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Subject: What does it take to become an expert at a board game? rss

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Michael McKibbin
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Within the business and professional world, the study of what it takes to become an expert has been a hot topic for the past several years. One popular theory centers around the idea that 10,000+ hours of study within a give field are necessary to become an expert. Another popular idea is the concept of "deliberate practice." This is the idea that mere repetition of a task is not enough to become an expert. Instead, one must deliberately learn to identify and correct their mistakes in order to become an expert.

Turning to gaming, there are a few long-established games which recognize levels of expertise. Chess, Bridge, and Go are examples where players are ranked based on their performance and where there are recognized expert players. However, ,ith the vast majority of tabletop games, even the most popular, there is no established system of determining/recognizing expertise.

With this in mind, I ask the following questions. In your opinion, what does it take to become an expert at a particular board game (as opposed to gaming in general)? Is winning consistently sufficient to call someone an expert, or is there more to it (e.g. memorizing game components, studying popular strategies, etc.)? Would you consider yourself an expert at a particular game or do you know someone who is, and if so, why? In short, I'm interested in hearing what the BGG community thinks about the subject of expertise as it pertains to tabletop gaming.
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Michael McKibbin
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In my opinion, there are lots of good players, and even some great players, but expert players are few and far between. These are the players who not only win all the time, but know a game inside out. They know all of the strategies which can be employed and the effective counters thereto. The take the time to memorize random elements, such as tiles or decks of cards, and actively track and count the same during the course of the game. More specifically, they are that guy who has all of the routes memorized in Ticket to Ride, and can tell an opponent what their starting tickets are based on what color cards they are drawing. Or the guy who know the cost/benefit ratio for every quest and can use that knowledge to their advantage in Lords of Waterdeep. These are the players who take their play to a completely different level, and win consistently because of it. From what I've seen, the only way to obtain this level of expertise is to play the game constantly. The experts are the players who have played a particular game several hundred times or more, and each and every time learn a little bit more about the game.
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mortego
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I KNOW this one!!!!!!!!!!!

Simply post here that no game is too hard for you and that your win percentage is 100%, that's what it takes to become a board game expert!


(I see this all-the-time here)
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Mark Helton
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First, read all the rules until you know them by heart.
Then, play against your friends, then against your friends' friends and finally against complete strangers, so now you've seen most of the strategies.
Then you can play against the best of the best players.
When you can beat everyone on a consistent basis, you've made it.

Good Luck with doing it, btw
(I've never made it past very good myself, although I am very good at a lot of different games.)
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Shawn Harriman
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In my experience the owner of the game in his dojo is always an expert.
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Derry Salewski
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It probably requires actual playing and some scholarship. (note, scholarship in boardgames might just be arguing on bgg all the time, provided you're arguing with sufficiently skilled players.)

I doubt just playing all the time could actually get anyone to expert level, unless they had some way to seek out better, diverse players all the time. Engaging about strategy outside the game is pretty important.

But expert doesn't mean the "best." (though in many fields the correlation is probably pretty close.) A musician who can play anything but can't explain what he's doing, teach anyone, or create anything on his own is more of a savant than an expert. An expert music teacher might not be able to cut it in a touring rock band.

I think to be an expert you have to be able to explain anything you're doing. And it has to lead to success often. Which for a boardgame means winning moves, occuring relative to the randomness involved in the game.

For instance, there are pro magic players who win a lot. There are people who explain how they play on streams or videos to teach you how to improve. The people doing both amazingly well (Lsv *cough*) are experts.

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Gary Selkirk
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hgman3 wrote:
Within the business and professional world, the study of what it takes to become an expert has been a hot topic for the past several years. One popular theory centers around the idea that 10,000+ hours of study within a give field are necessary to become an expert. Another popular idea is the concept of "deliberate practice." This is the idea that mere repetition of a task is not enough to become an expert. Instead, one must deliberately learn to identify and correct their mistakes in order to become an expert.

Turning to gaming, there are a few long-established games which recognize levels of expertise. Chess, Bridge, and Go are examples where players are ranked based on their performance and where there are recognized expert players. However, ,ith the vast majority of tabletop games, even the most popular, there is no established system of determining/recognizing expertise.

