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Subject: Playing new games vs. understanding old ones and the arms race of skill rss

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David Boeren
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I've been kind of chewing on this concept for a while now and wanted to see what others think.

Years ago I was part of a boardgame group that like many, followed the cult of the new. Most games only got played a few times before they were pushed out in favor of the new hotness. There were a few lucky ones that had a bit more staying power, but mostly games did not see a lot of repeat plays.

After that, I spent years primarily playing miniatures wargames. In this group, the tendency is to pick one game and play it every week for years on end. Yeah, you might sample other games from time to time but there is rarely any question what your main game was. The same thing applies to CCG/LCG games, you would be expected to stick with your game for a long time and play it regularly. Other games with similar practices include Chess, Go, Bridge, etc...

Now I'm back into boardgaming and I'm starting to run into people again who like to play things they've never seen and don't understand. Not necessarily all of them, but some of them anyway.

Last night I was talking with another player about this, that IMHO too many people did not spend the time to understand a good game before moving on and therefore seldom really experienced the depth that it offered - which would require a large number of plays to get to.

Then today I randomly came across this quote in a game review which prompted me to start this discussion:

"If a newbie has no chance to beat an experienced player after (at maximum) 2 plays, then the game won't work at all. And if this were actually true, it would mean that unless all players would have "grown" with the game, at the same time, they could never ever have the same possibilities to win. Yeah, this bothers me alot, 'cause since I'll be the owner of the game, that means that probably I'll be the one that they would never ever beat. It really sounds unjust!"

With no disrespect to the author of the quote, that just sounds bizarre to me. My own version would be more like:

"If a newbie has a significant chance to beat an experienced player after only 2 plays, then the game is not a game at all. If this were true, the game would have no depth or strategy and therefore no reason to play it."

I understand his concern that people might not like to play a game they are likely to lose but what are we sacrificing for it? In a typical "social" game with 4-5 players you're already looking at a 20-25% chance to win which isn't that good already, and that's with a 100% random winner. The more skill you add, the lower that percentage drops for the newbie. I guess I wonder at what point this becomes a problem for most people. Is 10% ok? 5%? Is it not the percentage, but that it's always the same guy or couple of guys winning?

Getting back to the long-term games, when I was playing miniatures it was not uncommon to see people lose over and over getting the stuffing beat out of them for months before they got their first win against anyone. Or you might win against other new players but be unable to beat veterans. It's quite common that you might need to play a year or more (100+ games) before you beat a veteran player. However, this rarely seemed to be discouraging for anyone. They could see they were making progress, getting closer, etc... and once they had EARNED a victory against a strong player it was a real sense of accomplishment.

So what's the deal? Are these merely two very different sorts of players with different goals and expectations? Is the quoted author mistaken, and maybe it's OK for a game to have a bigger skill curve so that newbies will not be competitive for longer?

Basically, as I'm attempting to shift back towards boardgames again I'm having trouble understanding the differences in the communities. I wonder if I need to start changing how I play games or what games I promote. Is it OK to crush people? I don't want to alienate people in a group I'm new to. But at the same time, I also want to be challenged and have opponents who are unafraid to take up that challenge and be pushed back.
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Gary Heidenreich
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I can only talk for myself personally, but I never have had a problem getting crushed in a game I'm just learning against people who have played numerous times. For me, it's a challenge. I'm not a cult of the new guy, but I do tend to play stuff that is new to me, a lot.

I tend to find that the higher the competition, the better I'll play and the quicker I'll learn.

I also do not like help when playing the game, unless I ask specifically for it (rarely). I try not to dole out help for others, either. With one exception, the first learning game for everyone. If someone spots something someone else is missing, it will get pointed out.

But, I have seen many people who want to be competitive on their first play. I imagine sometimes that is difficult when it comes to some involved games. If they can't be after a game or two, they might write the game off.

One thing I have noticed over the years is the more games that are played (especially in variety) the easier it is to be competitive in those games as some of the same thought process goes behind them or the basic engine of the game is similar to others.
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You are a sharp man


I think the comparison between the reviewer and the wargamer is quite telling. You see,the reviewer thinks that winning is important. He doesn't value the game, he doesn't see why not being able to win is important. He thinks the game is winning or losing instead of a living process the players are involved in. He thinks that it's unfair for the best player to win, how fucked up is that?

I think he should just roll a die, that way everyone has the same chance to win.

The wargamer might be losing but I can assure you he is having a blast.


dboeren wrote:
I wonder if I need to start changing how I play games or what games I promote.

If you are not having fun, then you should.

I recommend everyone to play competitively because it's the best and often only way to have a lot of fun.

Quote:
Is it OK to crush people?

Yes. But it's not particularly interesting so it's often better to be evenly matched in skill.

Playing "worse" is boring and unhelpful so it's not an option there.
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Mitchell
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I am the one who buys all the games. I also do not have a group I meet with regular group to play with. I want to play and learn a game, its just hard to do in my situation. I also generally beat people when I play (wow that sounds arrogent. I lose, some more games than others.). So when I play a game I've played a lot against someone new, its usually very one sided and I don't want to turn people away from a game. I also like trying new things.

