"Well," thought Gurgeh, "I will have sex with her. I am, after all... THE PLAYER OF GAMES."
October 26, 2012 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I like Eurogames (think Settlers, Arkham Horror, etc.). I sometimes have a tough time getting along with the other players, and now I'm nervous about joining board-gaming groups.

I rarely get a chance to play these games, so my play style is different from the style of more regular players. Since I'm pretty new to most games, I play to explore and have fun. This sometimes baffles and upsets my partners and opponents. They have usually played any given time many more times. They play strategically, exploiting deep game mechanics and tendencies ("Bob, go to the general store! The shotgun is more likely to show up there!"). I'm the guy who chooses characters and abilities because I like them, not because I know that there are more monsters who are strong against dark than against fire.

So, my game collaborators (in cooperative games) and opponents get puzzled when I make a move that I think is interesting, but they think is illogical or inefficient ("What are you doing? The orb is in the other room!"). It's not that I'm not interested in winning, or that I'm trying to make it harder for the other players, it's that I'm curious about "what's over there." As for me, I start getting bored when a dominant player emerges and starts directing what the others should do ("Jim, go for the dynamite! Beth, start the truck!"). I really don't like it when the game becomes a chore. As you can also guess, a game like Epidemic is far from a favorite: I have no intuition for it, so my options are either to follow explicit instructions or hold everyone else back with my "experimentation."

I guess people in my situation are more likely to play party games, but those just bore me. In my experience, party games often fail to hold the group's attention as players drift off into conversations or lose track. I'm looking for something a little more involved and interesting.

I've had this issue develop several times with different well-established groups. I conclude that I fall into the twilight zone between rank amateur and steely-eyed duelist.

Should I try to change my play style somehow? Focus on particular game genres? I've tried introducing people to new games in order to, er, level the playing field, but have had unimpressive results. (For example, at one party where I tried to introduce Gloom, someone sat me down and patiently explained to me why Gloom is a mediocre and unengaging game.) For reference, my favorite game so far is RoboRally, which combines rigorous planning with hilarious unpredictability·
posted by Nomyte to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a Serious Gamer, but honestly, if I were to sit down and play a game with someone who was critical of my play choices and insistent that I was Doing It Wrong, I would mock the everliving shit out of them.

I liken it to the person who insists on correcting everyone's grammar when friends are just hanging out and talking. That person is an ass, and is ruining everyone's fun.

For some people, however, the point of games isn't to have fun, but instead to play the most strategic game possible and win. They are the jocks of the tabletop gaming world. If those are the sort of people comprising the groups you're seeking out, that's probably just not the best fit for you. It would be like someone who has only ever played intramural kickball trying to join a pro ball team. Maybe seeking out groups of beginners to play with would be more fulfilling.

Try calling local game shops to see if they know any groups trying to get started.
posted by phunniemee at 11:28 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is definitely a function of the group. I play Arkham Horror with seasoned veterans of the game and it's, well, fun and not like this at all. Of course, they all have stories of playing with groups exactly like the one you describe. Personally, I would be incapable of gaming with people who treat it as Serious Business. Having fun for me involves fucking around, and trying dumb things, and cracking jokes, and some game groups have zero tolerance for that sort of stuff. This doesn't sound like a totally hardcore "NO TALKING OUT OF TURN" sort of group, but it doesn't sound like their dynamic suits yours, and that is just a matter of taste.
posted by griphus at 11:36 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

(i.e. I don't think anyone has every been upset during a game of Arkham Horror or anything else. There have been "ha ha what the fuck did you just do?" moments, but they're in good fun.)
posted by griphus at 11:38 AM on October 26, 2012

You haven't found the right group. Every gaming clique I've been involved in accommodated others' play styles as much as possible, and the casual, somewhat random, "ooh what's this" experiencer is an archetype I recognize. You might try to find players who seem to prefer more American games--Battle Cry and sequels, Strange Synergy, Risk variants, etc., etc.--where the element of randomness as you just explore a theme makes your play style more natural. That's something Gloom has in common with Robo Rally for sure.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:39 AM on October 26, 2012

Yeah, you might look for different types of games and different types of gamers.

Cooperative strategic games really do rely on people working together as a group, and one person wandering off and not working toward the goal reduces the already slim probability of success to pretty much nill.