With this in mind, I ask the following questions. In your opinion, what does it take to become an expert at a particular board game (as opposed to gaming in general)? Is winning consistently sufficient to call someone an expert, or is there more to it (e.g. memorizing game components, studying popular strategies, etc.)? Would you consider yourself an expert at a particular game or do you know someone who is, and if so, why? In short, I'm interested in hearing what the BGG community thinks about the subject of expertise as it pertains to tabletop gaming.


An interesting subject, indeed. I think that what you've said here is quite correct. For myself, having played AH, THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN several hundred times, I wouldn't consider myself an expert. A very good and dangerous opponent, possibly, but the other guy seems to ruin so many good strategies. Then there's the dice - the overall changer of the best layed plans.
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Gary Selkirk
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hgman3 wrote:
In my opinion, there are lots of good players, and even some great players, but expert players are few and far between. These are the players who not only win all the time, but know a game inside out. They know all of the strategies which can be employed and the effective counters thereto. The take the time to memorize random elements, such as tiles or decks of cards, and actively track and count the same during the course of the game. More specifically, they are that guy who has all of the routes memorized in Ticket to Ride, and can tell an opponent what their starting tickets are based on what color cards they are drawing. Or the guy who know the cost/benefit ratio for every quest and can use that knowledge to their advantage in Lords of Waterdeep. These are the players who take their play to a completely different level, and win consistently because of it. From what I've seen, the only way to obtain this level of expertise is to play the game constantly. The experts are the players who have played a particular game several hundred times or more, and each and every time learn a little bit more about the game.


All this is true and you did very well quantifying the things, possibly, to be considered an expert. However, in my own design work (the fellow who should know how to be the expert), I've been thrashed a number of times playing my own games! I might be able to design a game, but being an expert at how to win is another story.
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Based upon my poor understanding of history, science, and ethics...
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laugh

I find it quite humorous and entirely expected that people in this forum define expertise by winning.

Take a random game designer. He designs, redesigns, goes back to the drawing board, eliminates aspects, adds other aspects to the game, polishes and play tests the hell out of a game until it meets his approval. Yet he is merely a good player. Top players clobber him. (And I have noted numerous comments from designers over the years to this effect.)

Is he not an expert on the game?

Another guy may have memorized all the rules to ASL, yet can't put a winning strategy together. He may enjoy the game, be a joy to play with and the most expert ASL teacher in the world, but is he an expert by the very limited definition offered?
.

Is a very good player who consistently wins by whining, and generally beating down his opponents with negativity until they just want the game to be over, an expert player? His win/loss record may indicate such, and he may be an acknowledged good player, but expert?


Grasping strategy and the ability to implement strategy are two narrow aspects of expertise. In fact, one could probably be an expert in strategy without being an expert on the game. He may consistently win, but rely on others to memorize rules.

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Derry Salewski
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Koldfoot wrote:
laugh

Is he not an expert on the game?



I think "at" implies using. Which for a game means playing.

And no, someone who couldn't implement strategies is not an expert at them, much less the game.

An expert on a game might mean something else.


George Lucas is an expert at star wars.

He is not one on it (at least compared to the people who made it their life work to study the archives or track all the lore or whatever.)

 
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L S
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It's worth to point out that the concept of "expertise" in learning theory and cognitive science can actually trace its empirical foundations to observations on games, most notably Chess. I encourge anybody interested in the subject to check out this modern classic: Ross, Philip E. 2006. "The Expert Mind" Scientific American Vol. 295(2):64-71.

In your opinion, what does it take to become an expert at a particular board game (as opposed to gaming in general)?
Practice, practice, practice. There's a couple of beneficial factors, such as a good teacher, challenging opponents, being young (childs learn faster than adults) asf., but practice trumps everything else.

Is winning consistently sufficient to call someone an expert, or is there more to it (e.g. memorizing game components, studying popular strategies, etc.)?
Kind of a confusion of cause and effect here. Expertise should make you win more, but winning doesn't make you an expert. As a mere indicator, the value of a win depends on the level of competition. For example, even if you "only" managed a 50%-win ratio at anything above regional Chess tournaments, that would be a robust indicator for a high level of expertise in my book. Consistently winning the world championships in Emira would be a far less impressive feat.

