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I am what I play - 2012 in review

Martin G
United Kingdom
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
I'm sure most of us have an image of the type of gamer we are (or want to be), be it Eurogamer, Ameritrasher, wargamer or 18XX nut. But that doesn't always match up with the games we actually play. So what to do the games I played in 2012 tell me about me as a gamer?

First of all, there was a lot of gaming. I logged 676 plays totalling an estimated play time of a little shy of 500 hours. This was significantly up on 2011's 524 plays, mainly due to three major gaming events. I attended both of London on Board's away weekends in Eastbourne and went to my first Essen.

I'm very lucky with my gaming setup. London on Board meets more times than I could possibly attend while remaining married, and essentially allows me to try any game I want without having to buy it. What's more, I've become good friends with a lot of the members and so there are many 'extra-curricular' gaming events too.

So what of breadth vs depth, something I wrote about a lot this year? Well, my plays comprised 218 distinct games, 117 of them new to me. That's certainly broad, though the 30 new-to-me games I tried at Essen explain most of the increase on last year's 80. There was some depth too though. I had 13 dimes (up from 6 last year) and 20 nickels, and maintained last year's average of a little over 3 plays per distinct game.

I'll look at the games that I did manage to play a lot, despite the many temptations, and see what they might tell me about the kind of gamer I am. Here are my top 20 played games in 2012, together with their playtime, BGG weight (FWIW) and subdomain.

Some observations:

* My top 5 of 2011 all remain in my top 10 of 2012. They each have a context that help them get played a lot.

Cribbage - go-to game for me and my wife
6 Nimmt/Category 5 - default closer at London on Board
Perudo - regular choice for the pub with friends
Innovation - ever-present in my sessions with my main 2p opponent
Kingdom Builder - fits in well in all contexts - with Sarah, with my 2p opponent, at LoB, with non-gamer friends and family...

The rest of my 2012 top 10 is made up of my favourite new-to-me games (Love Letter, Hanabi, Pax Porfiriana, Coup) and my all-time top game (Tigris) making a pleasing resurgence.

* These games are short! Only two crack the hour-barrier. Of course there is some selection bias, as it takes less time to play short games multiple times. But where I feel I differ from a lot of BGGers is that I'm totally happy with a games session made up of a series of short games and don't see them as 'fillers' around a main event.

* These games are light! More than half have a BGG weight of less than 2. To some extent this is a corollary of the above, but again I have more fun playing a bunch of 'light' games than one overcomplex one. They have to be the right kind of light though...

* BGG subdomains are pretty silly. My most common category is 'family games' but I have done almost no gaming with families this year. And when are we going to get a subdomain for card games? At least half of the games above would fit there better than they do in their current subdomain.

So based on that playlist, how would I describe myself as a gamer? I used to call myself a Eurogamer, but I don't think that's accurate any more. Partly it's me that's changed and partly the meaning of the term. Being a Eurogamer in 2012 meant you probably liked worker placement, resource conversion, fairly complex rules and two-hour+ play times. I've had plenty of chances to play all of the big new Euro releases of the year and I'm just not interested.

But I don't think 'family gamer' is a great epithet either. 'Fun for kids and adults' implies not just simplicity (which I crave) but also a lack of depth and a certain gentleness, where I prefer my games brutal and sweary.

Samo Gosaric had a great thread (go read it now) recently in which he tried to carve out a new niche for 'low overhead high interaction' games that are neither modern Euros nor theme-heavy Ameritrash. And wow, that's my taste to a tee. I already talked about the light rules burden, and many of the games above also share an element of psychology - bluffing and reading other players. I'm fortunate in that a lot of the friends I've made at LoB love this kind of game too, even if we don't have a name for it.

There were a few objections to his post and a few suggestions for suitable names. First of all, there was the 'why do we need labels anyway' crowd. Well, because they're useful both for finding games you might enjoy and gamers with similar tastes. It would be much easier for me to get recommendations for games to try if there was a concise, well-known term for these games and gamers.

