Mnmlst Gmr

Just because I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I have nothing to say.

Prev «  1 , 2 , 3  Next »  

Recommend
64 
 Thumb up
9.55
 tip
 Hide

Ignoreland: Or, Punny Essen Title, like "Cyn-Essen-cism"

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
For whatever reason, people can engage with this hobby, and this site, intensely. Often extremely intensely. It could be the competitive element from the games themselves, it could be that the predilection for collecting surfaces because of the sheer number of titles available and the various ways of subcategorizing them all, it could be that the somewhat innocuous nature of the hobby causes people to let their guards down and treat it as an it's-healthy-for-me overdose of celery, or that the GeekMail and Subscription notifications icons are yet another way for us to get a targeted dopamine hit through technology.

But whatever the reasons, gaming seems to have much higher levels of engagement and burnout than many other hobbies I've been (in some cases, temporarily) obsessed by over the years: backpacking, flyfishing, reading, cooking, woodworking. There is genuine enjoyment to be had, for sure, but it very often comes packaged with bouts of binging and purging of new games, of mega "thin the herd" auctions, of buying the "Offline from BGG For a While" microbadge, of throwing one's hands up and saying "I can't keep up." By itself, "gaming" is no longer the whole hobby, because it requires the sub-hobby of "learning about what games to buy," and I'm convinced this takes a much larger toll on people than we might think. As Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death, comparing George Orwell to Aldous Huxley:

Quote:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
At this point most post-Essen reports have rolled in, Essen Watch GeekLists are being updated as people play their hauls, and the general vibe I'm getting is that there wasn't a single "must have" or "wow" game this year, not like there was in years past where something was hot or innovative, or innovatively hot, hotly innovative, or hot AND innovative. A lot of these reports are coming from people who have several years on me as Serious Gamers, who play more than I do, and who have more coherent thoughts about games and gaming than I do. In other words, if this group can't find many nice things to say, then there's a problem.

I don't recall the name of the theory, but there's a publishing theory that postulates that the quality of your output doesn't really matter if you're serving certain markets (young adult and teen in particular) because the audience replaces itself every 3-5 years; you simply do not have to worry about some kind of Collective Hobbyist Memory working against you causing people to eventually say "hey, wait a minute…" Frankly, I can't help but see parallels in gaming. I'm super-cynical about this stuff (Essen in particular), but I've just started to see a lot of hot Euro games as intended to be little more than pleasant time-killers for a family of four, to be played 3-4 times a year when Junior doesn't have soccer and Juniorette's violin lesson was canceled and, why, we haven't done anything as a family in ages! Pick a game, kids!

I've long since thought that a lot of gamers place demands on the hobby that it a.) cannot deliver, and b.) doesn't want to deliver anyway. I honestly think "replay value" is something few publishers generally care a whole lot about, largely because they have no reason to: the games will sell no matter what, and even if they develop the game with replayability in mind, the number of people who will play it more than just 2 or 3 times is likely tiny. Plus, games that wear out their welcome get replaced.

Anyway, I've been thinking about all this lately, post-Essen, in tandem with how, at any given moment, a large portion of the currently prominent BGG user base is beginning to recycle itself. We don't know it, but they are. Resurrect an old thread from the Settlers of Catan or Caylus forum from 2008 or 2009, click on the profiles from some users in the thread (how many avatars do you recognize?), and count how many are still active. It's usually very few. This is a hobby devoted to using a lot of mental energy (to research a new game, to learn a new game, to learn the strategy, to implement the strategy, to refine the strategy, to research a new game, to learn a new game…) and it just routinely burns people out. Myself included, and I'm not an opinion leader, influential reviewer, or dedicated follower/reporter/advocate of [insert gaming trend here].

I don't know a lot about gaming, I don't know a lot about psychology, and I don't know a lot about addiction. But I know about myself, and I know more than your average person about gaming, psychology, and addiction, enough to know that this hobby regularly eats people alive; there's a hesitancy in my involvement with gaming that is in anticipation of that perceived 3-5 year turnover rate; burnout after a few years? Not me. Not after the amount of money I've sunk into this Hobby Monster. Unfettered access to thousands of games and an enthusiastic user base (ever notice how we only call people "users" when referring to either computers or drugs?) isn't always a good thing. I don't even live in a large city or densely populated area, and two local folks recently decided to up and quit, putting their entire (large) collections up for sale or auction. Many games were never played. I know because I bought a few and had to punch the chits myself. For whatever reason, gamers don't seem to mind (until it's too late) that enthusiasm obviously outpaces the actual amount of free time to engage with the hobby proper.

But rather than be doom and gloom about the end of boardgaming as we know it based in part on a few GeekBuddies' dissatisfaction with Essen games (last year's Essen was pretty strong, what with Eclipse and Mage Knight [or so I'm told--I've never played them] so there's something cyclical at play here), I'd like to be a little speculative. Indulge me.

My father is a big classical/art music buff, and he stopped following new releases in the early 1970s; when I asked him why, he said that the effort to try and triage all the new stuff was overwhelming. And that was before the internet. When I was woodworking regularly, I'd go to farmer's markets and outdoor shows and talk to the guys selling furniture and cutting boards. Inevitably, one of the two major forums (Woodnet and Sawmill Creek) would come up during conversation. "I don't read them, man. I'd rather build," was the one reply I remember verbatim. My Uncle is a wonderful organ player, piano player, and harpsichord player (and builder!); he has been in the Van Cliburn competition, for those who care. But he long ago decided to only play Baroque music, because, as he put it, "otherwise I'm spending all my weekly piano time trying to maintain a single Chopin Nocturne, and I'm supposed to be enjoying myself."

One of the things that I think needs to happen is that we need to become much better at ignoring things without excuses and without fear of missing out. It is an innate skill that younger generations now possess, because they have spent their entire lives surrounded by noise. They are incredibly good at filtering out nonsense; older generations, I think, often mistake that for aloofness or apathy, but my hunch is that irony has developed, very slowly, as the most convenient way to navigate a world that is constantly sending messages (there are more than 300 signs on the 16-mile stretch of road that connects my house with my in-law's house) that compete for our attention, focus, money, and loyalty. We either have to get better at saying "No" to them, or else we need to get quite good at pretending that they don't exist. Because you can't consider them all. How you opt out is entirely up to you.

"But wait!" you say. "What about growing as a person through new experiences? You can't grow if you just stick with what you know! You'll get in a rut and stagnate!" True enough. Nothing wrong with that. But just be very, very careful that the new experience actually materializes; if you get no further in your New Experience Quest than "buying a new game," then the hobby you have and the hobby you tell people you have are not the same. There's a not-so-fine-line between the hobby you have and "dreaming."

Ultimately, I don't know what the cause of Hobby Burnout is. Maybe the outcome is unavoidable, and people do the 3-5 years of intensity because they know they'll never keep it up and need to get a load of research in while they still can. Maybe, as I've written about before, "BGG time" and "Table Time" both count as gaming time, and both eat into the same 21-hour-a-week cap on gaming's positive influence in your life; the less you BGG, the more you can game, therefore. Maybe there's no problem at all and every hobby has this to some degree; I've certainly gone hiking and passed people on the trail who are all decked out in brand-new North Face gear.

