Monday, June 17, 2013

The games I play

Over the past week, I have played five board games that have all incorporated an element of first time playing, as I was either teaching or learning in each session. The games included: Jaipur, a 2-player card-taking game I had played once previously; The Castles of Burgundy, a tile-laying dice-based European-style game; Village, a complex worker placement game that involves "time" as a resource to be spent (and thus subsequently involves having your oldest generation of villagers die off in order to finish the game); Android: Netrunner, a 2-player living card game that involves customizing decks in a sci-fi world in which highly skilled hackers called "runners" attack corporations; and Agricola, in which I taught four relative board game neophytes (and still lost by two points). I enjoyed each experience, and I was glad to have had the opportunity to play all of these games, which are all highly ranked on BoardGameGeek (125, 15, 68, 5, and 2 respectively), even though the only one I own is Agricola (I have been privileged to have access to the collections of two other gamers, and we have deliberately tried to structure our collections around one another to avoid duplicates). In addition, in the week previous, one of those gamers and I tried out a print and play copy of a Kickstarter worker placement game called Euphoria with the added difficulty of trying to decode a not-quite finished rule set and some iffy ideas (the game earned $300,000 in its effort, but my friend decided not to back it after all). So with all of this new gaming happening, I have started to think about how I add games to my "repertoire", as it is.
The key question I have to ask is what it means to add a game to my functional gaming repertoire - to be able to move from using the words "I've heard of..." or "I have played..." to "I play". It's one thing to have heard of a game, another to have played games like it, or even to have played it once or twice; it's another thing to be able to say that it's part of my gaming library. It usually only happens after five or so plays, but here are the ways that I know I have added a game to my repertoire:

1. I have to fully understand the mechanic of the game and how to strategize confidently within the game's construct; if I'm still tenuously sorting through the way the game works, it's not there yet.
2. I could teach the game to someone else with a limited review of the rules.
3. I can fluently compare it to other games and I can use my experiences playing the game to understand other games.
4. I have to be an "evangelist" for the game ("Have you played ____________? It's great because....")
5. I have to enjoy it and want to play it. (Seems obvious, doesn't it?)
(6. Most of the games also tend to be games my wife likes. That's just the way it works.)

