The minimalist gamer

Watch my effort to trim down my collection to the games I really like to play and to get the most out of every game.

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Gaming without statistics

Mikael Ölmestig
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When I wrote about quit logging games I had a nagging feeling that there were something more to it, more than just a way to save time and focusing on what is fun with the hobby. I was half right. It is about doing what is fun with the hobby, but not in the way I thought. Stop logging games is not just about the time I save doing it, it is about the choice how I approach the hobby.

As you might have figured out, I am not a materialist. Stuff has most value if they are used. What I hadn't fully realized was that the value doesn't come from me using it, but that they have value because I use it. Having a list of games to play through because they aren't played nearly enough is not a good enough reason to play them. I should play the games I feel like playing at the moment.

I don't like basing my gaming on numbers because it feels like running a corporation. I reserve the fun of doing things as efficiently as possibly to the game I play, not the meta. What matters are not how many games I play or how large collection I have or how much rotation of different games I have, but how much I enjoy doing it. And that is pretty hard to quantify.

That doesn't mean I don't think challenges have a place. Challenges are a great way to break out of your normal gaming habits, exploring things that are not in your comfort zone. But the challenges have to have a purpose to enriching your gaming life.
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Thu Jan 30, 2014 3:39 pm
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Caverna vs. Agricola - The big difference

Mikael Ölmestig
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I've had the question a few times about what the main differences between Agricola and Caverna are. The answer I have given was that there is a large difference and that is how open the game is. I think Caverna give the players more options and Agricola is more focused. Let me explain!

Players have much more flexibility in Caverna by adding three parts. One concerns that workers can now go on an adventure. The more adventures they go on, the more and better things they can choose from an à la carte menu. It is also an option to acquire a larger family because it becomes harder to effectively go on adventures, the larger family you have. The second is that players can during the game acquire rubies. Rubies are a resource that can be used for a variety of things that is needed to be done on a turn. Finally, there is a square on the board called imitation that allows players to copy an action that another player has already done.

I would say that there is a fundamental strategy in Agricola and it is getting extensions to the house to get more family members and simultaneously obtain a food engine. It's still largely true, but not as important and much easier. To get the resources to extend the house is easier as there are more good places to get them. In Agricola the players can play cards gain advantages and they usually focuses on strategies that synergizes. In Caverna there are a variety of extensions the players can pick from gaining advantages during the game or during the scoring.

Besides some extensions giving special points depending on for example resources, the scoring at the end of the game is not as focused on getting at least something of everything. The limitations on how many points a player get from having a large amount of animals or food resources are gone. It is therefore possible to have a more focused strategy. There is also less focus on getting as many family members as they contribute less to the scoring (and as I said earlier harder to make profitable adventuring with a large family).

This is not a knock against Agricola even if I prefer Caverna to it. It is a matter of taste which you prefer.
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Sun Jan 19, 2014 8:36 pm
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Me talking with myself about stop logging plays on BGG

Mikael Ölmestig
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- You have been logging plays for six years now, why quit?
- You know what; I am not that interested in my gaming statistics anymore.
- But don't you want to know what and when you play a game?
- I used to care more about it, but nowadays I am more interested in playing the games and analyzing what I think about them.
- You can't quit now. Think of all the data you have collected over the years. It won't mean anything now.
- What really matters is what it contributes in my future. Besides that, it has been a wealth of information in the past.
- If you start doing it, there is no turning back.
- That is a chance I think I can take.
- Won't you miss it?
- There are times when I look at my games played and remember a certain play of it. But those moments are far in between.
- Does it really take that much time to log plays?
- No, it's really quick, but with all things in life you tend to take on a larger luggage every day. In some cases it can be physical things that you collect. You keep it for eventualities. In other cases it can be habits or things you have to remember that you have that don't have real meaning anymore. The individual items don’t obstruct you from clarity, but if you keep adding them on they will have a negative impact.
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Thu Jan 2, 2014 2:19 pm
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Experiences in Hanabi

Mikael Ölmestig
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There has been a recent discussion about the game Hanabi, a game I unfortunately haven't had the chance to play. The debacle has been about if you are allowed to give clues in the game besides what is stated in the rules. For example, are you allowed to say THIS is a red card, and this is also a red card, or using a blink of an eye or some other ways to communicate the clues in the game without expressingly violate the rules. You can reason in two different ways:
1. As it is not strictly forbidden in the rules and there is no hint what the spirit of the game is. In a game like Battlestar Galactica there are conventions of what you can and can't do regarding secrecies.
2. And it doesn't say that I can't punch you in the face either.