Whatever the reasons, people flame out, and, as I read about a prominent GCL struggling to stay active and a lot of "yeah, it was OK" about this year's Essen releases, all from people who are really smart and really dedicated and really engaged, then nobody's safe. Am I distant enough?
Twitter Facebook
14 Comments
Tue Oct 30, 2012 5:11 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
45 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide

If You Like Agricola, You Might Also Like...

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
A conversation a few weeks ago in my GCL got me thinking about how Agricola is one of my favorite games, but that a lot of the individual characteristics of Agricola are things I don't really like in other games. Why is this? I don't mind that I'm violating some unknown law of consistent loves here; I'm way more comfortable with arbitrariness than your average human being. But it's still somewhat interesting to me that, in Agricola's case, the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Now, I did explore some of what Agricola was offering, mechanism-wise, in other games. But it didn't really lead anywhere. Most people take a board game, try it, and discover that something within is a jumping-off point into something else; in Agricola's case, it is a dead end. All I enjoyed was Agricola.

I used to think I liked worker placement. Turns out I just like Agricola.

Taking a profession or vocation, dividing it up into a dozen activities, and then allowing each player an opportunity to claim one of those activities with his/her turn is not something I need to see in other settings. Just farming is fine. Taking turns placing discs on a central board has never felt the same in other games as it did/does in Agricola, and the decision-making process was not appreciably different in other games; you're still looking to prioritize actions, weight the likelihood that you'll need the Start Player action to choose something critical before anyone else can, and you'll need to make sure that you stay flexible enough to be content (and profitable) with your second or third choice of action if need be. Some people really dig worker placement games, but I can't help but feel really let down by it, since "I wanted that and you took it first" seems to be all there is to say during the debrief. Consequently, I don't treat worker placement as a mechanism. I already own a worker placement game, and I'm not convinced that, as a genre, it's terribly varied. It certainly doesn't feel that way.

I used to think I like card combos. Turns out I just like Agricola.

It's nice to chain together a few Ocks and Minor Improvements to help form your long-term strategy, but chaining together cards doesn't really do anything for me in other games. I lasted maybe two dozen plays of Dominion before it just ran out of gas. While I like card games, and I like long board games, I do not normally like when a long board game adds the luck of the draw of a card game. Sooner or later, you get an outlier, and if you approach 90+ minute board games with strategy and brain-on-brain-on-brain action in mind, outliers get unpleasant.

I used to think I liked multi-player solitaire. Turns out I just like Agricola.

I've written before about how toddlers exhibit what's called "parallel play," where it's important to them that they be playing near someone, and not necessarily with them. I've started to notice this in my own son; while he does like playing with me, sometimes all he wants is for him to stack blocks over there, and I stack blocks over here, and we take them from one another, and it works for him. I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better analog to the multi-player solitaire Eurogame than that. Ordinarily, I like and require some form of inter-player conflict or interaction, and "subtle" interaction does not count in any way, shape, or form. Agricola, though, gets away with it. Again, it's either the lone exception, or one of a very few exceptions.

I used to think I liked resource conversion games. Turns out I just like Agricola.

Agricola's conversions make sense to me, by and large. Houses move from weaker to stronger materials. Grain becomes bread, bread becomes food. Animals create more animals, animals become food. This makes sense, and I can plan around it. I don't always get that in resource conversion games. This is a manageable amount of converting unlike, say, Ora et Labora.

I used to think I liked complex, fiddly games with loads of components. Turns out I just like Agricola.

When I was first dabbling with this hobby, opening a box and seeing all the components was somewhat thrilling. How does this stuff all work together? Look at all these decision points! Think of all the management I have to do! In the end I wound up owning quite a few games that I started calling "fussy," because it required aftermarket storage to reduce setup time, or I needed to do some stacking and arranging and organizing ahead of time before the game was ready to go. Agricola requires that, sure, but I've gotten pretty good at setting it up and breaking it down quickly. I have no doubt I could learn something similar in another game, but let's be honest: I don't really want to. It's much easier to just play games that are simpler to set up, and I don't feel like I'm missing anything by restricting my game choices.

I used to think I liked Uwe Rosenberg. Turns out I just like Agricola.

Ora et Labora was ludicrous. Babel was...odd. I never felt any tension in Le Havre and cared not one whit about what was happening to my...shipyard? I never did understand what role I had in Le Havre, why I was involved in such disparate enterprises as skinning animals and building ships, why I could just claim a whole offer without paying for it, and why it was my problem that my workers needed to be fed; bring your own lunch from home, guys. Playing other Rosenberg games just makes me think how I'd rather be playing Agricola.

In the end, Agricola occupies its own category for me. It is my one worker placement, multiplayer solitaire, grow-your-own-garden game. There are two theories for this that I can think of. The first is that since Agricola was my first game (I think) expressing some of these qualities, I'm privileging it above all that came after it. The second is that there's a je ne sais quois about Agricola that's still not represented here. Maybe it's that the theme of the game (which would be weird again, since theme is something I either am indifferent to or else hostile to) makes it easier to learn the rules of the game, and I stop there. Maybe I am just not capable of seeing the Butterfly Effects that other games have when they take these mechanisms/features and modify them slightly. Maybe that, because I don't play it very often, I just gravitate to the game(s) that I can retain the rules to the easiest. Maybe our "wide varieties" aren't as wide or varietal as we think.

The one thing I do enjoy in Agricola is that there's a surprising amount of tension built into the game, and maybe that quality makes up for the fact that the rest of it is not something I care for when taken off the farm. I get genuinely nervous when I play and a harvest is approaching, because I have to pay the game back for what I just scrounged out of it. This despite the fact that the tension is not really player-created; it's the game placing demands on me, insisting that every time I take two steps forward I need to take one step back. Now that's something I do like in other games, notably Age of Steam and New England Railways, so Agricola's not alone in that regard.

I'm wondering if other people have an Exception Game, where you like it, but by all accounts, you shouldn't like it. What say you?
Twitter Facebook
15 Comments
Fri Oct 19, 2012 4:26 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
17 
 Thumb up
0.55
 tip
 Hide

Game to Game, Game to World, Game to Self

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
Today is Friday. I am "at work," it is raining and gray outside, I am on my third mug of coffee, I'm waiting for it to be my turn in my current online games (Tigris & Euphrates and 18AL), and I categorically refuse to get out of my pajamas. Also, as I tend to do a lot nowadays, I've been thinking about my son.

He's one. Or, slightly older than one. And he's pretty much the best thing ever (FYI). And while he can't say very many words, his "receptive language" has been a joy to watch develop, because he can process and understand words even if he can't say them. So he can follow some instructions, and he has pretty clearly learned what some things are around the house: I can ask him if there's anything under his crib, and he'll get down on the floor to look, or I'll ask him where Harlan is (he's a stuffed anteater who speaks in a French accent), and he'll waddle to the living room to get him. That sort of stuff.