I'm not exactly cult of the new. This is in part because I don't have the older games of similar mechanics that have been tried and true. This leads my to playing games only a few times. Each time I get a new game I want to try and learn it. I'm kinda the midground. I would like to learn several games but lack opponents.
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Joseph
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Interesting topic.

Some people seek depth, and others breadth. Some enjoy the deep dive, and others just paddle around in the shallows. All of it, I think, points back to personality, temperament, and situation.

Personally, I'm comfortable either way, depending on the situation. I think we could also apply the same idea to movies, books, food, relationships, etc.

Sometimes I want a deep engrossing movie, and sometimes an action flick.

Sometimes a gourmet meal, and other times an ordinary hamburger.

Sometimes Terry Pratchett, and other times Dmitry Glukhovsky.

Sometimes Lost Cities, and sometimes Case Blue.

Also, justice has nothing to do with the equation — if a newb can't compete with a master after two plays, then the problem is often the player's expectation, not the game. Expectation causes us most of our problems in life, not life's so-called "fairness."

I expect no mercy at the gaming table — probably because I don't believe life's fair, or easy, by nature. I'd rather deal with the practical reality, than cry in my rhetorical fermented beverage about injustice in the world of cardboard chits and mounted map-boards.

Bring on the brutal and unforgiving games.



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Oliver Kiley
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Good topic and post!

It's interesting to consider skill and skill growth in games. In a game like Chess or Go, a master is going to beat a newbie because the strategy requires a lot of plays to really understand. There are other games, where the strategies themselves are more apparant (i.e. the game is more accessible from a skill standpoint) with the skill requirement leaning more heavily on universal skill sets rather than on skills coming by way of knowledge of the games system.

I used to play a lot Warhammer 40,000, and frankly the best players had the best knowledge of the games mechanics and its intricacires, race special abilities, etc. ... they were not neccessarily the best tactician or strategist, they just had the skills/knowledge to work the system to their advantage, which comes from lots of repeat play. I don't think the actual tactical/strategic choices are particularly deep in the game at all.

Compare that to a game like the Resistence, which is heavily based on players relative deductive skills and abilities. A person new to the game could beat someone who's played it many times if their deductive reasoning skills are better. Likewise, in many economic focused games, those with a good understanding of math/numbers can compete with someone who has played the game more times that doesn't make very optimal economic choices. Games with random elements/outcomes can become more a test of player's relative skill at risk management rather than their specific understanding of the game.

I do think there are games that consistently reward more experience (i.e. Chess/Go), but I think there are many good games that pit players "fairly" against each on their own merits without requiring lots of repeat play. Getting better at the later games may mean developing stronger universal skills, rather than just playing that one game more.

This could all be bollocks too.
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David Boeren
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I wanted to add for fairness, the game the OP was talking about has a quoted playtime of about 4 hours, so acquiring many games experience takes some considerable effort. More than most games, anyway.


Good point on deduction games, although I think there is still a skill - it's just less unique to that one particular game.

It all depends on the design of the game of course. I think boardgames are often designed to keep the difference between good and bad choices minimized in many cases. Thus, the gap between a skilled and new player appears smaller. In some games, there are also very constrained choices so that even picking randomly yields the good move a fair amount of the time. "Hmm, draw a tile or call Ra?" You've got at least a 50% chance of doing what the expert would do!

Random factors can level the playing field a bit, but can also add a new skill - that of riding out the random factors! It all depends on how they're implemented and how much luck there is.

And, I agree, Warhammer 40k is pretty low on strategy & tactics. Never played myself, mostly because everyone I talked to kept telling me how little depth there was to it. I mostly played Warmachine, Infinity, and Uncharted Seas.

My ideal case is when all players are skilled so you can all play to win and get a good challenge. Anything that gets you there faster then I'm in favor of, so for example coaching new players, etc... is fine with me if they want it.
 
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Kevin C.
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Quote:
So what's the deal? Are these merely two very different sorts of players with different goals and expectations? Is the quoted author mistaken, and maybe it's OK for a game to have a bigger skill curve so that newbies will not be competitive for longer?

Basically, as I'm attempting to shift back towards boardgames again I'm having trouble understanding the differences in the communities. I wonder if I need to start changing how I play games or what games I promote. Is it OK to crush people? I don't want to alienate people in a group I'm new to. But at the same time, I also want to be challenged and have opponents who are unafraid to take up that challenge and be pushed back.


I think that you are right about there being different groups with different expectations.

Some people choose to use boardgames as a crucible or a vehicle for personal growth. The hobby does provide a road towards self-improvement that can be measured in wins and losses and progress is obvious.

For others, though, the hobby isn’t about such personal growth, or the same journey. I really enjoy the moments of games and try to play my best, but I’m not really interested in “working” to get better at boardgames. “Earning” victories doesn’t figure into my goals for the hobby, if I even have any.

I think I’ll get better the more I play, but as I said, I don’t work at it. There are other activities and avenues of my life that I pursue with hard work and desire to improve, but boardgames simply isn’t one of them.

Indeed, one of the things I try to do with boardgames is let go and not make any attachments to the outcome. I try to offer my best game and fulfill my part of the bargain on the other side of the table, but I don’t really desire to become a measuring stick for someone to beat.

