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Subject: Face-to-Face vs On-line Play rss

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Paul Evans
New Zealand
Wellington
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One of the reasons I am a boardgamer is that it is human/social interaction. I tend to prefer games that are enriched by communication between players. And while I enjoy computer/video games - particularly strategy games - I tend not to play on-line as I don't find it very satisfying to interact with people in such a dissociated fashion.

And yet I have recently started playing Agricola on-line. Why? Well - I want to improve, and I want to play. Across my three playing groups only one person consistenly challenges me at Agricola, and in general it is difficult to talk the whole group into playing. Compare this to the few on-line games I have played - generally 2 player - where I have been thumped. I have bene comfortably cured of any delusions of Agricola greatness!

I wonder, however, it is the same game? Is on-line Agricola the same game as face-to-face Agricola?

First let us consider two other games - chess and Catan. I feel comfortable with the concept that on-line chess is essentially the same as face-to-face chess, where as I firmly believe on-line catan is a very different creature to face-to-face catan. Chess does not depend on meta-gaming (indeed it should be discouraged), where as Catan depends heavily on meta-gaming - playing yourself down, talking others up, ganging up,and so forth, all of which is much more difficult to do on-line. Where does Agricola lie in this? Closer to chess, or closer to Catan? How much is meta-gaming a part of face-to-face Agricola play? How much should it be a part?

Speaking for myself - I think meta-gaming very much is a part of Agricola. Around-the-board banter enables you to pitch an out-and-out agressive block as something gentler. You can point out strong blocking moves to weaker opponents. You can go-on about opponents awesome combos. Etc. All these are valid, but really only relevant to 3,4 and 5 player games.

What about 2-player Agricola? Even here I think face-to-face makes a difference. Cuttingly cruel blocks are much harder to pull off when the opponent is your wife - shocked to find herself begging. With on-line by comparison you are sufficiently dissociated from your opponent to be able execute these tactics without conscience (or risk to marital happiness). Still a different game - say I.

So what if it isn't the same game. Is that call to dismiss on-line Agricola. I think not. Obviously they remain very similar games - particularly the 2 player version. And on-line play still has a huge amount to recommend it:
- clearly an on-line game is better than no game (or a game with reluctant friends)
- clearly on-line gaming allows you to tap into a vastly larger player base.
- the evidence strongly suggests that despite my best excuses - I still have a bunch to learn from the on-line community.

But perhaps I should bear in mind that the tolerance for brutal play is lower at home.

Thoughts?

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Geoff Burkman
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Kettering
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Good post, Paul. I've been playing on-line (primarily on boiteajeux) for the past five months or so, and although I enjoy it, I definitely prefer in-person play, without question. As you mention, the easy availability of opponents (for any player count) is a plus, as is the (often) relaxed pace of play (which allows AP to indulge itself without too much recrimination), but there are downsides as well. The socialization is typically minimal, as you also mention, along with the meta-gaming. I also have found that having a running score tabulation to be irritating and distracting, as it creates a distinct tendency to let it influence one's play, mostly by encouraging short-term play, often to the detriment of stronger long-term strategy. I hate the think about how many games I've blown due to paying too much attention to what the score is. There's definitely something to be said for the endgame scoring of normal tabletop Agricola; I think that was a very wise choice by Uwe & Co.

If nothing else, it's helped remind me what a rotten player I can still be despite the ridiculous number of games I've played.
 
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Ben Bateson
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I completely agree with both of the above.

I've played over 300 games on BaJ, and haven't logged a single one of them. If I had, I'd be among the top five most-played on this site! I don't really play anything else online, it's just a mild Agricola-addiction.

The interaction, the social aspect and the in-jokes are all an essential part of the game for me.
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Mike T
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Yeah, nothing beats the satisfaction of fact-to-face play, but if you want to log a serious number of games, it's only really possible online. 300 sounds like a lot, but there are around 75 players on play-agricola.com with 300 or more 4-player games played, and ten with over a thousand.

That also has something to do with the skill level. The learning curve on this game is steep at the start, but after that it is very long. Whenever someone with fewer than 30 games logged starts winning at a high rate, everyone suspects that they are a duplicate account.
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