Rick Thornquist: Don’t Play Games with Me

by Rick Thornquist
May 23, 2011

First up, a confession: I hate it when people text when I’m playing games with them.  Now, I’m not talking about one text in an evening – I even do that occasionally.  I’m talking about people who are endlessly texting throughout a game.  This annoys the crap out of me.  It’s like these people are teenage girls, unable to cut the bond with their online friends for even a few minutes.  If these people find their phones more interesting than me, I’d rather they just don’t play games with me in the first place.

This got me to thinking.  It’s not only the texters I’d rather not play games with.  There are other kinds of people as well, and I find that they all fit into a number of categories.  Hence, this article. If any gamer finds themselves in any of these categories, please, please, I beseech you, don’t play games with me.

The Texter / Phoner
I’m going to lump the texters in with the phoners.  Who are the phoners, you ask?  Oh, you know them, the ones that can’t bear to have their phone leave their side – even for a minute – because they are so important.  Of course, their phone rings and rings again while they are playing and what was supposed to be a fun game turns into an exercise in waiting for the phoner to conduct whatever business is more important than me.

I used to play with a guy that epitomized a phoner.  He was a system administrator and was on call whenever we played games.  His phone would inevitably ring with someone who was having some system problem and the game would come to a screeching halt while he tried to fix it. (I’d tell him to just tell the guy to just reboot the server – the standard solution for any computer problem – but he wouldn’t listen until ten minutes later when he’d tell the guy to, uh, just reboot the server).

The Drinker / Druggie
A few years ago, I played a game of Web of Power at a local game store.  My opponents were new to the game.  No problem there, as I’m often called upon to explain rules.  This rules explanation, however, was a little different than most…

I started with an overview and talked bout how to win the game.  Just as I was starting to explain the sequence of play, one of the guys, who looked slightly out of it, interrupted me and asked, “So how do I win the game?”.  I was a taken aback, as I had just explained that two seconds ago, but I gamely restated the victory conditions.  The rest of the rules explanation was similar, with the guy endlessly asking me about stuff that I had just said.  The game itself was no better – the guy was useless and couldn’t remember any of the rules.  At the end of the game he confessed to smoking a joint just before coming to the game night.  Idiot.

Drinkers are no better. Obviously a drinker would be useless in a strategy game, but in a party game situation, where you may expect it to help, it does just the opposite.  In my experience, drinkers get obnoxious and belligerent and the games end up being torture.

The Leaver
I was in a game with a bunch of people at a convention.  In the middle of the game, one of the women gets a phone call.  Arg.  She takes the call – we wait.  After she hangs up she says she has to go.  I must say I was pretty annoyed.  Then, however, I became a little sympathetic – perhaps she had some kind of emergency and really had to go.  My sympathy disappeared when I heard from one of the other players that she does this kind of thing all the time, and there is almost certainly no emergency.  I went back to being annoyed.

I do realize that people may have to leave because of real emergencies.  Case in point: I was at the GAMA Trade Show in Las Vegas years ago and got a chance to play Ticket to Ride: Marklin before it was released.  I was very much anticipating the game and sat down one morning to play it with Mark Kaufmann of Days of Wonder and a guy who shall remain nameless.  In the middle of the game the guy looked at us and said he had to go to the bathroom.  We said, fine, go.  He said, uh, I might be there for a while.  We were, like, what?  He then told us to keep playing and when it was his turn to just draw two cards off the top of the deck and put them in his hand.  Puzzled, we said okay.  He left.

We kept playing and anticipated his return.  Five minutes, went by, then ten minutes, then fifteen.  The guy’s stack of cards was getting huge and I was actually getting worried.  He finally came back, looking drained.  He confessed that he had the breakfast buffet at the Circus Circus and it apparently didn’t agree with him.  In that case, I was sympathetic.  (That would have been enough for the story but… and yes, this is absolutely true, he ended up picking up his deck, finishing the game, and, believe it or not, winning.  We were all stunned.  Someday I’m going to have to try out the “go to the bathroom for fifteen minutes” strategy in a future game of Marklin).

The Non-Bather
I’ve not found smelly people to be too much of a problem in gaming, but it does happen.  If you haven’t taken a shower in 72 hours, don’t play games with me.  (Another aside: I remember a wargame convention years ago that had the following admonishment in the convention program: “There’s a shower in your hotel room.  Use it.”).