Someone suggested 'social gamers' and the social aspect of these games is certainly important. But I think this term also comes with a certain connotation of not taking games seriously and just playing them to pass the time, much as a 'social drinker' probably isn't a wine connoisseur. Samo came up with 'people-first' but I feel that's too freighted with the idea that other types of gamers don't care about people. And then it quickly became apparent that people were using his new category to mean several different things anyway. So, I don't know, work in progress

Anyway, just a few thoughts about a fantastic year of gaming. Happy New Year to one and all!
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Mon Dec 31, 2012 4:45 pm
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Breadth-gamers and depth-gamers: the two hobbies

Martin G
United Kingdom
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
A couple of interesting and near-simultaneous blog posts by geekbuddies yesterday got me thinking about something I’ve written a bit about before, but not really articulated fully.

In the hobby as I see it, there’s a continuum of gamer types of which the two ends could almost be considered completely different hobbies. I’m talking about what I’ll call breadth-gamers and depth-gamers.*

We all have a finite amount of time to devote to gaming, we all have to make decisions about how to split that up, and we all have to compromise to fit in with others. But if you had free rein over the next 100 games you play, what would they be?

If your answer is one play of each of 100 different games, most of them new to you, then you are an extreme breadth-gamer (also known as the Cult of the New). If it’s 100 plays of your favourite game with your favourite opponents, you’re the ultimate depth-gamer (also known as a lifestyle-gamer). An alternative metric would be the average number of times you play each game you own. Breadth-gamers are happy with 5 plays or fewer; depth-gamers expect to get at least 10 and hopefully much more.

I think that recognising the different motivations and preferences of these two extremes helps make sense of a lot of conversations that go on here on BGG and in the wider gaming world.

Breadth-gamers are from Mars, depth-gamers are from Venus

Breadth-gamers are primarily motivated by variety. They feed off the buzz of figuring out how a new game works. For the breadth-gamer, reading about new games and collecting games is as much a part of their hobby as playing them. They read up on new releases, follow the Essen buzz, back numerous games on Kickstarter and probably have a large collection (hundreds rather than tens) with a fairly low average number of plays per game. Breadth gamers are likely to do a lot of their gaming in clubs, because they can satisfy their need for variety without going bankrupt.

Depth-gamers are primarily motivated by mastery. They see the first few plays of a game as a learning experience necessary to start playing the game properly. They like to read (and write) about a few games that they’ve really explored. Depth-gamers are more likely to play at home in dedicated groups. They are likely to have smaller collections or be actively trying to reduce their collection following an earlier breadth-gaming phase. Oliver’s article yesterday is pretty much a practical guide to transitioning your collection from a breadth-gamer’s one to a depth gamer’s.

Because of these differences, breadth-gamers and depth-gamers favour different types of games. For a game to be regarded highly by breadth-gamers it most likely needs to be quite accessible on a first play and with groups of mixed experience-level with the game. It may well feature a mechanical innovation that can be snappily summarised, and a rapid discovery phase in which a handful of different strategies can be explored and catalogued. It doesn’t necessarily need to have much variety beyond the first five plays, because most breadth-gamers won’t get that far.

By contrast, a depth-gamer’s game may be quite opaque on first play, but hint at future subtleties. It is likely to have a long learning curve over which levels of play reveal themselves. Depth-gamers enjoy playing games with other players who have attained a similar level of competence, and dissecting the games in detail.

I would like to emphasise that I’m trying to remain value-free here - these are different types of games designed for different types of gamers, not a hierarchy.

One aspect of John’s excellent article seems to be a depth-gamer’s lament on the dominance of breadth-gaming in the hobby. The depth-gamer often finds the behaviour of the breadth-gamer irrational. Why do buy all these games they don’t play? Why are they always chasing after the new hotness when there are already so many well-established classics? But for the breadth-gamer, reading about and collecting new games is a big part of their hobby. They express the same bemusement at the devoted depth-gamer, happy to retread the same old game over and over again.

What does it mean for the hobby?

So having sketched out these two caricatures, what implications does accommodating both within the same hobby have?

First of all, most games are designed to suit the preferences of breadth-gamers. How could it be otherwise in a rational market? The breadth-gamers are the ones buying most of the games, and they’re the ones that need lots of different games to keep them happy. A depth-gamer only needs a few games they really love to last them a long time. Of course there are some games that can satisfy both types of gamer, but games don’t need to be built for depth-gamers to sell well.

Secondly, BGG itself is much more of a breadth-gaming site than a depth-gaming one. The conversation is driven by new releases, Essen speculation, and ‘the hotness’. There’s no end of first impressions and fairly shallow reviews of new games to read, but a depth-gamer will often be frustrated by the lack of content on their chosen games that goes beyond scratching the surface.

