Solitary Soundings

Musings of a solitary gamer. "The advantage of conversation is such that, for want of company, a man had better talk to a post than let his thoughts lie smoking and smothering." (Jeremy Collier) Comments welcome.
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Playing by Hope: Skills I Never Get Around To Building

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"‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep. ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’"
"‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter."
Microbadge: 2022 RPG Geek Play-by-Forum Initiative participantMicrobadge: Solitaire WargamerMicrobadge: Live and let liveMicrobadge: I speak SpanishMicrobadge: I completed the 2022 VGG challenge: played 25 video games or played for 250 hours
It occurs to me that there are genuinely useful things I could do, but rarely bother with, in every game I play. And whenever one of those things comes to mind, my initial reaction is always, "Oh, no--I'd never do that!"

In games like chess, checkers, and go, it's thinking ahead. I've learned to do it a little, just because it's necessary, but it has always gone against my grain. My first thought is, What would be a good move based on the principles I know and what I feel like doing? So in chess, I play toward the center and keep pieces supporting each other. In checkers I do the same and also keep key pieces in the back rank. In go, I start out playing to corners and keep threatened stones within connecting distance of each other. And that's about it.

I'd do much better to then think, If I make this move, what's my opponent's best response to it? But if I can't answer that question instantly, I get impatient and don't bother. I'll just wait and see my opponent's move when it's made, and I'll deal with it then. But of course by then it's too late if I've made a mistake.

* * *

In card games, what I never do is count cards. The few times I've played bridge, I forced myself to count trump cards, but I hated doing it. To my mind, the whole reason cards are shuffled and kept facedown is that players like me aren't supposed to know what each one is. So I honor that by not even being curious, much less trying to deduce what the cards might be. Instead, I focus almost entirely on my own hand--the cards I can see--and do the best I can with that. Often "the best I can" means just hoping some good cards come up for me.

* * *

In complex strategy games--wargames and computer games like Civilization--I never get around to actual planning. I just start playing, with a focus on the few things I need to do first. Then one thing leads to another, and I have more things to do. As the game progresses, I start to vaguely see a pattern to it all, so I might decide to put off building a new settler until after I've finished a library, or something like that.

But where planning comes is for me is in hindsight. I'll control lots of territory on the map and think I'm doing well, but then enemy armies come along and start taking everything I own. Oops--I guess I should have planned to build bigger and better armies, because now all is lost.

Even after experiencing that many times, I'm still loath to change my ways. I play these games by feel--creating what I want on the mapboard, like an artist painting a picture. Often I'm intent on owning a big patch of contiguous territory; and if an enemy grabs a chunk of "my" turf (even if I haven't actually gotten there yet), I take it as a personal affront and am tempted to declare war. But if lose the war (yet again), my eye is likely to still be on territory in the next game, not on military force. If I can't win the game while playing my way, "by feel," eventually I'll conclude that it's just not my kind of game. I'll go play something else.

* * *

Maybe I'm exaggerating just a little. After all, if I can write all these thoughts down, obviously I'm aware of them. In the back of my mind, I'm even aware of the need to change--to build new skills.

I am very reluctant about that, though. The more demands a game puts on me (if I want to improve and not just go on being a loser), the less I like it. That's because, for me, the main purpose of gaming is to afford an interesting but comfortable and enjoyable refuge--a place I can withdraw to when the day's work and chores are done.

Thus, every time I start a game, I'm saying to myself, "Let's plunge into this world and see how things go. Sometimes they go badly, but I'm hoping they go well for me this time around."

Note the key word hoping. I won't be working very hard to make things go well for me; I just hope they will.

Once in a blue moon, however, I'll buckle down and study a game--play it carefully and attentively. taking time to learn just how it works. If something doesn't work, I'll reconsider and revise my approach--try something different. When I'm in just the right mood, that kind of "conscious gaming" works for me and can be enjoyable--but only for a little while. I can't keep my mind in that place, because there's a strong part of me that just wants to play by hope--just do what I feel like doing and hope it turns out favorably.

To become a top-level strategy-game player, I believe one's head has to rule over the heart. But I'm more of a heart person; I've got all these hopes and wishes and impulses and half-baked dreams that insist on being expressed. And if I keep them all reined in, a lot of the fun I have with games is going to go away.

And the last thing I need, when my day's work is done, is more work to do. For me, it's time to play--and that means acting somewhat spontaneously and letting the chips fall where they may.

* * *

Changing the subject, just a quick update on Space Empires 4X: I got as far as reading the rules. I almost got around to punching out the unit-counters yesterday.

In a vague way, the rules remind me of A House Divided--a game I loved but haven't been back to in a long time. I'm guessing SE4X isn't a particularly innovative game, but it must be a solid design, judging from how well-acclaimed it is.

Maybe if I play this game awhile, I'll also get back around to Jim Krohn's other game, Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles. I was only partway into learning and playing that last time around.
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