The Jaded Gamer

Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.

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What makes us want to keep buying games? Part 3, The Grass Is Always Greener & Fear Of Missing Out

Alec Chapman
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Another in my series of "Alec going cold turkey" posts, where I rationalise my rejection of new game buying as a sensible and necessary thing. Either that, or you can just accept that I am still trying to promote informed and rational purchasing decisions. Either way, read on...

As a child I recall always thinking that everyone was having a better time than me. Perhaps you feel the same way as an adult - that everyone else is having a whale of a time while you agonise over every little moment you spend not doing "normal" things like the dishes or alphabetising your underwear.

Of course, the concept of "normal" is as much a myth as that one about Zeus turning into a bull and impregnating a woman in a field (which is probably the worst denial of infidelity I have ever heard). Experience has taught me that everybody on the planet feels this way. Take your morning commute - I imagine everybody in the world looks at their fellow commuters and thinks about what mindless sheep they appear to be, never realising they appear exactly the same way to others...

Anyway, that's by the by. "The grass is always greener" is an expression of the idea that if we can just get "over there" we will have reached some kind of nirvana where all is wonderful and we will, finally, be content.

Of course, we never will. Shortly after arriving in the greener pastures over the bridge where the troll lived (I think...) we are likely to start looking at the next field.
And the next.
And the next.

So it is with gaming. The predilection of the gamer to seek greener gaming pastures is well established in the endless refinements of theme and mechanics (or more accurately, "mechanisms") that represent the half steps forward the majority of designers seem to take.

If I may be so bold as to describe the process in such basic terms as these (and why would I stop now?) it is easy to see the feedback loop inherent in this thought process.

10 Enjoy game
20 Explore Game
30 See personally defined areas for improvement
40 Hear of new similar game coming out that may fix the problems you see
50 Buy New Game
60 GOTO 10

Now, you may be right in your assessment of the game's shortcomings - especially if you remember that preference is different from facts - but it is equally likely that any game solving those problems will throw up issues of its own.

In combination with the other reasons for picking up a new game in my earlier posts on the subject, this wanderlust is devastatingly powerful in causing a continual purchase, reject, purchase cycle - with the desire to avoid embarrassment leading us to rationalise the cycle in many ways.

The real reasons are probably less rational. If you like reading rulebooks, why buy the game? If you enjoy playing games, why is it always necessary to buy the game? If you like a game you own, why buy one that is pretty similar?

Oh, I know - we're afraid of missing out.

Think about it - "I love this game, but what if that other one is even better? I'll be missing out if I don't try it". Oh good, suddenly I'm an idiot for NOT being irrational. "The Grass is always greener" always seems to trump "A bird in the hand".

But, really, what is so awful about playing a game that is "almost perfect" forever? When you make the decision to buy the next game in the chain is the difference in enjoyment really going to be defined by anything more than mere novelty? Can the novelty of new game components in a similar design (I'm looking at you worker placement games!) trump the novelty of a further game of the old version?

Have games become so predictable and scripted that in order to achieve variety we have to buy a whole new one? Goodness knows, I hope not.

Perhaps it is more unusual than I think for people to sit down at a table with a group of people who already know the rules to a game and play. I can highly recommend it. I am always fighting for more appreciation of the fact that learning the rules to a game is not the same thing as learning to play a game. When someone rejects a game of any kind after just a couple of plays it is a (admittedly) minor tragedy - all that work creating a game that could be played many times, wasted, in favour of an endless hunt for impossible perfection.

I guess there must be people who have sat down for a game of Tichu, or Go and given up on the system as "dependent on the cards you get dealt - like the game is playing me" in the former case, or "too dry and complicated" in the latter. Taking two of the finest games ever designed and playing them a couple of times before moving on is a more than minor tragedy. The opportunity cost of not exploring them in full is, for me, far higher than the nebulous opportunity cost of maybe missing out on a slightly better refinement of the system, one that is better suited while not necessarily a better design.. though I would challenge anyone to come up with a better refinement of design than Go, though I do admit it is not to everyone's tastes.

In conclusion, then, I remind the reader to think every purchase through. It is not always wrong to buy games - that's definitely not my position - but it is wrong to buy games (or anything) without a decent reason. If your reason is really a search for impossible perfection, born out of a fear of missing out on it if it is there (and you will know if this is the case) wait a day or so before buying. Play a favourite game again - you may change your mind.
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Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:40 am
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My Pet Hates #3, Game Spoiling Whiners

Alec Chapman
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In hindsight, I should have posted pet hates #2 and #3 at the same time, to save confusion about my point of view.

Basically, the whole Kingmaking issue became a popular complaint as the result of a few losing players adopting the position of game spoiler, which is just a less obvious version of the childish practice of board flipping.

These people have caused a bigger problem, namely the mistrust of seemingly unmotivated moves favourable to the eventual winner, which fogs the issue. Of course, it has become such a prevalent complaint because of other poor losers, but that's a matter for my last post.

Basically, I play games to have fun. Listening to people whine and moan is not fun.

Note: In negotiation games, whining is a time honoured tactic and it is reasonable to employ it. Unfortunately for me I keep getting caught whenever I try and mope convincingly!

So what are your experiences of sore losers?
As a child I was an appalling loser. Often resorting to the tantrum and fight approach so popular with kids after a Christmas game of monopoly (now I only cry and punch people when they suggest Monopoly)
I've already said the worst ones I've seen as an adult accuse another player of being the reason for their defeat out of malice or favouritism. Others insisted on running back through the game picking out every moment when they would have acted differently.
I've also been at the table with people who complain incessantly and without any openness to persuasion about how they never stood a chance due to bad design, usually after their first play of something (see Pet Hate #1).

