Monday, June 05, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Please, I'm begging you...take your turn before something horrible happens!

Here's something that has always perplexed me...

If you're the sort of Sad Sack who is habitually stricken by total neural shutdown, known in board gaming parlance as analysis paralysis, when faced with decision-making, why the hell do you even bother to play games?

I'm just sayin'... sitting there, brow furrowed, looking like you're contemplating a bowel movement, or worse, while beads of sweat pop out on your forehead and friendly jokes from your table partners about "analysis paralysis" become bitter threats against your life, it can't be fun. And aren't board games a pastime that is supposed to be, you know, fun? Now that I think about it, isn't the whole idea of a hobby or pastime all about having fun?

What is it about something as simple as "it's your turn" that it becomes a fork in the road of your life that is worth sacrificing huge chunks other people's precious time? When you boil most decisions in board games down to their bones there are usually only a few choices. Sometimes there are as few as two choices. And I've sat there for an agonizing 5 minutes while some numbskull at the table refused to accept the fact that he really had NO choice whatsover. He was screwed anyway, so, just take the frickin' move you dope!

When Robo Rally originally came out one of the regulars in my game group, a largish irritant named Troy, continuously destroyed every ounce of fun that was possible in the game. You have to place five cards. Five. Not 112. Not 37. Just five. At most you have what? Nine cards to choose from? But Troy never, ever, ever decided what to do until everyone else was so annoyed and impatient that we were close to just putting the game away, grabbing him by his largish head and repeatedly hammering it against the table. Then, finally laying the cards down, he'd laugh at our ire and remind us that he usually won. Which was true.

So one night I explained to Troy that he didn't win Robo Rally, or Settlers of Catan, or any of the other games that he won at - which was most of the ones he played - because he was smarter or a better player than us. He won because he stole everyone else's time and used it to run a slow, tedious and painful series of potential outcomes to each and every minor decision he had to make. In short, as I explained it to Troy (having clocked it the previous Saturday and noted the results down), in the average 6 hour game night at my house, with 6 players present, Troy sucked up 50% of the total time. Three hours out of six were spent waiting for Troy to decide. Carrying my explaination to a deeper, more meaningful level, I further explained that he was stealing two hours of life from five innocent people. He was robbing 10 total hours from other soul's lives... just so he could win a stupid game of Robo-F'ing-Rally.

So I pulled a one minute egg timer out, placed it on the table and announced that if anyone, especially Troy, was still deciding what to do after everyone else laid their cards down, the egg timer would be deployed. And if that time thief failed to lay cards down when the sand ran out we would all shuffle his cards and lay them randomly for him.

Troy got up and left. I have never played a game with him since... in over twelve years. And the reprint of Robo Rally added the egg timer. So there!

Then there was a guy named Bob who played about 6 times with a small group I had in California in the 70's. Bob was so stricken with his own sluggish mental processes and so totally devoid of even a the slightest vestige of consideration for anyone's time but his own that I set out one night to piss him off so badly that he would never return. It worked. One of my life talents is an uncanny knack for pissing people off. It also helps that usually I figure that most people I piss off have it coming... and those that don't shouldn't have been in the line of fire to begin with.

Bob had a degree in enology but no winery would hire him. So he worked for a dairy. That should have been my first hint. We lived in freaking wine country! Grapeville. Gallo Wine had a facility the size of Detroit three miles from my house and there were no less than 35 other wine producers in the county. And this guy couldn't get hired. Manuel Labouror, direct from Mazatlan and speaking no English got hired, but Bob had to get a job at a dairy. Dude. I did that same work at my Grandpa's place in Texas when I was nine.

Anyway, thankfully Bob got so pissed at me that he stormed out of the house in the first 30 minutes - he still hadn't decided what to do on his turn yet... and he had the first turn - he never returned. Yay!

So a week or so back I brought out Conquest of the Empire and we began to play the Martin Wallace rules... the ones with actual decisions rather than just chucking handfuls of dice. Normally I don't consider RoBee too bad when it comes to deciding. But he was down with a nasty case of mental dysfunction that night. Add to it that a new guy, Jared, was there and that fellow BGG'er Jon and his boy Austin were there... and only Jumbo and I had played... and you see where this is headed. I've played this game with 6 people in about 120-150 minutes. It only has so many turns. Sixteeen in all. You get two actions per turn. That means each player is going to make a total of 32 whole decisions. I make that many decision each morning before I get around to shaving. And frankly, the decisions in CotE are pretty straightforward. The rules restrict so much of what you can do that you really have to sort of have an overall plan and then stick to it... alllowing for some flexibility for when things go sour, or perhaps turn sweet. That's it. It's a simple, simple game.