Now, some of that is cool only because he's my son; I'm not so proud that I forget that people, by and large, don't care a whole lot about other people's kids. But it's also quite cool from a learning perspective. He's learning without the benefit of a language base, really, because he's learning things before he has the language to express it or catalog it. As I've mentioned many times, learning is a major part of my life: it's my career, it's my wife's career, it drives my hobbies, and it certainly drives my gaming. But when I learn something new, I can just pick up a book or a game and read it and learn it and go. What he's doing is more like me deciding to learn how to play a game, but then use the Finnish instructions (spoiler: I don't speak Finnish, save for a few really rude sentences).

I often think back to something my wife told me during her Masters degree study. She's a teacher, and at the time was getting her Masters in Reading. She showed me a chart one night in one of her textbooks, and it contained an intriguing idea.

When children learn to read, we teach them to identify three relationships in service of reading comprehension:
1.) Text to self
2.) Text to world
3.) Text to text

A child reading a book, in pursuing an understanding of that book, learns to comprehend what is being communicated on the page by connecting it to themselves, to their surroundings, and to other books that they might have read, generally in that order. "What about this pulls me in? What about this do I recognize in the world? What else have I read where these same qualities are present to some degree, and how are they the same or different?"

Now, I was in graduate school #1 (English) at the time she showed me this, and it occurred to me that my colleagues and professors were interested in #3 above all else. And it struck me then that the more books one reads, the more likely that the third--and only the third--connection gets made. This seems equally true with movies, as the most enthusiastic movie watchers that I know always launch giant lineages when they get asked what they liked about Movie X. Ditto music, or any hobby (probably) where new creations are getting made and introduced all the time, and without much dramatic difference between creations. It makes some sense, as it's a convenient way to create and provide context, to try and keep track of things by wedging them into an editable flowchart of some kind.

So because this is a hobbyist's site, a lot of discussion here tends to focus (perhaps hyperfocus) on #3: game to game. How does Game X differ from Game Y? Where did Game Z come from? Playing Game B made me think of Game A. This stands out to me in a big way, maybe because I'm still relatively new to this world and don't tend to make these connections; to be frank, I don't really care about a lot of it. But game to game discussion seems to be the most common discussion, just as, when I was in graduate school, the most common discussion about poets tended to be about who Poet X had in his/her lineage, who they foreshadowed, who they wrote like, how their poetics differed from someone else, etc. Text to text, game to game.

Ideally, that would work like this for learning: "Oh, that's like how things work in Game Y. I know Game Y. Perfect, so I know how that works." #2, game to world, shows up less frequently, but it's still there. War games either simulate or riff on an actual sequence of events in history. Ditto historical games. Playing economic games has given me a lot to think about when I see real fluctuations in value/supply/demand in real life (though this is not a task uniquely performed by a game; I could have, you know, studied economics instead). Zendo is logic, and logic is everywhere; that's a game that's not limited to the table it happens to be sitting on.

#1 seems hardest to connect to gaming, at least in the games I play, which tend to be abstract or highly abstracted. I'm just not sure what a "game to self" comparison is, how it's useful to learn a game, or what a reaction even signifies. In a book, you can identify with a narrator or character and see how some problem is resolved or approached. #1 has a lot to do with "losing oneself" in a book, which I've done for a long, long time, and is a primary reason (I think) for why I continue to read a lot today. But "losing oneself in a game" seems to mean something different. I don't ever lose myself in a game's world because I've found a version of myself there to connect with. Now, because of the types of games I play, there's not much opportunity to do so, but does that mean I make no connections at all between myself and a game?

Connecting game-to-self might mean that the theme of a game is something you sympathize with, or that the unfolding story in an RPG-type game is something you enjoy thinking about, or that the type of decision most prominent in a game is something you identify with, or that a game can have components or artwork that you find sexually appealing. I wonder if it's not more likely that game-to-self is an ill-defined, nebulous connection one makes where you just say "I find this fun." Poof: a connection with the self is made.

But it's possible that we make these connections in two places: in learning the game for the first time, and in exploring what the game offers, or its "depth." Learning a game the first time and then learning to get good at it later strike me as requiring very different things, certainly different than reading vs. rereading a book, but they still require making connections to help yourself along.

Of course, one thing that's not clear (and what I do not remember from her textbook) is whether or not these are conscious connections. One thing I remember vividly from Graduate School #2 was that emotional response precedes cognitive response much of the time. What this means is that, whether you like it or not, and whether you want to admit it or not, your brain creates an emotional response to a commercial before you get a chance to think "I don't want to buy this product anyway." This is why there's now attention being paid to making ads that still "work" to some degree when people TiVo right through them; all you need to do is see the color palette and general shape of the ad and you still form an emotional connection/response to the product.

It's neat to think about our unconscious/subconscious reactions to things, because we all like to think that we're in complete and perfect control of our faculties. Interesting fact: not so.

In the end, there's all kinds of stuff I like about hobbies (gaming included) that might have no connection whatsoever to what my conscious self is aware of. This intrigues me, because being at the mercy of my unconscious (and, therefore, being unable to articulate why I'm responding a certain way) is really quite close to how my son is flying blind with his own learning. It's quite cool to think about how I might not have any choice at all about what I enjoy doing and enjoy learning.
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Fri Sep 28, 2012 3:47 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
31 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide

Essen Preview

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
October's coming, and you know what that means: Essen, where loads of people go to buy what they kind of already have. But no matter! This year's Essen will be different! Not a Batavia in the bunch. Don't believe me? After exhaustive research, here's what I'm most looking forward to about this year's Essen, which is nothing like last year's Essen. Nothing at all.

--This year's hot worker placement game is {title}. In it, you play a {job no one actually has anymore}. Players have individual player boards and they all choose actions {that are just activities the job role performs, arbitrarily arranged with the weakest one getting Start Player tacked on to it} from a central board, or "marketplace." The game seems very balanced and {a guy who drew a dragon once on his web site}'s art looks very good. The goal of the game is to revive {job no one has anymore} and get your own etsy page.

--I hear alea's putting out a new Feld game, though the cards are too small and the theme is tenuous. Can you say "autobuy"?!?!?!

--I'm also really looking forward to the series of unrelated games that are numbered and in the same sized boxes and will look really great on my shelves next to one another in chronological order. One's a 2-player card game where you play cards on either side of a central board. Hopefully my wife likes it because she likes Lost Cities and can't think for herself, what with her one personality trait and all.

--I don't ordinarily like party games, but I might make an exception for Hips and Hipsters. It's basically like every other party game where you bet on whose reply is correct, but it can be played in public really easily. So it comes with a Nora Roberts book, a Sony discman with a Hall and Oates CD case, a non-organic & non-vegan granola bar, really baggy jeans, a shirt that's not plaid, and a regular-sized, multi-gear mountain bike. Players claim a prop, and then take bets on which hipsters perform certain actions around them, like roll their eyes, or make a snide comment. But you get bonus points if someone actually has that same Hall and Oates CD. Several expansions are already announced, including one where a new endgame condition gets triggered if your group gets Instagrammed on Twitter with a snide comment. I can't wait to take this to Java Junction and play it with my Mom's group.