Boardgames take place in a totally casual neighborhood of my life. I don’t want there to be any pressure or angst involved. As I said, I have other areas of my life that provide this…boardgames are really the escape valve for all the other built up tension that comes from responsibility and obligations.

I think the important thing in all of this is to find people that share your views and expectations. Crushing a group that really sees strong competition as a core element of gaming would be the perfect thing to do. This probably wouldn’t go over well in more casual groups.

I think you will find that most of those, “My gaming session sucked yesterday” threads are caused by incongruent expectations. One or the other person thought they had the “right” ethos on their side and it caused an issue.

Kevin
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J J
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I've long been bemused by what I read on BGG regarding how many times people play games. In particular, I recall some comments to the effect that Risk Legacy was good for at least 15 plays (the end of its campaign evolution), and that almost nobody played a game that much.

Like you I have an extensive background in miniatures and CCGs. And I just find the mindset represented by the sentiment above to be bizarre.

I own around 15 board games, a few card games, one CCG, and a handful of miniatures games (with lots of lead and plastic). I play each game extensively. Sure, we go through bursts of new games (bought 2 myself a fortnight ago, while a friend bought 3 plus an expansion on the same trip), and sometimes it takes a while to get to (or back to) a game, but we still go back and play all the old stuff. I couldn't count how many games we've played of Cosmic Encounter, for example, over the 18 months or so we've had it.

Indeed, while we've only played Twilight Imperium about 8 times in 2 years, we still intend to get a lot more games of it in (and the 8 games is only because it is so very big and lengthy).
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J Boyes
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It is good to keep different expectations of differing games I think.

Lifestyle games, I think of more as games where mastery is rewarded, and as a consequence most people don't have a lot of room for multiple games of this type. In this box I would put, Chess, Go, Magic, ASL, Tichu, Bridge, Warhammer, League of Legends, and even the way some people play RPGs.

Flirtatious games, or games that you don't need a deep commitment to are a different story. While they can reward mastery I would tend to look more for fun without a huge investment of time. A group of people can get together, play, and have a good time, with varying skill levels and experience in the game. Most boardgames fall into this category I think.

I guess there is a third category too, we could call them Boyfriend/Girlfriend games. These are games that you flirt with, and then experience an intense period of real analysis and numerous plays. But the game will eventually find its way to the shelf, to be revisited fondly. I think many wargames and heavier Euros tend to become girlfriends. A good example of this judging from the forums might be 'A few Acres of snow'. Others might be Agricola, Caylus, Hammer of the Scots or Battlestar Galactica.

I love all three styles of games.

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J J
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Jpwoo wrote:
It is good to keep different expectations of differing games I think.


I don't know about expecting different things of different games (your categories make a certain sense, from a certain point of view), but I do know that the concept definitely applies to people. Quite obviously I have very different expectations about games from any number of vocal BGGers.

I would like to know how much of this is, shall we say, natural, and how much is manufactured. What I mean is - do people flit from game to game and never really play more than a few times because that's just what they are like, or are they like that in response to the huge supply of games? Did this come about because of the efforts of games companies, or did games companies simply react to their customers' insatiable demand?

Chicken and the egg again, methinks...
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Jeff Forbes

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Some people are interested in playing a game wherein there is not much skill required. The strategy level in many of these games is not very deep, by intention.

Many light euros are set up so that a player gets a relatively limited number of choices of varying value, and they get to pick and choose between them. Simple worker placement games fall in to this category. Stone Age is a perfect example. It's not like there are no strategic decisions in the game, but a bunch of options are presented to the player, and the values of the options are variable, but it is simply a matter of choosing which thing you think is most valuable to you relative to the other players.

This sounds obvious, but let's break it down to something more simplistic. Let's give you 3 choices:

1, 2, 3

The numbers are the victory points. Go ahead, pick.

Yep, you took the 3.

Stone Age is like that in some ways. It presents several options, and you choose. Unlike the above, there is some uncertainty, but there are going to be few choices that leave the player with a negative score at the end of the game. At the end of the game, the good player goes "Yayyy, I scored 3 points, I won!". The average player goes "Yayyy! I scored 2 points, I came in second place!". And the poor player says "Yayyy! I was only 2 points away from the winner!".

Yes, that is Stone Age, at its core.

Okay, that's total hyperbole, but the main point is that the game is designed so that the difference between a good decision and a poor decision is relatively small, and with a chance for the poor decision to succeed on occasion (IE putting one person on gold with no tools available).

There are other types of games that put players in similar situations. Strozzi, for example, is a sort-of-auctionish game where players can effectively bid 0, 1, and 2. In each round, they have 2 "1" bids, and 1 "2" bid, which wins the good right away. Players have some ability to affect the game, but the bottom line is that each item that comes up has some value, so the poor player's plays will earn them some points, and keep them in the game.

Those are the games that the reviewer mentioned in the OP is likely to enjoy playing. Games that perhaps have some skill to them, so that someone can learn more about the game as they go, but not so much that a new player can't compete with the experienced player.

Let's call this the handicapping factor.

Different types of games have different levels of handicapping factors, and they work in different ways. Stone Age and Strozzi have very strong handicapping factors in that they offer many choices that might be sub-optimal, but allow the inferior player to stay in the game with little knowledge.

