Friday, October 14, 2005

Master or Grasshopper?

First off, I do admit that I don't beat my wife nearly enough. That's a worn out joke in our game group, maybe you can get some mileage out of it.

Now that we have that out of the way, this week's guest blog is by my (fictional?) wife, Dame Koldfoot, who may or may not be the person I was referring to last week when I referred to "the player who is always confused", I will never tell. Only myself, Dame Koldfoot, and the guy who thought the game was broken will ever know.


Coldie loves to buy games, almost as much as starlets love to purge before a casting call and Brazilians love to wax. Coldie has over 250 games, with all but the best stored in the shed collecting dust. I have played maybe half of the “good” games occupying six floor-to-ceiling shelves in the game room. One of my longstanding complaints about being married to an avid (could I say addicted?) gamer, besides the cost of the games, the room to store the games and the time Coldfoot spends away from home playing games, is learning a new game. I don’t mind learning new games, but I want to master the games I’ve played before moving on.

If given a choice, would you rather learn a new task or master the knowledge you already have? There are advantages and disadvantages to both learning and mastering. In my career as a paralegal, I would rather be the master of a task than attempt to learn a new one. It is disconcerting trying to interview a witness when you know nothing about the case or issues being litigated. On the other hand, it is comforting to know when my supervising attorney asks, “Are you sure this is how it should be done?” that I can answer with a resounding, “Absolutely.”

In learning a new game, there is a sense of excitement: opening the shrink-wrap, punching the pieces, examining the artwork, and analyzing the rules. The cards are still shiny, the scent of new cardboard and plastic wafts from the box, the four year old has not stuffed any tokens up her nose yet. You set it up, try a practice game and then evaluate your mistakes, all the time looking forward to the next play.

On the downside, there is the confusion of rule interpretation, the placement of tokens, the indecision of which card to play. There is the disconcerting feeling of uncertainness. “Did I play that right?” “What will happen if I place here?” “I am so hosed because my play backfired on me!”

The mastery of a game is comforting. I’ve been playing pinochle since I was 12. Yet, I still feel like I have not mastered the game. I will never be as good a player as my grandpa. However, in the intervening 20 years or more since I’ve been playing, I have developed my method for how much to bid, counting tricks, tracking the high trump card and knowing when to take the lead or give it up. I could not have done this if I played the game just a few times. It is the same as if I only went to work a few times a year—I would not be as good a paralegal. I was lucky Coldie also played pinochle and would spend Saturday afternoons with my grandparents and me playing cards.

When you have mastered a game, you know the rules, the strategy, the pitfalls. You know when to play a certain token, when to attack or fall back, when to trade or hoard your commodities, what and when to build. You (usually) know your opponent or partner and his or her tactics. From your comfort seat, you can try new strategies without the disconcerting feelings of not knowing what the hell you’re doing. “If I buy the large warehouse, then I could try to hoard tobacco to later ship from my own wharf. But I still have the office, so my coffee is safe if Coldie chooses the Trader.” It’s hard to develop your strategy or try new plays in a game you know when you’re always learning new games. The length of time in between plays causes me to forget the rules, how the use the components and what I wanted to try differently on my quest for mastery. I am not, however, advocating playing the same game ad nauseum.

So, would you rather be the master or the grasshopper? For me, I think I would rather be a master. It boils down to the fact that Coldie and I are both fiercely competitive. I don’t feel like I have mastered a game until I have whipped him many times in a row. I am looking forward to the day when he admits that he doesn’t beat me as often as he should.

Dame Koldfoot


Jonathan said...


Anonymous said...

I think that in the end, I would like to be a master. But, I want to make sure that I am the master of the right games. It would be a shame to spend much time mastering the wrong game. So first I must play the role of the grasshopper, playing many, many games a few times each until I find a game or two that are worthy of mastering...

Coldfoot said...

Amen Johnny.

Class dismissed.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Thank you, DC. The "Jedi" are starting to make their voices heard.


huzonfirst said...

Just call me "grasshopper"!