For the same reasons that most games are breadth-gamer-friendly, so are the BGG rankings. It is inevitable that most ratings will come from the people who rate most games. So there’s no particular reason that games with attributes that depth-gamers value such as opacity and replayability will rise to the top of the rankings.

There’s also a bigger problem for depth-gamers. Breadth-gamers by their nature are pretty much happy to play anything once and so can easily flock together in groups of other breadth-gamers and play whatever takes their fancy.

But to get the type of play experience they crave, depth-gamers don’t just have to seek out other depth-gamers; they have to find ones who want to get in-depth about the same game they do! And the explosion of the strategy game market in recent years, fuelled by breadth-gamers’ demand, means that it is less likely that any one game will form a critical mass of depth-gamers around it.

So what’s a poor depth-gamer to do?

All that said, I’ve noticed a number of successful examples of depth-gaming communities recently.

I’ve already talked about small groups of friends who get together to play a particular game. But at the other end of the spectrum, my gaming group London on Board is large enough that it can support multiple communities of interest within, but mostly detached from, the rest of the club. Two notable examples are the Battlestar Galactica crew, each of whom must have played well over hundred times, and the 18XXers, a ‘hobby within a hobby’ if ever there was one. Games clubs also sometimes try to foster a degree of depth-gaming with a ‘game of the month’, though previous attempts to do this at LoB foundered.

There are also online communities, mostly outside of BGG, that have coalesced around particular games. The website dominionstrategy.com has been particularly successful at building a community around strategy discussions of Dominion and its many expansions, and the founder has just launched a similar forum around Twilight Struggle. Depth-gamers can also get their gaming hit online. I’ve recently taken to playing Brass with a group of BGGers who have played it as much as me and I’m really enjoying it because I don’t win all the time!

What type of gamer are you?

I like to think of myself as a depth-gamer, and in some ways I am, but I don’t have the dedication to go all the way. I suspect I’m roughly at the midway point on the scale I outlined. My preference for my next 100 plays would be something like 10 plays each of 10 different games. My collection has just gone past the 100 mark (with a mild dose of Essen fever) but I’m working on getting it back down again, and I’m aiming for at least 10 plays of each game I rate 8 or above.

I'll finish with some questions. Do you recognise the gamer archetypes I've outlined? Which one suits you best? Does the type you are ever cause you frustrations? What do you do about them?

*[I think I may have stolen these terms from Edward Fu]
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Wed Oct 31, 2012 4:23 pm
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Back from my first Essen

Martin G
United Kingdom
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
I spent the last 4 days at my first Essen, and it was quite an experience. I will do a full write-up of the fair and the games when I get time, but I thought I'd post a list of what I bought and played, and you can ask me about anything you're interested in.

You can also get the audio version via this Royal Society of Gamers podcast, featuring me and four other London on Board regulars.

Here's what I played:

Coup x7
BraveRats x6
Love Letter x4 (these top three games between them consist of a total of 47 cards )
Pax Porfiriana x3
Tokaido x3
The Palaces of Carrara x2
Trick of the Rails x2
Kakerlakenpoker Royal x2
Article 27: The UN Security Council Game
The Cave
Dr. Shark
Food Chain
Lady Alice
River Dragons
Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill
Shinobi: War of Clans
We Will Wok You

And here's what I bought:

Sleuth / Monad / Venture ($65)
Neue Heimat (€31)
Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill (€30)
Pax Porfiriana (€25)
Extrablatt (€15, massive bargain alert!)
Trick of the Rails (€13)
Coup (€12)
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small expansion (€8)
Sticheln (€7)
Hanabi (€6)
Love Letter (€6)
Bison: Thunder on the Prairie (€5)
Medici vs Strozzi (€5)
BraveRats (€4)
Cosmic Eidex (€3.50)

Fire away!
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Mon Oct 22, 2012 4:19 pm
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The next step: NaNoNeGaMo!

Martin G
United Kingdom
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
My last blogpost generated a lot more discussion than I expected - thanks! Most of it was around my frustration with the Cult of the New and desire to explore fewer games more deeply. There were several murmurs of agreement and a couple of well-argued posts against.

Maarten/cymric posted:
Okay, you've explained what you find frustrating. Soren has already pointed out the obvious similarity to other cultural endeavours, and rightly dismissed the anxiety as romantic nonsense. But suppose for the moment that he wasn't right, then what? Ready to take the next step?

