Sunday, 12 August 2012

getting to second base

OK, the title can be a little misleading. It’s partly intentional, for the shock effect. I don’t really know baseball. One thing I have been thinking about lately, is the journey of discovery within a game, as opposed to the endless discovery of new games to play. I think this has been a recurring theme for the past one or two years at my blog, although I still frequently play new games and write about these experiences. So far this year I have played an average of 4 new games per month, which is about one new game every week. That surprised me. I thought I was a jaded gamer who has mostly given up on chasing after new games. But I am quite sure my interest in new games has been steadily declining. I don’t even find Eclipse particularly tempting (blasphemy right?!). I find that I miss playing my older games more than I yearn to try new games. “Jaded” gamer is probably not an appropriate description, since I’m just jaded about the pursuit of new games, not about playing games. I am now less keen to “get to second base” with many games, and I’d rather “do the full home run” with a smaller number of games.

Let me lovingly recount the days of getting deeply involved with a game.

  1. In the beginning, you find out about the game, read some reviews, and decide it’s at least interesting enough to be worth a try, or it has potential to really click. As you get a chance to play it, you learn the rules, and you start exploring the basic tactics. You see how everything fits together. You tinker with it a little, just to see how things work.
  2. You grasp the basic strategies. You start to see the full picture, the macro view. You start formulating more advanced strategies.
  3. Gradually you discover the more subtle strategies (this may not be applicable to every game). You learn to fine-tune strategies. You learn to be more efficient. You remember and anticipate certain cards, events, circumstances, shifts in focus, etc. You are familiar with the distribution of tiles, or cards etc. You have a good grasp of the pacing. At the start of the game you can already outline a plan to follow. You know the possible ways the game may unfold. Even at the beginning of the game you can already evaluate the risks, potential rewards and implications of various starting (and early) moves. While the dust is settling, you are able to execute and adjust your strategy at the same time, sometimes even completely switching directions.
  4. You can play competitively, and your fellow players all play at the same high skill level. There is a kind of tacit understanding. You feel like you are playing in tandem, dancing impeccably precise steps on a knife’s edge. You know what to expect from your opponents, and they you. You can anticipate moves, as if multiple battles have already been fought in your minds before any actual move takes place on the game board. From your opponent’s every move, you can sense the kind of thinking he has gone through. You feel his mood. Everyone plays a close-to-perfect game. No careless mistakes. Some luck may determine the outcome, but no one makes any suboptimal move. Only calculated risks are taken. The winner being decided by luck can actually be a good thing, if it means everyone has played to his best ability, and his best ability is already the highest skill level. There are no regrets. You can truly say and mean “Good Game!” when the game ends.

This kind of feeling is what drives me to continue playing boardgames. This is what I’m trying to capture now. If it means I will miss many good games, I think it is worth it. Why keep going to second base in many games, and never quite hit any home run?

I have played a lot of 2-player Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper against Michelle. I think we are both pretty good players, except for one area - we never bothered to play the betting rule. I think when we first played it we were not sure how to bet and skipped it, and somehow we never added that part of the rules back into the game.

Michelle and I have played many many games of Race for the Galaxy, but I don’t feel we are at the expert level yet, because we mostly only play against each other. I’m sure there still are unexplored strategies despite the many games that we have played together.

Learning to play a game at the highest skill level doesn’t necessarily mean getting overly serious or competitive over a game. You do your best, but it’s not life and death. It’s a boardgame afterall. It’s about enjoying the game and savouring the challenge, not really about beating your opponent.

Different games will take different numbers of plays to reach the last “home run” stage. Also if there is too long a time between plays, you will find yourself stuck at the same base, or even going backwards, needing to relearn the rules and the strategies. To maintain a consistently high “home run” rate, there probably needs to be a limit to the number of games you play. There can only be that many games that you can keep in circulation while still remembering the rules and subtleties and being able to play at a high skill level. But you can remove games from circulation and add new games into it. I have not really adopted this approach in boardgaming, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Hmm... I imagine this kind of thinking will not be very popular with boardgame publishers and retailers. :-)

Axis & Allies Guadalcanal is one game I really enjoyed, but after that first play in May 2008, I still have not revisited it.

I like Die Macher, but rarely get to play it. The next time I play it, I’ll struggle again to remember the tactics, even if I probably will have some vague recollection of the general strategies.

I once suggested a different way of looking at ourselves (boardgame hobbyists) - the Game Taster. At that time I often felt guilty for not spending enough time on individual games, and instead distributing my gaming time widely across many different games. Then I realised I should not feel guilty, if being a Game Taster was how I preferred to enjoy boardgaming. It is fun to try different things, to learn new skills, to have new experiences, to solve new problems and to face new challenges. There is no need to force yourself to play every game you own at least X number of times, or to force yourself to become a world class tournament player in every game you own. At the other end of the spectrum, it is also prefectly OK to just master one game - think chess players and Go players.

For me personally, I feel I’m less keen a Game Taster now than two years ago, but I’m far from wanting to become some top ranking player in any one game. That just sounds like too much work. However I do have great admiration for those who do this, like Lee Chong Wei.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that when posting this you were not aware of the fact that in the U.S. (and a few other western European countries), these terms from baseball also have a different meaning:

In any case, good post and I am glad you are transitioning away from the 'cult of the new' where a game is explored a few times and then the next new game arrives. I too find myself wanting to play the same games over and over to try new things, to get to the next level, etc.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Ha ha... I do know about the metaphor, just not in detail. So the title was intentional. Thanks for the link.