Add your experiences in the comments section since I have probably been relatively lucky.

Nobody likes to lose, but it may be time for an important reality check from one gamer to another...

Games do not, on the whole, matter.

Far from being a criticism of games or their players I would actually say that this is the very best thing about them. If you are getting upset about losing a game, it's probably because you have forgotten this most basic of facts about the hobby.

Friendly competition may be one thing and you may take part in gaming tournaments, but like many competitive activities it is very easy to get swallowed up in the feeling that the outcomes are crucially important to your self-image or external image.

True Fact: It is not whether you won the game that determines how other gamers see you. It's how you played the game.

Winning is pretty incidental to me in games. It happens sometimes and it feels pretty good, especially if my plans all worked out, but it is important in these situations to acknowledge and be thankful to your fellow player(s). If you don't you're an ass.

This is equally true if you lose. It's just more difficult to be magnanimous in defeat, especially if you feel hard done by.

There are two groups of game losers for me
Group A: People who almost won.
Group B: People who didn't almost win.

Those who tend to shout "kingmaker" are from group A. It is probably harsher on Group A to lose than the rest, because of that tantalising feeling of near victory...

John Cleese (Clockwise) wrote:
I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand.
And to all potential game destroying folk, those of the mindset of "well, I can't win any more so I'm just going to act in as annoying a way as possible" - you're not helping anyone, least of all yourself. Remember when you had trouble finding opponents? Want to go through that again? STOP BEING A CHILD.

How do I square this with my view on Kingmaking? Simple. It's not a requirement of gaming that you act in a polite and considerate way. It's a requirement of being a decent human being. If you are the sort of player who favours one opponent over another for no reason you are probably deficient in many other ways. Compete to avoid last place or something. If the vistor is collateral damage in that then fine, you were true to yourself and how you wanted to play the game. Don't change your approach just to be an ass.

Of course, it could be that you have perfectly understandable metagame reasons for favouring someone or disliking someone. As long as you are true to yourself, we should all know that metagaming is real and valid. If Martin screwed me over in the last game of Cosmic, I am more likely to expect he will in the next - making me less likely to trust him and favour his defeat. A face to face board game does not take place in a locked box and under anonymous conditions. That's what internet gaming is for!

So, in conclusion, here's the thing:

Whether you lost by one point or by twenty, by fair means or foul, your own mistakes or someone else's - there's only one thing you need to repeat to yourself in order that you might keep it in perspective:

Games do not, on the whole, matter.
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Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:50 am
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My Pet Hates #2 - "King Maker!", the favourite complaint of the poor loser.

Alec Chapman
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One of the great things about having a Blog is that you can concentrate on the things that you actually care about. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has thumbed my recent posts (especially those who did so despite disagreeing with my opinion) as it gives me encouragement to keep on with them.

Today, let's look at another phenomenon that makes my blood boil.

Let's be clear, to start with, what I am annoyed about. I am not angry about people who determine the outcome of games when they cannot win. I am annoyed by people who insist on making this a big deal - accusing the crucial move as "king making".

Firstly, and to avoid being disingenuous, the phenomenon the accusation relates to definitely exists.

Of course, all this represents is a single instance of a truism: the play of non-winners also affects the overall outcome of the game. This would seem self evident to me but as we shall see, many people seemingly do not understand how games work - leading to the epithet that annoys me.

So let's be very, very clear.

The accusation of "King Making" is never, in my experience, used to describe what actually happens in games. It is used as a complaint, translated as "I/Player X would have won if you hadn't done that, how dare you do that".

BGGers have come up with a few ways for the players who cannot win to avoid being a "kingmaker" and choosing the winner (e.g. as long as you are gaining more points, etc) - but I say that's misdiagnosing the problem and the REAL issue is not with the "kingmaker" but the accuser.

Basically what the call amounts to is an abdication of player responsibility.

So let me be unequivocal for a moment - If you're in the position where another player can choose whether you win or lose, it's your fault*.

I am required by the demands of reason to say that you can't necessarily have avoided it in all cases it by simply playing better, maybe you did almost everything right, but the fact your victory is not in your hands is down to what you did in combination with the plays you allowed the other players to make.**

Let's take the extreme case where you did everything right as the toughest test of my point of view. All it takes is for somebody else to do everything right as well for you to be in a potentially low control position.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
As an aside many modern (style) multiplayer games make it very possible for everyone to play well and reach similar scores without bashing each other through the use of different "paths to victory". It is not hard to believe two players can play a game equally well, but in different ways, thus leading to a low control situation.


So what happens in a "kingmaking" situation? Well, let's look at the options:
a. Player C performs an action that benefits Player A
b. Player C performs an action that benefits Player B
c. Player C performs an action that benefits Player C
d. Player C performs no action.

The important thing that we need to remember is that NONE of these exist in isolation. Unless the game is very, very low interaction - where Kingmaking wouldn't be an issue anyway - anything you do OR the choice to not do anything (if available) has an effect of some kind. Player C doing nothing can be just as influential as Player C benefiting player A. By NOT benefiting Player A, Player C indirectly assists Player B, etc etc.

Even more importantly than that - everything you have done FOR THE ENTIRE GAME has had an effect on the current situation. in the three player set up above, the four options available could have taken place at any time. An identical action two turns earlier probably received no comment and may be the actual determiner of victor in some cases - even where the accusation of king making is not made at all.

Now, I am not denying that some people attack one potential winner just to be assholes.
(Often this person is used to this style of play and if they have a regular opponent in the mix it's probably that person who got it in the neck.)

