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TIMELY TOPICS - Confessions from an AP Prone Gamer

-matt s.
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I'm an AP gamer. I admit it. If I'm not careful I'll slow games down due to my over-analyzing of a game. The good thing is that I'm aware I have this problem, this affliction. The bad thing is that sometimes I fall into the realm of AP during a game and don't even notice it - and this can be an issue. If you game with me, you can expect it to take longer than what is suggested for the game. HOWEVER, I have been actively working to keep my AP problem under control, so when I say it may take longer, it now usually only takes a little longer. Most of the time....

WHAT IS AP?
In case you aren't aware what AP means, I suppose I should try to define it. AP stands for Analysis Paralysis. What it means is that a player can get stuck analyzing a situation on their turn for so long that they seem to be paralyzed with indecision and, in fact, they likely are - they can't get to the point of making a decision and completing their turn.

I'm sure you may have seen an AP gamer here or there. Nearly every gaming group has one. In reality, just about anyone can suffer from AP from time-to-time. However, a true AP player is someone who CONSISTENTLY takes a long time to take their turn, even if the choices may seem obvious to other players. A true AP player not only takes a long time, they often cannot decide which decision to make about a move and this may be truly baffling to other players.

Now, sometimes spending a long time on a turn is expected. Chess is a good example. People EXPECT you to take a long time on your turn. Chess is a notorious game for this sort of behavior. It is part of the culture really. Perhaps this is why some people are intimidated by Chess or refuse to play it...they can't deal with the length and depth of thinking that is required to fully analyze the current board position.

But, there's an important distinction here for what is expected/necessary for a game. Chess typically has players competing 'in their minds'. They are thinking of hundreds of possible move combinations in their heads. They are planning out multiple moves in advance for themselves while also trying to anticipate what the other player is trying to do and prevent anything catastrophic. This is especially important when you consider that money or prestige may be on the line. This isn't to say you can't plan out several moves in advance in other games, just that it's more critical in chess with the idea that several lines of planning should really occur to be successful.

However, I don't know that I would define that sort of behavior as AP. The reason is because they are still DOING something in their mind - it just takes a long time. But, it's still possible for AP to creep in, to get to the point where the analysis is leading nowhere and a decision cannot be made. This is why they have chess clocks, to force players to manage their time and keep them from falling into an AP mode.

On the other hand, AP gamers take a longer than expected amount of time on their turn. This idea is what I think is the crux of the problem - the EXPECTATION of HOW LONG a turn should actually be during a game. If one person is taking longer on their turn than everyone else expects them to be taking it, then they might be considered an AP player by that group, even if they aren't 'spinning their wheels' so to speak.

The interesting thing with this idea is that AP may mean different things to different groups. I, as an AP player, love taking my time on a turn and not feeling rushed about it. With some people I play with, me taking more time on my turn is fine and they aren't bothered by it at all. Other times, I might be playing the same game with someone else and, if I don't take my turn relatively quickly it becomes a problem for them.

How do I know it's a problem? Well, I'll get to that in a bit.

WHY AM I LIKE THIS?
So, what's the deal? Why am I an AP gamer?

My initial, knee-jerk response to such a question is: I don't know.

My next response is: Well, if I think about it longer maybe I can come up with some reasons why....ha!

Well, here are some reasons I have thought of that may suggest why I'm like this:

1. I'm hyper-competitive and I want to win every game.
* Because of this, I want to make sure I cover all my bases for every move, even if the move I want to do seems obvious. This sort of leads into the next item on the list, but in general, I'm just making sure I haven't overlooked everything - I want to make the best move possible.

2. I don't want to look like a fool for making a stupid move.
* I hate making a move and then realizing it was really dumb. Some groups/people will let me backtrack if this happens, especially if I'm a newbie, but I still don't like taking a move too quickly and just making a horrible move, especially if it will put me out of the game.

3. I sometimes get bogged down in the rules and don't ask for help.
* When I'm overwhelmed by the rules and possibilities, I can get stuck spinning my wheels because I just can't get a grasp on what's happening. This is why I LOVE player aids that spell out your possibilities - it at least gives me some options to work from.
* Also, I don't always want to ask for help. I might not want to reveal my move/position. I also might not want to admit I need some advice on a possible move because I have no clue what I'm doing. I'm an independent thinker and I know I can get to an answer. And, I likely can, it just may take a really long time.

There may be other reasons as well, but these are the most obvious to me. Of course, it would be ironic to make a huge, exhaustive list here, but I refuse to do it. See, I'm getting better already!

A TALE OF TWO AP PLAYERS
So, as I'm writing this I'm coming to a realization here. The symptom of me as an AP player is the amount of time I take to complete a turn and that length in relation to the expectation of how long a turn should take.

The CAUSE of this symptom is actually one of two possible things as suggested by my 'reasons' above - optimization and wheel spinning.

