04 January 2015

Matching games to players

So you've got your group of friends together, and you're planning on spending a lovely evening playing one of your favourite games. You make sure everyone is ready, everyone understands the game, and you start in with the evening's session. But halfway through, you realise you're just not having that much fun. This game, which you normally so adore, just isn't fun for you tonight. What could be wrong?

Might it be that you've got the wrong mix of players?

Take my situation, for example. In looking over my games, I notice that I have a penchant for games that involve creativity in some way. I'm not overly fond of chess, but I adore chess variants (3 player chess, byzantine chess, infinity chess, spherical chess, etc). This is mostly because I love seeing what sort of different or unusual spin can be put on the main game. I also love games like Gloom, where half the fun of playing is in seeing what sort of outlandish stories can be told in the course of playing the cards. Fiasco is, of course, purely an exercise in creativity. I've always loved tabletop roleplaying games precisely because of the stories told through them; Changeling: the Dreaming is paramount amongst this category of game because it encourages and rewards creativity.

But over the years, I've noticed that there are some people who just don't fit with these sorts of games.

I have a couple of friends to whom I introduced the game of Fiasco some time ago. As the game wore on, one of these friends was finding it increasingly difficult to contribute to the story. This friend continually asked what to do, what would be the best course of action to take, what would the character do in this scenario, and so forth. The player is simply too tactically-minded to really function well in a story-telling setting.

The other friend was doing a better job, until the very end. The story was very clearly headed in a specific direction, and the most satisfying ending for the game would have been a case of cold-blooded jealous murder. Instead, the player retreated from that option, and became acquiescent to the character's fate.

There was another situation in which I was GMing a game of Changeling. I set up the objective, and let the players loose to find the solution to the problem. It had always been my intention, from the very beginning, to have the solution involve an antagonist and some assistant adversaries, who were constantly working to frustrate the PCs' plans. I had planned out the clues I would be dispensing to the characters on a harshly regimented schedule: they'd learn something, then have a pretty major scene (fight scene, chase scene, series of investigations into a mysterious warehouse, etc) before they were allowed to have any more information. My rationale was that, whilst solving the mystery and saving the day (so to speak) was a lot of the fun, the real enjoyment came from the encounters along the way.

It became obvious that one of the players didn't think that way. All of the interesting fight scenes and chases and explorations of interesting stockpiles of fantastical devices were, to this player, delays in the course of solving the main mystery.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of these styles of play. The tactical person in the first example would do very well in games such as D&D or Shadowrun, for example, where it tends to be more about vanquishing foes than about telling stories. The player from the second example does quite well in Changeling, where creativity in playing is an asset, but a game based on more conventional story structure (such as Fiasco) is not quite right for the player. And the third player may do well in short-form games, like Paranoia, but has trouble with delayed gratification.

This is why it's important to know what sort of games a player may be suited for. And conversely, it's also helpful to know what sort of players a game is suited for.

I've played Fiasco now so many times with so many players that I have a fairly good idea who amongst my friends will enjoy the game (and, just as importantly, who will enable the other players to have a good time as well). This is why the invitation list for my Fiasco sessions tends to be somewhat limited.

As I said, there's nothing wrong with any particular player's style of play. It's merely a matter of ensuring that people who do well in a particular milieu are matched with games that fit them, and vice versa.

Anyway, something to think about. Next week, I will return with more (hopefully) interesting stuff. Until then,

Game on!

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