Board gaming is a social hobby. Yes you can play some games solo but for the most part, the hobby requires personal interaction. Like actually being around…people…yuck. If I want to play an auction game, it pays (get it? pays? That was a joke…fine, not a funny joke, but a joke nonetheless…) to have other players.
There are very few games that involve auctions which can incorporate a “bot” in place of other humans. One example is Power Grid’s solo variant. But even then, it is predictive and boring compared to other people. So here is our problem. We need people to play games with us. And for the majority of us, we need them to be physically in the same room to play those games (yes I know some of you play online games but even then you need a person on the other side of those series of tubes we call the internet). So now we have established we need other people for this hobby to work optimally. Cool. That was easy. So we are done here, thanks for reading.
Wait, you want more? Ok fine. What I really wanted to talk about here was how those people can affect your gaming and what you can do about it. And no, I am not going to talk about the jerk gamers, the unshowered players, or the annoying Jerome…You know who you are Jerome. Stop being so ANNOYING! Sorry. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. How do people make or break your gaming? It all comes down to what you like and what they like.
I really have times when I want to play heavy, meaty, brain melting Euros. And I have to be aware of a few things when I am in that mood. The first thing is what day is it? Well, I normally get to game on Wednesdays and/or Thursdays. For the most part I also get to game for about 4 hours each of those days. So right off the bat if I am hankering for a long game like Dominant Species to scratch my itch, I may not even be able to fit that into my normal schedule. But let’s say we all know how to play the game and we can be sure to finish in 4 hours. Ok, now which day? For me, I game with 2 different (but overlapping) groups depending on the day of the week. Each group has varying members with varying tastes but on group meets at homes and the other meets at a game store. For Dominant Species, I don’t want to play this in a game store with the Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic players’ ruckus going on around me. I don’t mean to disparage this important part of our hobby (and yes, they are a part of our hobby, stop being a gaming snob). I just mean they tend to do a lot of moving around during tournaments, trade cards and negotiate, and sometimes just hang out chatting. There is nothing wrong with that but it can be distracting during a heavy Euro and heaven forbid they walk over and ask “what the heck ya playin’?” “Oh, just a game about surviving the ice age, evolving our species, and becoming the Dominant force on the ever shrinking planet.” “What? Wit’ dem cubes? That a cone there?” “Yes.” “Who you suppozed ta be?” “I’m the Birds. See? I’m the yellow cubes.” And about there they have walked away. The game has paused during this conversation, the other players are distracted, and now I have to remember what I was planning on doing with said birds. Again, I am glad to educate others on the wondrous fun of board gaming but even I know that conversation is boring and a waste of both our time. Wow, got on bit of a rant there didn’t I? Sorry. Back on topic! So I need to play Dominant Species on Thursday. Great, we now know what day and by that which group. But that doesn’t mean I’m done. The next piece is which of that group will I play with? Thankfully my group is diverse and large so I have plenty of people to game with. But, how many of those people will be in the same headspace as me on the same Thursday? Will we have 3 people really excited about Dominant Species and 2 others that aren’t thrilled but will fill seats to be nice? What if all but one player knows the rules? There goes 30 minutes to teach one player the game and everyone else second guesses their choice to play. If the 2 people that aren’t thrilled to play both gravitate to the same area of the board as an expert player, will that give him/her an advantage in this heavy game? There are a lot of questions. The optimal group for a game like this is everyone having the same knowledge of the game, desire to play, and desire to win. Each of these can be on a varying scale but everyone needs to fall on the scale in the same place for each category. If I have full knowledge, full desire to play, but no desire to win, the game will be poorer for someone with full desire to win. I will be playing spoiler to them with my choices rather than trying to win for myself. And trust me, in a heavy game that is important.
Ok, so what am I getting at here? What is the point? The people I play with are going to inform my enjoyment of a game, my likeliness to suggest a game, and even my proclivity to buy certain games. If I know my normal gaming groups would never play a space themed game, why would I spend my money on one of those games even if I really wanted to play it? If I have to force others to play it with me knowing they will hate it, my enjoyment will be lessened. Your gaming group is your collection, your top games, and your gaming style. Like it or not you are represented by your group. If you are not into 18XX games and your group only ever plays those games, you won’t come back. Likewise if your group is casual and party driven, you better like playing Two Rooms and a Boom. The worst thing for a gamer is when they begin to evolve in their tastes. Everyone is going to begin to find a niche in the hobby where they feel the most comfort.
Unfortunately you can’t predict where your group will fall and when things will change. The only thing you can do is continue to bring new life into your group. Literally. You are going to have to add people to your group. New players increase the likelihood you will find like-minded gamers. You also really need to be able to play games with almost anyone. Sit down and play a game with whoever is excited to play the game. Don’t sit out of a game just because Jerome (yes you…) is going to play it. You have to learn to be the type of gamer who can play with anyone and you’ll find more people will want to play with you. And ultimately you have to learn to be honest. Don’t be nice and sit down at a table with people to play a game you don’t care about and will internally mope during. Just say no, I’ll play something else. The more people that are honest about this the better off your gaming will be. Trust me.
But in the end, I know I should bring shorter games with a high player count to Wednesday gaming and heavier smaller group games to Thursday. If I have a desire to play a certain game on a specific day, I just have to get over it and wait for the right day and time. It can be frustrating but at the end of the day, it isn’t life or death, it is games. And the people you play games with, even Jerome, are there to have the same fun you are. But please, don’t buy space games if no one else likes them. Seriously, no one is ever going to play them with you and you’ll just be wasting your money and frustrating only yourself. (Or, you can meet new people who like space games, but that means talking to people…yuck)