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.



Joe Gola said...

When I play games I have an internal chess clock, which means that I try to make the best moves that I can within a reasonable amout of time. What a "reasonable amount of time" is depends on the weight of the game, but, whatever it is, it's very clear to me on an instinctual level. If I'm unable to figure out all the possible permutations of the board within that amount of time, I just pick an option and go with it. If it later turns out that that move blows up in my face, well, too bad for me; if wasn't smart enough to figure out the optimal move in a reasonable amount of time, then I was beaten fair and square.

The opposite point of view is that of those people who, if the information is out there, feel obliged to dope it out no matter how long it takes. It's as if they feel that by not figuring out the optimal move they are doing a disservice to someone...themselves, the other players, or the game itself. I've played games with people like that, and while I understand the impulse, I find that sort of thing to be a little selfish. I always want to say "if the only way that you can win the game is to take twice as long with your moves, then you've only won because you've given yourself an advantage that the rest of us are too polite to take." It is, after all, just a game and not an I.Q. test.

That turned into more of a rant than I had intended, but what the hell. We need a few more rants on this site.

Anonymous said...

I have learned that when I make a mistake & then realize that it porbably cost me the game, I must keep a poker face. If I moan or roll my eyes my opponent will take extra time looking at the board, trying to see what could be to their advantage. Of course, sometimes I moan & roll my eyes for no reason & then I really worry my opponents.

My wife thinks it wonderfully amusing that when I'm losing a game (backgammon, Lost Cities) I play faster, like I'm in a race & I'm trying to catch up. When I do this, she starts playing slower.

She's evil, but in a lovely sort of way.

huzonfirst said...

There are some very nice points in both Joe's and Chris' comments. I have tried to speed up my own play since being introduced to Eurogames. The main reason is consideration for my fellow players. If I'm playing with a group of slower players (as I used to with my older group, which strictly played older American titles), I'll usually take my time as well. But when the group is playing briskly, it seems rude to ruminate over your moves too much. Obviously, you need to take enough time to play a competant game and no one minds if a player takes extra time at a critical point of the game. But part of being a good gamer is trying to ensure that everyone at the table has an enjoyable experience and not taking twice as long as anyone else is part of that.

ekted said...

I try to play most games "by the seat of my pants". Intuition is more enjoyable than calculation. However, some games almost demand calculation. I just started playing Caylus on BSW. I found in my first game that the simplest miscalculation can have serious affects on your position. It's still a fun game, but not "fun fun". On the other hand, a game that seems like a serious calculation fest like Go are actually very rich in the intuition department.