So we often complain about games with bullshit rules that limit communication. Mostly this relates to cooperation games such as Pandemic and Shadows over Camelot. The primary problem is that if you have a co-op game players want to communicate to have teamwork. In a game like Fury of Dracula, it's no problem, so why is it a problem in Pandemic? Because the individual players on the team have hidden information that they need to keep secret from their teammates.
Now, having a rule against communication is an inelegant way to solve this fundamental problem, but it can still work. What both these games do wrong is their rules limiting communication are extremely vague. If the rules were written properly, it could work well. A well written communication rule would have an unambiguous definition of improper communication, so it would be clear to all players when the rule has or has not been broken. Additionally, there would have to be some appropriate in-game consequence for breaking the rule other than marking the game with an asterisk and starting over.
Why do I make this topic arise from its grave once again? I was reading some Internets, and I found some creative ideas people have for fixing these shitty rules. Obviously a game that limits communication in this way would be bad for socializing, so it would have to be a really fun game to make up for it.
The best one I read is for Pandemic. Some people play where you are not allowed to communicate whatsoever. But if some players are in the same city, those players may communicate 100% freely with each other. This rule is really good because it is unambiguous. It just needs to address non-verbal communication such as hand signals and also provide a mechanic to punish cheaters.
Another option I saw was the rule of don't speak until spoken to. If it is not your turn, you are not allowed to talk at all except to answer yes/no questions that are asked specifically to you by the active player. With enough questions, the current player can still perform very optimally and effectively gain access to the secret information of the other players. However, it makes it impossible for one player to play the game for all the other players. Everyone still has to work individually on their own turns, so all players will actually have to be good at the game to have a chance of winning.
With this idea of cleverly and unambiguously limiting communication I came up with a combination of mechanics that might be the seeds of what could be a good game. So the game has a board on which players are trying to score points. All players are blindfolded, so visual signals are useless. Players also may not touch each other. Only audio is an issue.
But wait, how do you play the game while blindfolded? The active player removes their blindfold on their turn. During their turn the hidden information comes into existence, and then goes out of existence. Maybe they draw cards and then discard them like Dominion. There is noone to show cards to because they can't see. When you blindfold yourself and the next player takes theirs off, there are no cards left for them to look at except their own.
So what about audio communication? Really simple. Nobody can say any words in any language, unless a card or something else in the game specifically instructs them to do so. They may then only communicate verbally in the manner described by the card. For example, a card might let you ask another player a single yes or no question, and that player is allowed to say yes or no without penalty. Another card might allow you to write a note that the next player may look at on their turn, but must destroy Inspector Gadget style before their turn is over. Lots of clever things can happen here.
How do we punish players who cheat without ending the game? How about a one victory point per syllable rule? Every illegal syllable that is uttered by any player costs the team a victory point. This could allow for some really clever play where you speak five syllables of information because you know your team will benefit 10 victory points from it. I only worry about griefers who start talking to bring the team down by talking up a storm. If someone does that, kick them where the sun don't shine.
The final problem here is there is one form of communication that is left out. That is non-verbal audio communication. What if someone taps their foot on the floor or their finger on the table? Or maybe they kick the table to pass the vibrations to the other players? Or maybe they squeak their chair or roll the dice around? What if they snap their fingers? What then? How can you possibly judge this without putting every player in a sound isolation booth? You can't.
I say, permit it! Make that what the game is about. The point of the game is that by playing it the players either need to know morse code, or need to invent something similar for themselves. Everyone online can share the systems they come up with. Set the difficulty of the game such that without communication, the players are almost certain to lose, but with a perfect system of communication the players are almost certain to win, unless they are very bad. Not only will players have to have a system in place to have a chance of winning, but every miscommunication will be a severe detriment to the team. Not only must you invent a system, but all players will have to be very proficient at using it to both receive and transmit information.
The epic moments I see are when people will take their blindfolds off and be hella pissed at what they see when someone else screwed up. They will likewise be super thrilled if they take their blindfold off and see with their own eyes that their secret communication method works so well.
The problems I still see are playing in a loud room might make it impossible. Also, people who are not playing the game might communicate to the players, and an in-game penalty can not harm those outsiders. Even if the idea I came up with in a few minutes is not perfect, the general idea is that while an crappy rule to limit communication makes for an unplayable game, I think there is definitely room on my shelf for a game with a very clever and well done game centered entirely around the idea of limited sharing of information between players.