Wednesday, January 04, 2006
I've Located the Problem
Just after Christmas I received Hacienda, which Richard and I liked after the first half game. We’ve played it a couple of times now, enjoying it more each time but so far Richard has won each time with very good plays and strategies which have slipped by my sensors. This has finally helped me identify my biggest problem when playing strategy games.
Some games, especially when there are only 2 players, move very quickly from turn to turn which means I’m planning my next move while the other player is taking theirs, often barely noticing what they’ve done. I have my plan and I move ahead with blind confidence, not stopping to ask myself “What did they do, why did they do it and should I be trying to stop whatever it is?” Pilots call this Target Fixation. Your goal is the only thing in your sights, excluding everything else even danger. This is my problem. Alright, to be honest, it’s probably one of many; but this is one I should be able to overcome.
In theory, it should be easy to take 5 seconds to look over the board and assess my opponent’s position and possible strategy, the equivalent of stopping to think before opening your mouth in a conversation (which I’m also not good at). In reality, I feel the need to keep the game moving, not slow it down and drag it out.
I think this is partly because I feel that my target audience hates to sit still for too long playing my games. There are many games that my family enjoys but not all of them so I’m not trying to place the blame on my family, but I know there are times when they’d rather be doing something else.
Another reason for this habit is just that—habit. Years of playing roll and move games where you pick up the dice as soon as someone finishes and press on with your turn have drilled into me the need for speed. There was no need to make a long-term plan or pay particular attention to what another player had done on his turn.
The last thing to mention is that I see games as fun, not to be taken too seriously with every choice a chance for disaster. I like to win as much as anyone else does, but I don’t mind losing as long as I had a good time along the way.
This desire to keep the game moving at a steady clip has thus become a habit which persists even when I have other gamers to play with. It’s only with play-by-email (PBEM) games do I take the necessary time to make my decisions since I know no one is sitting right by their computer waiting impatiently for me to take my turn.
Is my target fixation/full speed ahead method of play a habit that can be broken (or maybe I should say “fixed”)? Can I teach myself to take the time to see the situation, and then let go of my pre-arranged plan in favor of a more sensible course of action? Will it make me a better player or do I have other issues that are even more dire? For the answers to these and other questions, tune in next time.
This week I got to play Hacienda three times, twice with 2 players and once with 3, and I have to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that this is exactly our type of game. The rules are simple and easy to understand but the play is rich with decisions and options for scoring and making money.
I’ve heard this compared to Through the Desert several times but I think it more closely reminds me of Magna Grecia, a game that is less well-known than Through the Desert. In both you want to reach as much of the board as possible to make money or points from their markets, and the bigger your hacienda/city, the more points you’ll make. Both boards start empty, for the most part, and you can start anywhere as long as you follow the rules for beginning your hacienda/city. There’s the same tough balancing act between building your area and increasing your supply/hand of cards which seems to appeal to us so much.
I like games where the winner isn’t clear until the final points are tallied and this qualifies in that respect. There are 5 ways to score points, which are scored in mid-game and at the end, which means there are many combinations of strategies to try. The obvious one, connecting to many markets, isn’t necessarily the strongest one. In the one game that Cori played, she had connected to only 4 markets compared to Richard’s 7 and my 6 but still came in a close second, 4 points behind me.
One thing I’d also like to mention is the start-up table in the rules which shows the different number of cards/pieces used for the different number of players. This is something I usually write down on a small piece of paper for quick reference but there it all was in an easy-to-use format which I wish more developers would do in the future.
All of this goodness AND my husband likes it. I could tell because he said, “Yeah, I could see playing this again.” Well, what more could I ask for?
Long-time gamers won’t find anything new or innovative in Hacienda but if you’re looking for a well-developed game that’s fun, easy to understand and has tight, balanced play, I recommend it.
Until next time, I’ll be trading my sheep for pesos.