--This year's innovation in deckbuilding comes to us from {designer you've never heard of, but I've totally played all his games an undisclosed number of times, meaning once each} and is actually about building decks. Back Deck: The Deckbuilding Game is about getting permit cards from your local municipality, and you can add lumber cards, and nail cards, and immigrant labor cards, and the goal is to build a deck with your deck. The really interesting twist to this game is that sometimes there's this interruption in the game, where you don't draw any workers at all for like two weeks, and your deck just sits there, not building a deck. It's very thematic.

--I'm really looking forward to that game where there are a few ways to get points. I think it's from Hans im Gluck. It takes place in Portugal. It just might be the game that fires Goa. And Navegador. Oh, what am I saying?!?!?! They scratch different itches.

--{Small Game Company} recently announced that {Game Just Shy Of Being a Reprint} won't be back from the printer in time for Essen, and so all of us Kickstarter backers will have to wait about two more weeks for the game. Two weeks! I can't believe a supply chain I have no control over is denying me the opportunity to play a game I mostly own already, but just not with this art.

--I don't ordinarily like Ameritrash, but this year I think AT publishers are finally starting to cater to those of us who love thematic immersion but don't like dice. Early reports on Total Eclipse are that it only has 12 dice and not everyone is an anime zombie cylon. We're getting there.

--I'm thrilled that Uwe Rosenberg has learned from the overkill of Ora et Labora and has gone back to his roots with Agricola: Farming Outside of Le Havre. I'm most looking forward to the fact that there's one goal: to raise the cattle that get used in the game of Le Havre being played at the next table over from you. It's a very GIPF-y thing for Rosenberg to do, connecting two games like this, and I admire him for this new direction he's taking simultaneous action selection.

--Risk: Pandemic looks really great, too. Building off of the innovations introduced by Risk: Legacy, Risk: Pandemic actually threatens the campaign with genuine illness. So, reminiscent of Diplomacy, every player seals his or her orders in an envelope, but here's the kicker: the envelope glue has been maybe exposed to a pathogen, and so the players risk getting infected with something that means they maybe can't actually carry out their orders in one of the subsequent games that get played. It's great because you really need to make sure you make plans with a few different players, either because your partner will be out sick, or because you need someone to make your moves for you while you're recovering and can't attend game night. It's brilliant.

What are you most looking forward to?
Twitter Facebook
13 Comments
Mon Sep 24, 2012 3:10 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
14 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

And Now For Something Completely Different

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
This blog began life as a way for me to share things in my gaming life that I enjoyed, but maybe couldn't articulate precisely why that was and needed an excuse to try and correct that. Or it was intended to help me improve in the few games I do play, so that my infrequent play doesn't result in me losing what I've learned. But it was really not intended to be what it has become, which is largely a meta-blog; I don't really write about games, I write about how gaming intersects with work and with life, in what quantities, with what implications, and why. That's interesting to me, though it's odd to see that's what happened.

But I can see how that can easily be interpreted as me being a wet blanket, or a cynic (I prefer to think of it as realism, but whatever). So how about I take a breather from the world I usually inhabit and instead focus on things I have found genuinely exciting recently, as well as a quick focus on new releases that I am looking forward to. Yes, kids, even minimalist small collection guys who beat the "this game's not different at all" drum can be excited about things too!

Urbanization

The image of the loner is always attractive. The artist who sits off to the side, by himself, and just does cool stuff despite not being part of a community, or a "school," or a trend. Wallace Stevens. Richard Hugo. The guy who doesn't go to conferences or have famous friends. The guy who came out of nowhere to do that great thing, and everyone's all like "who?" The man with no history and an unpredictable future. As Johnny Ebsen's Designer Diary makes clear, he's something of an outsider, and this is his first published game. That's a nice backstory, and one that's sufficiently different from "here's the new Feld game" that people will take notice.

Queen games are generally featured pretty heavily at my FLGS, and I've been known to have ding-n-dent copies follow me home sometimes. I really want this game to be good, but I also want it to hold up for more than a handful of plays. So I plan on waiting until the early adopters start weighing in on whether or not it's worth it to make room for that giant box on my shelf. A "no luck city building game" is a great start in that direction.

The Sid Sackson line from Gryphon games

There's something timeless and beautiful about Sackson's games, especially since he wasn't afraid to make an entire game out of a single mechanism; the abstract-lover in me finds that thrilling, as sometimes one mechanism is all you need, provided it's polished enough. So I'm looking forward to the reprintings of Monad, Sleuth, and Venture, due out in about a week. The boxes are small, and that's a consideration, truthfully. But the games are simple. Not simple as in "simplistic" or "easy," but simple as in "not hard to learn, not many moving parts, but the gameplay is still good and you'll play this a few times a year." It's highly doubtful I buy all three, but who knows.

The Tammany Hall Reprint


My group likes shared incentives, they like gleefully meddling with other players, and they like keeping luck and randomness to a minimum. They also like playing on weeknights, which is why we tend to draw from a pool containing shorter economic train games, Imperial, and so forth, and are working our way up to small- to mid-size 18xx titles. Tammany Hall fits our requirements pretty perfectly (I'm always interested in recommendations along these lines, by the way, as I'm not all that good at digging into BGG's nether regions looking for hidden gems). This is also the third item on this list that was affiliated with Kickstarter that I did not, in fact, Kickstart. I will buy it like a normal person. It likely won't be available until November, which gives my group plenty of time to keep doing what we're doing with the games we enjoy.

My Deep Thought Games orders


Partway through my first aborted game of 1830, I knew it was for me, despite not having the slightest idea what was happening, how I was affecting it, and how I could get better. It was beautiful despite my inexperience and clumsiness. This is, to be blunt, exactly like my first experience of…intimacy, where I knew right away I'd be devoting a significant portion of my life to the slobbering pursuit of it, despite not having the slightest idea what was happening, how I was affecting it, and how I could get better; this was also beautiful despite my inexperience and clumsiness.

Ahem. So that first game of 1830 was in December of 2011, and I immediately placed an order at Deep Thought Games for additional titles. I figured there was no penalty for not doing this; if the interest stuck, I'd be that much closer to getting some more games in the series (the backlog is about a year), and if it turned out that I did not really like 18xx, I could just cancel my order when it came up in the queue.

Fast forward ten months and I still don't have a ton of experience with 18xx, but I have enough games under my belt to know that, as a series and a game system, it allows for a ton of creative play, and that's something I value highly. Even small differences in setup or execution are enough to create a butterfly effect where the game unfolds in very different ways, sometimes even rendering a strong strategy or move from one game totally impotent in another. So my DTG order, which will likely ship slightly more than a year after I placed it, will conveniently arrive after we give the few 18xx titles I do own (1830, 1889, 18VA, 18AL, 18GA) a spin or two; we'll likely hold off on 1853 and 1860 since they're so different for now. Chalk that up to not understanding the system. But a year+ wait is actually good timing, overall. Across two orders that I may or may not merge, I went with 1812, 1826, 1846, 18EU, 18FL, and 1865. The longer titles hold no interest for me at the moment simply because I do not have the uninterrupted time to play them. Except possibly for...

