“The Perfect Move”

Attending the WBC this August gave me an excellent opportunity to meet  people who have different styles of playing boardgames. This led to some interesting conversations on the ride home as Russ and I swapped stories about the different styles we encountered.  We spent a good deal of time talking about the problem with “the perfect move” style, a way of playing that is agonizingly slow and deliberate. This is different from analysis paralysis (AP), where one is so overwhelmed by his choices that he is incapable of playing through his turn until someone prods him.

Chess masters sometimes stare at the board for hours before making a move. But is it right for boardgamers to do the same?

Chess masters sometimes stare at the board for hours before making a move. But is it right for board gamers to do the same?

“The perfect move” style frustrates me to no end. I have discovered that it really cuts down on interaction at the table, especially in two-player games. Table talk, joking around, and discussion of the game itself can dry up completely as one person contemplates his move for an unacceptable amount of time. I get the feeling that a “perfect mover” is seeing the game in an entirely different way than I am; he is looking at it not as a chance for two or more people to have fun while competing with each other, but as a sort of brain puzzle that morphs with each turn. I am only serving as a sort of “adversarial intelligence,” an intellect that is presenting the perfect mover with various challenges.

To illustrate this a bit more fully, I’ll tell a quick story from the WBC. I played a war game against an highly skilled opponent. After a few turns, it became clear that I was no match for him, and he could have quickly crushed me while losing a few units. However, wishing to play a “perfect” game, he took no risks at all, and instead moved so deliberately that the game dragged on for four or five more turns than it should have. A game that could have ended in 90 minutes took three hours to complete. This is one of my favorite games in my collection, and yet this particular session felt like a trip to the dentist.

Playing a board game is an experience that offers us three things: a chance to hang out with other people, compete in a friendly manner, and get better at the game itself. However, analyzing a situation to death usually allows one to get better at a game at the cost of the other two, social interaction and friendly competition. I think that play-by-email (PBEM) play can help those who have the “perfect move” style, because more time elapses between turns. If you’re reading this, and you know you fit into the “perfect mover” category, try something new: take a few risks! You may find your enjoyment of the game increases greatly as you make a risky move which turns into a brilliant maneuver or concentrate more on the conversation that goes on around the table. If all we are looking for as gamers is a challenge, we can always go pick up a single player video game. Let’s not spoil the fun of board games by ignoring the other people around the table for the sake of the “perfect game!”

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7 Responses to “The Perfect Move”

  1. Bobby says:

    You’d enjoy the book I’m reading right now: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. It describes some of the reasons this happens.

  2. Dad says:

    Research shows that expert human chess players rely on pattern recognition. In other words, they don’t evaluate thousands of positions in detail. Chess-playing computer programs, on the other hand, rely on massive look-ahead decision trees. The “perfect movers” would seem to be playing like machines. It could be that, since the vast majority of boardgames have not been analyzed like chess has, that pattern-recognition plays less of a role.

  3. Eric says:

    The question of what speed of play is acceptable is a hard one to answer. It’s actually a bit easier at WBC, where there are defined time slots for each game. In Princes of Florence, which is scheduled in a 120-minute time slot, each player should take no more than 24 minutes to take all of his or her actions.

    I am a very fast Lost Cities player; if I played myself the game (3 hands) would be over in 20 minutes, even if I’m trying to play my best. Other people take a lot longer; it took about 5 hours to complete the 5 single elimination rounds in the Lost Cities tournament (the game formally has 1-hour time slots.) This seems like an eternity to me, but on the other hand, many people have less experience and I don’t see what basis I have to condemn their longer play time.

    I’m not sure chattiness is directly correlated to speed of play. I’ve played slow players who are slow because they want to have conversations about everything under the sun during the game—they are very different than the type you’re talking about, but they take just as long.

    • Russ says:

      The one thing I ran into at the WBC were the people who played the games frequently, but through email. They were great players, but they were used to being able to think about a turn for as long as needed before committing to an action. For someone like me who only plays face-to-face and likes quick turns, this was agonizing.

      It makes me wonder if tournament games should have rules that support the use of chess clocks. This way the games always end on time and no one can be overly slow.

  4. Eric says:

    There is at least one tournament that uses chess clocks. Victory in the Pacific is a large, successful tournament that does this. Some people are extremely apprehensive about playing in this format, but most of them find it works well once they try it.

    The trick is that most people don’t own chess clocks, so if the GM wants to use them, he or she will have to make a significant investment in purchasing clocks. The VITP tournament benefits from such an investment, but it may be impractical for less-well-established tournaments.

  5. Bob says:

    How are the chess clocks used in a wargame? Are you losing time only during the move, or does combat resolution count against your time as well?

  6. Bob says:

    Bob, the clocks are used with each side having time off their clock during their move and/or during combat rolls or return to basing. If you want to go the bathroom (for example) you can do it on opponent’s clock (while he’s moving) and hope to be back in time, if not he flips the clock and now it’s on your time…each side has a designated “amount of time” for the game – use it how you want – if quick player (like me) you usually end up with plenty of time. The down side is that when clock runs out on your side, you pretty much lost the game as you are not allowed to TOUCH pieces or dice so opponent, if he has time left can do all combat rolls, movements for his side and the “out of time” side loses all combat rolls and all ships are sunk if at sea (can’t sail if in port). THIS has greatly improved play for this game since the IJN player (normally takes time at the beginning and USN player takes time at the end but if you had an IJN player that spent alot of time early on (without clocks) the USN player was rushed since the GM would have to adjudicate the game when time ran out- NOT pleasant for either side….

    YES,slow play should be for PMEM games – and even there, GM’s should still have a time limit (some GM’s will penalize a player if they don’t finish in time THEIR slow play (or e-mailings) can be proven.

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