So here's a next step I've been thinking about: NaNoNeGaMo!

What is NaNoNeGaMo?
It stands for National No New Games Month, and it's an annual celebration of the old.

What does it involve?
For the month of June, participants will endeavour to learn no new games, enjoy ones they have already played, and post about their experiences.

Why 'national'? BGG is international!
It echoes NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is also international, and I just like the sound of it.

Why June?
It's almost April now, and this will give me a chance to build up a head of steam. And there's no point having it in October or after, as I can't fight the Essen tide!

How do I participate?
Initially you can post a message of support here. Nearer the time I will set up a geeklist where participants can add an entry to describe their experience.

What about Grimwold's New-to-Me geeklist?
If I get my way, it'll have a quiet month!
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Mon Mar 26, 2012 4:01 pm
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Five years: the joys and frustrations of the hobby

Martin G
United Kingdom
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
It was Friday March 23rd, 2007 when a good friend I was staying with suggested he teach me some game called Carcassonne. I've always been a games player, but until this point I had no idea that the hobby I've come to love existed. The very next day, he pointed me to a games shop in central London (now defunct) to buy my own copy.

Scarcely did I imagine then that five years later I'd have played nearly 400 different games, own 100 (still pretty meagre by some standards!), run the biggest board games group in the country (with over 1200 members) and have appeared in national print and radio extolling the virtues of modern board games.

As a hobby, modern board gaming has turned out to be perfect for me. Playing games provides both a mental challenge and a wonderful social experience. As well as getting family and longstanding friends involved with my obsession, I've also made a bunch of great friends at London on Board and around the world through BGG, in particular the guys and girl of the GCL Meatball Division.

And it's not just playing games that I enjoy, it's reading, writing, thinking and talking about them. We're lucky to have BoardGameGeek as a central organising forum, for all its failings.

So that's the joys, what about the frustrations? Some are about games, some are about gamers.

Having played 300-odd games, my biggest disappointment is the lack of originality in modern designs, both in mechanics and theme. Although I'm primarily a Eurogamer, I'm utterly uninterested in the latest minor twist on worker placement and resource conversion. I want games to give me new ways of challenging myself and interacting with other players. Recently the marvellous Hanabi has restored my faith that this can still be done, by presenting a co-operative game that isn't just team solitaire.

I suspect that some elements of Ameritrash may appeal to my taste for high levels of interaction and my tolerance of randomness. But why oh why does AT have to be synonymous with orcs and spaceships? These hold as little excitement for me as do the Euro tropes of Ancient Egypt and the Renaissance. Give me more political games like Tammany Hall, more eccentric explorations of science like Phil Eklund's creations, more games that are inspired by strange little corners of history that we don't all already know about.

As for gamers, the biggest blight on my gaming life is nothing to do with stereotypes of smelly, antisocial gamers that I have found to be entirely unfounded. It's the Cult of the New that has people desperately seeking out the shiny rather than appreciating the old and tested. Together with the fact that there are just Too Damn Many games coming out, it makes it a delightful rarity to sit down at a table with a group who already knows the rules and the strategy of the game they're about to play.

I've made an analogy between learning a game and learning a language before. For me, the learning isn't the fun part. It's being able to converse. I'd stop learning new games right now if I was guaranteed opponents for the ones I already love.

Related to this is the phenomenon that Jesse Dean examined incisively the other day: the lack of what he calls a 'critical infrastructure' for the boardgame hobby. Although the volume of content on BGG is impressive, it's hard to find the types of articles I really want to read, if they even exist. I know plenty of people just want to play games and have fun, but some of us are interested in examing board games at a critical, maybe even academic, level, and there doesn't seem to be a platform for that right now.

Maybe there just aren't enough of us for a critical mass (no pun intended!), although there are interesting hints of what I'm looking for in blogs, some of the GCL lists and other sites (Fortress Ameritrash, Opinionated Gamers). But it really bugs me when I encounter the anti-intellectual attitude that even trying to examine games in these terms is contrary to the goal of 'fun'. I'm very much looking forward to Jesse's next blog post with his thoughts on ways forward for the field of board game criticism.

I appear to have written more about the negatives than the positive now, so I should probably stop. You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't share my opinion that this is a marvellous hobby, and one which I don't see myself ever growing tired of. Here's to the next 5 years, and hopefully not quite so many new games!
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Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:32 pm
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