I think both these are beside the point and you should instead focus on which experience you want in the game. The game will not only be easier with the use of other ways of communications, it will probably feel different too. A game without giving these types of clues would probably be more about the reasoning and less about communication. And probably more quiet. You should ask what experience you want out of the game.

Because it is probably quite futile to do it just to get a high score. If that were the case you would always play cooperative games on the lowest difficulty level to maximize the chance to win the game. What I think is the case is that some players are geared to exploit weaknesses in game systems. This is especially true with competitive gamers.

Personally, I think it is interesting to see that there are no explicit conventions how to play the game and to see how players approach it differently. Sometimes I think we are too obsessed with winning the games that we forget what we want out of them. When there is no clear right or wrong board gamers get confused, because we are so used to rules.
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Mon Sep 9, 2013 9:28 am
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Two qualities in games...

Mikael Ölmestig
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When I am talking about the qualities of games I nowadays sort them into two categories; things that makes the games good and things that makes the games played. There is a reason why some games are called gateway games. I like most of these games, but I don't seem to love them. The reason is not the lack of depth, but lack of things that stand out in the games.

The praise of 7 Wonders have mostly been that it is a euro game that works for up to seven players (with Cities eight) and isn't a short filler. That doesn't say much about qualities of the game play, just that it fills a niche that few games can fill. It is also a game where many players won't veto it out. A friend at my gaming club said that they need more games for up to seven players, since it is a common number of players we have (he don't like games with two or three players). I replied that the problem is to get seven people to decide on a game that everyone is fine to play.

A game that is simple to learn and have a theme that most people like is Ticket to Ride. It's a game that most people can learn and form a strategy for the first game. Simplicity itself is what I would categorize as playability as it doesn't shy away anyone from playing it, even though a game that is too complex can be a thing that makes a game bad as there is too much rules overhead. There is too little of a game for too much effort.

I usually play these kinds of games with people I like to spend time together with anyway and I like having them in my collection. But it is the people that make the games memorable, not what happens in them. The games themselves just don't seem to give memorable experiences. Is it the same for you?
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Mon Jul 8, 2013 9:15 am
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Fear of missing out

Mikael Ölmestig
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I've been participating in the NaNoNeGaMo during the past month and I guess people are interested in how it went. Did I play new games? Yes (Bora Bora, Rex and the Dark City expansion for Legendary, all which are pretty good). So it's a failure, right? It's complicated, but honestly no.

Personally I don't like personal goals in the sense that you have to fulfill them. I like personal goals in the sense that they give a direction of desirable actions. My intention with the month was not to only play old favorites, but to be conscious about what games I play. My goal was not to be distracted by newness, but instead play the games I like to play.

The most important thing I did was to not log in to my account on BGG. Setting up boundaries has helped me before in different contexts. I love BGG, but there can sometimes be too much of it. I'm fighting the urge to be an information junkie and learn everything about a game before it is released. Instead, I just want to play the games. That doesn't mean I am not tempted to get or to play new games and it doesn't mean it is a little uncomfortable to not check the site.

It all comes down to excitement. There are games I am really excited to play and there are games I am thinking about buying. The thing is that there are a lot of games I am excited to play and I own some of them. So before my interest dwindles I should play the games I have or have access to and that I am excited about. I think we are often too excited about the things we don't have instead of the things we have.
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Mon Jul 1, 2013 12:15 am
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NaNoNeGaMo

Mikael Ölmestig
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I dislike having goals for how many games I should have on my shelves.
I like having physical constraints for the size of the game collection or efforts to only have the games I want to play repeatedly.

I dislike having goals for how many times I should play or how much time I spend with a game before being satisfied.
I like playing good games several times because I like them, because I want to get a deeper understanding of them and because I don't want to struggle with rules, but instead playing the games and the players.

I don't want to be dictated by arbitrary numbers on how much and what games to play and have, but instead want to choose it organically.

I am joining the NaNoNeGaMo not because I want to restrain myself from playing new games, but because I sympathize with the notion that playing good games are more important than playing new games.
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Fri May 31, 2013 10:13 pm
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To make bad excuses...

Mikael Ölmestig
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I recently got the anniversary edition of Galaxy Trucker. This is definitely a game I want to have; the question is if I really need it. The answer is (of course): no.