The Dickhead
Years ago, I taught a game of Where’s Bob’s Hat to this guy and two other players. The rules explanation was fine, at least I thought was, until we started to play.  Right away this guy starting interrupting the game, telling me I’d missed telling him some rule or other, and kept interrupting throughout the game questioning every rule.  Now it’s certainly possible that I missed a rule, hey, I’m human, but Bob’s Hat is a pretty simple game and I was pretty sure I had taught it right.  It turns out I had – the other players got the game exactly right and told this guy that I had explained it correctly.  This was to no avail – the guy continued to be a dickhead.  That guy became infamous in our gaming community and whenever he showed up to a gaming event – which, fortunately, was not too often – he was shunned like the plague.

The Slowpoke
We’ve all had problems with players who can be slow.  I’m quite sympathetic and am willing to put up with a little analysis, but sometimes people just take way too long on their turns and it make the game torture.

Most slow players know about their problem and, when gently admonished, will endeavour to speed up.  I remember one guy, though, who was taking forever on his turns and when we tried, gently, to hurry him along, he got belligerent and insisted he was going to take as much time as he needed. I’m glad he got what he wanted out of the game, because for the rest of us it was torture.  Oh, and he won’t be playing games with me, ever again.

If you do suffer from one or more of the above afflictions, please don’t play games with me.  It’s just not worth it, for both of us. However, if you are like most gamers, and I’ve met thousands of them, who are wonderful people and don’t exhibit any of the above conditions, please DO play games with me!

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22 Responses to Rick Thornquist: Don’t Play Games with Me

  1. bunnycatch3r says:

    I’d like to throw in the “musician”. This is the guy who will either whistle or hum or even play a drum beat on the table while the game is in play.

  2. Dale Yu says:

    I hate the fact that sometimes I’m the phone guy… But, about every other game night with my regular group is a night when I’m on call. Thankfully, the other guys in the regular group understand this, and I try to limit my calls to the times between games when possible.

    When I’m at a convention though, I do try to avoid the phone while playing.

  3. Legend Dan says:

    The worst for me is the Joker. I was once trying to teach Agricola to a bunch of new players. One guy would interrupt me at least once per sentence to make some terrible pun about whatever it was I had just said. The rules explanation took longer than the game. This guy has started coming to my regular gaming session, and since I won’t play with him anymore he’ll just sit next to me while I play / teach other games, sharing his hideous brand of puns.

  4. Randy Cox says:

    I’m strongly against those who have their iBaubles (phones, music devices, whatever) surgically attached to them. Or at least that’s how it seems. They use them to text or talk or surf when driving, walking, talking, and yes, playing games. I’m not so kind as you. I would just as soon those people vaporized and I didn’t have to deal with them while playing games or while NOT playing games.

    Only exception is if someone carries a phone which is truly, truly used only for emergencies. And that, by my definition, means they get a call no more than once a day, maybe twice a day on weekends. :)

  5. eknauer says:

    I think everyone should become a texter when it’s slowpoke’s turn.

  6. Paul Jefferies says:

    One of my favorite irritants is the gamer who doesn’t plan his move while everyone else is taking their turn…and then, out loud, runs through all the moves he CAN’T make, before deciding what he’ll do. We played a game of Thunderstone with a person like this at our game group on one occasion (only one, thankfully). He’d lay his cards on the table and talk himself through his turn: “OK…I can’t take the back monster because I don’t have enough light. But I think I can take the middle guy. Wait, no…I can’t. All my heroes need to be equipped and this one isn’t. So, the front guy then, I can take him. Oh, but then I’d have to take a disease and destroy a weapon. This is my best weapon so there’s no way I’m going to do that! Looks like I’m going to the village. Ok…how much gold do I have…” Drove us all crazy!

  7. Matt says:

    This article is mean-spirited and whiney and detracts from the otherwise stellar content on this site.

    I am a big fan of Rick and I hold almost exactly the same opinions as expressed but this post/rant just states many obvious things in a very unbecoming way.

  8. Jacob says:

    I was hoping you’d have suggestions when I started reading this. One guy in my game group recently got a new phone and has fallen in love with it. He checks it all the time because of twitter notices (he’s subscribed to a lot of them). We were playing Vinhos recently and he pointed out he’s subscribed to the BC Wine Growers Association (or something like that) and they send out wine facts/quotes every so often. He doesn’t use the phone when it’s his turn, thankfully, but on other people’s turns he’ll frequently check it.
    It’s not disrupting the game, it’s not slowing him down, it just bugs me. What am I supposed to say? I’m more concerned with how I come across if I say something and not his reaction. He’d probably stop checking it, I think. I just don’t want him or other people thinking I’m being a dictator when I’m hosting game nights.
    I’ll listen to anyone’s advice.