This is what RoBee normally installs in his skull every day when he leaves the house. While not a large unit, it is functional and it's compact size leaves plenty of room for him to hum along to his favorite Gangsta Rap tunes.

So about 4 hours later, when the carnage was over, and everyone was slapping themselves to wake up and restraining their hands from slapping RoBee, my affection for CotE had hit a rough spot. I still like RoBee, sort of, but I'm going to have to reconsider what games I will willingly play when he's in one of those "moods".

And don't even get me started on Ken, another "college boy" grad who works at a microchip manufacturer in Boise. This guy must be running 90 weight oil thorugh his brain instead of blood. His synapses must spark at about the same clip as a mountain range erodes. Ken used to come and play in our Formula De league about five years ago. Thankfully... and I do mean thankfully... Ken's wife keeps his huevos in her purse at all times and his appearances were blissfully rare. Usually he played only when she was out of town, or perhaps when she was happy with the lick job he did on her boots... or whatever other degrading thing guys like that have to do to "get permission". Ken could not, ever, never, not once, make a decision in anything under about 5 minutes. And I'm talking about the first turn in Formula De... you know, the one where EVERYBODY starts out in 1st Gear? And then when it came his turn to "shift to 2nd Gear" he'd actually pause... and contemplate it.

Here are some Formula De dice. Look closely at the yellow one. Note... it has two possible results. "1" and "2". Anyone who has to "think" when using this die needs to be electrocuted repeatedly and frequently.

Now I'm not a believer in Karma, but if it does exist Ken got his Bad Karma payback by becoming a silent partner in a game store that opened in the wake of my move out of Boise. Not the type of Silent Partner you're thinking about though, Ken is known by the customers, it's just that if you ask him a question on Tuesday and then drop by the store on Saturday he answers it then. And this guy works for a place that manufactures microchips! Little things that are fast. Very, very fast. Well, maybe not the ones he makes.

So here's my take on this whole subject. It's very simple... essentially in most situations there are a limited number of possible choices. Let's take board games, I'd guess there's no more than about three to six choices at each decision point for the average game. This can get convoluted with Action Point systems where you have pieces spread around, but even then, choices are mostly obvious. The normal gamer will mentally "list" all the choices in his head. This is where the problem starts for the dullards. The function of a list is usually to give the Lister (you) a quick overview of choices so you can make an informed decision. It's my theory that the Troys, Kens and Bobs of the world have no problem when it comes to the list part of things. Their issue comes when they realize they have to commit to something. And if they make a mistake... why, they might lose!

So what the poor sap does is get caught up into a feedback loop, running up and down the list endlessly looking for the one choice that will guarantee some unspecified, but obviously vital, result. Well frankly my friends, most choices have a way of guaranteeing something. A poor choice guarantees a poor result and a good choice, a good result. Usually. But not acting, or acting only under the duress of angry stares and threatening mutterings from the other players, will usually end up poorly for you. While I watched RoBee struggle with CotE the other night I could smell his brain cells overheating as he ran up and down his little list of the three or four possible choices each turn and what popped into my mind was this familiar message for all you Windows users - "Warning: Virtual memory is low. Windows is increasing size of virtual memory"

Except that RoBee was not running Windows. He was running an analog system of some sort. Probably something organic.

This is what we found inside RoBee's skull a couple of weeks ago when we cracked it open because he was too slow in taking his turn. This discovery answered two questions; a) why Analysis Paralysis stinks and b) where RoBee's brother Jumbo had been hiding the mistakes their dog made on the carpet

I am offering all the lucky readers of Gone Gaming a solution for those suffering from this common form of dullness and for those really unlucky gamers who play games with indecisive gamers. And I'm not even going to charge you for this vital information. Here's DW's simple solution to Life's Lists:

The right decision is always the 1st or 2nd item on your list.

That's it. It's that simple. Here's why this works... let's assume for a moment that you aren't really too stupid, perhaps you have a degree in enology or maybe work for a big high tech company... we all know anyone who even knows what enology is or works in "High Tech" is automatically smart. Right? So, assuming you're not a complete dumb ass, you probably have good instincts. And those instincts will naturally cause you to "see" the best choice in a game, or for that matter, in life, quickly. So if there are five choices, it's likely your native intelligence and good instincts brought the best ones to your surface awareness early on.

So why not trust yourself? Pick the 1st or 2nd choice you see and go with it. What the hell? It's just a game. Winning or losing, it matters very little in the grand scheme of your life. And look at how happy you'll make the other players. Not to mention, your decisiveness will also generate an underlying fear of you. Quick decision-making emanates confidence. Confidence makes opponents fearful, surly and suspicious. As the game plays out you'll discover a few things... That you actually have more fun. That you probably don't win less, in fact, you may win more. That other players will have more fun.