Let's look at a few other games, and how they handicap players:

Power Grid keeps things relatively close with new players in that the economic aspect of the game is very simple. Newer plants cost more money and people seem to like to bid more money on them, and they power more cities, which makes them more money. The economic model is so simple that an inexperienced player could join in on the game and become the leader. They will buy cities, expand their power plants, and, prices be damned on resources at the market, they will power more cities than their opponents will for most of the game, even with higher resource costs. But they don't realize the importance of turn order and how it affects them in the long run. They don't realize how their purchase of a new power plant affects players down the line. They don't take advantage of a power plant stall like a good player will. And they don't realize that the extra costs they are paying for resources due to turn order is chewing in to their money supply, and when the last turn around, one of the other players will buy them out of the resource they need to power their numerous cities.

Likewise, the very poor new player that can't seem to expand very quickly gains some helpful bonuses from buying resources first, and power plants last. They have access to better power plants and the cheapest resources. The game helps them - a lot. They may not realize this, but it keeps them feeling like they are in the game.

The most experienced players of them all realize that Power Grid is a game of turn order manipulation more than almost anything else, and that the economic model of the game is very easy to master.

So the result is a game that keeps things somewhat close, and gives an inferior opponent a shot at winning if they catch the better player off guard, and also allows the complete newbie to feel like they aren't very far behind, even if their position is as such that they can't really win the game.

Power Grid has a fairly strong handicapping factor - to the point that the players spend the whole game trying to play off of it!


Le Havre is an economic euro with much less of a handicapping factor. Yes, each player gets a choice of the same goods and buildings, but the strategy isn't just what goods you take or building you use each turn - it's how you put all of the pieces together. It's the coming together of the pieces that seperates the men from the boys here. The person in last place gets no bonuses. They probably have the fewest or least attractive buildings, so they aren't as likely to receive money and food from other players for using them, and they are going to have a hard time dealing with the timing the game forces players to fall in to.

But, compared to Chess, Le Havre has a very strong handicapping factor. After all, in Le Havre, there are still obviously positive spots. Your opponent can't put their queen out for sacrifice with delusions of a forced mate in 4 moves as a result. It has a little bit of space for tactical occupation of buildings, but even a poor player can run around, collect random goods, go to buildings that improve the goods, and come out of the game with something resembling a score. The poor chess player just got beat to a pulp.


Pretty much every euro I've ever played has some handicapping factors.

Dice and randomness are also a handicapping factor. Good players need to learn how to manage it, and players that make consistently bad decisions will be beat by the dice in most games, too.


Games like Warhammer almost strike me more as an activity and excuse to paint up an army of miniatures and see what happens. I have played it a little bit, and the game has so many rules that it's very difficult to follow what is going on. A "Very good" Warhammer player might see a block of goblin maraurders and think "Oh, their strength is 3, they don't have armor, and my otherwise vulnerable Chariots of 5 Strength Doom" have a 93% chance of overwhelming the goblins, sending them fleeing to their doom.

That is a skill, but it isn't the same as chess. There's some room for creativity there, but there are so many rules in the way of the game, and so few ways to actually maneuver your army that knowing the chance of various kinds of success or failure of an attack is significantly more valuable than knowing basic tactics - because the available movement for most units is simplistic.

Compare this to a war game where the tactics play a much greater part.


Gamers that are interested in having games where a 2nd time player has a shot at beating a veteran are looking for something more involved than LCR. They are looking for a game where the newbie has a legitimate chance to win the game. This does not nessicarily mean that the game offers less strategy - but rather that the gain in results from increased player skill is not linear.

If I can beat someone at Chess 75% of the time, I am, in reality, not much better than them. Someone much better than me will beat me 100% of the time. Gary Kasparov could play a lifetime of chess games against players of my skill level - and would probably never lose a single one of those games.

If I can beat someone at Lost Cities 75% of the time, however, I am MUCH better than them. Even a very inexperienced player would have a legitimate chance of beating the world's best in any given game of Lost Cities.

That's the handicap factor at work.


Playing games with people is sometimes social, and sometimes competitive. It is different things to different people, but the people also matter.

I would not want to be Gary Kasparov stuck playing Chess in a world full of people who have only played Chess a dozen times at most. It wouldn't be fun or interesting. But most modern euros (or AT games too) don't offer anything remotely coming close to the level of skill involved in chess. So, with a dozen plays of Agricola, you might not be great at the game, but if you're a quick study you'll probably be able to compete with better players. Between the much larger decision trees, and much higher costs of failure in something like Chess (again, compare to Le Havre, or, "1, 2, 3"), if you were stuck playing games in an environment where all of your opponents made boneheaded moves constantly, wouldn't it at least be a bit more fun if those boneheaded moves sometimes made the game interesting?


So, yeah. Some gamers want less game to their game. There's nothing wrong with that. The only time I really take issue with it is when people think something else is terrible because it does not work the way they want it to. It's not that my game is bad, or that her game is good, but that those are two different games, suited to two different players. If you uncover the motives of different gamers, you might be surprised at how different people can be!
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Oliver Kiley
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jforbes wrote:
Some people are interested in playing a game wherein there is not much skill required. The strategy level in many of these games is not very deep, by intention.


Fantastic post.

