03 June 2017

The Downside of the Golden Age

As I've mentioned many times, we are in the midst of a Golden Age of board games. Lots of amazing new games are being published every month. If you go down to your local Board Game Cafe (assuming you're lucky enough to have one in your town, and if you aren't, maybe you should try to start one up!), they'll likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of different titles from which to choose. And that's not counting the ones they don't happen to have at that particular location, to say nothing of the out-of-print titles that are hard to find!

And that is an incredible thing.

To have so many options... to have hundreds of games you can play. You can seriously play a different game every day for a year. Two years, if you have access to a good supply, and maybe even more if you're in a place with a vibrant gaming community!

Which is both a good thing and a bad thing (a 'bood' thing, to coin a portmanteau as was suggested by a typo that I just made). Yes, it's amazing to have so many games to play. What a wonderful opportunity, if you don't normally like games, to keep trying new ones until you find a game that you do like! But then what happens if you find such a game, and you want to play it again? Will the other people at your gaming table be willing to play that one a second (or third, or fourth, or seventy-sixth) time?

That's a problem I'm actually facing myself lately. There are so many awesome games out there, and so many of my gamer friends are always so excited to try new ones, or to introduce me to ones that they've just discovered, that I find I seldom get to play the same game twice.

In my normal Friday night game group, for example, which I've been attending now for some three years or so, I can think of only three games that I've played more than once (those being the Asmodee Eclipse, Between Two Cities, and Terra Mystica). Every other game we've played, even if someone says, 'Hey, that's awesome! I want to play it again!' has been preempted in favour of something that we've never played before ('Here's a new game that I just bought! I think you'll like it! Let's try it out!').

In some ways, this is my own fault. In making that resolution to play 80 of the top 100 games, I've set myself up to need to play a whole bunch of games once only. But even so, there's another aspect to this phenomenon: the inability to improve one's skills at a certain game (or type of game).

What I mean by this is: I suck at economic development games. Apparently, the way my brain is wired, I'm just not very good at forging a strong foundation in the early stages of a game that will provide a strong power base later in the game.

I refer here specifically to my experiences with Terra Mystica and Scythe. I've played Terra Mystica twice; the first time, I was so focused on learning the rules that I did incredibly poorly in terms of strategy and any attempts to win the game. The second time I played, I felt more confident in my understanding of the rules, and was able to pay more attention to the gameplay itself. I still lost very badly. By the time we'd moved into the endgame, I felt as though everyone had managed to build up a solid economic foundation for themselves, such that they had built almost all of their buildings, and were pumping out resources with nothing else they needed to do except dominate their opponents.

Except for me.

I was still struggling to build my third building. There were so many buildings I hadn't yet completed. Despite my best attempts to lay a solid foundation in the early stages of the game, my decisions simply had not borne fruit.

This led into my experience with Scythe: as I was learning the rules, I realised that it was going to be a similar type of game to Terra Mystica. Since my previous plan (lay a solid foundation early to enable a broad range of options later) had failed so spectacularly in Terra Mystica, I decided to instead decide on a specific goal (I chose to focus on getting victory stars in military might, combat victory, and enlistment goals) and only acquire economic power if it would directly feed into that goal.

The same thing happened. Just as I felt I had finally set myself up to spend the next few turns achieving those goals and was ready to make a rush for the goal line (so to speak), the other players dropped all of their victory stars at once and ended the game. Just like with Terra Mystica before, I felt like everyone else was finishing off their victory just as I was starting to finally develop a foundation.

I'm getting off topic here. My point is, I'm clearly going to need to play these games many many times (preferably with someone explaining to me how the strategy and economics of these games work as the game goes on so I can learn the dynamics of such games) before I'll ever be any good at them at all.

And like I've said before, it's not about winning. For me, games are usually a structure enabling me to enjoy social interaction more than they are a competition. But if I'm going to lose, I at least want to feel like I had a chance to win. With economic development games like Scythe and Terra Mystica, I always come away feeling like I am just an incompetent moron with no chance at all of ever winning. That sort of feeling doesn't really let me enjoy spending time with my friends.

But because we are in a Golden Age, and there are so many thousands of titles already existing and so many more being created every day, I will probably never have a chance to play either of those games again. The people I play with will almost always want to play a new game that we've never played before.

So that's a downside of being in the Golden Age.

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