Play By Email/Rails/Dropbox

I recently started playing 18xx using Rails and Dropbox, scaring up opponents through BGG. Rails is an application that allows for PC-based play of several 18xx titles. It doesn't always enforce all rules, and it does not have AI, so it's either a way to play solo and learn some consequences of a particular move (I have not done this yet; I can't imagine it'll be terribly exciting over a full game), or a way to have an application do the bookkeeping for you as you play an asynchronous game. I've also read of people using it as a way to manage the bank in a real-time, face-to-face game; I have not tried this.

It's wonderful. I'm hooked. While it obviously takes the game duration and stretches it out immensely, it also takes both of the features of the game that people have the most criticism of (the intense bookkeeping & analysis paralysis causing the game to drag) and removes them from the gameplay. It's a wonderful way to obsess over a move and play around with things without causing your opponents to want to strangle you. Plus, it's difficult enough finding real life opponents, so being able to expand the pool of interested & enthusiastic players is another win for the ol' internet, eh?

Wednesdays

My FLGS has two boardgame groups. There's one that meets once a month on a Saturday, and there's another that meets every Wednesday, and people drop in and out as available for about ten hours. I'm a bit of a wallflower, and I dislike leaving my one-year-old, but I work from home and never really stray far from my desk. So my wife has suggested that I get out of the house if I need to, and so this is where I've decided I'm going. Barring any work commitment that prevents me from doing so, I'm aiming for next Wednesday as my first venture out. I have never played games with people I don't know. That seems like it wouldn't matter a whole lot, and maybe it doesn't, but thus marks my first foray into using gaming as a way to meet new people.

My Game Group

It started with 5. Then it went to 7. Because after each night we met, someone would say "hey, you know who would love these? My {brother/friend/colleague/neighbor}." So we've grown in raw number, though we always seem to have 5-6 make it for each meeting. This has been exciting to watch and be a part of. We have a really good time, we share a few laughs, we catch up on what's been going on (with some people, it's the only time in a month we will see them or talk to them), and it's truly been the somewhat-cliched "it just brings us together" thing that we all talk about when we discuss the social element of this hobby.

---

My default settings seem to be suspicion and skepticism. I can't really help that. But every now and again, I get genuinely excited about something. I'm somewhat surprised I came up with 7 things, but maybe that means there's more of an optimist in me than I think?
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Thu Sep 20, 2012 4:09 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
52 
 Thumb up
3.00
 tip
 Hide

Wonderful Hobby, Lousy Obsession

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
The longer I game, the more I believe that gaming is a wonderful hobby and a lousy obsession.

In Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken, she reveals what millions of gamers have long insisted was true, and what research now confirms: gaming is good for you. However, it is not uniformly good for you. Like all things, it has limits that must be respected, or it actually becomes counter-productive, even harmful. In her Appendix, she provides Practical Advice For Gamers. The very first one is "Don't play more than 21 hours a week." A lot of her research focused on MMORGs and immersive (or co-operative) games, and so it's not clear what connection, if any, exists between the gaming world she was researching and the gaming world that most boardgamers inhabit. It's still worth considering, though, in full, the explanation for that 21 hour cap:

Quote:
Studies show that games benefit us mentally and emotionally when we play up to 3 hours a day, or 21 hours a week. (In extremely stressful circumstances--such as serving in the military during war-time--research shows that gamers can benefit from as many as 28 hours a week.) But for virtually everyone else, whenever you play more than 21 hours a week, the benefits of gaming start to decline sharply. By the time you’re spending 40 hours or more a week playing games, the psychological benefits of playing games have disappeared entirely--and are replaced with negative impacts on your physical health, relationships, and real-life goals. So always strive to keep your gaming in the sweet spot: 7–21 hours a week.
7-21 hours a week is a hobby. More than 40 is an obsession (or a career, I suppose, though I certainly don't have time for two careers). Now, I've never met anyone who plays boardgames more than 3 hours every day, or more than 21 hours a week, let alone more than 28 or 40 hours (video games are another story). I know plenty of people, though, who "BGG + boardgame" around 21 hours a week. I am one of them, at least according to Rescue Time, which I have been running on my computer for a few months now. This tracks what I actually do with my time, which consistently conflicts with what I think I did (I recommend people try it, but do prepare yourself for the possibility that your first week's worth of data will be pretty upsetting; data doesn't care about your feelings).

When I'm on BGG I'm reading about games and gaming, sure, but I'm also imagining myself playing whatever game I'm reading about, or trying to augment what I already know about a game with what someone else knows, or I'm reading about other people's game experiences and wondering how my decisions would have been the same or different. Does that stand in as a substitute for my own gaming experience? Does that activity count toward my 7-21 potential beneficial hours of gaming? I don't know, but I'm starting to come around to the idea that it might.

I don't, for example, treat "reading a cookbook" and "cooking" as identical, but I am thinking about one when I'm doing the other. Yet I don't think of gardening the same way, despite it being an activity that directly produces food. Ditto music; at the end of the week, I don't lump "time spent listening to music" in with "time spent reading sheet music" and "time spent practicing my guitar" and count it all as "time spent practicing." I know reading about gaming and actual gaming are not the same thing. But I don't always get to choose how my brain internalizes things.

I've written here before that anything involving willpower drains your body in the same way; whether you're trying to quit smoking, cut down on TV time, focus more at work, lose weight, it doesn't matter: the body seemingly has a finite pool of "willpower units" and when they're gone, they're gone. You use them up, and you become susceptible to other unrelated temptations that require willpower. This book covers it all in better detail than I can here.

This is one reason that the idea of forming habits has gained such traction in the psychology/improvement/productivity communities lately. Because a habit is something that you don't really think about, and therefore it doesn't tap your conscious source of willpower. The more you get into the Habit Zone, the less you have to think about what you're doing, and the less effort and energy you have to expend in order to accomplish something. This is partly why people often suggest smaller, periodic lifestyle changes over introducing crash dieting all at once; diets often fail because they require a person to make more than a dozen wholesale changes abruptly, which is harder to sustain than if the person introduced those twelve changes slowly, one at a time, not moving on to the next until the previous one was fully integrated and habituated.

One of my favorite slogans from Gretchen Rubin is that "what you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while." Although she shares it to illustrate a principle of happiness (which is that we're happiest when our decisions feed the life we have and not the life we imagine or prefer ourselves to have) it's easy to see that the idea of habit is pretty central: what we do every day establishes habit, whether that be waking at 6, flossing, doing yoga, reading, not reading, getting a snack at 3 pm, checking email as soon as the computer boots, checking personal stuff on a work PC, etc. All things that can, and do, become habit. We can either mindfully create habits, or we can unconsciously discover, well after the fact, that we formed them because we were not paying attention.

So, what does this all mean? Despite the fact that my BGG time tends to fall during the day and does not actually cannibalize the hours that I would spend with others playing games, I'm starting to think that I'm robbing myself of beneficial gaming time by choosing to spend some of my 7-21 hours reading BGG and not gaming after the day is over. My actual habits seem to bear this out, as when I recently charted my actual games played (I started logging plays last November, and report each week in my GCL) against my Rescue Time data, there's a pretty suggestive inverse correlation between "time spent here" and "time spent playing games." Even though they would not take place during the same hours.