Would you consider yourself an expert at a particular game or do you know someone who is, and if so, why?
I would consider virtually everybody I meet an expert in Tic-Tac-Toe. I've met a couple (and actually know three) Chess players with 2000+ Elo. As for myself, the only game I'd probably consider myself an expert in is Skat.
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Michael McKibbin
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Randombias wrote:
It's worth to point out that the concept of "expertise" in learning theory and cognitive science can actually trace its empirical foundations to observations on games, most notably Chess. I encourge anybody interested in the subject to check out this modern classic: Ross, Philip E. 2006. "The Expert Mind" Scientific American Vol. 295(2):64-71.

In your opinion, what does it take to become an expert at a particular board game (as opposed to gaming in general)?
Practice, practice, practice. There's a couple of beneficial factors, such as a good teacher, challenging opponents, being young (childs learn faster than adults) asf., but practice trumps everything else.

Is winning consistently sufficient to call someone an expert, or is there more to it (e.g. memorizing game components, studying popular strategies, etc.)?
Kind of a confusion of cause and effect here. Expertise should make you win more, but winning doesn't make you an expert. As a mere indicator, the value of a win depends on the level of competition. For example, even if you "only" managed a 50%-win ratio at anything above regional Chess tournaments, that would be a robust indicator for a high level of expertise in my book. Consistently winning the world championships in Emira would be a far less impressive feat.

Would you consider yourself an expert at a particular game or do you know someone who is, and if so, why?
I would consider virtually everybody I meet an expert in Tic-Tac-Toe. I've met a couple (and actually know three) Chess players with 2000+ Elo. As for myself, the only game I'd probably consider myself an expert in is Skat.


Nice citation! One area where typical tabletop games may suffer in the determination of expertise is the ability to find and play top ranked opponents. Bridge and Chess have national and international level tournaments where one can play the best of the best. Sadly, tabletop games offer far fewer such opportunities, even at the top tier gaming conventions.
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Gary Salazar
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consistently placing in competetive environments
 
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Chris Talmadge
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The vernacular is off. One becomes an "expert" in a field of study, as opposed to one single, particular game. Novice, amateur, professional, etc. are the terms you need.
 
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Brad Miller
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Depends on the game, doesn't it? I consider myself an expert at Tic-Tac-Toe. Seriously, I haven't lost a game of this in 35 years.

So depending on the game, and the depth of choices in the game, what it takes to be an expert varies greatly. This doesn't even begin to include any luck or random elements in the equation.

EDIT: Didn't read thread before posting, so ignore the witty first paragraph.

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Based upon my poor understanding of history, science, and ethics...
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ct5150 wrote:
The vernacular is off. One becomes an "expert" in a field of study, as opposed to one single, particular game. Novice, amateur, professional, etc. are the terms you need.


A person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area.

Oxford dictionary.

Which bolsters my comment. The feeling here is that skill is the only attribute of an expert, while knowledge also fits the bill.

A sportsman may be an expert at his position, while the coach can't hold a candle to the sportsman's athletic ability, yet the coach can easily be the greater expert.

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Shawn Harriman
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Koldfoot wrote:

A person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area.

Oxford dictionary.


The definition you present clearly shows equality of skill or knowledge, therefore a very skilled player would be equal to a very knowledgeable coach as far as the level of expert is concerned.

The term very is the debatable point in that definition.

Somehow one must quantify knowledge versus skill.
 
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Koldfoot wrote:
ct5150 wrote:
The vernacular is off. One becomes an "expert" in a field of study, as opposed to one single, particular game. Novice, amateur, professional, etc. are the terms you need.


A person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area.

Oxford dictionary.

Which bolsters my comment. The feeling here is that skill is the only attribute of an expert, while knowledge also fits the bill.

A sportsman may be an expert at his position, while the coach can't hold a candle to the sportsman's athletic ability, yet the coach can easily be the greater expert.



Sure, but if the coach continually isn't winning....
 