I am saying that anyone who wants, purely because they couldn't get a big enough lead by the last turn, to alter the way someone else plays and accuse them of being somehow a bad person if they don't agree is just as big an asshole.***

Spoiler (click to reveal)
(To the player in the kingmaking position I would say this: be true to yourself, don't be vindictive, remember that you may want to play with these people again. But it is YOUR decision. Ignore the haters.)


The winner of any game is determined by a sequence of decisions made by each player for an entire game, not by the final action of the player coming in third, fourth or lower. Grow up and accept it.


Here endeth the lesson.




* I tried to think of something less mean than "it's your fault", but everything I thought of involved too many words. basically, it is down to your play.
** Of course, it's important to remember in that case that maybe you missed an opportunity to play suboptimally, but damage your opponent(s) more than this suboptimal play damaged you, but hey, whatevs.
*** As it happens I don't think either is a particularly BIG asshole in the scale of Saint to Saville, but you get my point. People in glass houses shouldn't get naked, etc etc (I think that's the saying? ).
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Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:59 am
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My Pet Hates #1 - Single Play Strategists

Alec Chapman
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Gawd bless the genii at xkcd:

External image


This reminds me of one of my all time major pet hates in the board gaming hobby.

If a game is not fun, I'm quite happy for people to make their conclusions about that game after a single play, after all your gaming time is precious and I'm not some crazy self flagellation proponent!

One thing that makes me absolutely livid, however, is the habit people have of assuming their first play experience (or limited experience, in the case of games like Chess and Go) is enough to sum up the game's strategic merits and shortcomings.

Often these arise, as in the cartoon, from a justification of failure to win. There is a point after the game where a chat about how you felt the game was is enjoyable - but don't assume that just because your strategies didn't work in the game you just played...

a. The strategy you tried will never work
therefore...
b. the game is fundamentally flawed

After all, while you may have the wrong end of the stick, part of the journey with any new game is to find these things out. The world is full of people parroting the old adages about a game being "broken" or "the <insert wooden cube type here> strategy is overpowered".

If I haven't played the game multiple times, I'll try(!) not to fall into this trap. Rather than the above explanation for the failure of your naive strategy, I would tentatively submit these, more reasonable explanations:

a. You chose an inefficient or substandard strategy
or...
b. You played a good strategy but at a substandard level.
or...
c. Your strategy is good in combination with another one, but you missed the connection
or, simply...
d. you took a chance and it didn't pay off

None of these alternatives is embarrassing. After all, you are just getting to know the game and different people do this at different rates.

There's an old truism in gaming that "when both players are of equal skill, the winner is determined by luck or first player advantage" and since this may be everyone's first game, skill levels should lead to far more luck determined outcomes than skill.

For example: my experience with Twilight Struggle has been an increase in streaky luck as we enter the late war, simply because we do not know the cards as well. This means that relative skill is closer and luck takes more of a hand.

Perhaps a judgement of the game's strategic shortcomings are a misguided attempt to explain bad luck? The motivation for this? Good old childhood entrenched embarrassment avoidance! (see preachy earlier posts)
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Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:12 am
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What makes us want to keep buying games? Part 2, Childhood Influence

Alec Chapman
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Hi! This post got away from me a bit, so I am posting what I have done so far and will continue with the rest tomorrow...

Anyhoo, i received the following interesting response from a reader of an earlier post.

August222 wrote:
Your analysis does not address the childhood triggers that many of us have lodged in our brains. My non-gamer wife even has it--she gets a glow if you mention Chutes and Ladders or Candyland. I think our childhood fears and desires are a big part of the collection drive. What are your thoughts on the origin(s) of the drive to create and withstand collections of unplayed games?
I thought this would be an interesting thing to think and write about, so here you go: Read more »
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Thu Nov 22, 2012 12:44 pm
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All purpose blog disclaimer

Alec Chapman
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Disclaimer: It's disappointing to have to write one, but the odd person is taking this personally. Like many people born post-1900 I tend to use "you" in place of the more correct "one". Don't assume I am getting at you personally when I am clearly being general.
I am not trying to come into your life and snatch your wallet away, but to recommend some ways of thinking about game purchasing that I have hard earned, which may or may not be helpful. I do not believe it is possible to argue that "think before you buy" is controversial advice - all I am doing is developing from and explaining the reason for, that simple message.

and a rather crucial quote from myself

Quote:
"There's nothing inherently wrong with buying more games. My position is that in some cases, there is self reinforcing feedback loop of irrational impulse buying in the hobby. So long as you have a genuine reason for the purchase and your copy will get played a number of times you believe is reasonable, I can't think of any sane objection."
The crucial point in my position is that whenever you decide whether to make a purchase, you should ensure that you have a rational reason for making it.

Important note: The fact there is no rational argument against something is not an argument in its favour.

Anyway, move along, nothing else to see here.
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Thu Nov 22, 2012 12:41 pm
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What makes us want to keep buying games? Part 1, My Excuse.

Alec Chapman
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I continue in this vein at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, but people keep raising interesting questions. Take this one:

August222 wrote:
What are your thoughts on the origin(s) of the drive to create and withstand collections of unplayed games?
It is important to note that while I will extrapolate a lot from limited data to make my opinions clear, I will endeavour to do so logically and bear in mind the different points of view

Spoiler (click to reveal)
(you have to say that)


So, a little biography is probably helpful.
i was something of a Games Workshop type when I was in my early teens. My brothers and I played a lot of their boxed games (Blood Bowl (Second Edition);Blood Royale; The Fury of Dracula) as well as some very remedial games of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.
The thing that made me give it all up in my mid teens?
GIRLS.

So we can fast forward to university and my well played copy of Talisman and, slightly later, Knizia's The Lord of the Rings but at this time I was working in the Canterbury branch of Electronics Boutique (later, GAME) and therefore was spending most of my time with computer games.

