New to the Table

Tales of a guy who just started gaming--his adventures, misadventures, dicey days, wild solo nights, and confused questions all told with too many words, Oxford commas, and not enough pictures.
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New to Gaming #6: Who's that at my table?

Patrick Cox
United States
South Saint Paul
Minnesota
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Whew! Long time, no blog. Been a bit busy.

So what's new and noteworthy in the life of SoloGamingDad? I just played a game with another adult!

One of my missions this Spring has been to find some other gamers in my area. Like a group. It seems like there are many people around here who game, but I got into the hobby during COVID and none of my friends were into gaming at all. Solo has done me well and will continue to, and my children are delightful, but I’ve been hopeful of expanding my gaming circle and finding other adults to play with.

But how does one go about this?

I spent some time lurking in the discussion threads like Minneapolis/Saint Paul Gamers? Encore! about gaming and groups in my area, and found an appropriate guild Twin Cities, MN, USA as well. (I don't know why guilds aren't used more around here.) Occasionally I posted a hilarious joke. And I asked a group leader or two in private messages questions like, “So how do I…I mean what do I…you know...?” In fact, kudos and thank you to from TCAT (Twin Cities Ameritrash) who saw me lurking and reached out, welcomed me, sent me some useful lists, told me about some local events, and encouraged me to emerge from the shadows.

Someone in one of these group had just gotten the Terraforming Mars: Big Box and posted his bemusement at the bizarre packaging
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Per his post each little cube was individually packed in a tiny zip lock bag.

Once he’d opened all 200 tiny bags, organized all the new stuff, and sleeved all his new cards, he posted his desire to play. No one replied…so I tentatively stuck my toe in, and a couple days later I can now say I have played a game with a local gaming legend.
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So that was encouraging...or intimidating.

And so on a Sunday afternoon in May I sauntered to my neighborhood game shop and played Terraforming Mars with local gaming legend
Matt Boehland
United States
Apple Valley
Minnesota
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Thanks for playing, Matt. It was a relaxing and fun first encounter with a local gamer. Also, those metal cubes were so satisfying to play with.

So what did I learn? Gamers aren’t scary! So that’s cool. Also that the group in that particular discussion thread all meet at a game shop in my neighborhood regularly to play—show up when you can, bring your games, have fun. Sounds easy enough. It was nice to start with one person, though.

I'd been nervous about not having every rule memorized when playing with serious gamers, too. OK, I'm more than nervous. I have a recurring nightmare that in all my time playing solo I am completely misunderstanding major rules of several games and when I someday get to play with others it will come out that I really have no idea what I’m doing. Well, when we got to the table, Matt admitted that for the past while, he had only played TM in the app so he may be a bit rusty. The solo player vs. the app AI opponent, we were both willing to periodically look up a rule or ask a questions, and it was all OK. Nightmare scenario averted.

As for gaming…Terraforming Mars is different in person. Prior to this excitement, I had played TM ten times, all solo, and I was pretty much done with it solo. It had been plenty enjoyable, but the solo objective of terraforming Mars within 14 generations is really easy, and ten rounds of beating my own score…or not…who really cares anymore…? Most games I play solo, I’d really like to play multi-player to see the difference, but the solo game Terraforming Mars really appears to play almost exactly the same as its multi-player variant.

...until there's someone else taking all the spaces on the board, or leeching points off my forests with his own cities... Matt kicked my butt in the final score, roughly 90-77 or so. The biggest swing was his accomplishment of all three milestones for 15 points total, and two out of three awards for 10 points versus my 5 points. Milestones and awards are the one difference between solo and multi-player: they are not used in the solo game. I can't claim total ignorance though: I was aware of them and was working toward some of them, planning to claim them. But Matt was too, with a better sense of how quickly he needed to achieve those milestones, and he kept an eye on the awards after they were funded. I’ll know better next time. Finally, the multi-player experience breathed new life into a game that I started to see as formulaic and over-rated. Playing solo can get formulaic quite easily with nothing or no one there pushing me to play differently or to try new strategies. Plus Matt has all the expansions, so I got to experience Prelude.

In the comments on my post about whether or not I needed to play the classics, a lot of people talked about how knowing the classics gives a player a common language with other gamers. I’d say in a similar vein, knowing the popular games (which can also be classics) gives a player a common language with many people that allows them to play with others. I bought TM when I was quite new around here. It seemed cool enough, but I only knew about it because it was so popular on BGG, highly rated, high on the hotness, etc. I literally thought, "Everybody seems to like this one..." I don’t have a ton of terribly obscure games on my shelf but I have a couple ranked higher (or lower) than 10,000 on BGG. If I go posting that I'd like to play Squirrel or Die, Mining Colony, or Processing: A Game of Serving Humanity there just won’t be many people jumping up to play because nobody knows and plays those games. Knowing the games "everybody likes" means having more people to play with. Not that Matt, or anyone else, would not be willing to try something new (seriously, Matt, check out Barrage--you'll love it), but a quick pickup with a stranger is a lot more likely when you have games in common. And the more popular the game, the more likely that is.

And I am looking forward to many many more games with strangers.
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