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Non-gamers playing (the most messed up game of Alhambra ever?)

Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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Just a snapshot from yesterday evening. I organize gaming events at my company and as usual, there are a few players who are (almost) completely beginners. I write about their evening so those who keep playing with gamers and have forgotten how it goes among players might get a clue.


I had some games with me. From the „easier games” pack they chose Spectaculum, a light and family-friendly „Acquire meets Through the Desert” game. I explained the rules (so they can play the game while we play something slightly heavier at the other table).

A little before the end of the explanation they looked at me with an „I don’t really understand this game but I think I would not have fun playing it” face (a kind of confused face of rejection) and said they don’t like it. I wasn’t too happy as I spent about ten minutes explaining (and I even poured a little beer that they left under my arm in the box lid, argh) and started to be worried I won’t find a game they would really enjoy.


Then it came to my mind that one of them has some games next to his desk so I told them maybe they should play Alhambra instead (which is also a game of shares disguised as something else, but well, it has won Spiel des Jahres so it must fit beginners more).

I went to the other table to explain our game, and as the owner(s, a couple) said they have already played their copy of Alhambra before, I refused to return for a game explanation even though they asked me to explain it (it wasn't selfishness - the players at the other table have already waited enough). “I’ll be here if you have any questions”, I told them. Then I explained our game and we started to play.

During game they asked me some rules like this:

First: “Hey, do you get to buy one more tile when you pay the exact price?”
(Me) “You get one more action. It can be buying, taking money, or…”
(Turning to the others) “I told you! I would have been allowed to do it two rounds ago!”

Second: “So when this scoring card comes up do we have some more turns?”

Third: “No,you can’t place wall next to wall!”
(Me, turning to them): “Yes you can, if you can enter to that tile from the other tiles.”
(They: surprised and shocked face of revelation)

Fourth, about 45 minutes into the game: “Hey, do these card colors have to do something with the colors next to the tiles?”
(They decided to keep on playing without applying this basic rule.)

Fifth, in the end of the game: “What do you do when you run out of tiles?”
(Me) “Hey, did you read the rules?”
(They) “Well…”

And finally the owner of the game came to our table. He had the scoring tile in his hand.
“Hey, what are these numbers in brackets supposed to mean? The number of tiles in the given color?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Damn!”, he said. “I suspected our copy is not right… We had too many blue tiles but didn’t have any brown tiles at all!”
So he found out their copy had blue tiles instead of brown tiles only after asking an “expert” after two full plays!


They were quite let down by the maddening experience of playing a bad copy of Alhambra with completely wrong rules so it seemed some of them wanted to leave. I told them maybe they should try Vegas now. It lasts only half an hour and the rules explanation is very fast. Okay, they agreed to play. They asked me to remain at the table for the first round so they can be sure what they can do and what not. I remained there and helped in the first evaluation as well.

Vegas is a game that gets some comments like these from gamers:
Quote:
Spectacularly bad dice game; a real howler. There is nothing interesting or challenging about this completely flavorless game, even with the marginally-better variant rules. I am not a professional game designer, but I have invented better games than Vegas in my sleep. Seriously.

Quote:
I guess it is an OK filler for a few minutes.

Quote:
Too random, and too long for what it is.


Then...

...the miracle happened. From about round 2 they started to have fun. Lots of fun. Uproars, groaning, laughing out loud. Soon they asked „Why does it last only 4 rounds?” and I said „Because the designer thought that’s the perfect length for this game.” "But not for us”, they said and kept playing.

They played Vegas three times. They played it for one and a half hours. They asked me about where they can buy it. They were all very satisfied in the end.

Just remember:
- A game that you think has very low complexity might be too complex for beginners.
- Beginners usually have a very different view on what is „fun” in a game than gamers do.
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