And so it remained until I had a major breakdown in 2006. While it's important to know that this happened, don't worry - the focus of this article is not on my personal problems!

One Christmas I decided it would be quite fun to buy the family a game. That game turned out to be Carcassonne bought from Amazon for my family to play while I was at my in-laws and consequently not with mum, dad and my brothers. While I was searching I came across hundreds of games I had never encountered - I think one of the reviews on one of these games mentioned BGG, and it was because of this search that I picked up a copy of Settlers Of Catan from Hamleys (!) when they still stocked such things.

Anyway, as anyone who has ever been suicidal will probably tell you, other people are, as company and/or support, crucial to your eventual recovery. Computer games simply do not work in this regard. Even glorified chat rooms like World Of Warcraft (somewhere in their server is a copy of a level 73 tank called Algo...) do not substitute for actual people.

While talking to my therapist I mentioned these face to face games as an alternative to the lone gaming i was doing to fill my days in between chucking CVs into a big pit marked "recession". We agreed that it was healthier than computer gaming in my home like a hi tech hermit. I plucked up the courage to start going to a board game club called Swiggers just south of the river in London. At this club amongst other very kind and welcoming folks I met Paul, aka sorp222, who very kindly gave me a bit of work writing copy for his online shop and preparing orders etc, which was invaluable since i had been unemployed for a while at that point and needed the occupation of my mind. He also reimbursed me by giving me a copy of Cosmic Encounter and, later, Duel Of Ages - which are two of my favourite games in the universe. Cheers again, buddy!

Later I moved, knowing Paul was the organiser (who has since passed on the baton to Martin), to a different, slightly more casual club known as London On Board, which I am reliably informed is now the largest board gaming club in England - by membership numbers at least - though if they all turned up to one meeting we'd be in big trouble!

It is in contact with gamers in person and on BGG from 2006 that my spending on games started to increase exponentially. I started to learn about games I had never heard of, outlandish play "mechanics" and "systems". All the talk was about how you "need to own these and play them"; "introduce your friends to the hobby"; "if you like that, you'll love this"; "it won the spiel des jahres"; "you like spaceships"; "it's got a pretty box"; "you've only got a limited window to buy it in" etc etc etc.

Of course, I was really just chasing the transient thrill of purchase, replacing one form of dependence for another. I used to go to Playin' Games (now closed) up on Museum Street and pore over box backs - finding games that I really wanted to play, rarely thinking about whether I would actually find people willing to play them (usually deluding myself that I could persuade my wife if all else failed). Every time I entered the shop I bought something, until I finally left my job following a long signed off period in Early 2008 and couldn't afford to spend this money any more. From a Pirates Of The Spanish Main booster (£2.99) to a glass stones Go Set (£80.00), I just had to leave with something - the disappointment of being without the feeling of a purchase was too much.

So in my case the bulk purchasing of unwanted games was caused by a psychological need to feel something positive. I'm not particularly proud of the amount of money I spent at the time on unnecessary cardboard, but being honest with myself it was never really about the games or the little pirate ships. It was probably therefore more acute in me than in many large collection owners.

This has dulled over time with experience and the realisation/opinion being reached that the differences between games are far smaller than we like to pretend.

Obviously, even more so if you have read the rest of my blog, I have come to actively avoid purchasing games for myself and distrust the instinct to do so. I have come to the conclusion, even more firmly now than when I first proposed these restrictions, that 10 games you love are enough to fill your time for tens of plays, if not hundreds.

In the next post on this subject, i will try and assess several possible reasons why I think other people get caught in a cycle of purchasing.
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Wed Nov 21, 2012 12:08 am
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"There's no point owning games you are never going to play" - How to inoculate your collection against Shelf Fungus.

Alec Chapman
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NB: This refers in part to my last post. Because I haven't quite got the hang of the url tag yet, I'll just post the whole link
http://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/14766/how-i-live-without-b...

Hello again.

In my last blog post, on "How I live without buying games" I made a list of how my thought process has changed and what I believe. This post struck a chord with some, a nerve with others, so I wanted to expand on one of the points there. Here, for your convenience, is that point again.

an overopinionated egomaniac wrote:
3. There's no point in owning games if you're not going to play them.
This is both crucial and controversial. I make an exception therefore for serious collectors - especially if they are genuinely making investments. But for the rest of us, buying a game you loved the only time you played it when there's no real chance of realistically getting either enough people or enough time to play it again is insane. Likewise, if you bought a copy of a game and it sits on your shelf unplayed for years - you wasted your money plain and simple. The opportunity cost is a different game you may have enjoyed or even ( surprise ) something outside the hobby you could have done. The fact that you "may play it in the future" merely begs the question why you bought it now! And don't give me the "it may go out of print" thing - Cadbury's don't make Spiras* any more. I survived. You can too.
I can understand there are several reasons why people may have games in their collection that are not getting played. I fancy addressing a bunch of these in this post, to clarify my position on this subject by responding to as many possible counter arguments before they turn up in the comments and also to just check whether I actually do believe that there is no point to owning unplayed games.

Before I do so, I want to put the comment in context. My previous post was all about a useful mindset for stopping ourselves obtaining unplayed games at the purchasing stage, before we've dropped the cash on it and turned it into an esoteric choice of paperweight (or, as I know them, Shelf Fungus). I was not exhorting people to clear out their collections of dead wood. For many this is too much of a wrench (for me in the case of one game) but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

So, my original point in this context was that one should bear in mind that buying a game that you realise will sit unplayed on your shelf for years until you finally trade it or (shudder) bin it is an avoidable mistake. Avoidable by just taking a few minutes to think about your decision before hitting "buy it now" or handing over your debit card.

With this in mind, let's get a crucial response to this thought process out of the way before we get onto the difficult ones...

