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Gamers, Kenners and Beginners

Laszlo Molnar
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Some people seem to be as blind as a bat.

Are you surrounded by gamers? Has your kid understood Agricola when they were 6? Good for you. I don’t even say it’s exceptional – looking at my kid it seems he’s destined to be a small genius as well.
But we are geeks. We are gamers. We are people who play a lot and not only Sorry! Sliders and Monopoly: Uzbekistan or some other funny versions. This is our hobby. Of course the guys and girls in the gaming club are also gamers. Friends and other family members might be gamers too, or at least they have gained some gaming experience from you. They are playing and learning games more complex than they ever would if you didn't teach them. It’s hard to imagine what those whom we don’t know think and what they understand from all these games, how they enjoy them and so on.
Of course it is hard. It’s hard for everyone but not impossible.

We are surrounded by people whose IQ is higher than average. When I told some colleagues that even our (artificially) blonde, artificially big-breasted and rather simple-minded secretary has an IQ above 110 no one believed. Come on, 100 is supposed to be the average IQ in your country!

I try to keep my perspective wide.
I have worked for a month in McDonald’s. Those were possibly colleagues of an average IQ there (not the guys from the University doing some summer working).
I have worked in the first (and last) Cineplex Odeon cinema in Hungary for one and a half year (partly while attending the University). I’ve seen people there, I met people there, I went out with people working there. I was shocked when someone came out of the screening saying ‘I didn’t know this USA movie had subtitles… I can’t read.’ I’ve seen people with average IQ and still not too many below that.

Now I go to gaming clubs. I play gamers’ games there. I also play with my family (mother & sister), my new family (wife – not really with the small kids yet) and friends.
I teach Spiel des Jahres-winning or -nominated games (not the more complex ones) to my 69-year-old mother. She is struggling to learn the rules but she does it and then she enjoys these games and I enjoy these games with her. Last year she got Thurn und Taxis for Christmas. They learned it with my sister from the rulebook. When I visited them I corrected them as there were more than one rule that they played wrong (and these weren’t small rule details).
I play SdJ-games and little bit more complex stuff with my wife. She enjoys them but she prefers simple games (I think her favorites are still Ingenious, Ticket to Ride and Battle Line).
I play different games with my friends. Sometimes I try to teach them something more complex. They got totally confused by Tigris & Euphrates. They play more complex (not very complex) 1-hour games for 3 hours which clearly kills the fun so nowadays I try to play simpler games with them as well.
Each of these friends attended University. So did my wife and my mother. They are definitely not simpletons. They are just not gamers.
What’s more, I wasn’t a geek yet when I taught Carcassonne and Blokus to one of my best friends (he’s currently attending a University to get his 3rd degree) he said thanks but no thanks; he did play with us that evening but never since – he said the only board game he enjoys is Activity. As he said, he’s just too tired by the evening to keep thinking for “fun”.

So whenever someone states, or even argues aggressively that (obviously terrific) games like Puerto Rico should have won the Spiel des Jahres and that kids are all capable of learning these games I just think about these above. And I think about reviews in the general media when non-gamer journalists wrote Incan Gold or Ticket to Ride are “too complex”. I think of the time when I was a “beginner geek” and I thought all the games I enjoy will be enjoyed by my friends as well (I started to learn the power of Spiel des Jahres later). I had to learn most of the gamer favorites (the games you can see in the top 200, most of them full of combinations and calculations) are not what a non-gamer would call “fun”. And I think of what a little percent and a very selected group of people we know.

We can (mostly) agree Puerto Rico is a great game for gamers – but who said the majority of people would find it even remotely fun? And if they would not, who said this award should be a gamers’ award? If you think the award should be given to the best game of the year – just think about what “best” or “most fun” means for everyone. it's not "counting, combinations and optimization", I can assure you.

All this came to my mind because of an argument (a very usual argument coming up every year) about this year’s Spiel des Jahres award. I’ve given up arguing but I had to write my opinion somewhere.

As for the games, I still haven’t taught 7 Wonders to my friends or my family (I definitely want to, but I haven’t played anything with those friends who would understand & enjoy it in the past months).
Qwirkle, on the other hand, seems to be a new favorite for my wife.
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