Tuesday 25 May 2010

we are not Game Players

I often write about controlling game buying. I impose a quota on myself every year. The main reason being that owning too many games means you'll get to play each game less. When you do that, you appreciate each individual game less, because you don't play it enough to be good at it, to understand all the nuances and explore all the strategies.

My copy of Through the Ages has seen many plays. 50 games doesn't sound like much, but this is a 2 - 2.5 hour game. This game is in my Top 10. I'm quite happy to have played it so much, because the game gets better and better as I get more and more familiar with the cards. I also explored various strategies, trying out various leaders and wonders.

Then one day I thought about viewing the boardgame hobbyist from a different perspective. In the boardgame hobby the comparison between Game Collector and Game Player occasionally comes up. I think most people tend to think of themselves as game players, or want to be categorised as game players. They want to be buying games to be played, and not to be collected. There seems to be something negative about collecting games - if you buy a game and don't play it, you defeat the purpose of the game existing in the first place. So people want to be game players.

But when you have a collection of a few hundred, or a few thousand games, do you really play every game even once in a year? If you don't play a game even once in a year, then aren't you really just collecting it? If I apply some minimal requirement for a person to qualify as a Player of a game, what should it be?

  • Play at least once in a year? At least once every 3 months?
  • Play at least 10 times in the lifetime of the game?
  • Or maybe some combination of the two? E.g. play 10 times in first half year, and then at least twice a year thereafter.
  • Know the game well enough to be able to teach it without referring to the rules? Or with minimal reference to rules / reference sheets?
  • Being good at the game, and being able to fully appreciate the strategic wealth?

As you buy and own more and more games, it becomes harder and harder to meet such requirements. When you find that for more than half the games that you own you don't meet the Players requirements (whatever you think they should be), then maybe you're a Collecter afterall, not a Player. I did a quick check and found that out of my ~170 games owned (not counting expansions), there are 91 that I have not played for more than a year. Some of these I actually quite like. Some of these I don't really like and probably should sell or trade away, just that I'm a lazy bum when it comes to such things.

I too want to be more a Player than a Collector. I want to buy less and play more. However there are always interesting new games coming out all the time, and I can't help being tempted to buy or try them. If the idea is to play fewer games in total and to play each game many times, then the question is not really whether you buy a new game or not. If you have the opportunity to try a new game, you should decline, because that would "dilute" your gameplay "concentration". Well, of course, I won't ever be that hard on myself. But theoretically that's how a hardcore Player should behave. Imagine a Go or Chess or Bridge player enjoying his game so much that he has no need for and has no interest in other types of games.

What about some middle ground between Player and Collector? I thought of a term Game Taster. The analogy is wine enthusiasts who go for wine tasting sessions. They go for variety and not quantity. They don't get drunk. They try different things and appreciate the different types of wine. I don't drink wine, so maybe I'm totally off, but this is how I came up with this term. The Taster likes to try different things, new things. He likes variety. He gets a taste of many different games, but does not dwell too much on any one game. Maybe he will spend slightly more time on some good games, savouring them and enjoying them. But he will always seek out new games. He will look out for new ideas.

Notre Dame is a pretty good game. I'm happy to have played it at Carcasean Cafe twice. I don't feel a strong urge to buy it or play it repeatedly, but I've happy to have tried it.

So what if I buy a game and only play it 3 or 4 times if I feel I have gained from it what I expected? For the cost of a game, I gain X number of hours of entertainment, and this is an activity I do together with friends, which means they gain too. Perhaps we shouldn't think of the cost of a game as being for the physical game, and instead think of it as being for the fun time that is gained. Another analogy is books. I rarely reread novels that I buy. I feel I've gained what I expected after reading them once. Of course I can reread them if I want to, but in most cases I probably won't. Games are made to be played more than once. But after you've played it enough times to fully appreciate its qualities, perhaps you don't need to play it anymore. You probably should sell / trade / donate / give away such games though. Pass the fun on. Save space at home. Make space for new games. It's okay to keep buying games if you think of yourself as a Game Taster.

One aspect of the Game Taster is the Game Learner. It is fun to learn a new game, to see how it works, to figure out the possible strategies. It's like puzzle solving. Once you've mastered a game though, you're done. You know the system in and out. You don't need to play more. You have overcome the intellectual challenge. Of course a game is just a setting or framework in which you compete with other players, so ultimately the challenge is in defeating your opponents. But then you can always pick another new game to play - fresh setting, fresh mechanisms, equally challenging opponents.

Barbarossa, a clay game, a party game, a guessing game, a trivia game. Not something I can play again and again, but it was good that I had a chance to try it. I liked it enough to later buy a copy. Probably something good to play with my children when they are older.

Quo Vadis, a negotiation / political game. Good to have tried it once. Not something I can play too much. This is a game that can cause hard feelings if people get too serious about it.

With this additional category of Game Taster defined (in addition to Game Player and Game Collector), I think I'm pretty much in the Game Taster category. I play many new games every year, and many games are played only a few times. I would like to move slightly towards the Game Player end of the spectrum. By defining the term Game Taster, I guess I'm saying that it's okay to be one. It's okay to treat games like Bata* - Buy-And-Throw-Away. It's okay to join the Cult of the New. Just proudly declare yourself a Game Taster.