There's a sweet spot for how much time I need to spend gaming to feel refreshed by it and to get enjoyment from it, and that sweet spot is pretty elusive, though because I game less when I'm on here more, I'm left wondering if my brain knows what that sweet spot is and I just need to discover it for myself. I'm beginning to think my personal sweet spot is on the lower end of that 7-21 hours a week scale; some of you might be on the high end. But ultimately finding that sweet spot means stepping away from BGG, or at least pulling back mightily, in order to get better acquainted with infrequency.

This all might mean something, or it might mean nothing. I might have used blunt tools to get here. I have no idea. But it's testable, and that has always been preferable to a slew of unsubstantiated, anecdotal discussion points in order to refute or dismiss unpleasant ideas.

According to my Rescue Time Dashboard for the week, I'm at 7 hours and 19 minutes of BGG time. So I'm going to go ahead and call it a week, and hopefully I still have some enthusiasm for some gaming this weekend.
Twitter Facebook
6 Comments
Fri Aug 24, 2012 5:23 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
19 
 Thumb up
1.75
 tip
 Hide

Satisficing and Optimizing

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
A few months ago, after dabbling in the world of Train Games for a bit, I decided to try out 18xx. This was a bit of a mysterious thing. The dedicated 18xx players on BGG all seemed super smart, and they seemed to speak in some sort of code. I could recognize the words as being in English, but as to the precise meaning of the words when placed next to one another in a sentence? I hadn't a clue, but if the process of gaining the decoder ring was to play some pretty heavy games, I'm in.

Now, this race of Smart Train People is both a resource and an obstacle to new players. For one, the language is intimidating, and the fact that most of us are not able to jump right into the post-game analysis with the same enthusiasm or verbal toolkit does make one think that maybe they didn't play the game correctly, or are intellectually deficient in some way. However, I highly doubt this is an intentional barrier, so we'll chalk this up to new player inexperience and move on; continued play likely solves this problem anyway.

But another way I've noticed that Smart Train People inadvertently create Harmful Help is in game selection. New players to the system pretty regularly post questions like "what's the best way to get into 18xx? Which game is the best for new players to learn the system?" There are various theories as to which one works the best. 1830. 18FL. No, not 18FL: 18AL. Or 1889 works. 1846. 18GA. 18EZ. 1825 Unit 2. But not 1860, my God, not 1860. And not 1853. And not 1846. Wait, I thought 1846 was good for new players?

This becomes overwhelming, because then the research requires research. One-dimensional stock track, or two? Portfolio-style, or financier-style? Do you want a snowball game, or not? How do you know what your preferences are if you don't know the system enough to weight the choices? How heavily do you weight the advice of someone who plays several titles a week versus someone who's a more intermediate player, versus a casual but experienced player, versus an economist who plays, versus a poet who plays, etc?

Steven Pressfield, a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, once wrote that when you are conducting research for a creative project, you should limit yourself to two or three sources, then just start the project. Why? Because if you don't limit yourself going in, you will make it easier to delay any action at all until a "sufficient" amount of research has been done. What's "sufficient" mean? No one knows, and that's kind of the point; if you don't know how much research you need, and you don’t know what a finished or adequate supply of research looks like, you can very easily keep going and never start the project at all.

(I've fallen into this trap numerous times, by the way, and not just with gaming. When I first started working from home and being self-employed, I read a neverending supply of Workplace Productivity books in an attempt to "develop a system" of my own that will result in me being laser-focused on my work. The result, though, was that I was reading too many overlapping books and not actually, you know, being productive. I could have just picked two and gotten started, thereby accepting some productivity over the zero productivity I was left with because of research paralysis.)

So today I'd like to briefly go over why I think this exists, and then share what I decided to do about it in my own life. We're going to be focusing on two things that are contrasted with one another: satisficing, and optimal decision making.

Optimal Decision Making (ODM for short) is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: when faced with a choice, there is a decision that is the absolute best outcome. No other choice will be as good as that one. In gaming, this means there's a Best Move, and we need to find it. Satisificing, by contrast, concerns itself with reaching a limit and then being content with whatever decision has been reached; it accepts a decision as "good enough" rather than "best". Maybe the decision isn't that important, or that the extra time needed to compute the best decision is not worth it to the decider. One of the interesting things about satisficing is that a lot of theorists think it's the only decision-making we can do, as we lack the computational power needed (in most cases) to determine what the optimal choice is (there's a side conversation here about game complexity, chess/go/tic-tac-toe, computers, AI, etc, that I am in no way qualified to discuss).

I half wonder if the intimidation that comes in even beginning 18xx comes from the contrast between Satisficing and ODM. Choosing the very first game as an entry point seems like a weighty decision. The consequence is that you might have chosen incorrectly, and the game has too many rules exceptions which will make learning subsequent games more difficult. The game itself is an exercise in attempting to learn Optimal Moves from your Optimal Decision Making, and so the whole enterprise has the vibe of Choose Very Wisely. I'm not convinced any more that this matters a whole lot.

There's a very famous study by Sheena Iyengar where she tracked decision making amidst overwhelming choice. She set up jam-tasting stations in a supermarket and gave away free samples, in an attempt to persuade people to buy them. Half the time, the stations had 6 kinds of jam. The other half of the time they had 24. The results were that 60% of the shoppers would try the jams when there were 24 of them, while only 40% of shoppers stopped when there were 6 jars of jam. So far so good; more jam, more people stop to taste it.

Except something odd happened: the amount that was tasted was the same in both groups. Whether there were 6 or 24 jars on the table, people still only tasted a few varieties (it was around 4). And further, 31% of the people who stopped to taste from the 6 jar layout bought jam, whereas only 3% who stopped at the 24-jar layout did the same. The conclusions she drew were that people seemed to want more information than they can process, and that when faced with a lot of information to choose from, people routinely choose not to choose. It's a nice paradox of marketing where behavior and message clash: customers usually demand a lot of choices, but their behavior simply does not back this up. They will choose not to participate over making a decision if the decision overwhelms them with choices.

I don’t know where I'm going with this, other than to say I think I've reached my Just Pick a Damn Game phase. Waffling over what to play, and whether it's optimal, is nothing but trouble; there's no measuring stick for that. Just because the inner-game decisions might be calculable, or give off the appearance that a human can make them calculable, does not mean that the greater decision needs to be optimized. At a certain point, the whole process becomes Pornographic. Productivity Porn, Game Porn, Jam Porn, Research Porn. The point becomes to delay the decision as long as possible, to keep it going because just think of the thrill that results from a hunt that never stops, right?