"I believe this game will get played. If it doesn't I will be surprised"

OK, good place to start is with the most excusable thing - an error. Things happen, friends move away, you fall out, you didn't realise that they have a phobia of Mediterranean Merchants etc etc. There is a difference between a delusion and an error. This is the latter and therefore of course you are excused. Always bear in mind that it is far easier to avoid shame by falsely justifying poor purchasing decisions in hindsight. Make sure you are being honest to yourself and if this is the tenth time you've made this error, you need to talk to your likely co-players more and actually, you know, find out something about them.

and now, onto the more difficult propositions...

"I really want to play this game and I believe I can persuade other people to try it"

Now we're approaching the danger zone. If your friends and gamers are nice people and you are enthusiastic, selling the game well, I am sure they will play any game you recommend once. However, if you purchase anything but a solo game with just yourself in mind, you are setting yourself up for ownership of many games that have been played once or twice that you may absolutely adore, but nobody will play again. Classic shelf fungus. In my case, btw, the main example is Supernova, but virtually every mistake I have made falls into this category. As I said in my last post, you need to think about the people you intend to play the game with, not just yourself.

"I really want to play this game. I don't know anyone who will want to play it now, but they may in the future"
Uh Oh. We're heading into irrational territory and some that I have trod from time to time. We're not quite there because it's totally possible that you will find others who want to play. Especially if you are in a gaming group of a large size, but why make the purchase now? Look at it this way, is there much else you buy, just in case they stop making them? My wife and I are not planning to have children soon, but if we see a cot we like should we buy it now on the off chance they stop making it? Of course not, that's ridiculous (and can't be a straw man since I'm arguing against myself!). FWIW, here is where my beloved, cobweb strewn copy of Twilight Imperium: Third Edition lives (it's still been played 4 times, but clearly that's not many for the investment).

"But what if it goes out of print? I'll feel dumb for not buying it when I had the chance."

Look, I get it - you're worried you'll never get the chance again, but look at Merchant Of Venus, or Up Front. These things do come back and, if you really want, you can almost certainly get it in a few months time even assuming that the company pressuring you with their limited editions and promos are on the level with the small print run promise. Even if they aren't and the game doesn't come out again - your life will not be significantly worse. I promise.
True, I can't get Warhammer Quest for a reasonable price any more and regret selling it to a friend a decade ago (for the painting work I did on the miniatures, mainly) but since trying Descent and Descent 2.0, I'm not of the mind that I will never have such thrills again! There is more to life than a copy of Extrablatt or Full Metal Planete. There are many games one could play instead and, shock horror, many of them are better. surprise

"The geek says this game is in the top ten. I should own the top ten games because they're obviously the best"

I'll quote myself again here:
"Remember the BGG top 100 is not a buyers guide. It is an aggregation of the top 100 outcomes of a weighted score representing separate subjectivities based on an ill defined pseudo-linear scale. It is almost useless as a guide to what your favourite game will be."

To expand - BGG is a site with many thousands of games and users. I am almost certain that not one user on this site has the same tastes as you. With that in mind, it's obvious that the weighted average rating of a few thousand (or hundred) users who don't like the same things as you is of limited use. Certainly the top ten contains games I admire and love, but up until recently included a Dominion set, when I despise Dominion. You'd be forgiven a couple of years ago for, on BBG's evidence alone, thinking Dominion was the greatest thing to happen to gaming ever. I picked up a copy for this reason and didn't like it, trading it almost immediately. A lesson that cost you £30 is not one you should ignore, and I would like to save you that £30. Do more research. Talk with the people with whom you are likely to play the game. Make a choice informed by more than chart position (cf: the 'music' of Cheryl Cole).

"I want this game because I only own two other games"

This is not a reason to buy anything. I only own one TV. There is no need to base my decision on buying a new TV on what I already have, but rather there is every reason to consider what I need. You should do the same. It is likely that you have been indoctrinated by other gamers you meet either in person or on site (unintentionally I might add) into the idea that to be a gamer you must also be a collector. Not true. Ask a Chess Grandmaster.

The implication is also that this advice is somehow an attempt to deny people the experiences that i have had. I do no such thing, all I want to do is sound a note of caution (and save you the roughly £500 I wasted making avoidable errors)

"I want this game because I am collecting games by this designer / with this mechanic / with cute imp models etc"

Collecting is a different hobby from gaming, so I am not going to make judgements on that one.

I think the question that arises is more importantly whether you understand the nature of your hobby. Gaming and collecting games are not the same hobby. You may do both, but they are not intrinsically linked.

For me, I'm a games player, not a game owner. I own games, but that's like owning climbing equipment - I need them to do the hobby, but I wouldn't describe myself as a "crampon collector" or an "ice pick collector". I own a lot of DVDs, but that doesn't make me a DVD collector. I hope this makes sense.
I like watching movies and playing games. I HAVE to wear clothes for, ahem, practical reasons. The obtaining of the materials for all of these things facilitates them - it is not necessarily a hobby.

Final word on this - BGG has many functions, one of which is mutual reassurance. I've read countless justifications of purchases on this site; people reinforcing how right you are to buy more and more games is one of the major themes here. While my dissenting voice is not particularly important I think it is worth pointing out this feedback loop.

10. You consider buying a game that appeals to you.
20. BGG user previews says you should own it, because of theme/designer/mechanics/rarity etc.
30. You buy it, gaining a lovely and fleeting thrill of purchase.
40. Buyers Remorse once expectations not met (hint: they rarely are in their entirety).
50. BGG users soothe the remorse by reinforcing the purchasers 'wisdom' in buying a new game, as users all have a stake in convincing each other they did not make a mistake.
60. Buyer gets craving for same purchasing thrill now long past.
70. BGG users laud large collections, recasting this feeling as "new hotness" and mutual hunt for perfection or constant rulebook wanderlust.
80. Goto 10

This is a perfectly normal purchasing cycle, but all I am trying to do is help you to see it happening. Groupthink doesn't just happen around the table.