Even in a non-cooperative game, someone blundering about randomly instead of making strategic (i.e. predictable) choices can be really frustrating for those playing at a higher level, because part of advanced strategy is anticipating one's opponents' moves.

There are people in the world, though, who aren't playing strictly to win, and won't get too angry if someone screws up their strategy by not "playing right." And some people do find Gloom enjoyable. You might need to look around for (or, hey, create!) new gaming groups to find the people who like playing as you do. Do you like the Munchkin franchise, in any of its infinite varieties? (It's not very heavy on planning, but plenty of unpredictability.) It's quite popular, and "Munchkin" may be a good signifier for "I'm looking for people who are interested a fun, lighthearted gaming experience."
posted by BrashTech at 11:40 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are people in the world, though, who aren't playing strictly to win...

This is a really god point. I don't think the people I play with have ever sat down and said "okay, this time we're really going to beat Cthulhu." If you're playing with a bunch of people who Play to Win (TM) that's a sign that they take the game somewhat more seriously than you do.
posted by griphus at 11:44 AM on October 26, 2012

I was so hoping you were nearish, because I play the exact same way and get so tired of being marshalled across the game board and having quirky games dismissed out of hand.

I'd say to put up a note at your game store or start a meet-up that explicitly states the goal of forming a fun-focused, casual exploration of these types of games and cherry-pick the people you meet into an über-group.
posted by batmonkey at 11:48 AM on October 26, 2012


Some other thoughts:
1. If you play these games more, you should find the mindsets of the people you're playing with less alien. You'll already have "explored" a lot and be able to optimize like the other players.
2. Arkham Horror is boring and stupid. For example, no real function is served by there being multiple players. Don't play games that are boring and stupid.
3. When you want to introduce the group to a new game, try to get a sense of what new games the group is interested in, first. If you start early with questions like, "I've heard good things about Game X, what do you guys think?" or "What new games are you guys excited about?" you can find games that will be new to the other players, but that they won't be predisposed to hate.
4. Play more Robo Rally.
posted by grobstein at 11:59 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your ideal game would be a cross between a strategy and party game - something which has a certain element of planning, but enough randomness that you don't feel constrained to follow a "traditional" strategy.

I recommend Wiz-War. It's the kind of game where planning helps, but there are so many permutations from the cards that you can end up winning or losing regardless of how good you are. Furthermore, it's impossible to plan for every contingency. For example, I have seen players spend the entire game loading their wizard up with counterspells, only to be beaten to death by another wizard carrying a large rock. (Yes, the "large rock" is an actual card.) Most significantly, your desire not to get caught up in strategic planning won't negatively affect you that much since the game has a very brutal "Gang up on whomever's currently winning" mechanic which results in plenty of sudden turnabouts and reversals. Your playstyle could well prove helpful since you would be perceived as less of a threat by the other players.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:00 PM on October 26, 2012

According to the Bartle Test you can divide game players up into 4 main archetypes:


You're very clearly an Explorer type. Most people are Achievers, as your current group seems to be. For things to keep your interest, you might:
Try and get your group to try a brand new game every so often rather than playing something tried and true. You will be at your strongest when exploring new mechanics, and trying new things out, whereas the achievers don't have any experience to maximize.

Phrase your choices as arbitrary restrictions: Yes, Bob, I know Dark magic is stronger than Fire, but I'm trying to play using only Fire as a challenge. Your Achiever pals will most likely find this a new system to optimize and get quite behind you ("Oh, well if you can't use Dark, you should use X item instead! Normally you wouldn't use that, but if you are, you should do Y...")
posted by spatula at 12:03 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ugh, yeah, it sounds more like a problem with the group than a problem with you. We've all been there. One of my old groups tried to play Munchkin and one player took it way too seriously, which was somewhat meta-hilarious but quite irritating.

Pandemic is a phenomenal cooperative game that everyone should check out. The expansion, On The Brink, is also great. It does lend itself to "quarterbacking" a bit so beware of players that are prone to do that but that shouldn't be too much of an issue if everyone is new.

