Monday, 9 November 2009

analysing games, enjoying games

I read many boardgame blogs (using Google Reader, a wonderful, time-saving tool), and visit almost every day. I read many game reviews. I have no doubt that I spend more time visiting boardgame websites and blogging about boardgames than actually playing games. Which is a bit sad. One thing that I have learnt from the many reviews reading and games playing is that you should not let others' negative opinions of a game impede your own enjoyment of that game.

The easiest example that most gamers can relate to is probably Monopoly. There was a time when it was trendy and cool to declare one's hatred of Monopoly at BoardGameGeek (well, perhaps it still is). I think many new gamers get brainwashed into thinking that Monopoly is a bad game. It isn't really that bad. And if you do enjoy it, why let others reduce your enjoyment of it, even if it really is a bad game? Axis & Allies is another example. Some people dismiss it as a "dice fest". I remember this was one phrase that struck me when I first got into the hobby. Why do some people feel so negative about Axis & Allies, a game which I thought was excellent? Why is this game ranked in the 200's (it was 2003)? Shouldn't this be top 10 material? Puerto Rico? (then #1 game) Never heard of it.

Some bloggers and reviewers are very enjoyable to read. Whether giving a positive or negative review of a game, they articulate their rationale very well and point out the strengths or weaknesses of the game. They do very good in-depth analyses of games and give thought-provoking opinions. E.g. Chris Farrell and Brian Bankler. Because of how well their arguments are worked out, I have been swayed by their opinions before, and I questioned whether some games that I liked were actually not that good afterall. They are probably right about the weaknesses of the games, but I later realised that these weaknesses may not be issues for me, or have not turned up in the games that I have played. So I should not have thought less of the games that I liked, only because other people, with different tastes and different tolerances for different flaws in games, have different opinions of these games.

There is some random screwage in the end-game of Power Grid, but I don't play it often enough (despite being a game I really like) to have this crop up. Through the Ages is called a massive accounting exercise, but I've never had so much fun doing accounting. Sometimes luck in card draw can make or break your game, but it never was an issue for the many games that I have played. Pandemic doesn't seem to be all that deep. Sometimes it feels like you'd lose no matter what you do, because you have very bad luck with the card draws. However, I still enjoy the game after more than 40 plays, and I can't even explain why. Now that I have the Pandemic: On the Brink expansion, I expect many more plays out of the game.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Some reviewers dissect games very well and expose all the flaws or the single paths to victory. Coke shipping (I think) is supposed to be the single most efficient way to win Le Havre. I read this somewhere. I have not tried it myself, and do not intend to. I have only played 11 games of Le Havre and have not found any game-breaking flaw myself. I intend to keep playing and enjoying the game, exploring the game myself. Maybe one day I will eventually see all the flaws and stop playing the game. For now I'll just be happy enjoying the game as a non-expert player.

This contradicts somewhat with one of my other views. I also think that to really enjoy a game, you need to be good at it, and play against others who are equally good. The game then becomes much more exciting and interesting. I guess what I am saying is you should have your own pace in exploring and improving yourself at a game. Games are about having fun, and ultimately not about winning at all costs. That's why I normally don't read strategy articles about games. I'd rather make mistakes and learn from them. It's much more fun figuring out strategies by yourself.

I now tell myself not to read reviews of games that I already own, especially if I like them. If it is a game that I don't like, I may still read a positive review, because it may tell me what I am missing. When there is so much to read on BGG, and so many new games to learn more about, the last thing you should do is feel bad about games you already own. And like.


wankongyew said...

This discussion thread on QT3 convinced me that Monopoly is a bad game.

Aik Yong said...

This question is one that I have considered in the context of 'badminton'. Badminton by itself is a sport, it has rules and it has scores. We can play casually to pass the time and to keep fit, or we can play competitively to hone our muscles and scoring skills to a razor sharp edge.

By the same token, Boardgaming is also a sort of sport, it has rules and scores and we can either play casually or competitively. Unlike Badminton, however, most of us would tend to trend towards the casual side of Boardgaming, why is this?

I believe the heavy games rotation practiced by most gamers prevents the more experienced players from refining strategies and dominating play. Unlike Badminton and Chess where the rules does not change, our style of Boardgaming means we are in contact with numerous rulesets in a year. And that means games are usually played on a more equal footing, hence more casually.
It is not fun to play with gamers who are way ahead on the experience curve.