    • Charles Waterman says:

      Jacob –

      I’d say to avoid being a dictator, be willing to accept that the rest of the group may be less bothered by the behavior and thus willing to put up with it (or at least unwilling to stop it).

      To find out (and to possibly help the person become self-aware and able to end the annoying behavior choice on his own) try this: At your next gathering after everybody’s had a glass of whatever you’re serving, say something to everyone like, “Hey guys, I think these game nights are a lot of fun, but I wonder if there’s any ways yopu guys might think we could make them better? I mean like, for instance, do you think it would be better to, …” and then have 3- 5 innocuous behaviors that the group could change and in there somewhere bring up whether everyone thinks agreeing to turn off cellphones during games (or certain games) would enhance the fun or whether it isn’t necessary. If a significant number of the group immediately chimes in “Yeah lets turn them off” You can smile and say “OK!” If few people respond positively or if some agree with leaving cellphones on, then I wouldn’t make the rule.

      Montebanc (no relation – but send the widow some flowers anyway….)

  9. Ryan B. says:

    I dunno Matt. I don’t think the article is mean spirited. In fact, I’m just glad we’ve moved on from the 32nd iteration of “My top ten games are….” or “Within a .323254% differential, here are the most common games played on a Tuesday between 5 and 8 pm.” (LOL)

    But setting that aside, now that we are getting to an article that actually has some real opinion in it… I come back once again to why do people play games with complete strangers when all of these characteristics can be filtered out by just inviting your friends over? We are moving to Seattle Washington soon, so I guess I will put that to the test…. as I will now be the odd man out and of course we know hardly anyone there. But I am still not going to join a game group just to game with people. We’ll make our friends, I’m sure….. and then just have them over and just simply rebuild what we had in Tampa. It’s exciting to think that there are people I will soon become good friends with that I still have never even met. Cool huh?

    Anyway: No unbathing, sweaty, stinky, drunk people who jump on the phone at the first chance and cut out on the entire evening for me. I have never had that happen even once when playing with friends.

    If I host, its going to be conversation, open up a bottle of nice wine, have some interesting appetizers , laugh, make sure everyone feels at home and then sit down for a little boardgame, laugh some more, share interests and everyone’s happy. : )

    Really, I think I’m a pretty fun guy to hang out with. Seriously. But its not about the game for me… its about the connection you make with people who you find interesting and intriguing… and hopefully spending time with people who think the same about you too.

    So my vote: a very interesting article Rick. But I think you left out “The Ever Yapping Smart Aleck.” Which would probably be me more than likely…at least when I post in these here parts. (LOL)

    Ryan B.

  10. Ryan B. says:

    One last thing: Everyone has personality quirks that show up at the game table I suppose… but if you’re just out to enjoy people’s company via the playing of games… its all good. Ya know? : )

    Ryan B.
    Life is Good.

  11. Doug says:

    This could have been written better, as it comes across in a negative light. Probably not intended.

    We drink wine, occasionally text, have slow pokes, and yet have a great time. Don’t come over, Rick :)

  12. Charles Waterman says:

    Um Rick….somebody had to say it. Thanks for taking the brunt of speaking directly to the points you raised.

    IMHO, however, the”slowpoke” issue is as others have said more eloquently, really a “team player” issue. I can play with people who play twice as slow as I do, and I expect others to put up with my needing twice as much time as they do in other games. However, I plan to force myself to pick up my speed noticeably despite feeling I’m making weaker plans) when others hint I’m taking too long – and vice versa. If you’re unwilling to do that, only play games that you can play at other people’s speed or play with other people who play at your speed – but don’t play with me either if we can’t agree to meet in the middle.

    Montebanc (no relation – although I do have a Flagon with a Dragon)

    (By the way, sometimes, people play too fast – like the guy whose entire Dominion turn is to say “OK, I buy a gold”, then he picks up a gold, puts it on top of his hand and discards all without showing anything he had in hand…..)

  13. jeffinberlin says:

    I get the intended humor of this article, and, being only human, I sometimes lose my patience with people who do not live up to my expectations at the gaming table.

