I Am Spartax

This blog contains some musings on philosophy, games, and the philosophy of games. Feel free to comment; I'd like to provoke thoughtful discussion.
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On exploring game spaces

Sam C
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Ingulphus wrote:
I find this idea that certain games are beyond the reach of children somewhat perplexing. It's the same with 'Agricola'. What creates this attitude? Is it the idea that there is only one way to play a game, i.e., perfectly, else you aren't really playing it? If it is, then that is nonsense.
Usually I start a blog post with a quote from someone famous, but this was such a perfect introduction to my ramble rant latest blog post that I couldn't resist.

I remember seeing a Youtube video where someone, maybe a low-intermediate-level player, was demonstrating a new online implementation of Go. And all the viewer comments said things like, "Yeah, maybe you should learn to play a little better before you go posting videos, n00b!" Which proves once again that youtube viewer comments are the lowest form of communication on earth, and I'm glad to hang out on the Geek instead. But unfortunately, you find the same sentiment here, although usually expressed with more courtesy.

Frequently in the Mage Knight Board Game forums, I'll see people post a report of their first game, and lots of well-meaning posters will pile on, explaining what was done wrong, telling the poster how to play better, and so on. And this isn't the situation when someone says, "After 10 games, I can't figure out how anyone can possibly beat the cities - please help!" It's just someone saying, "I played my first solo game of Mage Knight and I lost, but it's a cool game."

The same is true of my new obsession, Mage Wars Arena - someone will post a video of a first play, and someone else will very nicely explain how they should both have been much more aggressive, and their opening was all wrong. Now, in their defense, Mage Wars has a different play-pattern than most CCGs or LCGs, and many new players get frustrated because they can't get going. But still - I feel like it's only polite to wait for someone to ask, "How could I do better?" before proffering advice.

It mystifies me. The advice is usually good, but the underlying attitude seems to be that unless you're playing well enough to compete with strong players, you must not be having a good time.

I can't identify with this attitude at all. To me, the most exciting time in a game is when I'm gradually deepening my understanding of the strategies available. I like to call it "exploring the game-space". Playing Puerto Rico or Caylus, I'll hear or read people say, "Don't buy the Large Warehouse (or the Alchemist, or whatever); it stinks." To me, that's a challenge. Can I win with that building? Can I make it an integral part of my strategy? Maybe the experts concur on that point, but that's not important to me. I'd rather lose the game but gain an understanding of why that particular building is or is not good than vice versa.

I remember reading a story here on the Geek of a chess player who specialized in learning odd gambits that weren't theoretically sound. Why? Because at the level of the tournaments he was playing, nobody knew how to counter them. I particularly remember the line, "Let's face it, after you read, 'This opening was authoritatively discredited by Grandmaster So-and-so,' you tend to skip over it and study the Ruy Lopez instead." This player's opponents were like parrots - they could say, "discredited opening", but they didn't understand why! Let me explore the discredited strategies and see if I can make them work; see if my opponents can figure out how to counter them.

So this is my encouragement to let people take their time figuring out games. Maybe they'll come up with something you didn't think could be done! Recently, my wife and I were teaching Brass: Lancashire to another couple and I said, "Don't be afraid to take loans; you pretty much can't play without them." So my wife, just to spite me, played coal-iron, took no loans all game, and finished with a competitive score. (And I was ridiculously proud of her, I might add! That's gaming with some attitude!)

Even if they don't come up with something new, you can let them have the fun of making the connections and having the "Aha!" moments themselves. Then they'll understand the game better, rather than doing something because a more experienced player told them to.

Reiner Knizia wrote:
When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the playing that is important, not the winning.
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