The Eternal Opimizer
I think I fall more into this category most of the time. I'm always looking for the best move or combination of moves. I spend a lot of time evaluating all of my options. To justify this, I feel that if I'm at least looking for good options and actually DOING something in my mind and considering the possibilities, that this is less of a 'problem'.

This problem can be addressed easily if I recognize I'm taking too long and just make a decision. It may not be the 'best' or 'optimal' decision, but at least I'm not holding up the games for others. This is especially important for me to do when there are multiple people and/or when I'm taking WAY longer than everyone else. It's also important when I'm new to the game - I likely won't understand all the nuances anyhow and so making what looks like a decent move should be sufficient.

Cutting off my thinking at a particular point can be a difficult thing for me to do, but ultimately I know it's beneficial to everyone (even myself even though I want so much to win). I don't want people to NOT want to play games with me again due to my AP, so I try to maintain a certain sense of balance.

It's funny, I sort of relate this to a chess program I used to have on our old Atari 2600 - Video Chess. It had 'difficulty' levels you could choose for the computer AI. If you chose something on the easy end (levels 1-3) it would 'think' with the screen flashing random colors from 10 to 45 seconds and then make a move. But at higher levels it would 'think' for much longer, flashing colors for up to 12 minutes or even 10 hours if you wanted it to, covering thousands or even millions of possible moves. This was very cool, but also very frustrating having to wait. I knew what it was doing - it was evaluating more and more possible future moves, traversing the ever expanding tree of possibilities into the great depths of the game. Sometimes, it might make the same move whether going to 2 levels or 7 levels of analysis. And this is one problem of the AP'er - exploring the depths of the game much farther than necessary.

When I recognize I'm taking too long, I think about that chess program and try to use my 'easy' settings so that people don't get tired of my colors flashing - and, besides, my level 2 depth of thought may be just as optimal as a level 7 depth!

The Spinning Mind
I sometimes fall into the category of the 'spinning mind' - getting stuck on your turn where you're not sure what you are going to do. Usually this involves a couple of possible things:

1. Having too many options and, even though I understand what my choices are, I'm not sure where to start or I get stuck in circular decisions or not seeing any good basic moves.
* This most often happens during new games where it may be explained well and might even have a good summary reference, but it's so open or has so many options that it's hard to know where to start. Sometimes this type of game it can be crucial to make good decisions early on and, when you're not sure to do I can kind of panic a bit and get stuck.

2. Not understanding the rules enough to make any kind of decision at all.
* Sometimes I might miss rules during the explanation (distractions, focusing on other rules too long, etc), sometimes I might not understand them enough to be able to parse them completely in my head, and sometimes there are rules that I just don't get. All of this can lead to having problems making a decision about my move. This may also include not even remembering what all of my options are.

The 'spinning' mentality was something that was more likely to happen when I was first getting back into gaming - all the 'common' mechanics were new to me, the depth was more than I was used to, and the decisions to make were often overwhelming, even in games that I now consider pretty easy. I sometimes even now can have this happen to me, but I think it happens less often now due to other actions on my part that I try to take.

Taking this into consideration along with my desire for not wanting to ask for help, it used to be a real problem and pushed me often into the horrible AP mode that can ruin games for other people.

THE PROBLEMS IT CAN CAUSE
When I first started getting back into gaming I would many times spend a lot more time on turns than I should have. Honestly, I didn't know. I used to play chess in Jr. High and High School so I was used to taking some time on turns and it didn't bother me.

One evening, I was playing these new and wonderful games with my friend, Chris, who was indoctrinating me. Unfortunately, he had to put up with my horrible AP. It obviously became really bad when we were playing Colossal Arena which is supposed to be a game of fairly quick decisions and play in under an hour. I don't know how long it took us but much longer than the suggested hour. MUCH longer. I was taking FOREVER on my turns. Honestly, I was even somewhat aware of taking a long time but I just wasn't sure what to do on my turns.

Chris asked me politely if I'd heard of the term "AP" and proceeded to explain what it was. I was a bit embarrassed and, honestly, I don't think it helped me much knowing what AP was. I was still stuck. I think we eventually finished the game, but I'll never forget that night, how I felt about realizing I was an "AP" gamer, even in my fledgling career as a Board Game Geek.

I know now that the real problem for me that night was not really understanding the rules, not really understanding what I was supposed to do on my turn, but still wanting desperately to win. I didn't ask for more help as I felt like I should be able to play based on the explanation, but it just wasn't clicking for me at all. I had a great time overall playing games that evening, but that memory leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and it's something I try very hard to avoid now.

Here's something important I should say now: I'm REALLY happy that Chris was able to let me know about AP. I got the hint. I don't know that it particularly had an immediate impact for me that evening, but it at least make me aware of how I am and eventually led me to want to avoid being the AP player that slowed down the game and ruined everyone's fun. Thanks Chris!

(What do I do about it to avoid these issues ? Click to read the rest...)
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