I think you really captured the essence of the conversation and got at what I was trying to in a much better way.

I think a big part of the handicapping in games has to do with how obvious the valid/better strategic choices are. A new player starting out in Go is absolutely clueless about strategic position and choices ... there are so many places to play stones with so many short and long term consequences. Compare this to Stone Age, where players can pretty easily identify 2 or 3 valid strategic choices (i.e. what kind of civ cards to by, how to balance their resource to take advantage of buildings, etc.) and have a good shot at forming a winning strategy.

I do think, which you elude to, that there is a harshness in the scoring parameters of some games that turn people off. I really like Taluva, which has a more chess-like victory condition (particularly in a 2-player game, build all of 2 of 3 building types) and doesn’t use VP’s. In a 2-player game, you either won or lost, and "almost" getting to the goal doesn’t matter and has no bearing on the score. Some people clearly don’t like that binary win condition.

The question I have though, is what characteristic of games does this handicapping feature attach to? Does it act as a "floor" on a games depth, limiting it potential depth? If you were to remove these handicapping elements would it make these games a deeper game or just a broken game?
 
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david landes
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Nice post. I think you are absolutely asking the right questions. And I agree with many of the posters that is a matter of preference, expectations, and choosing the right fellow players.

For me, I have two hats and I often make a decision about which hat to wear. I am the game-buyer and heavier player for my group. The most important thing to me is to have fun, which I can do with almost any game given the type of people I play with. Part of having fun for me, however, is feeling like better play and superior skill, matters. It does not have to be the controlling interest, but it needs to make a difference.

As a new game enters our sphere, I sometimes have to make a decision what group of people I will play it with. At one end of the spectrum are the pure skill games where amount of play is really the determining factor as to who will win. Chess and Go have been mentioned in this connection as 2-player games, but other games also fall into this. Caylus, which I loved, and went on a BSW playing binge, has a steep, steep learning curve. After several dozen and more games at BSW, I happened to play it with my usual group, who had each played a couple times. Just a couple turns into the game, I knew the game was over and it was only a matter of how much I wanted to beat them by. No fun for me at all, and ultimately not much fun for them.

At the other end of the spectrum are games where skill makes much less difference. Often times, these are fillers, or shorter games with less skill. Diamant, Cloud 9, Zack and Pack, and others fall here and we like them as the light, fun games they are..and winning/being competitive is a little less important.

More of the medium/heavy Euro-games really fall into the middle of the spectrum. For me, it involves making the decision whether I am going to play with my usual group(s) or whether I am going to go crazy online and not play it with them due to the unfairness in potentially winning that this creates. For the folks in our group, ultimately, it is acceptable and fun to crush your opponents due to superior strategy achieved in the same # of plays. But where strict time investment is the over-riding winning factor, there are too many other good options for it to be much fun getting/being crushed as a function of the time someone was willing to invest.

Cheers
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The Ludology podcast covers why people play games, and for me a big one is "to learn new systems". I can appreciate getting good at something (and do enjoy it) but I enjoy learning NEW things more than I do refining older knowledge. I don't feel that this is a better or worse approach, it's just what I enjoy. That said, I am fading a bit from the cult of the new, and playing more of great "old" games lately.

I feel that I can make clever strategic choices in almost any game on the first play. This may not result in a win, but it's fun to explore the space available.

Additionally, I find that it's frustrating to be comparatively TERRIBLE at a game like Chess or Scrabble. Go at least has a very solid handicapping mechanism. I think games are simply fun to play, and though I don't need to win to have fun, the CHANCE of winning greatly increases my enjoyment. I don't need to seek personal development by honing my skills at a particular game.

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Eric Clason
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I like playing a variety of games.

Shortly after I joined one club, they started playing Axis and Allies (the then new hotness) all the time. At first I enjoyed it. But after about 2 months and a couple dozen plays, I got sick of A&A and stopped going to the club. In this case it wasn't a matter of different skill levels. We had all started playing A&A at the same time and had similar skill levels. I just didn't enjoy playing only 1 game over and over.

That said, I don't want to play only 'new to me' games. I have favorite games that I enjoy playing frequently, just not all the time. I also like playing the occasional new game to see if it might become one of my favorites.

I once read someone's way of telling casual gamers from hard core (board) gamers.
-Casual gamers want to play the same game several times in a row.
-Hard core gamers don't want to play the same game twice in a row.
That is an over generalization, but I suspect it has a kernal of truth.
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Jane R
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I agree it's all about how you play and accepting the way others play. My gaming group is a crazy mix from one person who writes strategy guides to one person who is just there because all their friends play. We all get along because we are just there to have fun. There could have been an issue of a skills "arms race" as you said, but I guess that's why we play with friends and have an unspoken agreement to be good sports!
On the other hand, I came home from work the other day to find my boyfriend playing Dominant Species with a different group from the usual one. Every one was glaring at eachother because they were all playing the screw-you game without any of the goodwill that has to precede a good screw-you game. So, I don't think the skills arms race is important unless a person only has fun when they win.

