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Subject: One Brief Shining Moment in Gaming rss

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Jeff Johnson
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Harrisonburg
Virginia
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Prelude:

I mostly loved to play monster games back in the day: CAR WARS, Star Fleet Battles, Battletech, Axis & Allies, Samurai Swords, etc. Then one day I realized that there was not so many players available for that sort of thing. Cataan and Carcassonne were a very big deal for me-- these provided a M.U.L.E.-like game in a short playing time... and the number of potential game-players went up by a factor of 1000 with those games on the shelf. I had to stay away from expansions, though, as most non-geek gamers were stretching a bit when sitting down to even a Euro game to begin with.

I went to a game club for a while and got to see a new scene of gamerdom that contrasted greatly with that of my youth. Dominion, Kingsburg, El Grande, Puerto Rico, and Tikal all hit the table regularly. I relocated to an area that had an awesome game store and got to play Wings of War, Three Musketeers, Cyclades, Midgaard, and A Touch of Evil.

Throughout all of this, I had an ongoing project of attempting to share my boardgaming hobby with my children... and also including my wife. This resulted in a game collection that was considered lame by most hard core Euro gamers-- if not for my low-brow out-of-date standards, then for my crunchy old school mini war games. (Euro-gamers had actually sneered at my black pocket box G.E.V., my original 3e boxed Battletech set, and my tinned microgames from Fiery Dragon.) This attitude caused me to resent games like Hansa Teutonica and Dungeon Lords which had that sleezy I-just-got-this-in-Essen reek to them.

At any rate... the real game in gaming is to find and cultivate gaming relationships. Unlike the days of my youth where I had tons of free time and friends with tons of free time and games just sort of happened... now I have to meet people half way. In any group of real gamers, there is this moment between games where people feel each other out and pick something appropriate for the group. In larger groups, there is the added dimension of how to split up into groups of 3, 4, and/or 5. You have to walk a fine line where you stick up for the sort of thing you'd like to do, while making sure that everybody else gets to as well... while everyone has a good time hopefully....

...

Anyways... I had relocated again after a short time. I was in an area that had a game store, but that didn't seem to have the phenomenon of mid-thirties euro-gamers. This was discombobulating for a while... but I noticed this group of gamers that met pretty regularly on the night I happened to come hang out at the store. They were only three of them one night and I ended up inviting myself to their table. We played one game of Cataan, a set of Nerdtz, and a game of Blokus. (Nerdtz is a fast-paced group solitaire type card game... maybe a bit like Dutch Blitz.)

The next week I showed up at the same time with a huge stack of my games. They were gung-ho about Pandemic, so we played a couple of games at the standard difficulty level. We lost the first and won the second. The game was very different with this group than with folks I had previously played:

* They actually cared about whether or not it was okay to play your eigth card when drawing if it happened to be an action card. (Did it go into your hand and force a discard or could you play it before it went into your hand?)

* We ended up having chain reactions which forced us to look up whether or not a single city could outbreak more than once in a turn.

* They cared about whether or not you could both give and receive when sharing information.

* They thought you had to be in a research station in a color-location that matched your 5 cure cards in order to make a cure.

* They came up with some fantastically creative combination plays that extracted the maximum amount of utility from every player's set of actions.

These guys (and girl) were really cool. In addition to playing well and being good sports, they would blithely pay attention to exactly those sort of nuances that make or break a good game design. (As opposed to the more typical whiney sort of player that push to change rules for their sakes without considering the consequences or accuse people of being rules lawyers when they want to play by the rules.)

So there I was. I'd played enough games with these people to have a "read" on them. I'd played (mostly) whatever they wanted to play. I'd tried to behave and not be too much of a jerk. It was time for... the SUGGESTION!

So I tell them that based on what they'd played so far... I thought they'd really like to play Ingenious. They liked the looks of it and agreed.

I explained the four or five rules of the game quickly. I went first for logistical reasons. They were counting up scores correctly in no time. The first few turns, I reiterated the rule for cashing in your chips-- I'd seen people get mad when I had played that and they didn't fully understand it, so I made the point of explaining that little nuance three times. As I played my moves, I would say outloud my thinking behind it: "I'm going here before this goes away" or "I really need this color now."

Things were going swimmingly until I played three Ingeniouses in a row... and won the game with 6 18's. This isn't supposed to happen! You're supposed to always let the new people win, right? Well... I had throughout the game mentioned "the youngest player was supposed to go first-- we broke that rule, therefore when I win... it doesn't count!" Also... I could tell they were good sports. (They immediately asked to play again.) But finally, from a game-educator standpoint... seeing that epic nuclear smack-down caused a chain-reaction in their gamer brains: they understood the endgame tempo in a way that mere words could not sketch. I had told them that space runs out quick in the end-- just like Blokus. Now they had a genuine appreciation for the multiple pressures in the game.

Our second game... I had no purple and the three of them developed it quite handily. I drew none for many turns, they racked up huge amounts of purple... and then collectively played in such a way as to close it off for me. If I had played in such a way as to score everything-but purple so I could cash in my chips, I would have had a chance to deal with this. As it stood, they had subtly ensured that Mr. Smartypants (me) was pretty much out of the game! All three of them were in the game right to the end... all of them were weighing how each move affected their competitors. The store closed and we played our last few moves. (This time, mega-scoring opportunities that nabbed my previous win were either closed off in play or never allowed to develop.)

Throughout the game they would comment idly how this was a really good game. The hyper-engagement I had seen when they played Pandemic was stretched out over forty-five minutes. A good time was had by all.

...

So basically... even though my game collection is a joke for most "professional game nerds" out there... it was all new to them. And one of them just so happened to be a perfect fit, even though it had sat on my shelf gathering dust for months.... Ingenious... that strange blend of Othello and Scrabble... but so very pure and perfectly balanced.... Yes... for one brief shining moment, it was a great, great game.
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:C.h.r.i.s. M.c.G.o.w.a.n:
United States
Elk Grove Village
Illinois
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What? No college hoops recap? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Shining_Moment

Nice recap of a session.
 
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Jeff Johnson
United States
Harrisonburg
Virginia
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