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Sanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, SubterfugeSanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, Subterfuge



Ngozi's Way

A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun, by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at

The Object Of The Game
September 25, 2000

“A strange game: the only way to win is not to play.”
— Joshua, War Games

Old game joke: “The object of the game is to win.” I'd actually disagree though: the object of the game is to have fun. Aside from games that can be played professionally, the entire point of playing at all is to have a good time. Now, if you only enjoy yourself when you're winning, you're missing out on the true object of the game whenever you're not winning. Wouldn't it be better to “win” all the time, not just when the game is going your way?

Better yet. As far as enjoyment goes, both players can win. Or, if one person is having a miserable time and ends up bringing the other's spirits down, both players can easily lose. Next time you're looking for a game, then, think about what you can do to make the experience a positive one for both yourself and your opponent. And if your opponent is a jerk – the world is full of jerks, after all – think of what you can do to preserve your enjoyment of the game anyway.

Black and White

Some things are so much a matter of courtesy (if not formality) that you tend to run into them often. A greeting at the beginning of the game, and wishing your opponent good luck (some abbreviate this to “GL”), goes a long way towards setting up a friendly environment for a game. Win or lose, saying “good game” (or simply “gg”) after the match is a quick and easy way to show your appreciation for your opponent's time.

Likewise, some behaviors are so off-limits that they are explicitly against the Usage Agreement (see page footer for link) that you had to sign to get your account. Abusive language or flooding, either in the game or the lobby; colluding to alter the results of a ranked match (or playing yourself for rank); continually asking your opponent to draw or concede; “stonewalling” (walking away from a game in progress, leaving your opponent just sitting there); “disconnecting” (often abbreviated “disco”, which has less to do with music from the 70's and more to do with shutting down your Internet connection). (On the subject of discos, I should also mention (in case you didn't know) that losing your connection in the middle of a ranked game counts as a loss for you in addition to decreasing your completion percentage, so you don't gain by it and you lose some reliability.)

Any of these can and will get you banished to Volgaria; if you feel you've been a victim, take action and report the offense by sending a description and game log to . (If you don't know how to find your game logs, now would be a great time to learn; aside from creating mana and recruits, this is probably the most important skill a Sanctum player needs to know.)

Gray Areas

Wouldn't it be nice if everything were as obvious as common courtesy? Unfortunately, the real world is seldom so simple, as one soon learns in the Sanctum community. Online, you can encounter people from different countries, different cultures, and (I would swear by my own experiences) sometimes different planets. Different players have different ideas about what is and isn't considered polite, and one quickly learns just how many holes there are in the User Agreement (which is good in a way; we may not always agree, but we're not a totalitarian cyberstate either).

What follows are some unresolved issues that our community has faced in the past. There have been massive discussions on the sanctum-discuss mailing list (see page footer for link) covering most of these, usually ending in an agreement to disagree. If you're new to the community, be aware of these; in your quest to “win”, it would be a shame if you caused someone else to “lose” simply because of a misunderstanding.

Read before challenging. If there's one thing that should be a universal point of courtesy in Sanctum, it should be to read someone's description before you formally challenge them. You have to click on his or her avatar (which displays his/her description) anyway, so you don't exactly have to go out of your way to do this and a few people have very important information (like “please ask me before you challenge”) in their descriptions. Taking a few seconds to scan someone before you make an official war declaration can go a long way toward preventing people from permanently Muting you. I wouldn't even call this a gray area, except that it seems so few people actually read those things.

Ask before challenging. This one is definitely a matter of taste. Some people find it annoying and intrusive for a challenge window to pop in front of them while they're chatting in the lobby; others feel that the lobby is simply a place to start games, and the sooner they get challenged the sooner they can play. Because of the varied reactions, then, it's usually better to broadcast an intent to play in chat; something like “game anyone?”, “unranked anyone?” or the like will usually get the attention of at least one person. When I'm online, I often see two people ask for a game at about the same time, and (with tongue firmly in cheek) I'll introduce them to each other.

