By mistake, your tax refund is too big. Do you tell the IRS? You want a child but your partner doesn't. Do you stop using contraceptives without your mate's knowledge? A friend asks you to write a reference, but you feel he's poorly qualified for the job. Do you refuse? These are among the 245 moral dilemmas, both large and small, posed by A Question of Scruples, a provocative new game from Canada that is already bidding to match the popularity of an earlier north-of-the-border import, Trivial Pursuit.
Scruples Inventor Henry Makow had been contemplating the shift in morality from the righteous '60s to the yuppified '80s. "The baby boomers think they're very moral on issues like Nicaragua," he says, "but some of them haven't paid back their college loans. This game is an opportunity to compare notes." A Winnipeg free-lance writer, Makow has been in the question-and-answer business since age eleven, when his advice-to-parents column "Ask Henry" was syndicated in some 40 papers in the U.S. and Canada. He wants players to consider the rules of life, so the rules of his game are relatively simple.
There is no board and there are no right or wrong answers. The winner is the first player to get rid of all the question cards, by correctly predicting others' answers. Responses to questions about sexual, familial and business dilemmas can be jonly yes, no or depends. A player may bluff (or lie, to be more scrupulously plainspoken). If he is challenged, debates about whether the answer was honest are settled by a vote among all players, who award halo cards for sincerity or pitchforks for deception. The real action of Scruples is in the conversation, disagreement and insight the game inspires. "It's a good way to get people to talk about things they ordinarily wouldn't," says New Jersey Stockbroker Michael Deutsch, 39. "All of us make moral choices every day."
Answers to queries about the morality of extramarital affairs or the treatment of elderly relatives sometimes provoke heated, or chilly, reactions between married partners. Friends often surprise one another with unexpected opinions, and business relationships can be affected. "After I played it with my attorney," says Carl Eisenberg, vice president of Maruca Industries, Scruples' U.S. distributor, "I told him, 'I don't think I want to do business with you anymore.' " Makow, however, knows that too much seriousness spoils the spice.
So he has included a generous sprinkling of lighter quandaries (do you mention a friend's bad breath to him, do you tell another player you have seen his answer card?) and imaginary situations (you are a politician . . .). But even the picayune posers are intended to provoke. Says Makow: "The small decisions are very important. People love to talk about these everyday moral dilemmas."