I like learning new games, but there is definitely something more satisfying about improving how you play old ones, yes, even if I don't win. And I've discovered that it even helps me get out of a rut if we alter the number of players. Anything to make the old games a little different.
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Daniel Geuss
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A lot of the enjoyment I get from this hobby is learning new games. If all I did was try to master a game I've played 20+ times I would probably find a new hobby.
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Dan Cepeda
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I recently made a change from "always introducing new things to people" to "getting people familiar with one or two games that I continue to play with them."

Granted, this is largely because the people I teach aren't "gamers." (Which isn't to say they don't [video/board]game, just that they wouldn't ID themselves as such.) They like the familiarity. Also, they get tired of hearing new rules all the time. (Even when the "new rule" is a game they played a year ago.)

As a disclaimer I should add that I am the most dedicated gamer I know. I buy lots of games, I push to get groups going. I've formed at least two groups since I started meeting up with people in '06. At least one of them didn't dissolve due to character differences. I also tend to lose. A lot. When I win, it's a wonder and a delight, but I don't expect it. Ever.

The first group I created I was largely the student. I'd play games others brought, they'd teach the rules, and I'd follow along. However, I quickly found that rule books attracted me. I became the rules lawyer! (More like the rules referee or something. Just making sure every rule was followed and any disputes were solved via rulebook or BGG forums.)

I've found my current balance, while not my ideal (gaming with a solid group every week, or at the very least, every other week. We introduce new games, we play the old games, we sometimes break into two or even three games as attendance requires. Everyone is there for fun, and rule debates don't spring up very often.) is still a great balance. I get to play a variety of games with a variety of people, and we all enjoy "learning together."
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David Boeren
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I think there should be some mix. I do want to see new games, but I don't want to be rushed from one game to the next and only play a game a few times either. When I come across a good game with some depth to it, I would like to spend more time *experiencing* it. That is, learning more about the strategies, trying out different paths to victory, and understanding what makes it tick and how the various systems interplay to provide the whole game experience. As a side effect of doing this, I expect my level of play to improve which may then result in some stomping of players who didn't invest in it. And in between that, yes, I would also like to see that hot new game you just picked up or the sleeper hit I missed from a couple years ago.

But as the saying goes: You can pick your friends. You can pick your games. But you can't pick your friends games.

To an extent then, you have some pressure to "fit in" to the community of your game club. I cannot conjure several other players who exactly match my gaming preferences. I have to deal with the ones I have who blend with my schedule and physical location. As I am new to this group, I'm still feeling my way as to what they're like. What sort of games do the various people prefer? How do they decide what to play? etc...


Quote:
I once read someone's way of telling casual gamers from hard core (board) gamers.
-Casual gamers want to play the same game several times in a row.
-Hard core gamers don't want to play the same game twice in a row.
That is an over generalization, but I suspect it has a kernal of truth.


I don't know if I agree with that entirely. The kernel of truth is that casual gamers or non-gamers feel comfortable with what they know. Learning new rules and looking dumb asking questions and playing poorly is scary to them. People who are into boardgames have gotten over this, we hunger to learn more games and absorb them quickly. Our experience of many rules systems allows us to take advantage of the chunking effect to consume rules by comparing them to games we know.

However, both types can want to replay the same game, they're just doing it for very different reasons. The casual gamer wants to stick with the comfort of something they recognize. The hardcore gamer wants to apply what he just learned towards a new strategic plan.


Quote:
Games like Warhammer almost strike me more as an activity and excuse to paint up an army of miniatures and see what happens. I have played it a little bit, and the game has so many rules that it's very difficult to follow what is going on. A "Very good" Warhammer player might see a block of goblin maraurders and think "Oh, their strength is 3, they don't have armor, and my otherwise vulnerable Chariots of 5 Strength Doom" have a 93% chance of overwhelming the goblins, sending them fleeing to their doom.

That is a skill, but it isn't the same as chess. There's some room for creativity there, but there are so many rules in the way of the game, and so few ways to actually maneuver your army that knowing the chance of various kinds of success or failure of an attack is significantly more valuable than knowing basic tactics - because the available movement for most units is simplistic.

Compare this to a war game where the tactics play a much greater part.


I'm not sure exactly what you mean by a "wargame" here. Miniatures games are one type of wargame. However, just as there are many types of boardgames there are many types of wargames as well. Within the minis wargame universe, Warhammer is roughly equivalent to Monopoly or LCR to a boardgame player. It has very little strategy and is mostly as you say, lining stuff up, winding the key, and seeing what happens. The important decisions (if any) occur before the game starting. Let's be clear on this point, it is just not a good game from the strategic point of view. That does not mean however that all minis wargames are bad. There are plenty of good ones with as much or more tactics than any counter-based wargame that I'm familiar with. Ultimately, counters, minis, or whatever are just physical markers of where troops are. The rules of the game do not care whether some infantry are marked with a little man, a cardboard square, or a button you found in your coat pocket.
 
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Mezmorki wrote:
[q="jforbes"]

I do think, which you elude to, that there is a harshness in the scoring parameters of some games that turn people off. I really like Taluva, which has a more chess-like victory condition (particularly in a 2-player game, build all of 2 of 3 building types) and doesn’t use VP’s. In a 2-player game, you either won or lost, and "almost" getting to the goal doesn’t matter and has no bearing on the score. Some people clearly don’t like that binary win condition.