House/Card restrictions. Another controversial subject is those players who seek to put restrictions (such as “No Death decks” or “No OOP cards”) on their opponent before a game even starts. With unranked games this usually isn't a problem (you're playing for fun anyway, and if you just don't find it fun to play against something for any reason, you shouldn't have to) but when you bring rank and rating into the picture you start to get a lot of disagreement. Some say that limiting your opponent's deck in a competitive environment gives you an unfair advantage, and may even accuse you of being a poor sport (“you just don't want to play against Body because you don't want to lose, and that's the only House that beats you”). Other players would say that you shouldn't have to play against a play style that you hate in any environment, and that those who are unwilling to play by your constraints should simply decline to play you. Whichever way you feel, do keep one thing in mind: when you initiate a challenge, you cannot give your opponent any information about the game except for the specific attributes you set; there is no way to show your description or otherwise say “decline this challenge unless you'll play a game to my stated constraints”. Thus, if you do insist on limiting your opponent's choices, it is far better to put those limits in your description (and/or broadcast an invitation for others to challenge you, as above, but stating your preferences at that time).

Draw on bad opening. Most players who enjoy the challenge of a skill-based game do everything they can to minimize the luck factor inherent in this (or any) game. Some go so far as to offer or ask for a draw, if it is clear that one player has a luck-based disadvantage from the start of the game (unfavorable terrain or a poor opening hand, for example). Others would balk at this, saying that the random aspect is part of the game and that trying to pretend a game didn't happen just because of what it looked like on turn 1 would be tantamount to cheating. At this time, it is unclear whether both players consenting to draw immediately under such conditions falls under the “altering the results of a ranked game” clause of the Usage Agreement. Even if it doesn't, though, certainly the best way to proceed (if you'd like a draw) would be to offer one – and if your opponent doesn't feel the same way, then be prepared to play on. Trying to abuse and browbeat your opponent into accepting a draw, under any circumstances, most assuredly is a banishable offense.

Say what? This is a global community; as noted before, Sanctum has regular players from around the world. Occasionally, when some players discover they are from the same culture or speak the same language, they are happy to find such comraderie and are more than happy to speak in their native tongue in the public chat rooms. Some people find this entertaining, as just another reminder that we're truly living in a global village. Some find it annoying, because they cannot understand what is being said and it may as well be flooding for all they know. Such disagreements are generally best avoided entirely: regardless of the language you speak, if you're only speaking to one other person, whisper. In my view, for better or worse, English is the one language used in Sanctum that all players speak (it could be considered Sanctum's official language, I suppose), and if others prefer that you stick to something they can understand, oblige them. At least, until we all learn Esperanto.

Trading online. Some people find the trading board tedious, and consider the lobby to be an excellent supply of others to trade with. On the other hand, some people have no interest in trading and prefer either to chat or to play; to them, trade offers are about as meaningful as the non-English text mentioned above. If you want to look for trades without getting on anyone's bad side, though, there are a number of things you can do. You can simply put what you need and have in your description (some people abbreviate this to “N” and “H” respectively, so someone might have a description like “N:Warlord, H:Amok”). You can type a brief offer (or a simple “read me”) in the lobby, provided you don't repeat yourself so frequently as to get on everyone's nerves. If you're looking for something more involved, you can also head over to the Bazaar chat room (that's what it's there for, after all) and invite others in Hero's Gate to join you for a heavy-duty trading session.

Public accusations. Unfortunately, you do get the occasional person returning to Hero's Gate and saying to anyone who will listen, “so-and-so is a disconnector”. If someone else has given you cause to be upset, the best policy is generally to take it up with them first (if possible), and then take it to DA with game logs in hand. This avoids two nasty side effects of public accusations: mistaken identity (someone else may have an account name similar to the one you're badmouthing, and that person may take some undeserved flak because of you) and misunderstandings (sometimes the person who you thought was evil incarnate was actually just saying something that you misinterpreted, and all you need is to talk it out to discover this).


I once read a statistic that 80% of those surveyed think their driving skills are above average. Likewise, I'd imagine that at least 80% of us would like to think that our ethical behavior is above average. If you can picture that happening, you can see where a lot of bitter arguments are started from a misunderstanding, and that relatively few actually happen because one person is really just that evil. So, the next time you get angry at someone online, take a step back and ask yourself why you're angry and why a game would be worth playing if you didn't get any enjoyment from it.

Having fun is the object of the game; just remember that, and you'll win 100% of the time.

Good luck!

Thanks to Sanctum player Tass for suggesting this topic.

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