    However, I’m also one of those people who host open game nights, which means that I get all sorts of people, each bringing their own little personality quirks and emotional baggage with them. BGN’s Mrs. Meeple articles often addresses behavioral issues, and as I often commented there, I take my responsibility seriously to provide an evening where a diverse group of people can learn and grow together. Seeing that actually happen is, in the end, much more rewarding to me than getting the latest and greatest games to the table.

    As was already pointed out, we all have our own personality quirks–including me–and it’s always easier to “pick out the speck in my brother’s eye than see the log in my own.” And, if there are conflicts or annoyances, a much more productive solution is to talk about them openly with the people involved than to avoid confrontation altogether. It’s the most respectful thing you can do for that other person, and it’s a much more self-respecting way to handle it yourself rather than talking to other people about it.

    I’m a big fan of Rick’s writing, and from what I’ve read over the years, I think he’s quite a bit more tolerant and accomodating than the tone of this rant might communicate. And although this was obviously intended as a humor piece, it’s a good opportunity to encourage people to be more humble and accepting of others, and to strive for better communication. Humor–and games–can be good for initiating that sort of thing.

  14. That Guy That Everybody Hates says:

    Welcome to the dark side, Rick.

  15. Brilliant Article by an elite member of THE OLD GUARD, Rick Thornquist. I share Rick’s views. The texter is a menace to society. I was at a baseball game with a friend who was constantly texting, and I had to ask why did you come? If you are more interested in texting than the game and my company. Cell phone and tech addiction is a real threat to boardgaming. I am not a fan of these iphone versions of boardgames as they are a sirens call to shipwreck the Goodship Cardboard on the rocks forever.

  16. Larry Levy says:

    Let me come to the defense of my friend Rick (and if he’s a member of the OLD guard, I shudder to think what that makes ME!). I think most of us are very tolerant of our fellow gamers’ quirks and hope that they’ll be tolerant of ours. But the people that he’s describing aren’t quirky, they’re downright rude. He’s not talking about someone who texts once a game, but constantly. Nor is he referring to someone who enjoys a glass of wine or beer while playing, but someone who is actually inebriated. I wouldn’t want to play with these jokers either!

    You can question what kinds of steps should be taken if one of these folks is a member of your group: confrontation, avoidance, expulsion, or something else. But based on Rick’s descriptions, the one thing I wouldn’t do if I had to deal with one of these people is just leave it alone. The behavior described is too unpleasant and my gaming time is too precious. Fortunately, it’s not currently a problem for me and rarely has been in the past, but if it arises in the future, I’ll be certain to do something about it.

    • jeffinberlin says:

      I completely agree with Larry that rude behavior should not be tolerated, and that ignoring it (and especially ignoring it but then talking about that person later) is absolutely the wrong thing to do, both for your group’s sake and for that person’s.

      Unfortunately, too many people do exactly that–ignore the behavior and then simply avoid the person–and maybe even talk behind his back (even if it starts innocently with the question “Did that annoy you too?”).

      And I’ll admit that, sadly, I’ve been just as guilty at avoiding confrontation and talking about others behind their backs. I’m not at all pointing the finger here–just challenging us all to grow.

  17. I think one good use for these complusive texters is to try out a new game and see how often they text or if they text at all. If they do not text it must be a GREAT game to make them pass on their addiction during the course of the game. Use compulsive texters as lab rats for boardgame prototypes.

  18. fFish says:

    I have an additional category to add:
    The Architect.
    I had a player amuse themselves while I was giving a rules explanation for Glen More by building precarious stacks of pieces.
    Normally I don’t mind too much when people build mee-piles, but when the towers of components collapsed across the play area, catapulting bits onto the floor, I admit I saw red.

  19. jeffinberlin says:

    If the towers collapsed, then the category should be named “Building Contractor”, NOT “Architect” :-)

  20. Tom Hilgert says:

    Excellent article, I laughed a lot. Several other types I find a little bit annoying

    The Marriage-Saviour: “Ok Sweetheart, lets trade 3 gold for 1 sheep”. I once proposed to Knut Michael Wolf of the Spielbox that they should also rate the Honey-Factor of a game. I think its slightly different from kingmaking.

    The Luck-Hater: “I´m only rolling 1’s… I´m only drawing bad cards … You never won this game without all the luck”. Sorry guys if can´t stand the luck in a game, then don´t play it and lament all the game about luck and bad luck.

    The Turn-Resetter: “Oh I have a better idea. I take back my move and do it like this… (2 Minutes later) … I´m not sure if this meeple was over there at the start of my move”. Readjusting a short turn could be allowed but its really easier to play a game without letting people take back their turns or moves.

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