This is not intended to pick on 18xx players (God willing, I will grow up to be one some day). I have the rules for 1830 on my desk, and it was a convenient excuse for a topic. Quite honestly, some variant of this problem surfaces with both abstracts and Euros as well ("what's the best worker placement game?" "What Martin Wallace game should I start with?"), or the desire to keep certain games on hand to meet the unknown needs of an infrequently-assembled group. I guess it surprises me how persistent this really is, and how much paralysis we create and then suffer, how much we think we can research our way out of a problem. For me, I spent a ton of time looking into available 18xx titles. I tried buying things on the BGG Marketplace, followed all the recommendation threads, pestered long-time players, read session reports and reviews, all to Try And Make The Very Best Decision. In the end, one day I just dropped 1830 on the table, and we played it, and it was fine. The decision was absolutely not worth the amount of time or energy that went into it.
Twitter Facebook
16 Comments
Fri Aug 17, 2012 5:00 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Questions About Conventions, Inspired By Learning GenCon Was A Thing

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
The following consists of everything I know about gaming conventions:

1.) There's one in Essen.
2.) A guy on my FLGS mailing list goes to some.
3.) There's something called cosplay.

Seriously, this is all I have. I don't have many geek genes, and I don't really like crowds.

Recently I learned that there's a convention in Lancaster, PA, which is a reasonable drive (4.5 hours) provided a several-day-long stay is on the other side of it. And that GenCon is in Indianapolis, which Google tells me is almost ten hours away from me. Now, I can't even muster up the courage to drive 30 minutes to play at my FLGS with strangers, so driving half a day to do the same is a non-starter.

But (you could maybe sense a "but" coming) that might change provided there's something other than open gaming or tournaments at these things. In my profession, we frequently look to gaming to serve learning needs. We use gaming to teach, we use it in place of a more formal knowledge assessment, and we use gaming principles to help us design learning modules in a few cases ("Help Sally accomplish X in her workplace" -- better than that, but you get the idea).

So, questions. Are conventions mainly devoted to unveiling shiny things, or do any ever have presentations/talks/roundtables where more professional design topics get covered? Are the tradeshow-like booths for publishers only and for display/sales only, or do some businesses go who are in related fields? Are there Q&As with designers, video games included (I'm thinking of GenCon specifically, here)?

If I were to ever make the trip to one of the nearby-ish convention spots, there would have to be some kind of professional relevance to it, and I don't know if that exists anywhere. I'm not interested in tournaments at all, and if I were to attend open gaming, I'd absolutely need to pre-arrange to meet someone or someones there; recent reports from the WBC lead me to believe that it can be problematic finding table space amid such large crowds, and I can stay home to Not Game way more easily than I can drive 10 hours to Not Game.

But it is highly possible that I can either a.) convince work to let me go, or b.) actually write off some of the cost of the trip, if there is some level of professional relevance. I don't mean attending one lecture during four days otherwise spent playing Agricola or trying to find Tom Vasel. I mean that there are enough lectures/roundtables/discussions where I can do work-related things, and gather notes on stuff I can maybe apply directly to my job. I'm sure I'd squeeze in a few games as well, but that wouldn't be the focus of the trip.

So does this exist? Somewhere? I'm aware of some academic conferences or panels on gaming, but I live in a more practical world than what the academic side of things tends to cover; I can contextualize those because I've been to them. But I honestly don't know what to picture when I read about gaming conventions.

Anyone?
Twitter Facebook
5 Comments
Fri Aug 10, 2012 1:52 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
34 
 Thumb up
3.00
 tip
 Hide

Consider the Churn

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
Puerto Rico
London
Lancaster
7 Wonders
Dominion
Thurn & Taxis
Commands & Colors: Ancients
First Train to Nuremberg
Chronicle
A Few Acres of Snow
Le Havre
Ora et Labora
Castles of Burgundy
Saint Petersburg

2009 was the year I fell in love with the Eurogame. I was smitten about five minutes into my first game of Carcassonne. It was simply unlike anything I had ever played before. No board? Meeples? A few ways to score points? Cost/benefit analyses? No dice? This is awesome. Let's try Settlers of Catan next; I heard this was good. Whoa. A few ways to win. We can trade. I have to look into this hobby more.

And so I did. And did, and did.

But I've tricked you. Because the above list--which is a pretty good collection by BGG Top 100 Standards--consists of games I have gotten rid of so far this year, and so I think I'm going to go ahead and call 2012 the year I fell out of love with the Eurogame.

So what the heck happened?

I'm burnt out.

Not on playing games. Not on talking about them. Not on thinking about them. Not on hanging out here. No, I am burnt out on trying new games, on researching them, on reading reviews, on seeing thread after thread become a recommendation thread because since Game X is 90% the game that Game Y is, and I like Game Y, therefore I need to try Game X.

Uncle. We all have different upper limits, and I've hit mine.

I certainly haven't fallen out of love with gaming; I play more now than I ever have. It's just that I totally get why people close themselves off and just focus on one kind of game, or one game; because it arbitrarily creates an exploratory space in which it is actually possible to explore the space. I have a love/hate relationship with arbitrariness, but I have to say I've allowed it to cuddle with me here. I'm just not going to spend much time or effort any longer looking for my next gaming fix, because that's consistently been a symptom of my failing to identify a game that actually works for me in the first place.

The thing is, I'm not a closed-minded person (I know we all like to think that about ourselves, but still). I take no particular pride in walling myself off inside a Fortress of Comfortable Non-Threatening Ideas. I read a lot, I read variously, and I'm the guy who, at one time, had subscriptions to The Economist, Reason, and Mother Jones, and I actually read all of them (good luck triangulating my political opinions now). I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I love to learn different cooking techniques, to learn how to cook foods from different ethnic groups, to learn how to grow different vegetables, to read both Christopher Hitchens and Thomas Merton. I love to learn, I work in the learning industry, and learning, as I've written about before, is a major reason--if not the primary reason--that I play boardgames.

And I think I've learned a few things about learning from games (is that meta enough?):

1.) Learning a new game doesn't mean I'm actually learning anything new.
2.) Learning new rules is not quite what I mean when I say I want to learn.
3.) I don't seem to treat "discovering a path designed into the game" as learning. In other words, that's finding a piece of candy on a sidewalk; all I did was notice it. I'd rather make my own candy.
4.) It's a damn hobby, and I shouldn't feel any guilt over not meeting some non-existent Orc quota.

There is a reason that when I think of my favorite vacation moment from my entire life, I picture myself ass-deep in a Montana trout stream at 6 in the morning while the rest of my vacation-mates slept (I certainly couldn't sleep surrounded by that) catching trout as the sun came up: give me a wide open space to investigate and be creative in. A central market we're all choosing goods from doesn't count. An economy we can tank does. It took me a while to learn this. And I never would have suspected this, because I'm not this way in real life. I don't follow stocks, I'm not mathy, I don't like economics. I thought I was primarily a Euro player, because I'm non-confrontational, because I started off as a Euro player, and because I don't mind pasted-on theme. Instead, I churned through a bunch of Euros looking for something which didn't really exist in Euros. It took train games to give me what I really wanted. Except a year ago I couldn't have told you that.

But all this is important, because that intense period of extreme purchasing and frenetic experimentation (which is very common around here) really does help to refine what it is that we're really after when we unbox a game. Most of us started out supplying 100% of the games whenever we played something with others; if we don't buy the game, then who does? Nobody. So trying games requires a financial investment that doesn't always work out. So I'm not saying that I regret anything that I've done thus far. I'm glad, because I look at my pending Deep Thought Games order and think "yes." My game radar barely functions, and it feels great.