"Everybody at the games group always wants to play new games"

I hear you and I've been there, believe me. Make the other folks buy the games if they want to play them. Play with them if they want opponents. Job done.

Only exception is if you think you'd rather play ANY game than no game. This is balls. It's a big world with too many options in it to waste your time playing crappy games in which you are completely disinterested. If I'm playing games the only time I will play a game I am not excited by is if my favourite opponents invite me. As I said in my last post - "people are more important than games".

"I'm a collector investing in games that will hold their value or even rise in value for resale/trade later providing me with an advantage for future collecting."

It's not my thing, but each to their own. Enjoy.

I'm sure there are many more objections, but if you are a player of games rather than a pseudo-collector, yet you have been sucked into being the latter through excitement or the warm embrace of the BGG community (fortunately we're all wearing deodorant today) I hope that maybe, in some small ways I am encouraging you to think it over before your next purchase.
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Mon Nov 19, 2012 5:56 am
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How I live without buying games.

Alec Chapman
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Since the start of this little challenge, back in February of this year, the only new game bits and bobs added to my collection are a copy of Twilight Struggle (traded F2F for an old copy of Tannhauser), Cosmic Alliance (traded F2F for Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers) and Power Grid: The Robots (a birthday gift).

All around this site and at the recent get together in Eastbourne I saw piles of games. Games I didn't own, games I wanted and games I would until recently have immediately bought. But I didn't. I have been game purchase clean for months.

How has this affected my views as a gamer? Well, I was already naturally suspicious of the Cult Of The New and this has obviously not changed. I think if it has done anything to me it has made me more and more certain that I didn't really need any of these games my old instincts were pushing me to grab.

Let's look at one I always wanted, like Dungeon Lords - I am glad to have played it and will be happy to play again in the future, but I got no pangs to purchase it on the spot like I used to. I am instead happy to only obtain new games or expansions when given them. Unlike my birthday in August where I decided to leave games off the menu entirely - getting Power grid: The Robots almost by accident - I have decided to put together a wishlist for Christmas presents that should help my family out when choosing something, should they wish.

I have asked for some things that I fancy getting, like Merchant Of Venus, Hanabi, Dixit - but for the first time I am not really bothered if I don't get them. I think this is a good and better place to be at.

It has got me thinking again about the transient joy of purchasing that informs a lot of the snap decisions to buy games I have seen. One play in and often you will hear someone say "I have to own this game". Clearly the intention is to express a belief that they need this game to be available at all times for, I don't know, sudden visits of board game fans at two in the morning or something.

I intend no sweeping negative moral judgement about people who buy on a whim. They are the ones keeping the industry going after all, especially since the moment I stopped holding up my end! I just think a little Lois Griffin sense is required i.e. "you can have it but only if you count to five and still want it". I have been there and perhaps it is part of the evolution of any hobbyist - that initial splurge of having to try everything and the addiction to punching counters out of cardboard frames and the smell of a freshly unboxed game, hearing the spine on the rulebook give way for the first time...

Oh dear, I'm getting the urge to get a new game again!

So, what's my advice to people who may be feeling their buying getting out of control? What did I learn from the massive box of flimsy thin plastic pirate ships; an £80 Go set; the £120 of Twilight Imperium I never play? Let's see if I can at least point people in the right direction. These aren't rules, they're opinions, but since it is a small voice in a sea of "new hotness" I guess I'll be honest about what I think.

1. You don't have to own a game to get to play it.
I often feel gaming groups (of any size) need to set up a collection sharing system for gamers to get access to all the games they want to play together without everyone buying their own copy. If you are the supplier of all games to your group I can understand you buying every new game, but even if there are only two of you, you should be able to arrange for one to own half and the other to own the other half.

2. Do your research, especially re Longevity.
As I have discovered with things like Tobago, a fun first play does not a great game make.

3. There's no point in owning games if you're not going to play them.
This is both crucial and controversial. I make an exception therefore for serious collectors - especially if they are genuinely making investments. But for the rest of us, buying a game you loved the only time you played it when there's no real chance of realistically getting either enough people or enough time to play it again is insane. Likewise, if you bought a copy of a game and it sits on your shelf unplayed for years - you wasted your money plain and simple. The opportunity cost is a different game you may have enjoyed or even ( surprise ) something outside the hobby you could have done. The fact that you "may play it in the future" merely begs the question why you bought it now! And don't give me the "it may go out of print" thing - Cadbury's don't make Spiras* any more. I survived. You can too.

4. Don't get two games so similar that you may as well not have bothered.
Look, I know there are differences between Carcassonne and Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, but most people don't really care. BGG is a pocket universe where we often conspire to convince ourselves that a different farm scoring is sufficient to get casual gamers (a huge majority of Carcassonne's target audience) to learn and play a virtually identical game with a bunch of fiddly alterations. In my experience they just ask to play the game they know and not understand why you're being so difficult.

5. Know your group(s)
Right, tricky one. Unless the game is designed for solo play, you are not only buying it for yourself. I know this is annoying when you're the one forking out for it, but try and keep it in mind. My decision to buy BSG was made because I wanted a more complex game to play with my Shadows Over Camelot loving buddies than the Round-table-em-up. Of course, what I should have accepted was that this group loves ...Camelot and doesn't really care about BSG. Indeed, they hadn't even heard of the game. Again, BGG's pocket universe sees a progression, or even a logical graduation from one to the other - those with a more casual approach to the hobby don't give a monkey's nads how clever the design is. The step to BSG was a selfish one born out of a desire to be more "serious" and alienated the single most important part of gaming - the other players. Your friends are more important than your game collection. No exceptions. Don't forget it.

