Trial by trolley is a fun party game with sometimes bitter humor. The game is from Cyanide & Happiness, a webcomic by Rob denbleyker, Chris Wilson, Dave McElfatrick and Matt Melvin. In each round, 3-13 people aged 16 and over compete for the tram to run over the other team's cards. In each round there is one person who drives the tram and has to choose one of the two tracks. Sounds funny (if you share the humor) and builds on a philosophical thought experiment. As a philosopher, I would like to take up this and introduce you to the philosophical idea behind the game in addition to the game. If you want to go directly to the game, you can simply skip the following section.
The trolley dilemma
A tram is out of control and threatens to roll over five people. By switching a switch, the tram can be diverted to another track. Unfortunately, there is another person there. May (by throwing the switch) the death of a person accepted to save the lives of five people? – Philippa Foot
What would you choose if you were in such a situation? Some would probably flip the switch and point out that the plot saves five people. Although one person dies as a result of the plot, it is quite banal: five is more than one.
If we accept this - very simplified argument - then we see ourselves confronted with further problems. If we say in this situation that we can sacrifice one person to save others, why not in other cases? Let's change the scenario: Five people are in the hospital and each needs a different organ donation. Another healthy person is also hospitalized and would have the necessary organs. Would it be ok if the doctor now took the organs from the healthy person and saved the other patients? Intuitively not, but why?
One possible answer could be that the actions, although similar, are different. While in the organ case the one person is clearly being used as a means to an end, we have to kill them to get the organs, it's different in the switch case. Here we primarily want to save the people and thereby accept the death of the individual person.
In the course of time, the trolley dilemma was repeatedly modified and adjusted. Here you will find an overview of three of the most well-known: On the left, the classic case. And in the middle and on the right a scenario where the individual person could brake the tram.
I don't want to drift too deep into philosophy at this point, but I found it very interesting to give an insight into which thought experiment Trial by trolley builds up.
Trial by trolley
The game now has certain differences from the thought experiment just presented. The person who decides doesn't stand at the points, but drives the train - but still decides which platform to drive on (don't ask, that's the game). All other people are divided into two teams and are now trying to convince the person to go over the other track and spare their own side.
But one after anonther. In each round you form two teams and also choose one person to drive the train. This train must travel on one of the two tracks that represent each team. Both teams lay out people and modifiers to make the person driving the train prefer to go over the other track. If she chooses a track, all people on this track receive minus points.
Decide on a person who will drive the train first and place the game board in front of them so that the single route faces them. All other people form two teams and should ideally sit opposite each other. If you can't form teams of the same size, that's no problem, because the teams change after each round.
Form three piles of playing cards according to card type and shuffle the piles. The cards are: Innocent, Guilty, and Modifier. Put the markers ready to hand, but you won't need them until after the round to represent the points.
In each round, the people now place innocent cards on their own track and guilty cards on the opponent's track. In addition, modifiers can also have an influence. So a very nice person, who you actually want to spare, can still turn out to be very bad.
In the end, both sides argue that their own track should be spared and the person driving must finally decide on a track.
The game is fun - if you play with the right round and the humor of Cyanide & Happiness Splits. The humor is very evil at times. If you like that and if you have friends with a similar sense of humor, you will definitely have fun here.
The cards are illustrated in a fun way and follow the same style as the comics. The track looks a bit cheap in comparison, because it is just a foldable sheet with a track printed on it. The box is very space-saving, which means that no expensive air is sold here, as we should have seen it more often lately, which is definitely a plus.
In terms of play, the game is quickly explained and does not raise any questions when playing. A disadvantage, however, is that it depends very much on the humor of the person which side wins. This means that even if you have the best cards and it would be objectively correct to choose the other track, the person may decide differently. It can also happen that you are overwhelmed in large groups. How should the respective persons be weighted? And then with all the modifiers? In the end, does it speak a little more for one track or for the other?
At this point you realize that you shouldn't take the game too seriously. Don't play it because you want to win, play it because you want to have fun. If the person decides against you, even if your cards seemed better, then so be it. Use your gut to decide which track is better instead of spending 30 minutes weighing the pros and cons. Have fun!