You Ruined My Fun

September 18, 2009

I had just turned off the TV wondering what I was going to do next when my wife asks me, “Want to play Small World?”  I excitedly said, “Of course!”  So we set up the game and she says, “You start.”

I take Bivouacking Ghouls.  The Bivouacking special power serves no purpose here, but ghouls are too good to pass up – especially when I don’t have to pay for them.  She goes for Stout Giants knowing it will allow her a free decline, saving herself a turn.  I go into decline on my second round and she continues to expand.  An even start.

I then take Swamp Skeletons and am able to expand both my races.  She plays the giants once more then puts them in-decline.  She realizes my skeletons are spreading across the board like wild fire.  I’ve taken all the Swamps so I’m  getting lots of coins per turn.  She takes Berserk Elves to wipe out my tokens, but the dice aren’t rolling her way.  After a few unsuccessful turns, she switches to Commando Amazons.  I take significant losses, but it’s too late to make a difference; the undead have ravaged the lands.

I start counting my points.  She says, “You scored more than me every round*, do we need to count them?”  We count anyway; I win 131 to 71.  She says I’ve ruined her fun.  No second match tonight.

My first game of Small World was two weeks ago with John and 3 other newbies.  I instantly liked it.  I’ve been borrowing the game from him for the last couple of weeks.  Most of the games I’ve played since have been 2 player with my wife.  Her hobbies and mine don’t mesh all that well, but we’re competive people and board games give us a pretty equal playing field.

A couple nights after my first game, I teach her how to play.  Our first game is very close, I beat her by a mere 4 or 5 coins.  We play again now that she has the hang of it. After scoring 20 coins in one turn she goes on to beat me by almost 30.  I realize some flaws in my initial strategies.  A few days later we play twice more.  I beat her in both games, both are fairly close in score.

However, as I’ve been playing, I’ve been analyzing my plays, looking at how the different races/powers work in the start or end game.  After these 2p and the notorious 3p match my strategies are sound.  She has been playing more casually: she still maximizes her score each round, but sometimes at a cost on future turns.  The result is the match above.**

What can I do?  I really like playing this game***, but I can’t let her win – she and I both wouldn’t enjoy that.  How do I handicap a game without it seeming like pity?

So far I’ve come up with a couple options:
1. Pick the special power/race combo that seems least strategic.
2. Pick the last combo (costs 5 coins) available each time regardless.
I can still analyze and strategize with what I’m given.

Any other suggestions? Have you found this in other games with your gaming partner(s)?  What have you tried?

*Actually in turn 2 when I put my ghouls in decline I scored 5 to her 6, but who’s counting?
** I was also probably reeling from the night before.  John and three other friends stopped by to game.  My 2p strategies clearly don’t work the same with the larger map and additional races to contend with.  I come in dead last.  A little over 60 points while the other 4 score 80-100+.  There were two lost tribe tokens that lasted most of the game – one until the end.  I think if we had kept track, I may have beaten the lost tribes score…maybe.
*** Hoping Santa brings Small World with the newly announced expansions… if I still have a gaming partner to play this with by then.

“The Perfect Move”

August 24, 2009

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!”