the little picture you can click on to play the video).

When discussing the thumbnails, my business partner wanted them to be a screenshot from the video.  This would mean every thumbnail would look different.  He was keen on the variety.  It would illustrate a wide range of content.

I wanted the thumbnails to be a title slide.  I was keen to promote consistency and professionalism.  I thought his thumbnails would look messy.  He thought my thumbnails were boring.

For a while, we couldn’t make any progress on the issue.  We were both adamant how we wanted them to look.

  • People before issues

It was really starting to sour our relationship.  I could feel the tension between us so in the end I sat down and had a long think about what was important.  I didn’t have any answers about the thumbnails, but I came to the conclusion that my relationship with my business partner was more important than the issue.

So I wrote him a long email where I essentially made two points.  Firstly, I love him.  And yes, I actually said that.  Many people (particularly the British!) reserve the L word for their romantic partner and never use it in any other context.

A heartfelt “I love you” can transform any relationship.

Now I don’t recommend throwing the word around with everyone you meet (or it cheapens its value), but a heartfelt “I love you” can transform any relationship, platonic or otherwise.  I said I thought he was great, that I really appreciated working with him and that I have learnt so much from him.

  • Does the issue really matter?

My second point was that the thumbnail issue wasn’t really that important.  It felt important to both of us at the time, but when I sat back and thought about it, actually, it didn’t really matter.  There are plenty of far more important issues that would potentially come up while running a business.

What I said to him though, was that how we resolve the disagreement was far more important than the actual result.  I wanted to establish a precedent of sorts: an approach for resolving disagreements.

I knew that we could end up disagreeing about really important things later, so I wanted to find a way of resolving the issue where both of us were heard and understood.  Where neither of us felt bulldozed or bullied or belittled by the other.

  • Can you compromise?

Nobody likes to do it.  It feels like we’re backing down and compromising our principles, not just compromising on one issue.  However, it is always worth considering other options or trying to find an approach that takes the best of both viewpoints.

In our case, we actually had two thumbnails in use.  One was in the list of videos, but when you click through to the actual video page, another thumbnail displays in the video frame before the video starts.

We decided to use my professional (boring!) thumbnails in the video frame as the title slide approach made more sense in that context and then use the screenshot thumbnails in the list of videos.  We actually tweaked them slightly by adding a nice play button image on top of them as well.

And you know what?  They look great!  My business partner was really happy as he had the variety he wanted in all the video lists and I was happy because the addition of the play button provided consistency and the video page itself looked professional.

  • Submit to one another

Fortunately, we were able to find a compromise we were both happy with, but sometimes that isn’t possible.  This has been the case on more than one occasion with my wife.  We are both strong personalities with strong opinions!  What can you do if there are no other options?

Submission isn’t weakness; it is love.

Well, if the other person is more important than the issue, and if the issue isn’t really that important anyway, then submit.  I’ve talked about this before, but it shouldn’t be a habit for one person always to submit.  This is unhealthy.

However, if both parties submit, from time to time, on different issues, it fosters love and respect.  Submission isn’t weakness; it is love.

So what about rules for boardgames?  Well, in the scheme of things, they’re not really that important.  I’ll say what I think, but I’m very happy to go along with another person’s interpretation of the rules if it matters that much to them.

Do you have any advice for resolving disagreements?

Related Post


Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] be willing to revert to the base rules if your opponents want to, or if there is an irresolvable disagreement about exactly which house rules to use. When making a house rule in a game with asymmetric factions […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x