Mnmlst Gmr

Just because I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I have nothing to say.
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How Do I Fail Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Johannes cum Grano Salis
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"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
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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
I began logging plays at BGG a little over a year ago, and I started, in part, because my son was just a few months old, I had a Game Appetite that was larger than my Game Playing, and I wanted a way to track whether or not I was actually getting my money's worth out of what I owned, and whether I was spending as much time enjoying my hobby as I was spending researching it and fussing with it. I couldn't track that accurately by memory alone.

That tracking has expanded a bit. I don't log detailed plays for everything I play, but I do try and add some comments on games that are complex enough where I feel like logging some info might help me in future plays, or if something neat happened and I don't want to risk forgetting about it, or if I learned a strategy tip and want to preserve it. But I really only do that with games that might become part of my more permanent rotation, which is, I suppose, where I want to end up: with a somewhat consistent small selection of games I can play and get better at and really dig into.

So a great thing about logging plays has been that I no longer need to rely on my memory to tell me when I last played something, or whether I've played it twice in a year or three times. But there's been an unintended consequence, as well, because now that I started logging comments to promising games, it's become abundantly clear to me just how bad I am at games I love, and how terribly slowly I seem to improve. And I have examples! Lots, and lots, and lots of examples.

I have been playing a lot of Tigris & Euphrates here at BGG, with two 4p groups. And I pretty much always finish 4th. And I play 18xx via Rails and Dropbox, and pretty much always finish last. And I play 18xx with a real life group, and my best performances to date (my best!) are finishing 4th in a 5p game of 1830 and finishing third in a 4p game of 1889 (I placed second in a game of 1830 a few weeks ago, but that ended on bankruptcy and I was pretty screwed if the game continued, so I'm not sure how much satisfaction I should take from that one). Currently I'm playing a bit of Slither on LittleGolem.net, and am reminded about every other move just how little I understand the strong/weak move distinction. Hell, I've lost 18xx games to people who have never played 18xx before. I lose teaching games.

There are exceptions. I once won a game of Paris Connection in which I never laid a single piece of track, so I pretty clearly understood how to work the system in that instance, giving me hope for that game, and others. And ten minutes have passed between my typing that sentence and my now remembering that I once won a 6p game of Chicago Express against a table of 4 newbies (my brother was the only other experienced player). So, OK, there aren't many exceptions to my losing streak at all. A list of games I'm actually good at might honestly be a blank sheet of paper.

So what the hell am I doing? Why do I do this? Why do I play games that I'm terrible at, that I take forever to learn, that I can't remember rules to, and against much sharper competition?

I'm just going to start calling it "compelling frustration." It's plainly obvious to me that, after spending several years on this site, that I neither play games as frequently as other people, nor do I think about them as often as other people. I don't study them in as much detail, I don't follow trends, I don't look for new mechanism fixes or reboots or ways to tweak a game to better balance it should I play it 3p and not 4p. My buddy Martin once wrote about "breadth gamers and depth gamers," and I do like that distinction, but how about those of us who are terrible depth gamers? Gamers who insist on losing the same game(s) all the time? 'Tis I, BGG, the Compelling Frustratist. Don't I get a category?

This is not a tendency unique to games. I seem to gravitate towards things that are out of reach. My wife was out of my league, for starters. Still is, if I want to be honest about it.

But hobby-wise, the last guitar piece I learned was just beyond my ability, but when I was done, it was no longer beyond my ability: I moved the goalpost during my studying. I've done it again, as I really have no business trying to study Manuel Ponce's Sonata Romantica, particularly since I have no committed performance date in the future to give me a goal to work towards. The piece is the goal, and that's what I've decided is true about compelling frustration: the game is the goal. Playing the game well is an incredibly distant goal, farther off for me than for many other people here because I just don't play as frequently as some people do, I don't create as much opportunity to do so, and I seem to have a very real handicap to playing some games well, which is that I simply cannot remember rules. Rules are, in some cases, somewhat arbitrary restrictions on my decision making within a game's problem space, and as every editor in charge of my company's corporate and visual styleguides will tell you, I am terrible at learning arbitrary rules.

Compelling frustration is what makes Age of Steam so great, or what makes me throw my hands up and say "Dammit Martin! I didn't even think to place a leader there, but you did and it was a strong move aaaaaand...here comes fourth place again, beautiful" but there's always an again, despite the frustration, because I can see that my Future Self (he's much smarter than my Current Self) can actually get to a point, maybe, potentially, where that move will start to be a little clearer when the board is inspected. Each of these games helps me move the goalpost, even when I lose. Losing these games (particularly Age of Steam) still comes with a sense of accomplishment. I can lose each time, and lose differently, and lose awesomely.

I like that these purported favorite games of mine have this, that they consistently demonstrate that I am not, in fact, very clever (maybe yet, maybe not at all), that there is more to pay attention to on the board than just what I have been paying attention to so far. Ryan Sturm (of the How to Play Podcast) once called for more of an effort to play better games more often, and--as I look over my collection, my logged plays, and my gaming opportunities--that seems to be exactly what I'm doing. I really am not playing duds very frequently any more. That has come with a tradeoff, though, as I seem to have lost my ability to actually win a game. Except I find these games so compelling and so different that I don't really care, and have noticed that removing winning from my gaming life has actually caused my gaming to increase. Better games more frequently? Yes, please.

Last night a 5p Rails/Dropbox game of 18EU came to an end. I placed fifth. A 5p game of 1856 is starting up at some point today. Monday night I'll probably lose a game of Chicago Express at my Train Game Night, and next Saturday I'll likely lose my first game of 1860 and then lose either 1824 or 1848. It's going to be pretty great.
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