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Subject: Seriously, Why am I so Bad at Games? rss

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Humble SockP SockP
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In most areas of my life, I am generally regarded to be fairly intelligent. While not any kind of prodigy, I, for example, had nearly perfect SAT scores (long ago) and did well at a top university. I now have an intellectually stimulating job and am generally regarded to be good at it. And I am good at numbers and, for example, am able to multiply in my head larger numbers than most people can.

So, I sometimes wonder why I am so thoroughly bad at games?. I almost always lose. Euros, wargames, abstracts -- it doesn't really matter. I generally win games only when luck plays a big role or when I am playing someone unfamiliar with the game.

Let me interject here that there will no doubt be many comments that it's the fun that matters and not whether you win or lose. I agree. After all I continue to play and enjoy games. But still, though no single loss bothers me too much, I have to admit always losing does sometimes make me wonder what's wrong.

I have thought of a few reasons, none of which really satisfy me.

1) Playing time. I have a busy life and don't devote much time to games. Now I know there are people out there who will say they homeschool their 17 kids, manage a Fortune 500 company, and still get in two games of Campaign for North Africa each week. Humor me: between long hours at the office, social obligations, and helping with homework, I just don't have time to get in very many plays. Still, I meet people who play a game for the first time and beat me, though I am experienced.

2) Age. I don't want to make too much of this. I lose to people my same age too. However, I do think that cracking 50 has had an effect on how quickly I pick up games. I notice when I play with 20 somethings they are often seeing things much faster.

3) Psychology. I once completely discounted "sports psychology" as hocus pocus. However, as time has gone on, I have come to think that in my own case there is a psychological element. I often seem to fall just short of a victory by missing a familiar rule or obvious key move. Not so much a need to lose but perhaps a subconscious discomfort with victory? Still, I don't think this is much of an explanation. There are far bigger nutjobs in the hobby.

Your thoughts are welcome. Because that first para could be construed as bragging about myself, I have created this second account to discuss this issue. Not exactly in accord with the terms of service but there's no malicious intent and I'll give a little extra to BGG with my real account this year.
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Matt Connellan
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Humble SockP wrote:

Your thoughts are welcome. Because that first para could be construed as bragging about myself, I have created this second account to discuss this issue. Not exactly in accord with the terms of service but there's no malicious intent and I'll give a little extra to BGG with my real account this year.


You're allowed to brag on this site, dude. Watch:

I am an unparalleled god at the original Super Smash Bros. for N64. Also, I have an above-average sized member.

In relation to your difficulty winning: some people just don't have the "edge", as I will call it. My wife is very smart, but she just doesn't hone in on the proper logic tree she needs to win most games. She still beats me sometimes at every game, and more often at some games, but in general I will beat her, and I think it's because she doesn't doesn't want it enough. Maybe you don't either.
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Rich Shipley
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If you want to win some games, pick one you really like and play it a lot. One that you can play online would be good. Learn from each loss and try to reduce mistakes. One that there are tournaments for would be good too - you can pick up some good ideas in tournaments.

If you don't want to do that, just play games and have fun. People will appreciate you for playing.
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Humble SockP SockP
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Matt -- Yes, I think you have something there. Still, I wonder what it is that gives you the edge. In certain aspects of my worklife, I think most people would regard me as pretty cutthroat, why not in games?

Rich -- I did indeed try your strategy once. I used to play PowerGrid and Puerto Rico quite a bit on BSW. I did learn enough to beat a casual player, but I never was able to swim with the sharks there. Always a bit short of a win.

Thanks for your comments.
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David Sant
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Pintsizepete wrote:
Also, I have an above-average sized member.


your login name begs to differ
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William Boykin
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If you're having fun with your friends; talking smack, rolling dice or playing cards, enjoying the thrill of the competition in a friendly setting.....


....You've already won.

Anything else is just gravy. That, and a well deserved BOO-YAH dance around the table.



Darilian
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Alexander E. Stevens
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Do you find yourself actually spending much time in a game looking to eek out little advantages, or to peel at weaknesses, or do you more often think, "this sounds neat, I'll try it?"

Neither is a "correct" way, but certainly helps to look for the win when wants to win more often.

Sometimes I play a game and my whole goal is just to do something the way I want to do it, and winning in that case is usually more luck than skill. Other times, for me, it is completely disastrous (Like trying to role-play your party in Die Macher, for instance.)

So in a way, I guess I'm affirming number 3
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Humble SockP wrote:

2) Age. I don't want to make too much of this. I lose to people my same age too. However, I do think that cracking 50 has had an effect on how quickly I pick up games. I notice when I play with 20 somethings they are often seeing things much faster.


Gotta pick your battles, man.

