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Debate Is a Game: Fox and the Hounds

There’s a lot of strategy involved in debate. Think of it like the game Fox and the Hounds.

In the game, the fox (controlled by player one) can go forwards and backwards. The hounds (controlled by player two) can only go forwards. The hounds want to box in the fox. The fox wants to reach the other side.

The fox’s best move is to think ahead and optimize their opportunities so they aren’t boxed in by the hounds. Similarly, in debate, we have to think ahead and choose arguments that give us the most opportunities to take advantage of our opponent’s missteps.

Mr. Wheeler, who coaches our national champion policy debate squad, has his students play this game. At first, the fox wins because it is more versatile–but strategic thinkers will be able to win with the hounds by boxing the fox in.

In a typical debate, the hounds are the affirmative. The fox is the negative.

Whoever introduces an argument is a hound–they’re trying to box their opponent in.

Whoever answers the argument is a fox. The fox should maximize their possible strategic moves in the future.

If a 1NC in policy doesn’t read enough arguments, or reads redundant arguments, they’re not maximizing their future moves. If the fox is good enough, the hounds will lose if they make any mistake.

When you hear an argument, try to give three responses. First, say the opposite is true. Then, say their argument is true, but their conclusion is wrong. Then, say their argument isn’t important.For example, if the argument is “tax cuts help the economy,” you might respond with:

  1. No, tax cuts hurt the economy.

  2. Sure, tax cuts help the economy, but a strong economy hurts the environment.

  3. Sure, tax cuts help the economy, but the economy doesn’t matter compared to nuclear war.

You don’t want to make all three arguments in the same actual debate (you’d double-turn yourself), but the exercise will make you better at thinking on the fly when you hear unexpected arguments. You don't want to be a boxed-in fox.

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