6. Know what you want.
I often feel that BGG users conforming to the Cult Of The New tag seem to be hunting for something. The problem is that they don't know what. They say that it is a desire to explore a new system every week, to enjoy the first stage of exploration in a new land. I don't buy it. In many cases this wanderlust is clearly born out of a dissatisfaction that would be quenched by the perfect set of circumstances - know your goal, stick to it and save tonnes of money. Take up a second hobby and/or get out of the house to do that, spending the vast sum of money you saved on this instead (with me it was art so I can't claim it gets me out of the house!) Of course, if I am wrong and you are a person who feels they genuinely will never get tired of playing a new game every week, I can respect this, but sound a note of caution - I used to be that guy, too. I was fooling myself and it's possible you are too.

7. Accept that you cannot own it all
Just as the perfect game for you probably doesn't exist, the perfect collection does not either. As a collection grows, economies of scale start to emerge. You lose track of things (e.g. I know I own a copy of The Battle For Hill 218, sleeved and baggied, but have no idea where it is), you neglect games for years (I just realised the other day I own Supernova and RAF: Battle Of Britain, for example) etc. If there is no limit set on what you can own, it links to the endless search for and trying of new games - can this hobby ever make you happy, rather than hungry?

8. Have a goal. Stick to it.
Your collection serves a purpose. Know what it is and be true to it.
Mine, in the process of being whittled down, has a purpose of being made up only of games that my regular groups know and enjoy. Only games, therefore, that will be regularly played. It is for this reason I own two crayon rails games (which my wife enjoys) and do not own Die Macher (a 'better' and certainly more geek credible game) - the former gets played. The latter would be shelf fungus.
Likewise, your collection may be aimed towards exploring Rondel Games, or historical periods etc. You may have a few collections with one or more such goal. The (possibly only) purpose that I suggest to you is total baloney is "an attempt to own every type of game under the sun so that if someone asks me, I can say I own it". This should not be a hobby of one upmanship and willy waving. I joined this community to try and get away from that bollocks. Nor should anyone feel they have to provide a one stop shop for their friends. The only time you should be the sole supplier of games to your friends is is you do, in fact, own a shop!
The other thing to avoid is just to grab stuff at random without any thought or purpose. That's how you end up with a collection that never gets played.

So in summary then:

Games are designed to be played, not stored.
They are designed to be played with people.
People are more important than games.

With this in mind it was obvious that my collection contained irrelevancies. Because it is now so much harder for anything to be added to the collection that meets these new, strict criteria, the desire I used to feel to grab everything that caught my attention is gone.

I don't believe this approach would kill the industry if everyone followed it. In fact, I think it could improve it as companies start explaining why a game will get played, rather than telling you why you have to buy it now now NOW!

Now I'm off to break out my just rediscovered copy of Android for a two player game this weekend. If you've also got a game you love but which has got lost at the back of your collection, why not break it out and give it back its purpose?

EDIT: *The Spira was my favourite chocolate bar. Cadbury's had worked out a way (I believe using arcane magic) to twist several long thickish strands of chocolate together but their process left air pockets in the middle, creating a satisfying crunch - especially when eating out of the refrigerated vending machine at school. My point is that when it got cancelled I was disappointed. It turns out they superceded it with the Twirl and, later the Flake Dipped (basically the Twirl but for ladies), which are pretty similar but still different. I guess the arcane magic process by which it was made was too expensive to be justified by the line's performance. This analogy works( ) because in many ways the differences between a Spira and a Twirl are minor - like the difference between Mediterranean trading games. devil
If you're wondering why I know so much about chocolate bars I have two words for you: eighteen stone.
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Fri Nov 16, 2012 2:42 am
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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 5 of 5

Alec Chapman
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Day 4: Journey after journey

It's always a shame to realise that a fun experience is about to come to an end, but important to make the most of things as you do.

Also, I have been working off my Played Games list and the dates associated all through writing these posts - only to realise now, at the end, that I was date accurate - that is to say that some of the plays took place at midnight to 2am on the relevant days, before bed, rather than in the exact order I have described them.

For example, the enormous 7 player game of Cosmic Encounter played on Saturday night - Sunday Morning is logged on Sunday.

As a result, perhaps, of the epic game with the Filth Flare, Poison and the Pygmy I was a little nervy about playing with so many players - finally remembering the four planet variant and all agreed to this lower score target. I drew the Warpish and we had some interesting powers around the table such as Parasite (Ian)and Hate (Martin!) - the latter of who everybody was terrified of but actually got totally nerfed by a cosmic zap and running out of cards to use his power with as a result. This game was probably most notable for Martin's flare that gave him a colony for everyone who lost their power. Since most of the players (including him) were locked together on 3 colonies and needed just one point to win this being a four planet game he could have used this and won when in the final fight Ian used his Parasite ability to jump in with Jon and attempt a cheap victory, losing his power immediately afterwards with only one planet (and, incidentally one ship) remaining.

I know what you're thinking. Easy victory for Martin, right?
Wrong.
Ian slipped his ship onto the cone quietly and without drawing attention to the action - this was in the hope that Jon would not notice and backstab his proposed negotiation partner, Kester, handing Ian a zero effort joint victory. As a result, this quiet action meant that Martin did not spot the move and did not play his card. Only realising his error when Kester and Jon overcame every instinct of the weekend and shook hands on a win. His reaction was... shall we say... not positive (but only in terms of being annoyed with himself!).



