Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Please, I'm begging you ... don't make stupid plays just to get the game over with!

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

If you're the sort of "fun" gamer who always has to keep games moving so that you can get to the next one, or can't understand why anyone would want to think about a move or play "well", then why do you even bother to play games?

I'm just saying ... sitting there rolling your eyes, folding the rules into a paper airplane, checking your email, or worse, sticking meeples in your nose, you can't be having any fun. And aren't boardgames supposed to be fun?

A moose deciding whether to roll in the grass or the lake. A fly on his back is telling him to hurry up already. The fly is now deceased.

What is it about something as simple as thinking that gets your panties all in a knot? Do you think it's fun for everyone to just roll dice, move pieces, and read whatever it says on the card? Games are an exercise in thinking. There have to be at least some decisions to make. Otherwise, you may as well set your computer running and read the results when it stops.

And if I have to make a decision, which is what "games" are all about, why can't you demonstrate the least amount of patience for those that want to make that decision? Telling someone to hurry up and finish deciding already is like telling someone to get the orgasm over with so that you can get on with the rest of the sex. You just got to the good part; what's your hurry?

I've sat at games for five minutes while some numbskull at the table refuses to shut up while I'm trying to make a decision. He keeps yabbering on about how the game isn't fun, and what's the problem, and why can't I just make any move, even a bad one, and wouldn't we rather play Sorry where people don't have to think so much.

So many times when I'm playing on BSW, some nudnik has to complain that I'm going too slow, or taking too long, or "I though this was a fast table" when I so much as take 2 or 3 seconds to consider what I need to play next. Even texting "I'm thinking" doesn't appease some people. They just up and leave. I have my strong suspicions that these people would rather not play with someone who thinks, because it makes it more likely that they will lose, and they want to preserve that illusion that they are a good player. Yessir, king of the speed 1-second-per-play Puerto Rico division. Big accomplishment.

A moose who listened to a fly when it told him to stop deciding whether or not to cross the road already and just get on with it. The moose is now deceased (so is the fly).

So I bought an egg timer, put it on the table and told people that good manners at this game club means that you can't ask me to hurry up for at least two minutes. But some people can't play this way; so be it. Even the new edition of Robo Rally comes with a timer to prevent people from being obnoxious about time!

There's this ex-wife trucker biker chick that I used to know who's pretty cool but five minutes into any game she always starts trying to end it. Every time. What's up with that? Why are you at a freaking game group if your object is to end games as soon as possible? Here's an idea: don't play games if you don't like to play games. So anyway, something about my penis, and basically, "bite me".

So here's my take on the whole subject. Essentially in most situations, there are a limited number of choices. The less choices that you have in one round means the deeper that you can look through to subsequent round. There are very few choices in Chess, and even less in Checkers. That means that a single move in these games requires four, five, or deeper turns of analysis.

It's my theory that these "no thinking" guys don't have the right type of brain for this. As far as they are concerned, there is "what's best for me this round", and that's it. There is no future, no long term panning, no concept that one plays a game in order to do well. Only this nebulous concept of "fun", which translates into "Let's keep it moving, shall we?". It's why all of the cartoons, music videos, and movies nowadays can't hold a shot for more than half a second without them losing their attention span. Goodbye New York Times, hello USA Today. If it doesn't have a ten word blurb and a graph or a sound bite, they're not interested.

What we have here is failure to appreciate.

Hasty acting guarantees you nothing but random results. When I play a game, I play it in order to see how well I can do, not how quickly I can play. By acting quickly, I lose the entire concept of, what we in the game field call: strategy. Without strategy, the game is just a series of hill-climbing tactics. Once you have mastered the various tactics, the game is going to get boring real quick.

Strategy is what makes a game playable for the long term. Strategies require you to hold a plan and execute it over a period of time. Without strategy, the game is simply phasing in during your turn and phasing out again, a series of short term interactions with the mechanics. With strategy, the game is a story, no matter how abstract it looks. With only tactics, it is the same story, over and over.

A Llama. Because they're cute.

Tactics are all discrete units; once you've played them, there is not much to playing them again. Strategies are complex and lifelike; implementing the strategy through tactics gives the tactics life and an endless possibility of arrangement and complexity. Each game can only have a finite number of types of tactics, but an endless number of finely different strategies.

What the poor sap who can't think beyond his next breathing action (Breathe in? Breathe out? Who cares? Just pick one already!) is how he has done this before; why should this round be any different from last round? Same tactics: look at the board, choose an option, you're done. Meanwhile, the rest of us who want to play an actual game are stuck with some guy choosing pathetically bad choices that will eliminate him before the game is half over and likely throw the game unfairly to one of the other players. Really; if you're going to do that, why not just stay home and play a shoot 'em up on the computer?

When I watch someone doing this, what pops into my mind is "Warning, cannot connect to the internet. Displaying the last known version of this page." Yesterday's stock quotes are good enough, right?

I am offering all the lucky readers of Gone Gaming a solution for those suffering from this sort of analysis inability problem: Thinking is good for your brain. Use it. That's what you're here for.

Take it from me folks, you'll be much happier when you realize that games are a valuable use of your time, and not just a distraction that holds no more importance than watching TV or drinking beer or picking your belly button. Or doing all three at once.



huzonfirst said...

Ah, a toe-to-toe fight between the "play fast, make mistakes, have fun" school of gaming and the "will you please shut up so I can think about my move" school. I love it! I've also been a member of both schools at one point or another in my gaming career, so I think I can relate to both arguments.