The question I have though, is what characteristic of games does this handicapping feature attach to? Does it act as a "floor" on a games depth, limiting it potential depth? If you were to remove these handicapping elements would it make these games a deeper game or just a broken game?


You could call it a floor on the game's depth, but I don't know if that's really an adequate description. I think that a game's depth is primarily a function of three things: the variability in quality of available moves, the number and obviousness of good vs. bad moves (and the size of the decision tree!), and the player's ability to make moves with non-obvious long term results.

The latter two mean that worker placement games are of somewhat limited depth, period. There aren't so many choices as Chess or Go, there's very little space to make stunning tactical wins or blunders in Agricola, by comparison. In Agricola, you might have to choose between 6 wood and 2 stone. The value is less directly obvious than in Stone Age, and the game itself does not reward poor players with direct bonuses. But both 6 wood or 2 stone could provide what a player needs in order to build something. The player may only have 15 possible move choices in total!

Non-obvious depth would be the player using their role cards or minor improvements in such a way as to reap major benefits - but the cards themselves vary tremendously in usefulness, and this is even obvious to a player with very little experience. Some of the cards are only situationally useful, whereas others are, strictly speaking, very powerful.

And that's in a game that many people here consider "heavy!". There's not a lot of luck in it, but there certainly is some.

I like Agricola. And there is skill involved. Much more than some games. But it offers very, very little strategic depth compared to games in which the tactical field is wide open.

I've never played Taluva - the win condition is definitely more brutal than a VP based game, but the player can still look and see that "Oh, I was only 2 buildings short!". But I think what I'm trying to touch on here is essentially: how many moves can I make, and what is their value?

I looked quickly at a review of Taluva, and it features something very specific that is definitely a handicap: draw a tile, play a tile. Yes, there is plenty of space in games of this type to achieve some depth. But you draw a tile, and that is what you get. You then have how many possible tile placements? Are they countable? In Go, on your first move, you have 19^2 movement possibilities. Your opponent has 19^-1, and you have 19^2 - 2 on your following turn. In Chess, you only have 20 (though the game offers a lot more choices later as pieces are developed).

In Le Havre, there may be 4 coins on the coin space. That's 4 points. There may be 4 wheat on the wheat space. That's 4 food (aka 4 points), plus the ability to cook 4 loaves of bread, or have wheat grow, or you could go to the baker to make, what, 12 food from it, which could be worth 12 points.

In Stone Age, the newbie has a shot at winning the game against a good player, because the choices are so broadly good.

In Le Havre, the choices are broadly good, but there is some space to make non-obvious long term decisions that have a multiplicative affect on score. So there's no chance for a newbie to beat a good player.

In chess, the choices are not broadly good, and there is a huge space to make moves that directly force the other player in to situations where there are literally no good moves. Chess isn't a worker placement game, but a worker placement game could never comes close to Chess.

Go is an order of magnitude less obvious than Chess. In Chess, even an inexperienced player can really start to visualize what the other player is able to do. They might get the wrong moves in to their head, but they also aren't looking at every single move, nor can they look very far in to the future. Go features interactions on the board that are far from obvious in the short and long term, and they are much harder to visualize. Well. That might be because I'm a poor Go player at best (umm, ~21 kyu?), whereas I have at one point been at least passably mediocre at Chess (~1100-1200 rating as a kid).

So, sure, I think a zero sum victory condition is a step towards games with less of a handicapping factor, but even then, if it is more about picking a move that is slightly better than most of the other available moves. But if the game involves something like "draw a tile, play a tile", it is already forcing your hand in some direction.

Taluva looks neat, by the way, I'll have to look in to it more some time! :P

We don't really play games enough to master them. I've poked fun at Stone Age in this thread a lot, but I will also note something else here: I've probably played it 75 times, and I'm still improving as a player. It might take one player 10 plays to get to my level, and another player 500, but there is still skill to be gained.

The thing is, the skill I gain in Stone Age does not drastically increase my chance at winning. It only slightly increases it. The skill I gain in Chess or go drastically increases my chance at winning.

I guarantee you that if I were to play Taluva with you, you would probably win the first game. But if I played it 15 times, I'd probably stand a chance. If you've got any significant skill at Go, I could probably play 100 games of it and still be dominated by you with ease. That's because Go is inherently not handicapped at all, whereas Taluva is.
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jaiden0 wrote:
The Ludology podcast covers why people play games, and for me a big one is "to learn new systems". I can appreciate getting good at something (and do enjoy it) but I enjoy learning NEW things more than I do refining older knowledge. I don't feel that this is a better or worse approach, it's just what I enjoy. That said, I am fading a bit from the cult of the new, and playing more of great "old" games lately.

I feel that I can make clever strategic choices in almost any game on the first play. This may not result in a win, but it's fun to explore the space available.

Additionally, I find that it's frustrating to be comparatively TERRIBLE at a game like Chess or Scrabble. Go at least has a very solid handicapping mechanism. I think games are simply fun to play, and though I don't need to win to have fun, the CHANCE of winning greatly increases my enjoyment. I don't need to seek personal development by honing my skills at a particular game.



Chess has a pretty good handicapping system - it's not perfect, but it works fine for most people. Have the superior opponent play with fewer and fewer pieces until they start losing!