I think from now on, with more than five players I will always use the four planets variant. It was just a lot more fun and the stakes rose at a better rate in my opinion.

OK, last thing Saturday night and since this was also the day of Die Macher and Dungeon Lords, I was feeling a bit brain fried. Enter the change of pace and Mah Jong. We used Zung Jung rules, and a seven pair hand made the difference as I came out the winner in a two player, two dummy game (with Martin joining for one hand) with Chris. I can't remember much else about it since I was to all intents and purposes already asleep.

--------------------

After a lie in (I spoiled myself by missing breakfast and spending an extra half hour in bed) we went back over to the venue - we planned to leave mid afternoon, or when Chris thought he wouldn't be able to drive back any later without falling asleep at the wheel, whichever came sooner.

For the second time in two days, my day included a game of Tichu. Despite using a random assignment of partnerships, I ended up paired with Scott again - I can only imagine his disappointment! Chris was once again playing to my right and his partner was Amanda.
This game was very different from Saturday's. Scott and I roared out of the gates with a couple of successful Tichu calls and before long had an enormous (700 point?) lead. In this game I felt I managed to track the points a bit better - up til now I had always just concentrated on my hand and helping my partner rather than the actual points content of the trick. Of course, going out first and/or second is crucially important but I started to get the sense that the destination of the points cards is something you can control. On one occasion I gave up a potential trick win with the dragon to force Chris to take the -25 points associated with the Phoenix (obviously leading him to believe the Dragon was with his partner), only to quickly grab the lead with the dragon shortly after - sending it the other way and concentrating on slowing Amanda down (so we would get the 25 points and leave them with the -25).

Also, I started to play harder on the ones where there were points available and take fewer leading risks with these cards in my hand.
Of course, these are only basic strategies I am sure, but this is one of the aims in my concentration on the 10 games in my list - to improve my understanding of games beyond the veneer of, for example, "just go out as quick as you can". While I am far from adept at manipulating the eventual direction of the tricks' point scoring cards I can see how this could build into one of the more satisfying aspects of the game.

Eventually, despite a quite cracking Grand Tichu call from Amanda in the games latter stages and not because of Chris' failed Grand Tichu on the very next hand (which was only bid because Scott and I were on 965 points) we managed to come out comfortable winners.

Tichu is probably a fantastic example of the frustrations I have had at LoB. With all the new games with shiny components and nested mechanics, it's easy for a superb card game like this to be ignored by many and not taken up by new players or played enough for people to see its true value. Of course, if London On Deck kicks off I may get to play this more and certainly would look to do so.

Once Tichu was done with I was looking about for something to play with this guy -
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Which is easier said than done because while we get on really well, he hates almost every game I love.

Luckily, we found a copy of Tales Of The Arabian Nights, a pseudo-game that includes putting on character voices and a sex change spring. Definitely about the point at which our venndiagrams overlap!

So along with Chris and two others we set about explaining the rules to this mutual pastime (I hesitate to call it a game) to the new players and as is traditional everyone knew the full turn procedure in about five minutes.

If you don't know Tales of The Arabian Nights I will endeavour to explain both the game and why I like it. The game (and I will call it a game from now on as it is a recreational pastime with a competitive element) consists of a lot of cardboard and a great big book known as "The Book Of Tales" that contains everything that can and will happen to your little cardboard stand up figure throughout the play.

Your turn consists of moving to a space on the board and having an "encounter" there determined by a combination of a Card (saying you meet, for example, a Wizard) and matrices in the book of tales, rolling dice to establish an adjective (i.e. rolling will determine whether you meet a "great wizard" or an "evil wizard").

You then use what are almost certainly the best player aids ever designed (ironic given the non-gamey nature of this) to determine your response. Each type of matrix or encounter has a letter assigned to it, which is in turn associated with a set of responses. So, with the Wizard described above you could have options as disparate as "Aid", "Grovel" or "Rob" each leading to a different paragraph in the book of tales.

These paragraphs (and there are many, many of them) describe the outcome of your action. Of course, there is a little bit of translation required to read them out in an engaging way - most of them describe "the other" and you have to translate to "The Evil Wizard", and while you may have chosen to "drink" in response to the Great Storm, rest assured you are more likely to catch some rainwater on your tongue or drink a magic potion than do the literal drinking of an entire storm you may have intended.

Also, doing funny voices for the other characters is mandatory, but seems to have been left out of the rules. whistle

And since the outcomes of the paragraphs depend on things you may or may not possess, on skills you may or may not have learnt etc etc it is an extremely random game - not one for long nights with Wallace auction lovers or strategic minded people. The scoring and win conditions are so absurdly un-gameable as to be beyond any form of strategy.

Just play and have a good time - this is why I like it so much. It doesn't pretend to be more than it is or to deliver a classic gaming experience. It is just plain silly fun and sometimes that's exactly what you need.

My subsequent insistence on playing what I can best describe as a spectacularly incompetent game of Bunny Bunny Moose Moose was probably what signalled the need for us to go home - though I did play a couple of hands of R, which bridged a small gap between deciding to go home and a group finishing with my copy of Bausack.

So as we hit the road, what were my thoughts on the event itself? Obviously the gaming was great. The LoB crowd are a bunch of legends, but with the addition of the massive gaming area available to us at the hotel and the availability of the town of Eastbourne to get away from things (and the beach being just over the road) I think this stands as a truly superb way to spend a long weekend. I heartily recommend it and to any games groups who have never done something of the kind - look into it! I guarantee it will be great fun.

If any of you have managed to get through all of my blog posts, I hope you enjoyed them. Thanks to everyone I gamed with all weekend and to everyone i didn't, I'll be happy to lose to you next time!
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Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:21 am
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