I think this fun thing was what we all became gamers for to begin with.

I have used this list shortening theory for most major decisions in my life as well. I'd say I'm running about 60% to the good. And even the things others might see as terrible... a longish string of ex-wives, half a dozen failed businesses, being forced to legally change my name twice, the rigors of living under the witness protection program... even those things have created much more fun in my life than most people like, say Ken, have when they have to beg their wife to lend them their balls when they want to go "Hang with the Homes".

Even if my solution to Analysis Paralysis doesn't win you more games, it can be productive. This is a picture of some of my ex-wives at their annual "Liberation Day" getogether... which just goes to show you, even bad decisions can be fun for a while.

Loosen up. Trust your instincts. And punish severly anyone who steals your personal fun time.

Take it from me folks, you'll be much happier and games will be thrilling and fun once more. And if you do this right, you can even look forward to a whole series of new wives... and we all know how much more fun wives are when they're new.


ekted said...

There's a difference between sitting there not knowing what to do and actually figuring things out. I don't mind someone taking extra time if it's meaningful.

What's the definition of "fun" anyways? I have fun playing complex games that make my brain smoke. If you want to sit around a table laughing with friends, maybe you are in the wrong hobby.

Anonymous said...

One of my life talents is an uncanny knack for pissing people off.

Err... it seems to be a bit more of need than a knack!


DWTripp said...

What's the definition of "fun" anyways? I have fun playing complex games that make my brain smoke. If you want to sit around a table laughing with friends, maybe you are in the wrong hobby.

Since you asked, "fun" is defined as:

A source of enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure.

Enjoyment; amusement: have fun at the beach.

Playful, often noisy, activity.

I suspect everyone views fun differently but I prefer to keep my brain cells well within their recommended operating temperature. At the same time, I don't view AP as someone taking a "reasonable" amount of time to make a decision. But, when they start taking liberties with MY time and reducuing MY pleasure because they are incapable of "playful activity", well then, extreme measures must be taken to punish them for their evil ways.

Anonymous said...

One tactic I use to combat AP is to pipeline my analysis while others are taking their turn. The net result is that most of the time when my turn comes up, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to do. Then I do it.

The only time this doesn't really work is when everyone takes simultaneous turns like in RoboRally or when there are major distractions... like when DW's ex wives serve drinks. I enjoy brain smoking games as well but it also drives me nuts when people take waaay too long to take a turn.

As a result, I'm *very* aware of what other people feel when I'm suffering from a case of AP. When this happens, I simply interrupt my analysis and just make a choice even though it may lead to my demise.

In writing this response, I think I have discovered the simple key to combatting the problem: Awareness. If you know you're in the throes of an AP spell, simply stop it and get on with your move. I'll bet some of the worst offenders are blissfully unaware of the pain, agony and hair pulling they cause.

Shannon Appelcline said...

No matter how much fun a brain-burning game can be, I rarely find it fun to see someone else spend 5-10 minutes figuring out a move.

So that'd be my definition.

Paul Kidd said...

I agree - gaming is a social activity, so "fun" must include all of the players. DW is right in that a continually slow player is essentially robbing the time of all of the other players. This is different from taking your time on the odd critical move or whatever.

As for RoboRally - we have always had a two minute time limit for everyone, with cards put down randomly after that. It is just so much fun and who doesn't enjoy it when a robot falls into the pit because the player mucked it up.

Friendless said...

DW, if any of your ex-wives need accommodation in Brisbane, just email me, OK? It's the least I can do for a great guy like you.

I like games where you need to think, but I'd rather do the thinking on someone else's turn when I can. I'm lucky that I rarely play with AP people.

Anonymous said...

Your advice to take the 1st or 2nd idea to pop into your head is quite good. In my tournament chess days, I read lots of books about analysis and decision making in chess, and that was the advice I saw quite a lot.

Apparently intuition isn't as mystical as people make it out to is really the same part of the brain that handles math, etc. So, if your intuition is telling you a move, you likely already subconciously analyzed it.

In a related story, I played a game of Sleuth where one guy had soul-crushing AP...he would take 5-8 minutes, and we would race through our turns. He really thought he won because of skill...

Wargamer66 from bgg

Anonymous said...

There's a guy that suffers from AP in one of the groups I play with. Finally I decided I would never play with him again. Ever. He also had a weird thing about shuffling cards that would turn it into a time-wasting process of going through the cards face up to seperate cards if 2 of the same card were next to each other. I eventually started my own "invite only" game group that meets twice a month just so I didn't have to deal with him. It was a better option then hitting him repeatedly until he stopped breathing because I don't think most prisons have decent board game collections.