Quote:
As a new game enters our sphere, I sometimes have to make a decision what group of people I will play it with. At one end of the spectrum are the pure skill games where amount of play is really the determining factor as to who will win. Chess and Go have been mentioned in this connection as 2-player games, but other games also fall into this. Caylus, which I loved, and went on a BSW playing binge, has a steep, steep learning curve. After several dozen and more games at BSW, I happened to play it with my usual group, who had each played a couple times. Just a couple turns into the game, I knew the game was over and it was only a matter of how much I wanted to beat them by. No fun for me at all, and ultimately not much fun for them.


Caylus doesn't have a steep learning curve. It's steeper than Stone Age, but it isn't on the same plane as a solid abstract game. I have played Caylus a reasonable number of times (oh, 20?), and feel confident that I am a presence in the game at almost any table playing the game. Of course, how many people on earth have even played Caylus 20 times? 200? 2000? More? How much of an advantage does a 500 games-of-experience Caylus player have versus me in a 3-4 player game? Yes, they will probably win, but they won't be able to pick their score against me - the difference is likely to be found at the margins. The thing is, in Caylus, the margin is the difference between scoring 110 and 100 - not the difference to being utterly dominated in every way.

If you have 30 games of experience and your opponent has 2, I would expect that you crush them in the majority of games. Your odds of winning a 2er game of Stone Age with that sort of play assymetry should probably be 90% or something like that.
 
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Oliver Kiley
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jforbes wrote:

You could call it a floor on the game's depth, but I don't know if that's really an adequate description. I think that a game's depth is primarily a function of three things: the variability in quality of available moves, the number and obviousness of good vs. bad moves (and the size of the decision tree!), and the player's ability to make moves with non-obvious long term results.

...


So, sure, I think a zero sum victory condition is a step towards games with less of a handicapping factor, but even then, if it is more about picking a move that is slightly better than most of the other available moves. But if the game involves something like "draw a tile, play a tile", it is already forcing your hand in some direction.

Taluva looks neat, by the way, I'll have to look in to it more some time!


Good post, I think your points are right on!

In regards to Taluva, there really isn't a lot of distinction or placement restrictions on the tiles themselvesm they are quite simial. As a result, the size of the decision space when placing a tile is quite large and open. Frankly, with the exception of the settlement building option (which is where the terrain types of the tile matter), all of the tiles could be identical and the game would work the same. In essense, the "draw a tile, place a tile" handicap/equalizer is MUCH less pronounced in Taluva than in a game like Carcassone, where the tile you draw is instantly going to narrow down your meaningful options.

I really like Taluva too ... recently got it in a math trade. Unfortunetly my wife isn't a huge fan (I'm realizing she really doesn't like these "harsh" binary win conditions and perfers more continuous VP scoring games, i.e. she loves Carc). I also botched the rules explanation, which doesn't help! We still play it though, and as a 2-player game it is quite quick.
 
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Jeff G
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ejclason wrote:


I once read someone's way of telling casual gamers from hard core (board) gamers.
-Casual gamers want to play the same game several times in a row.
-Hard core gamers don't want to play the same game twice in a row.
That is an over generalization, but I suspect it has a kernal of truth.


To echo what someone said above - this dichotomy is omitting "Lifestyle gamers" - the Chess Grandmasters and the Go Dans (or at least those with the same mindset). They like to have one game they get REALLY good at, and go head to head with people of similar skill. They don't just want to have a game to play, but a game to study.

Magic fit that role for me back in HS, and I sort of miss having such a game to play now. MMOs and League of Legends have been scratching that itch for me for a while now, but I would love to find an offline one to take up.

 
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Simon Lundström
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dboeren wrote:
So what's the deal? Are these merely two very different sorts of players with different goals and expectations? Is the quoted author mistaken, and maybe it's OK for a game to have a bigger skill curve so that newbies will not be competitive for longer?

These are merely two very different sorts of players.

The quoted author ("It's wrong if a newcomer can't beat a veteran after some 2 or 3 players") is not mistaken. Neither is he correct. It all depends on what you are after.

1) A competition where you measure your skills against each other?
2) A ride along to see what happens, and yay, somebody happened to win?

Both of these aspects are possible in the modern board gaming world. Very very roughly (stress on "very") 1) is more pronounced in the eurotrash crowd and 2) is more pronounced in the ameritrash crowd, which actually sounds totally and utterly contradictory, since ameritrash games often feature direct conflict and attacking each other. But it's still so. You seldom see a popular Euro being so utterly random as, say, DungeonQuest.

I have a foot in both camps, and sometimes I want to measure my wits and skills in a specific game against other players, and show them that I can beat them, though the idea to "have a good time" is always there. Sometimes I feel I have no need to measure my skill and for those games, I'm just there for the ride, and for those games, the quoted guy is correct: Those games are flawed if a beginner can't beat a veteran after 2 plays.

dboeren wrote:
I wonder if I need to start changing how I play games or what games I promote. Is it OK to crush people? I don't want to alienate people in a group I'm new to. But at the same time, I also want to be challenged and have opponents who are unafraid to take up that challenge and be pushed back.

No need to change. Crush people, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women. It's perfectly OK.
All you need to do is realise that not all have that purpose.
 
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