Instead of "everyone versus the board" cooperative games, you may want to check out semi-cooperative "one person against everyone else" games where one player assumes a Dungeon Master-esque role and the other players try to defeat them. HeroQuest is a classic example. I'm a big fan of Doom (yes, the board game based on the video game series). People have told me that Descent is basically like a better version of the Doom board game and I've heard nothing but positive things about that game.
posted by Diskeater at 12:12 PM on October 26, 2012

I agree with many above suggestions.
On a more practical note, might you try to play more competitive games and fewer collaborative ones? Everyone having an opinion about the moves I make drives me nuts in a game like Arkham Horror, but I never have a problem with more competitive games. I see that you say you have this problem with competitive games too but I feel like in that sort of situation it's simpler to just say that you are curious about what will happen if you do XYZ than in a game where everyone's success relies on your choices.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:23 PM on October 26, 2012

I agree with most of the other comments, in that you probably just need to find a different gaming group. We haven't found a group we mesh with, either, so I can understand that.

However, in a game like Arkham Horror, isn't the point to play cooperatively? So I could see where it would be frustrating for the other players for you to just wander off to see what lay over that way, rather than working on getting the gates closed before the ancient one rises. Maybe there could be some sort of compromise in a game like that, where you are able to explore, but also work towards the common goal? For example, maybe in your exploring, you try to get clue tokens, but you also meet up with other people and give them to them, so they can close the gates more effectively? (I think you can do that in AH, although I could be wrong.)

In other games, they probably just want you to have a good time, and to them, having a good time = doing well in the game, so they are trying to be helpful. Sometimes I just say "oh, it's my first time playing, so I'm just exploring all the things I can do! But thanks!" if people make too many suggestions.
posted by needlegrrl at 12:24 PM on October 26, 2012

I think all co-op games are inherently prone to creating team leaders who end up running the entire game - this is why I avoid them at all costs.

In competitive games, it can be frustrating - in the moment - if you're basing your strategy on an opponent's actions and they do something completely unpredictable, but that's all part of the game. I might curse at you at the time but I certainly wouldn't hold it against you. Clearly your opponents (if they are seriously playing to win) just need to take account of your exploratory nature and factor that into their decisions.

I agree with many of the comments above - it's a question of finding the right group. There are plenty of groups who enjoy theme-lead games like Munchkin and Gloom but also lots who prefer heavier, more tactical games. It's probably best to sound them out up-front as their game preferences will tell you a lot about their playing style.
posted by beardless at 12:25 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is a Bartle issue so much as a Timmy/Johnny/Spike issue -- you might get some insight into how to handle things by looking at what's written about that.

In general, though, what people said earlier -- play games involving more randomness so there's no point in doing too much long-term planning (Cosmic Encounter); play games involving less player interaction so you can kind of run your own strategy (Puerto Rico or Princes of Florence, maybe); play games that are lighter strategy or even known-broken (it sounds like you got burned by this with Gloom, but if you find a group that says the sort of game they *like* is Munchkin, you'd know you're in the right place).
posted by inkyz at 12:26 PM on October 26, 2012

Play games where you playing badly (ie, not 'playing to win') doesn't unduly impact the results for other people. Settlers of Cataan, Carcasonne, Ticket to Ride, etc.
posted by empath at 12:28 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm another person who usually wants to explore first, and honestly I think an offbeat strategy is a sign of an experienced player. Playing the same way over and over is no fun (and honestly makes you easy to predict as an opponent). I can't imagine getting annoyed unless the game was collaborative, such as Pandemic.

I can't see why anyone else would care about your moves in a game like Settlers unless you always refused to trade or something, but there are lots of good games where player interaction is relatively low, like Puerto Rico or Agricola.
posted by susanvance at 12:29 PM on October 26, 2012

Hoo boy do I feel you here. I love board games, but don't play them very often because I have a hell of a time finding compatible groups. Here are some things that have helped me:

1) Play with other people who don't know the rules going in, especially for cooperative games. Playing with other people who don't have the strategies down cold gives you a lot more license to experiment. By the same token, consider playing board games at a meet-up of people with another shared interest. The best board-gaming experience I've had recently was at a mefi meetup--having an additional non-gaming connection was key.

1a) If you are playing with people who know the rules already, make sure they explain everything clearly. One of the big pitfalls in trying to teach board games, I've found, is trying to explain rules and strategy at the same time. To an experienced player it seems like these aspects are totally intertwined, because the strategy comes intuitively after so many games. Encourage whoever's teaching you to explain mechanics and only mechanics. Then, as you're making your move, you can guide questions about strategy. Frame these questions as "what would you do in my position?" rather than "what should I do now?" That framing gives you a bit more agency; the other player didn't explicitly tell you "you must move to this space," they just suggested it as a good possibility.