As with all blog posts, here's the "why am I even sharing this?" part. I'm sharing this because I have no point of reference. So for those of you who have more time invested in this hobby than I have: what was your timeline like for when you ultimately learned what it was that you actually liked? How long did you experiment before you could spot a game you'd like/dislike just from the rules? Or, to be cynical, how many times did you appear to settle on what you liked, only to shift gears again at some point later on and refocus on a different genre entirely?

I'm old enough now where periods of experimentation in the past have given me preferences now that are fairly rigid. I'm not going to suddenly start woodworking with power tools now, for example, because hand tools are my thing. I know what music I enjoy studying on the guitar; that hasn't changed in years. I have a "type" for novels, a "type" for philosophers, and a "type" for poets. Those have been established for more than a decade. This feels the same with gaming.

So is it?
Twitter Facebook
19 Comments
Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:25 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
46 
 Thumb up
1.55
 tip
 Hide

Mindless Purchasing

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
flag msg tools
badge
"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
Avatar
Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
Brian Wansink has a wonderful book called "Mindless Eating." I won't spoil the whole thing here, but the basic premise is this: his (fascinating) experiments and research have revealed that we make an average of 200 food-related decisions every day. These are mostly unconscious decisions. For example: leave a bowl of candy on your desk, and your gaze falls over it dozens of times during the day; sooner or later you will take a piece of candy. Walk past the vending machine enough times, and you give in. After months of doing this, congratulations on your new pant size.

He calls this "the mindless zone," and controlling it is critical to maintaining a healthy weight and good eating habits in general. But it's not just proximity to food that's at issue. We also have to contend with inappropriate portion sizes, and more. Some of his experiments are eye-opening:

--When given a super-sized bag of stale popcorn, subjects ate more than people who were given a smaller bag of regular, edible popcorn. Read that sentence again.
--When seated in front of a bowl of soup that would continually refill itself (through a tube under the table attached to a pot away from view), subjects ate significantly more than people who were given a regular bowl of soup. They couldn't turn their eating off when the feedback of "progress" was removed.
--When given a large plate, people were asked to serve themselves some pasta. These people gave themselves (and ultimately ate) much more than did people who were given smaller plates.

In other words, much of his research focuses on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, as I'm sure is clear by now: we are not in control of ourselves as much as we think we are. We will eat more if served more. We will eat more if we eat from the bag of chips and not from a bowl. We will eat more if we are in front of the television instead of seated at the dinner table. As smart as we think we are, we are terrible at estimating how much we've eaten. Barring a fixed measurement system, we are terrible at estimating how much food we have taken. Etc.

So, gaming.

My bet is that these findings don't stop with eating. With the growth of the Internet, we make a very large number of purchasing decisions every day, and most are probably unconscious. If we are seated at a computer, we are in a store. We are in every store. If we have our credit card with us, or if we have our financial info saved on the site (for our "convenience," remember!) then we are not only in every store, but we are walking around with empty bag of limitless size, with no physical money changing hands to make the transaction feel "real," and no way to limit the purchase to requiring money that you actually have.

One thing that's become quite clear in my time here is that many users feel a bit helpless when it comes to slowing down their purchasing, or resisting new games. One commenter in my last post asked "For those of you that are able to keep your collection size down, what are one or two tips you have for 'getting over the hump' and getting it reduced?" The best way to keep a game collection reduced is to not allow them in your house to begin with, but that's general rather than specific advice. So what follows here are some ways to maybe fight against the unconscious pull of buying games at a faster rate than they can be played and enjoyed.

--Use software to block web sites. I use this on my work computer with things like Twitter and other timesuck sites. My personal choice is Stayfocusd (not a typo), which allows you to block sites between certain hours.

--Do not allow sites to store your password. This means you have to log in each time. Further, make your password super-long, and store it away from your desk. Amazon's One-Click ordering is designed to be simple for a reason: because it removes a barrier, an extra step for someone to rethink their purchase.

--Last week in my GCL, Henrik Lantz (username: Bolger) proposed a Law that stated "any discussion eventually involves comparisons with chess." I'd like to contribute my own Law, if I may: "The longer a BGG thread gets, the probability that it becomes a recommendation thread approaches 1." In potential retaliation to this, BGG allows you to customize the front page. If you find yourself most interested in modules A, B, C, then leave them up on the front page. If you don't care about blogs, or about the Recommendations forum, or something else, then get rid of it. The Contests module can be hidden with adblock. Read less BGG, you get fewer recommendations. The fewer recommendations, the fewer games you know about.

--Consider making an "N in, Y out" rule. I don't use this rule to govern gaming, but I do have a book rule. I have such a glut of unread books at this point (it used to be much, much larger) that I have a constraint in place: I cannot buy a new book until 4 unread books have been read. Yes, you obviously have to consciously stick to this, but you'd be amazed how easy it is once you've gained momentum. Additionally, it's much easier to see, in front of you, some quantifiable, specific list(s) of your progress linked to a long-term plan whose goals you are committed to. Finally, you can outsource a little of this to a friend or loved one, as well. If you tell someone (maybe that wife you've been sneaking games past for a while) that this is what you're doing, then you're suddenly accountable to someone else, not just yourself. Public failure is a good deterrent.

--Try only buying from your FLGS. Sure, you might pay MSRP for it. So what? You'd only go there if there was something you really wanted. You'd only get them to special order something you'd really know you'd play. Ease of acquisition is not the goal of shopping, after all: buying useful things is.

If a lot of this effort seems unnecessary, consider that quite a bit of research into willpower strongly suggests that willpower gets used up throughout the day. In other words, it's not that someone can just resist temptation all the time because they happen to be constitutionally "strong-willed"; the longer you go consciously resisting something, the more likely it is you give in to temptation for something totally unrelated. As Kelly McGonigal notes in her book "The Willpower Instinct":

Kelly McGonigal wrote:
Smokers who go without a cigarette for 24 hours are more likely to binge on ice cream. Drinkers who resist their favorite cocktail become physically weaker on a test of endurance. Perhaps most disturbingly, people who are on a diet are more likely to cheat on their spouse.
So it doesn't seem to matter what you are consciously trying to resist. Your mind uses a source of strength that is apparently finite. Once that is used up, you are going to lose an important battle of self-control, and it doesn't matter what that battle is. McGonigal continues:

Kelly McGonigal wrote:
Many things you wouldn't typically think of as requiring willpower also rely on--and exhaust--this limited well of strength. Trying to impress a date or fit into a corporate culture that doesn't share your values. Navigating a stressful commute, or sitting through another boring meeting. Any time you have to fight an impulse, filter out distractions, weigh competing goals, or make yourself do something difficult, you use a little more of your willpower strength. This even includes trivial decisions, like choosing between the twenty brands of laundry detergent at the market. If your brain and body need to pause and plan, you're flexing the metaphorical muscle of self-control.
If resisting games is something important to you, then consider resting your self-control muscle by outsourcing the resistance to something that is less likely to fail.
Twitter Facebook
13 Comments
Tue Jun 5, 2012 6:20 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

Prev «  1 , 2 , 3  Next »  

Subscribe

Categories

Contributors