I'm not making this all up just so that I can relax my self imposed game buying quota. I still think I need to spend more time on many of the games that I already own and like. I'm still interested in new games which are innovative and/or good, but I don't need to try everything. I would rather try fewer games so that I can spend more time getting more enjoyment out of games I already own. So I will still try to adhere to my quota. (keyword is "try", heh heh... )

Now who wants to play Die Macher with me?

Die Macher, a long and complex game that I own, have only played half a game of, like a lot, and still have not managed to get it back to the table.

* Bata is a well known shoe brand in Malaysia and their shoes are generally considered low-end and not very durable. I think most Malaysians think Bata is a Malaysian company. It is actually a company established in Czechoslovakia, in 1894. Most Malaysians don't realise it is actually a big international company.


SoFrankly said...

That's me! What a great blog!

Anonymous said...

good :>
i want to be a game player but actually i'm a game collector...
i just don't find enough time to play all the games
and each time new games come out, i'm urged to buy them


Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thank you Frank. I was quite surprised (and happy) to see this post mentioned at Gameblog (Mikko Saari's blog) and Tao of Gaming, two blogs which I have been following for a long time.

I wonder whether I'll be responsible for triggering a buying spree, because I've just armed every gamer with the weapon: "I'm a Game Taster, buying new games is what I do!"

deck said...

Even if you're a game taster, you can't really justify buying many games if the other people in your gaming group buy more games than you have time to try with them. Currently, I still spend more money on PC games than boardgames.

My wife is actually much more agreeable to spending money on PC games than boardgames. This is because while PC games are play once and then essentially throw away items, I fully complete every PC game that I buy. On the other hand, we bought Battlelore nearly a year ago and still haven't finished all of the scenarios it comes with...

Chong Sean said...

I am a card sleever, token puncher and rules reader.

I want to become a game player, so that's it... i am not buying any games until i play everything on the shelves.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Chong Sean,

NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! (惨叫) I take back what I said!!!!!

Chris Norwood said...

I think that I've got to disagree with you, Hiew. After putting a lot of thought into the whole matter, this is what I came up with. Check it out if you have time (I also cross-posted it on the BGG thread you started, if that seems easier).

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Chris, no long no chat. I was a little surprised and quite happy that this post generate quite a bit of discussion and debate. I'll write my comments at the article page on BGG. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/5085641

Lance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lance said...

I love your blog. Thanks for all the great info!

From one game taster to anohter,

Lance Moody

G. Ames said...

I'm a "gamer."That term is so misrepresented, due to the explosion of the video game hobby and that terrible movie with what's-his-name in it that came out last year. That's not the gamer I'm talking about.By calling myself a gamer, I really mean that I am fascinated by and love to engage in virtually any manner of game. Video games, card games, dice games, role-playing games, puzzle games, board games, war games - all of 'em. I truly love gaming as a hobby. I'm not limited to a specific medium, although I have my preferences.One of my very favorite types of gaming is board gaming. Up until about 2006-ish, I believed that board gaming was a little niche kingdom ruled by Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley. I thought that in every board game, the object was to either a) run the other person out of money in Monopoly or, b) take over the world, a la Risk. This "destroy your friends and win mercilessly" got old to me. Sure, it was good for a few thrills, but it really got old.

Cecrow said...

I was a chess fanatic in highschool for a day or two, dreaming of becoming a grand master someday. Then I realized I'd have to play chess to the exclusion of all else, and promptly discarded the idea. I'm glad you settled on the 'game taster' concept, since I had trouble with the initially stated premise. I don't think there's any harm with sampling several games lightly rather than exploring any one game for in-depth analysis. It's the same fun either way: finding something new to get your brain around. Besides, taking any game to an extreme of analysis can eventually drain it of all its magic and actually make you forget why you liked it in the first place (I'm thinking of original Axis & Allies here; so nice having all these new versions and variants to restore the thrill of not always mechanically knowing what to do).

D.Don said...

It's all about the kick...

Like any other addict, may it be wine, cars, women or whatever, it's all about the excitement of a new toy, explore, experience and then when it turns into a commodity for you (which it tend to do fast), get a new toy, and a new kick...

That said, there's nothing saying that the collecting can be an interest in itself, if you become a completist and catalogue every version of the same toy you find, and treat it as would it be your first born baby, then you probably have your main hobby in the collecting.

KUTGW, excellent blog!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thank you D.Don. Indeed it is a great feeling when learning a new game and discovering how it works. Now that Essen 2010 is here, there are many many new games for us to watch out for - photos to see, reviews to read, etc. We are addicts because our suppliers are just too good and too productive.

Mark Briedis said...

Hi Hiew

I'd very much like to introduce you to a game I've invented and produced called Global Mega Brand. Can I send you a copy?


Mark Briedis said...

Hi Hiew, I'm a game inventor/producer. Can I send you a game I've invented? It's called Global Mega Brand - it's an uncomplicated money game (a bit like Monopoly), but there's real skill and strategy involved. Cheers, Mark.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Mark, I'm afraid I have to decline. I have read up the information on the game (I assume it's this - www.globalmegabrand.com). I'm not very much into light-to-medium weight games nowadays and may not be able to give the game a fair review.

From what I've read, the game design looks elegant and player interaction and competition is fierce. It reminds me of Modern Art by Reiner Knizia. Very different gameplay, but similar granularity and weight, and less luck.

I like the bold box design. Good luck with the game!