This doesn't mean that some of us won't play competitively or that we won't actively try to win. I believe in something Reiner once remarked: winning is the objective, but it is not the reason we play.

I think ultimately, we play to have fun and that means we will need to adjust our styles to fit the styles of the group. If the rest of the group are competitive, we can be competitive and not worry about leaving anyone behind. If the group is more casual, then it will not do well to demoralise them with cutthroat plays.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Ha ha... I have that Knizia quote at the bottom of my blog. Scroll all the way down.

I think it's a pity that most of us tend to play many different games, but rarely any specific game many times, to truly appreciate its depth. Some games are not deep, so we don't miss much there. Some games deserve more plays, but I think generally gamers move on too quickly to the next hot new game.

I probably can never become like Chess, Go, Bridge or Magic players, specialising so much in one game. But I'd like to slow down my game purchasing, and spend more time playing and getting to know better games I already own. Well, at least that's what I keep telling myself. :-)

wankongyew said...

I agree with you in saying that reading up on the strategy of boardgames tends to spoil them as part of the fun lies in discovering them yourself. This is especially true for Eurogames.

However much you dislike it, I think that this indicates that boardgames really aren't that deep. Reading strategy articles for PC games is quite ordinary and especially for multiplayer games very much recommended. I think this indicates that PC games are much more complex and strategically richer. You can read all the strategy articles you want but analyzing the situation and recognizing when to use what strategy is still quite difficult and is a skill that must be acquired through repeated play.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

PC games can be much more complex than boardgames, because many calculations and rules can be "hidden" and handled by the computer, leaving the fun parts for the human player. I gradually stopped playing PC games after I started the boardgame hobby. One of the things that I didn't like about PC gaming is you rarely get AI's that are fun to play against. (I rarely play online against other players) E.g. in the Total War series, graphics improved greatly, but I find the battlefield AI to be not much smarter than before. I haven't played any newer PC games, so I'm not sure whether the AI's are getting better nowadays.

Chris Farrell said...

I know when I write reviews or comments, it's not so much with *you* the reader in mind, as with the people you game with. The people who read my blog (to the extent that there is anything on it of late, which is not much) tend to know what they like. But we also have to game with other people, and they have tastes and interests whether they are able to talk about it or not, and the key to a happy gaming existence is to know what games other people will like as much as what you will like. I personally happen to like Monopoly (I don't love it, but I like it, and it is most certainly not a bad game). But it's not a game I'd try to play with most gamers.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

A few years after getting into the hobby, I played Monopoly again, and tried to evaluate it like it is any other game, without being biased by the negativity that often surrounded it. And turned out it wasn't that bad. It was a 6 for me. The challenge in getting Monopoly to the table would be that there are always so many new games coming out, and there are so many other higher-than-6 games to choose from.

Cecrow said...

I agree with what you've said about winning not being the objective, and dependencies on your play group. My example is a card game we call "May I" (doesn't appear on BGG, must have another name). Each round of the game increases in difficulty. In the last round however, if you already have the lead by a sufficient amount then you can actually throw the hand and still win that game, no matter who else wins that hand. I struck upon this strategy and played it out, winning, but my play group frowned upon it as pointless - which is when I realized, in cases like that it's just about the fun of playing the game, and a strategy of that sorta throws the fun to the dogs. Same reason why I don't do a Moscow rush with Germany in A&A Europe.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

You remind me of another good example. The infantry stack strategy in Axis & Allies Europe spoiled the game for me. I actually have not played a game with this being applied, but after I read about it, I stopped playing the game. It just felt broken. If I were to play the Germans, I felt bad not using the most effective strategy. If I were to play the Allies, I knew I couldn't defend against it. I probably shouldn't have allowed this flaw to stop me from playing the game again. Now I wonder whether I'll be able to pull this off the shelf before the new version is published next year.

Another example I just thought of is the Ticket To Ride series. One strategy is to intentionally block your opponents and force them to take negative points for tickets not completed. But when I play against my wife, we have a mutual understanding that we don't do this to each other. We both enjoy the game much better this way.