To delve further into it, it is interesting to see how I reasoned when I decided I wanted them. Our game club has Galaxy Trucker with the first expansion. This is one of my favourite games and one I want to play repeatedly. It is also like by many other players at the club so I expect to play it a lot. I have played the main game enough to think that it is too easy, but there are tons of plays before I am confident enough with the first expansion. Therefore I cannot say I really need it. I can get a lot of enjoyment of the base game plus the expansion for at least ten more plays. So why did I buy it?

Getting the game special edition of the game gets everything in one box for a cheaper price than the main game and an expansion. I like having all collected in one box because I would want to mix in everything anyway.

Lesson 1: Pennies saved is a dollar spent
Don't buy games just because it is a good deal. While you might save some money buying it now hunting for deals is a sure way to spend more than you really want in the hobby. Good deals have made me buy games that are okay, but don't have a lasting impression. This is also a reason I don't buy large quantities of games from online shops as the free shipping is a trap if you only intend to buy a few games a year.

Lesson 2: Out of print. So what?
Some games get really expensive when they go out of print or are hard to find. Most of the time for mainstream (in the hobby at least) titles will become available again sooner or later. I am worried that the anniversary edition is only available a limited amount of time so I might as well snag up a copy when available. I might or not be correct about it, but the question is do I really have to care. I figure I spend less on games if I buy them when I want to play them and have time to play them repeatedly.

Lesson 3: Expand when you need
I don't think there is much point to expand you collection if you aren't using what you get. Need is maybe not the correct word, but is there to differentiate from want. This goes for both main games and expansions. I don't see much use for games that are just collecting dust and I have figured out that my taste in games changes from time to time. That means that if I buy an expansion for a game that I am unsure about. For example I haven't picked up the Galactic orders expansion for Core Worlds despite people saying it is needed for the ultimate experience because I need some more plays to solidify my opinion of the game. If it really was needed for the game it would be there from the start.

You might think I regret my purchase, but that's not it. I am sure I will get lots of enjoyment out of it and I am pretty sure I would pick it up sooner or later. I have the money to spend and shelf space ready for it too so that is not the problem. So why should I care? For that you have to look at the larger picture with the purchase patterns. There are too many games that bought out fear that they will go out of print, fear that you won't get the ultimate experience, or fear that you won't be able to play it when the right circumstances to play it occur.

I don't buy games from brick and mortar stores to support them. The gaming community in Sweden is much more centered on gaming clubs. I do it because I am able to pick up one copy of a game without the feeling that I have to pay the shipping. There is a mental barrier to pay shipping for just one game because it feels like you paying for something that doesn't add value, but the value added is really when you have a good time with your friends.
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Thu May 30, 2013 3:32 pm
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What to do with a labeler

Mikael Ölmestig
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Baggies and labels for the Core Worlds base game.


Me: I am thinking about getting a labeler.
Girlfriend: So you're gonna be a Sheldon?
Me: Yeah.

I am not known to have OCD. Instead I am constantly trying to make the world more chaotic to insure people that you can't control things.

I have control over my games though. For games with a lot of different components, for example most American style games or games with a lot of resources (e.g. Le Havre) I use tackle boxes and for most games I use baggies. There are primarily three reasons I use baggies; protecting components, keeping order of components and for faster game set up. The bagging aficionado Ted Alspach recommends using thicker bags in his excellent series Bagging Monthly on Opinionated Gamers (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). For me protecting components are the least of my concerns. I have seen components being destroyed from heavy use, but not for keeping them in the game boxes. I have seen baggies bust, but there has yet to be any catastrophic consequences of it, only mild annoyance.

A few days ago I got a labeler to label the components in my baggies. The purpose is to label the individual components in each baggy. So what problems do they solve? It is easier to keep track on the components in the game. I usually don't count the pieces unless I am missing something in the game or I have reasons to believe that they are missing. This is particularly useful when counting cards in a game like 7 Wonders where they can be sticky or someone have sorted the cards wrong.

More importantly, it is easier to set up and tear down the games. At conventions I usually lend my games to other players and they are usually not in the order that I put them in at the end of the game. People use different strategies when putting the components back. My focus is to make the game as quick to set up as possible. When you have labels it is much easier to get it right. It is useful for my own game group too since everyone can help out tearing the game down without me dictating how it should be sorted.

It might seem nit-picky to put so much effort into this and it is not so much the time it takes that is excruciating, but the sense of flow that is missing. To make the setup flow even better I assign tasks to the players. I usually bag each player's pieces separately so that each player are occupied with their own things and items used by all players are distributed among the players. Usually, I take on the most complex tasks myself.