Take video games, for instance; I'm 42, and my reflexes...well, they ain't what they used to be during the Reagan Administration. So when it comes to video games, I can't keep up with your average 14 year old that's been selling his Ritalin at lunch hour in your average First Person Shooter...but I make up for it in NCAA or Madden, because you're average 14 year old also can't read the cheat up on a mike dog blitz, or negotiate the safety in a Tampa Cover 2. Pick 6, baby.

It's all about match ups to your strengths in gaming.

Quote:
3) Psychology. I once completely discounted "sports psychology" as hocus pocus. However, as time has gone on, I have come to think that in my own case there is a psychological element. I often seem to fall just short of a victory by missing a familiar rule or obvious key move. Not so much a need to lose but perhaps a subconscious discomfort with victory? Still, I don't think this is much of an explanation. There are far bigger nutjobs in the hobby.


Two words: Vince. Lombardi.
Once you embrace him as your Lord and Savior, everlasting victory will be yours.

Zhukov and US Grant work, too.
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Agent J
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You need to find weaker opponents.
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Humble SockP SockP
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Alexander - You are definitely on to something here. Patience and accumulation of small advantages is often more important to victory than "Hail Mary" moves. I do try to win, but often my plans are grand rather than digging out small advantages.
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GeekInsight
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Humble SockP wrote:
1) Playing time. I have a busy life and don't devote much time to games. Now I know there are people out there who will say they homeschool their 17 kids, manage a Fortune 500 company, and still get in two games of Campaign for North Africa each week. Humor me: between long hours at the office, social obligations, and helping with homework, I just don't have time to get in very many plays. Still, I meet people who play a game for the first time and beat me, though I am experienced.

2) Age. I don't want to make too much of this. I lose to people my same age too. However, I do think that cracking 50 has had an effect on how quickly I pick up games. I notice when I play with 20 somethings they are often seeing things much faster.


I think both of these could be contributing factors. With regard to Item 1, I think that most euro strategy games (whether they are auction, area majority, worker placement, or whatever) all hone a particular strategy skill. My non-gamer friends and family will often be surprised how I can win a game I haven't played before. But so many skills you learn from repeat play are transferable to other games.

Plus, the less you play, the less chance you have to get familiar with games. I think that could be a big part of it. Practice, practice, practice.

As for Age, I can't comment as much. I can say that my more chronologically advanced opponents do tend to take more time with their moves. But that's just my own circle. Can't say anything more general than that.

Playing more means more familiarity and it also means you'll see strategies you may have overlooked in the past. That would be my best advice.
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MyParadox wrote:
my more chronologically advanced opponents


Good form, young man. Good form.
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Humble SockP SockP
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MyParadox --

Thanks. Reflecting, perhaps you are right and I am underestimating this factor. I did have that experience of playing Puerto Rico and Power Grid on BSW quite a bit some time ago and never really succeeding. But I suppose the real sharks played quite a bit more than me in that case too ...
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Matt Connellan
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dsant wrote:
Pintsizepete wrote:
Also, I have an above-average sized member.


your login name begs to differ


My name isn't Pete either, big fella. I like to zig when I'm supposed to zag.

In regards to the "edge", I have it because games are important to me. I love matching wits, I love taking a set of defined rules and finding ways to turn those limits to my advantage. You, like my wife, probably just enjoy a different aspect of board games, the social interaction and shared experiences. So guys like me will usually beat guys like you, but we'll all have a gay old time doing it, hence the magic of board games.
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Humble SockP wrote:
MyParadox --

Thanks. Reflecting, perhaps you are right and I am underestimating this factor. I did have that experience of playing Puerto Rico and Power Grid on BSW quite a bit some time ago and never really succeeding. But I suppose the real sharks played quite a bit more than me in that case too ...


Well hanging on BSW is really asking for defeat....at least given your other life activities.

If you're the newbie at the table, I guess you should expect that winning won't come as often...and don't forget, that with a 4 or 5 player game even if everyone was truly equally skilled, you'd only win 1/5 times -- how many other activities do you engage in with a 20% "success" rate.

And who knows, maybe your path in life (aside from your arithmetic skills) has led you in a way where the skills you have don't match well with the games required for being "good at games"...ain't nothing wrong with that, it seems like you're pretty happy where you're at aside from the win/loss ration in boardgames.

As for me, as long as I enjoy the company and I enjoy the game, winning is just gravy.
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Geoff Hollis
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What are your typical opponents like? Your win:loss ratio is just as much a matter of you as it is of them.

What I got out of your post is that there is a disconnect between your aptitude at life (particularly in terms of intelligence and job success) and your aptitude at board games. Maybe an answer is that there isn't as big of a relationship between those things as naively we think there should be. For comparison, we probably wouldn't expect star basketball players to be able to easily become star baseball players.

