Tuesday, 18 September 2007

getting in-depth

Having access to too many games is a problem (whether you own them, or play in groups that own them, or otherwise). As a boardgame hobbyist owning many games, the problem that I have is I rarely get to play and know a game in depth. I am just too spoilt for choice. Also I always keep myself up-to-date on new releases, and often cannot resist buying a new game that looks interesting (although I think I'm getting less easily impressed by new titles nowadays and don't decide to buy a new game so easily).

I have been meaning to write about this, when I came across a well written article on the Gone Gaming blog, titled Investment in gaming. I highly recommend this article.

I own many games. I play even more, considering my regular boardgame kaki Han also has a sizeable collection, and our collections mostly do not overlap. I don't play as much as I'd like to, with two young children at home (not old enough to play non children boardgames). We usually, no, we always have a backlog of games that we have bought and have not yet played. As a result, we rarely get to play any single game many times, especially when it's a medium or longer game.

To me, it is a pity. There are many good games which require repeated plays to learn their nuances and strategies. Through repeated plays you try different tactics and hone your skills. You improve your game and play at a higher and higher level. You enjoy this competitive level of play, pitting your wits against equally good, or better opponents. You appreciate the beauty of the game and enjoy the intense gameplay. That's my ideal. Unfortunately this doesn't happen for most of my games. I think the only games where I can claim I have reached this stage are Carcassonne, Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper and Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. Well, maybe Lord of the Rings too, although I recently read an article at BoardGameGeek.com which described a strategy that I have never thought of before - intentionally allowing the scenarios to end via events. Sometimes some strategies of some games will forever go undiscovered if you only play games within a small circle of friends (which definitely applies to me).

There are many games that I like which I wish I could play more and get better at. Puerto Rico, Power Grid, The Princes of Florence. Tigris and Euphrates is one deep game that I have never felt I have learnt to play even at a basic competency level. When I read this very detailed session report at BoardGameGeek.com, I was very impressed and awed by the depth of the game and also the level of play of the experts at this game.

So, what can I do about this? Or what should I do about this? One of the things that Han and I tried was the Game of the Month concept. The idea is over one month, every time that we meet up, we will play one specific medium to higher complexity game. We still play other games, but we will only play this specific game as our "main course". We still play other shorter or at most medium length games, but we will focus on learning and mastering that one Game of the Month. We did this with Hammer of the Scots, a game about the Scottish War of Independence. This game was inspired by the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart, a movie about William Wallace. As a sidenote, despite the movie being one of my favourites, there are many historical inaccuracies. So, watch it as a good movie, not as a documentary or for learning the history. And I learned this from the rules of Hammer of the Scots. Back on topic. Han and I did play Hammer of the Scots quite a number of times. Although I wouldn't call ourselves experts, at least we did get to know the game quite well and can truly enjoy the gameplay without worrying about rules mistakes. This is a wargame, and despite being at the lower end of the the complexity spectrum, getting all the rules right is still a challenge for people used to Eurogames. It was a great experience playing and learning the game, trying different strategies and reliving different versions of history. So, our Game of the Month concept execution was a success for Hammer of the Scots.

We also did something similar for Power Grid. There was a period of time when we played Power Grid frequently, often with Michelle as well. So, I'd say we did get quite familiar with it. Unfortunately we have not tried it with 4 players, which would make things a little different. In Power Grid, each city allows up to 3 players to supply power to it. So in a 4 player game, there is a risk that someone will be cut off from a city that he/she wants to supply. I wonder whether it would be a big impact to gameplay, and will probably keep wondering for quite a long time, until I have the chance to play Power Grid more with more than 3 players.

Unfortunately, other than Hammer of the Scots and Power Grid, we have not managed to do the game Game of the Month thing with other games. Well, we were not that strict about "Month". We do play those two games more frequently over a few months. Nowadays with our busier schedule, sometimes we only get to meet up once a month, so the Game of the Month concept has been long abandoned. Now I wish I could do this with Byzantium, an interesting and deeper Eurogame that Han recently bought and we have played once.

Another thing that I do now to avoid (well, maybe I can only say reduce) this butterfly syndrome of tasting many games but only one or twice, is to stop myself from buying too many games. I really should slow down. No point having more games than I am able to play. I try to avoid buying "hot new games", which people are all talking about and praising. I try to wait until there are at least some negative reviews of the game, or at least until there are people pointing out some things that they do not like about the game even if they do like the overall game. I try to really know a game before I decide to buy it, e.g. reading the rules (if available), reading reviews, reading session reports, looking at photos. When I was in Taiwan I even had the opportunity to play it at Witch House before deciding whether to buy. I keep a game wishlist in an Excel spreadsheet, in which I track games that I am interested in, and rate them according to my interest level (10 being I have decided to buy a game, 4 to 6 being interested with different likelihoods of buying it eventually, and 1 to 3 being I have, at least for now, decided I won't buy it). I try to not easily "graduate" games to a 10 rating.

I did this with Age of Empires III, one of the hot new games that came out this year. Well, eventually I have decided to buy it (although I have not actually bought it yet). But hopefully after reading so much about it, I won't be disappointed when I do get to play it.

There is a Chinese phrase which can describe my current situation with boardgames - "zou2 ma3 kan4 hua1" - which means looking at flowers while riding a horse. When you are in a hurry, you won't get to really enjoy the view. Maybe the English phrase can also be applied here - stop to smell the roses.

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