2) If you're looking for good "weed-out" techniques for finding a good gaming group, seriously, look for one with a good number of women. As a woman who's been to lots of gaming meet-ups, I've found that more male-centric ones often tend to be full of...well, the types of players you describe above. Intensely strategy-focused, opinionated about games to the point of putting down others' tastes, maybe a bit socially awkward. Finding a group with better social dynamics makes a world of difference for players of all genders.

3) How do you feel about visual/spatial/pattern recognition games? I've found that people who wouldn't otherwise call themselves gamers can be more receptive to these games, because rules are easy to explain, you can play a game in less than an hour, and they don't have a million little intimidating pieces. However, there's still enough strategy there to engage more "hardcore" gamers. If this sounds appealing, look into Ingenious, Blokus, and Qwirkle as starting points.
posted by ActionPopulated at 12:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why don't you host a game an let the people you invite know that the experience will be a casual one where people can explore the game of the night and just have fun as opposed to an objective-oriented gaming session?

To me the people who go out of their way to point out when other people are playing "wrong" are asshats who need to examine their Napoleon complexes.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:58 PM on October 26, 2012

Then, as you're making your move, you can guide questions about strategy. Frame these questions as "what would you do in my position?" rather than "what should I do now?"

I think that this is exactly the kind of thing that would annoy more "gamery" gamers. I play for fun and never just to win but a lot of the fun is in the competition.

Getting a group consensus on how you should play not only slows down the game unbearably but also spoils the competitive element (particularly as unscrupulous gamers might try to convince you to do something that unfairly benefits them).

Some gamers are a bit more intense than others, they're looking for a competitive experience rather than an exploratory one, but labelling them (us, maybe) as socially awkward is a little unfair.

Just try to play with lots of different people and stick with the ones you have a good time with.
posted by beardless at 1:08 PM on October 26, 2012

Yeah, you have the wrong group for you. The group is fine. You're fine. You just don't mesh. My (ex) group of casual fun players had an occasional hardcore player, and only some of the casual gamers were willing to play with him. You just need to find a group of casual players. And not play coop games, because you sound like you are obnoxious in cooperative games. There are often a few reasonable choices for those games, but going off to explore because you're curious in a cooperative game is playing a different game than even most casual players want.

I played one game of Stone Age where I tried the "no breeding" strategy. Either I did it wrong or it fails miserably in a 2p game, because I lost by nearly 100 points, but the person I was playing with didn't mind.
posted by jeather at 1:11 PM on October 26, 2012

I've met lot of "serious" gamers who are purely into exploiting the gameplay mechanic to win. They are irritated by chit-chat, socializing, and gamers who "ruin" the game by playing suboptimally, because for them, a perfect game is one in which all players play optimally. Introducing random behavior can lead a weaker player to win, which "breaks" the game for them (and for me, sometimes).

That's fine, but that's not a good match for you. I think if you attend (or create!) an open boardgame meetup with a social slant you'll have a better chance of meeting more compatible players. Maybe not the first night you're there, but over time.

Finally, I think you would really dig Tales of the Arabian Nights, which rewards "exploring" behavior with a good storyline that everyone at the table will enjoy. It's on the lighter side, making it a great gateway game for new players, though the pure-economics/abstract eurogamers may not like it (but that's a plus for you).
posted by homodachi at 2:01 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are like 50 million gaming groups in Washington, DC and suburbs, I suggest checking out some different ones until you find people who have similar play styles to you.

Labyrinth Games has become my local info and shopping hub for gaming, besides game nights of various styles there, much of the staff seems pretty up on some of the other gaming groups around town as well.
posted by noonewilleverloveyou at 2:18 PM on October 26, 2012

There are like 50 million gaming groups in Washington, DC and suburbs, I suggest checking out some different ones until you find people who have similar play styles to you.

Hey, I've checked out Meetup, but there aren't a lot of groups that have upcoming weekend meetups. I'm in Maryland, so it's very difficult for me to get to the city or NoVA during the week (for example, I'm still at work). If anyone has a group around here that's looking for players, I'd love to hear about it!
posted by Nomyte at 3:07 PM on October 26, 2012

I agree that you are in the wrong gaming groups, for you.