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Henrik Johansson
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The problem with asserting you are an expert or not in boardgaming is that there are few board games where a proper ranking is established, and there is enough number of games to have some confidence in the ranking outcome. Terra Mystica on-line division play is one of the exceptions. Due to the nature of board gaming we have to use on-line conversions of games, and that is not exactly the same thing as face-to-face gaming.
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scifiantihero wrote:
Koldfoot wrote:
laugh

Is he not an expert on the game?



I think "at" implies using. Which for a game means playing.

And no, someone who couldn't implement strategies is not an expert at them, much less the game.

An expert on a game might mean something else.


George Lucas is an expert at star wars.

He is not one on it (at least compared to the people who made it their life work to study the archives or track all the lore or whatever.)

Lucas has a winning percentage of, what, .500 at Star Wars? No expert he ... cool
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I guess there is a reason it's rarely used as a term when it comes to board games since usually by the time you know all the strategies and all the cards inside out, you might wanna go find some new challenges and new games.

The only games where I'd feel even remotely close to something like that would be Agricola and Suburbia which I have played at least 200 times each. I think that is quite a bit for a game. Even still I wouldn't label that as being an expert. Possibly just use the phrase good / very good and know the game very well, but not expert. I suspect very few people play some of their games to such a degree as a professional chess player for instance, or even close to that.

Though it might also be that the word "expert" has quite a negative term in my ears in general. A lot of the time it is just a self-proclaimed title with no real value. Though, of course, that is not always the case.
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Thip wrote:
I guess there is a reason it's rarely used as a term when it comes to board games since usually by the time you know all the strategies and all the cards inside out, you might wanna go find some new challenges and new games.


Good point. I consider myself an expert in Chess, not only by having played a lot but also by having studied tactics, strategies and games by grand masters.

This also means that I cannot play chess casually with my friends, since I would beat them all and none of us would have fun.

I could probably reach the same level with many other board game by studying strategy sections at BGG and online games if available but would that make the game more fun to play?

Or would it be more fun just to play different games where I win some and lose some to slowly discover where different paths will lead me?

I have indeed started studying Go to better understand this ancient and culturally influential game but for most board games I'm happy to be a casual player.
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I would use the scale of beginner, experienced, good, expert, master.

Beginner - You've just learned the rules or played two or three times.
Experienced - You know the game pretty well, you've played four or more times.
Good - You understand the game, you know the winning strategies, you respond well to opponent's strategies.
Expert - You are a top player, you understand most elements of the game thoroughly, you would win against most other players.
Master - You know everything there is to know about a game. You can only be beaten by another master. You have your own dojo.

Note that Experienced and Good are not necessarily in the same hierarchy. A player can have massive experience and still not understand the game. Likewise, a player can be so naturally insightful that they are well on their way to being a good player even during the first game. (Some of this depends on the complexity of the game, of course. Tic tac toe has been mentioned a couple times as a game it's easy to master.)

Personal note, I am an expert in very few games, and those are all wargames I've played years ago (A House Divided, EastFront). These days I'm too much the dabbler. I think I'm a good Agricola player, a good Innovation player, that's about it. I can play other games pretty well but I haven't learned them well enough to be anything close to an expert.
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Gary Selkirk
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[q="Koldfoot"]laugh

I find it quite humorous and entirely expected that people in this forum define expertise by winning.

I had the, maybe erroneous idea, that 'being an expert' meant the 'expert' would always win. Simply because if he was an expert at all the nuances of the game in question, he couldn't lose.

I mean, Hannibal was an expert at defeating the enemy, but the expert lost in the end. Just an example.
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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LINCSANDWINKS wrote:
[q="Koldfoot"]laugh

I find it quite humorous and entirely expected that people in this forum define expertise by winning.

I had the, maybe erroneous idea, that 'being an expert' meant the 'expert' would always win. Simply because if he was an expert at all the nuances of the game in question, he couldn't lose.

I mean, Hannibal was an expert at defeating the enemy, but the expert lost in the end. Just an example.


Perhaps Hannibal was an expert on tactics but not strategy?

(Oh no, he opened the Pandora's Box of endless discussions about the difference between tactics and strategy.)
 
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