To take it to another level I am thinking about putting labels on the baggies to help with set up even more. That can for example be how many colonists that should be used in Puerto Rico given a number of players or how many cards you draw at the start of a game.

I like to keep a sense of order, even if I know I can't control things. What tricks do you use to set up and tear down a simpler affair?
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Sun May 19, 2013 11:22 am
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Slow players...

Mikael Ölmestig
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When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning. - Reiner Knizia

I don't know you, but I get the impression that most people say they want to win the game they're playing. Or is it really that way? One thing I found when playing with people is that they aren't taking the effort to really trying to win. I'm not saying they don't have a strategy, what I am saying is that they are not playing to their best ability. And I am guilty of this as well.

Beneath are a few examples of thinking error. I have seen the mistakes with different play groups, so while they don't hold for statistical analysis in any shape or form they are not just anecdotal.

For Sale - I have seen bids of $10 000 for the 30 property card. The reason for this is a bidding war where players are not willing to fold and pay $5 000 for the 15 property card. Tell you what, the 30 property card is not worth $10 000 either and it is reasonably easy to see it. The players are too narrowly focused.

Axis & Allies - Germany is almost only building tanks. They have the mindset of attacking, which is the strength of tanks, but are not thinking of that they have to take casualties and that it takes longer time to get infantry to the front. The problem is that they are focusing too much on the goal and not to get there.

Terra Mystica - There are different favor tiles in game and some of those give victory points for building things. They are generally better than other tiles that give stuff, but I can't deny that some people (like me) get satisfaction in building a large empire.

These are all examples that are pretty easy to see if you think a little more or at least in hindsight. It is generally the same problem with experienced players, but not as often and not as severe. The reason is not that they think more, but they have seen what have worked before, beating them with experience alone. I don't really know, but I think that some group think derives from this.

What am I saying with this? I think people instead of considering the different options limit themselves with simplified strategy based on past experienced. They can be to follow blindly the mission cards they are dealt in the game, trying to build an economy, try to have options open or just blindly try one route in the game to see if it works.

Thinking deep
The reason why they do it is because of the cost of thinking deeper. There are mainly two things I have found important, the economy of effort and the cost in time.

Thinking takes a lot of energy to the point of being draining. Most people are not used to think deep and it is a little uncomfortable. I have tried to think deeper when playing games and it is pretty exhausting, but gives a lot of satisfaction too. I did for example the solo scenario in Mage Knight: the board game and got 40 points more than my previous typical scores due to card counting and game by making statistic judgments instead of by gut.

I see two factors when it comes to time. The first one is the fact that games will be longer and the players will be able to play fewer games. A more severe problem is the downtime. Most people will get annoyed with players that have problem with analysis paralysis as the game loses tempo. Some games especially feel like they should be fast action filled affairs, like Formula D.

What things in games do people who likes to think deep likes
To be honest, I don't know. This is the section I am most unsure about since I usually don't play with these kinds of players. I recommend to read Martin's excellent article about breadth gamers and depth gamers. I also think there are casual gamers who aren't searching for mastery, but don't want to learn new rules thus wanting to play the same game over and over.

I think many of them are tournament gamers. This is a way to play the same game over and over to develop the skills. You also get to see much of the game when playing with different people. I also think many (definitely not all) of the deep thinkers are competitive in nature.

Many more than casual gamers also like games where the moves are counter intuitive. In 18XX games for example you shouldn't be too attached to "your" company. Why not dump it if there are opportunities to jump on the next train.

Several of the "deep games" are pretty open ended or opaque. One example is Go where you can place it anywhere on the board and it is hard for a beginner to know if one spot is better than the other. Another example (which I haven't played) is Container where the game doesn't give hints how to evaluate.

Do many of the games deep players prefer games with open information? Probably to a greater degree than breadth gamers, but not all. There are many of the deep thinkers who use statistical analysis (like Poker) or to read the other players (like Android: Netrunner).

Closing words
I don't think any way of thinking is better than the other. People gather around this hobby for different reasons. My point is that there should be understanding why some don't want to think deep and a reason why some take slow turns. This has more to do with a mismatch between the gamers.

I got inspiration for this post (and possibly future posts) from listening to "Thinking fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman. If you are interested in cognitive psychology I highly recommend that book. I have refrained from using the terminology from that book to in order to keep the blog post shorter.
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Fri May 3, 2013 2:28 pm
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