A good way to find new groups you like is to find groups that are playing games you like, that are conducive to your exploratory style. I think Primordial Soup is another game in this direction. There's a pile of dice-based games that you might find interesting too (can't recall their names right now).

A good way to find people playing games that work for you is to go to gaming meetups that have lots of people, so several games going on at once. Jump in on the ones that are your style. Learn the names of a pile of games that fit your style, so you can ask which of the games being played is most similar to RoboRally, for example.

Also I agree that you should stay away from games where playing not-to-win can destroy someone else's attempt-to-win. I'm not generally an angry gamer, but I have definitely gotten irritable when one person effectively throws the game to someone else. Or at the least you should avoid playing these sorts of games with players who are playing to win; seems like you don't want the friction against your own (perfectly valid, but incompatible) style.
posted by nat at 3:08 PM on October 26, 2012

Well, if you're unwilling to come into DC itself during the week, yeah, that probably limits you a bit. DC Game Night is almost exclusively in the city, but Games Club of Maryland does seem to have a bunch of locations spread throughout the region (alas, I have only been to the former, not the latter).

And I know I really shouldn't judge until I've been there, but The Board Room in Dupont Circle sure looks more like a board game-themed bar than a bar that is board gamer friendly. Although some of my board gaming friends have talked about checking it out.
posted by noonewilleverloveyou at 4:35 PM on October 26, 2012

Well, if you're unwilling to come into DC itself during the week, yeah, that probably limits you a bit.

I often get off from work at 6:00 or even 7:00, and then it's another 45 minutes to an hour to get places in the city. I have to be back at a reasonable hour because I'm usually taking classes and have homework. And, of course, I have to get up for work. I think "unwilling" is the wrong term here.

On the other side, I have been to the Board Room. It's a nice bar, but like everything else in the city it gets very, very loud in the evening, to the point that it's impossible to talk during the game.
posted by Nomyte at 10:15 PM on October 26, 2012

Something else to try are negotiation-style games, where the mechanics are there to serve the game going on 'above the table' - deals, treaties, backstabbing, all of that. This also needs the right type of group, of course, a bunch of people who will take the game seriously at the time, but laugh afterwards at the way they were completely betrayed by everyone at the table. Cosmic Encounter might be more your thing - it's chaotic and the player powers are totally unbalanced and rely on the players ganging up on each other to 'balance' the game. Junta El Presidente and the new City of Horror are similarly all about negotiation and subterfuge. If you thing co-op is definitely your thing, Battlestar Galactica might be worth a try.

You say you like Eurogames - but you actually very likely do not, or at least you don't enjoy games that reward efficiency, have lots and lots of little cubes and very stern-looking medieval men on the box. Some people love these games. Some people loathe them. I have some time for them but recognise that I'm nowhere near as good at them as some. Eurogames and 'hobby board games' aren't completely synonymous terms. If you're not a fan of certain types of game, that's not a failure on your part.

For example, at one party where I tried to introduce Gloom, someone sat me down and patiently explained to me why Gloom is a mediocre and unengaging game.

Well, that person is an arsehole. Gloom, viewed entirely on its mechanics, isn't the best game out there, but most of the fun lies in its silliness and its storytelling. Who wins is of secondary importance. Serious gamer types can often look down on Fluxx, but I have had some great games of Fluxx with people who have never touched a board game since Monopoly and Ludo. If fun is the aim and people are having fun then mission accomplished, never mind if the game doesn't stand up to rigorous ludological analysis. Mind you, I have a tendency to go on a rant if someone mentions Monopoly, so perhaps I shouldn't be chucking rocks when my own house is made of a transparent fragile material.

My favorite game so far is RoboRally, which combines rigorous planning with hilarious unpredictability

Perhaps also check out Galaxy Trucker. Build spaceships to a time limit, send them off, watch them fall apart due to a combination of unfair cards and your poor planning. Look sad when your opponents laugh at you. Laugh harder when they get their comeuppance.
posted by liquidindian at 9:00 AM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been invited to a couple board game evenings since October, but I still haven't found a more regular group.
posted by Nomyte at 9:55 PM on December 30, 2012

« Older Neurobiology for the kinda-sorta initiated   |   Possibly a Prickly Peruvian Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.