That said, I think you option 1) isn't so far off. It's probably not dead on, but maybe your other successes haven't necessitated developing the types of reasoning skills required to be really good at certain boardgames? When you play a new boardgame do you find yourself thinking "aha! I totally see how this works". If not, you probably just haven't been exposed to/practiced similar reasoning puzzles in the rest of your life. E.g., SAT scores are an astoundingly narrow test of reasoning skills (well, that's my opinion as an educator, at least).
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Darilian wrote:
If you're having fun with your friends; talking smack, rolling dice or playing cards, enjoying the thrill of the competition in a friendly setting.....


....You've already won.

Anything else is just gravy. That, and a well deserved BOO-YAH dance around the table.



Darilian


QFT

Masterfully put - and if you don't see the truth in this, I'm not sure why you'd even be on this site.
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Lacombe
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Justus has the right approach: if you are sitting down, say, to a 4 player game, odds are 3 to 1 (a 75% chance) that you will not win... just based on pure chance. If you are new to the game and your opponents know it, or if you're only moderately good while an opponent is even slightly better, those odds get worse. Only if you're losing a given 4 player game significantly more than, say, 80 or 85% of the time do you probably have evidence to conclude you are "bad" at it.
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Jay Sheely
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Aside from the 25% chance that I'll lose anyways in a 4-player game, I also have these handicaps:

1) WAY too aggressive. I almost always go for it. (Wargames - I'm looking at you!)

2) A lot of times I'll make a move, or invest in something, or whatever just to see what happens.

3) In playing a build-an-engine type game for the first time, I'll typically pick something that sounds fun and devote all of my resources to maxing it out.

For example: playing Ora et Labora for the first time, I found out that one can brew beer. Oh really? I'll make sure I leave no stone unturned on that front then. And wow, did I lose that game!

I don't mind losing and usually I expect it.
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Humble SockP SockP
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Geoff -- I think you make a great point that not all reasoning skills necessarily correlate with success at games. I didn't want to get into too much detail in my original post, but I'll now mention that I think spatial imagination is particularly important. As I have gotten older, I have noticed my ability to visualize a position on the board in a number of turns has deteriorated. It might be an interesting experiment to see how many top gamers can visualize a chess position after five moves -- even if they don't particularly like chess.

Nate -- You are absolutely right that perceptions may not be matching reality. A person who wins 1/3 times in five person games is doing very well. He or she might not perceive it that way though.
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Brian Schroth
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Pintsizepete wrote:

You're allowed to brag on this site, dude. Watch:

I am an unparalleled god at the original Super Smash Bros. for N64.


Unless you're this guy...No, you're not.
 
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What games?

If it's more than two player games, is it possible you're playing negotiation games and don't realize it?

Do you have any particular addictions/vices? No coffee at night when you're playing? No smoke for two hours near the end of a long game? A couple beers that shouldn't have any effect on your concentration?

Do you try to study stragey? I mean, you sound pretty smart. Sometimes smart people don't actually have to try very hard at things, which is sweet in college, but sucks in other aspects of life. Or sometimes smart people assume that being smart can make up on the fly for a lack of preparation. This is speaking as a smart person who has been guilty of those things. But also one who studies and practices at certain games and sees tangible results.

Just post more details about the sorts of games you play and why you lose.

Maybe you just don't care about winning.

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Dave Daring
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Most wargames have handicap rules, like Texas Revolution, Russian Campaign, etc. You can mix the variants to taste.
 
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How far ahead do you think whilst playing? One of the key things to winning is remembering you're overall goal, and not just this turn's goal, or some other subsidiary task. For a very basic example - whenever we play Catan my wife often gets distracted by trying to build the longest road. Very often she succeeds, but at the expense of an overall victory. The end-game is the target. That said, having fun is the target - and if building the longest road is what makes a game fun for you, then that's probably more important than winning!
All that said there are some games I just can't win - even playing against people who are playing for the first time: Ys is a prime example - I have complete no-win record.
If losing is really bugging you - try playing co-ops, then everybody wins (or, if they all fall under your hex, at least you can commiserate together!)
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Sam Phillips Beckerman
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One, because you put your all into the rest of your life, perhaps your brain/heart requires a different attitude at the game table. You find it enjoying trying something out for the fun of it?

I lost damn near every game I played for two years. I'm Mensa-smart, but knew I was new to the hobby and wild to taste every game. Owned none, played other's games while I figured which were to my taste. Rarely played a game twice. In January of this year was ready to start building my own collection. Started playing games I preferred. Now new games I play I know something about them and suspect they're my style/speed. I'm winning more often AND having more fun.
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