One work of what I hope passes for wisdom for both of you. Gaming is a social activity. A good gamer recognizes his responsibility to let everyone in the game have a good time. Obviously, there are limits to this, but in general, when playing with a group of fast gamers, it's a good idea to try to play fast. Similarly, with more serious gamers, you should do your best to make your best move--your opponent's reasoning assumes that you'll do so--and not throw the game to someone else. If your playing style is too slow for those you normally game with, you should make every effort to speed up your response--start your thinking during other players' turns and try to minimize pointless dithering. On the other hand, if your fast and loose style pisses off your more thoughtful opponents, try applying more thought to your moves. If you can't make the necessary adjustments in either of these situations, you might want to find another group to game with. In the long run, you'll be happier and so will they.

As you both say, gaming is about having fun. And the most fun you can have is when the whole table enjoys the experience.

Shannon Appelcline said...

The problem isn't thinking about a move, but rather thinking much longer than is necessary about a move, which generally violates the unspoken group agreement about the gameplay.

Generally, I have problems with slow players in two situations: where their choice doesn't matter (or not the extent of the thought they put into it) and where their choice should have already been made.

For the first I offer the example of _Titan: The Arena_. It's a light, quick game, and what follows after your turn will be somewhat chaotic to the point where you can't entirely determine outcomes. A game of _T:tA_ should take about 45 minutes. A 2-hour game of _T:tA_ was one of my worst gaming experiences ever, because people were constantly angsting over decisions that DIDN'T MATTER.

For the second I offer any number of strategic games, all of which allow long-term plans without them getting too messed up by what your opponents do. If it takes me 15 seconds to make each of my moves, because I've figured it out on the other players' turns, and it consistently takes the player across from me 5 minutes, that's pretty annoying because I'm getting 15/300th, or about 5% of the gaming experience he is.

Generally, no matter what sort of game you're playing, if one player is taking considerably longer than all the others, then he should adapt his play to conform to the group norm. Call it democracy in action, but without all the tanks and bombings. Conversely, if you're the only fast player in a group, tough cookies for you, but choose your gaming group more carefully in the future.

Philippe said...

It's interesting that you would think your way of finding "fun" in a game is the only way anybody can have fun with these heap of cardboard and plastic. Sticking a meeple in one's nose stretches some underworked muscles, which is bound to give pleasure in some way.

qzhdad said...

I'll second the opinion that five minute turns are ok as long as most of the players are taking five minutes, too. Five minute turns are not ok, when everyone else is taking fifteen seconds on their turn.

I'll even grant a certain amount of this post has merit. When I played chess (and now when I play similar games now), spending five more minutes contemplating my options rarely helps. I can see four or five moves out in the first thirty seconds or so, but more time doesn't help. So I'll never be a great "real" chessplayer, but I still enjoy five or ten minute (total per person) chess.

Coldfoot said...

Nice rebuttal, Yehuda. My only comment is: if a llama has a hump, it's a camel. :)

Coldfoot said...

P.S. You won't believe the first site that comes up when you google "llama"--The Llama Song. Now I have that song in my head!

Paul Kidd said...

We need to get you two into a room together.

I second (or third, or fourth) the idea that taking a proportionate amount of time is the important thing.

My problem with people taking a long time is:

1) In a game that doesn't reward it because it's too chaotic or random, it's just annoying.

2) In a game that does reward it, the only person taking ten minutes to optimize their turn will generally win. So, you say, you do the same thing. The trouble is, the game will then go into the small hours of the next day for sure. [cough]Caylus[cough]

Anonymous said...

I'm one to like things moving along in a game in genral.

However, I start running silent and a bit slow when I'm nearing endgame and think I have the win in my sights. I start analyzing all the possible pitfalls and try to avoid them.

There, I've now given away my "poker face" to boardgames...

Fraser said...

Shannon said The problem isn't thinking about a move, but rather thinking much longer than is necessary about a move, which generally violates the unspoken group agreement about the gameplay.

Scott said I'll second the opinion that five minute turns are ok as long as most of the players are taking five minutes, too. Five minute turns are not ok, when everyone else is taking fifteen seconds on their turn.

Chris said Is this really all that complicated? If you're taking way longer than everyone else at the table, you need to move faster. You're wasting everyone else's time. It's rude. These are social games, not winner-takes-all blood-fests. The great thing about this rule is that it's simple and it scales to handle virtually any situation.

Agreed x3

I have been tempted not to play a particular game again because the above have been violated when I played the game. The game has become unfairly tarnished due to the (in)action of one or more players. Luckily for Citadels I managed to overcome that fear, but it was a big step.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to play quickly, not because I am opposed to thinking, but because thinking only gets you so far in Eurogames. Most of them have random elements that affect the game in potentially calculable, but unknowable ways. Other players throw in a heaping helping of uncertainty as well, even if they are behaving rationally. After all, your opinion of how they should play needn't match theirs.

We have a couple of players in our group who lapse into calculation mode at times, and we've learned that gentle prodding gets them to make a decision sooner than later. This is good as far as I'm concerned because every game we play typically has one or more newcomers and the experience of playing and completing the game will provide them with a greater understanding of what strategies might work than any amount of pondering will do. Watching you think won't help them learn faster; finishing the game will.

Take chances, I say; decide on a course of action and do it. If it doesn't work out, then you'll have experience to rely on for next time. Better to rely on the Force and intuition based on experience than endless mental calculations that leave you isolated from the other players.