So, with that in mind, I thought I might look back and see how my repertoire has evolved in the past two years as I have become much more intentional about pursuing board gaming as a hobby. I have only tracked my plays from 2011 onward, so it is hard to say how many games I have added in each of the years before that, but I think it's safe to say that I played fewer than ten new games in any one year. In fact, it was as recently as November 2010 that I lamented the lack of gamers with whom to share my then-budding hobby; now that seems like a distant past reality. From 2008 to 2010, I added a few games to my repertoire and to my collection, but it was not until 2011 that I really took off in the hobby. Let's just say (somewhat arbitrarily) that I had forty games total in my repertoire as of the end of 2010. So here's what has happened in the past three years. In 2011, I played eleven games for the first time: Agricola; Alhambra; Chrononauts; Citadels; Dixit; Dominion; Innovation; Power Grid; Puerto Rico; San Juan; and Tikal. The only one I do not own now is Alhambra, but I still have access to a friend's copy. So, in all, I added eleven games to my repertoire in 2011, and all but one is in my collection (and it will be sooner or later).
In 2012, I played thirty-one games for the first time. Of those thirty-one, I owned eighteen at the time I played them; of those eighteen, I now own eleven, as I have sold off several games since. That means that eleven games are now part of my repertoire and my collection. Of the dozen I played but did not own, nine immediately vaulted onto my "must buy" list, though most of them are owned by one of the other gamers with whom I play. The only one that none of us own is Kingdom Builder, which may be my next big purchase when the Big Box edition comes out in North America. In all, it means that there were twenty games that I first played in 2012 that will have been added to my repertoire (and hopefully my collection eventually), although about half of those games are still in the process of being added (meaning that I have played them only once or twice). I played three times as many games and doubled the additions to my repertoire from the previous year.
So far, almost halfway through 2013, I have played fifteen games for the first time (Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Android: Netrunner, At the Gates of Loyang, Barons, The Castles of Burgundy, Chaos in the Old World, Eclipse, Egizia, Euphoria, King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Lost Cities, Munchkin, Village, and Wits & Wagers), as well as two expansions (7 Wonders: Cities and Pandemic: On the Brink). This pace puts me on pace to match 2012 in terms of games played if I keep this up, although I may not match the additions to my collection (only four so far) or to my repertoire; right now, I have added three games to my repertoire, with another three additions coming with future plays and another couple of possibilities with more test plays. That would put me back on pace for ten to twelve for the year, which would be a regression from 2012. This may change when I receive two Kickstarter games in the fall (Eminent Domain and Flash Point: Fire Rescue) or as I play other new games over the last half of the year; it has also helped me that I have emptied my shelf of some games I don't play in order to play the games I do have more - addition by subtraction, as it were.
I was kind of discouraged at first by that realization, as it seemed like I might have already reached a plateau as a board gamer, but I do not think that this impending reduction is a bad thing. If anything, it means that I am more discerning about the kind of games I enjoy and that I know myself as a gamer much better. For example, I generally know that I do not enjoy games with a lot of fiddly parts or that rely on significant elements of luck; I tend to prefer tightly controlled strategic games. I am still willing to try a number of games I know I probably will not fully enjoy or appreciate (such as the Warhammer-world-based Chaos in the Old World), but I am glad to have played them, regardless of whether I add them to my repertoire or just let them stay as I game I have played. The entire process feels very similar to how I learned to avoid movies I wouldn't enjoy; I just got to know which movies to avoid putting energy into as I watched more movies and realized what made a film good and what made me want to watch it. That's what I can now do with board games.
The other thing I realized is that I still have an extensive list of games I would like to play - about ninety in total on my active to play list, plus a few expansions for games. I spent several hours on Friday morning editing and revising my wish list of board games and games to play just to get a better sense of where I am at. There are twenty games on my "must buy" sometime list, several of which are on hold because a friend owns it. I have ten games on my "would buy without trying" list, most of which are short card games under $15. I have about a dozen "maybe buy" games that I would probably pick up for the right price, and twenty-five expansions I would buy. Then I have another eighty games on my list to try, any and all of which I would play at any given time and many of which I suspect I would enjoy enough to buy sometime. I have a few that still stand out above the rest in terms of my desire to try them, and I would probably buy some of them even without trying them just because that's how I get to add new games to my repertoire - either I buy it or someone else does. Of course, this is part of the fun: the dreaming and scheming about which games to try and buy and which ones stick as games I play and which ones will fade into obscurity in someone else's collection. And maybe I just really need to focus on playing a lot of games a second time, too. How about you - how do you add games to your repertoire?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Official Off Day

My wife has a door hanger she bought when she lived in Taiwan that reads "Official Off Day". Chinglish confusion of words aside, that's how I feel today, my last official day off for the rest of the summer. Today is the totality of my time off for the next ten weeks, as I start full-time work at Forge Camps on Monday. It's not that I have actually nothing to do today - I have hours of work I could do in this time - but I have simply chosen to ignore it all today and to just enjoy myself with whatever I wanted to do. So what have I done so far? I spent several hours this morning researching one of my hobbies - board games - then I played some Lego Lord of the Rings, followed by some random surfing online and blogging, all of which are hobbies I have mostly neglected over the past three months aside from a couple of prolific writing weeks in mid-April and mid-May. It's not that I have not wanted to take the time to engage in my hobbies - it's just that I have been ridiculously busy and consumed with everything going on here: upcoming camps, church leadership, job searching, and working close to full time, in addition to trying to fit in some sense of a social life. Of course, I did have time to play through Lego Batman with my wife (so much fun!) and to watch through Seasons 2,3, and 4 of Arrested Development, but even those activities felt at times like something I had to do rather than what I wanted to do. I have had at least two dozen posts I have wanted to write, but I could just never find the time to do so when I had sufficient mental capacity to engage in anything more than TV or video games. I feel like I've been kind of lost for a few months, and I'm looking forward to getting myself back on track. As of Monday, life streamlines a bit, and I get to focus on, say, two things instead of five or six.
In the midst of all of this, I have been thinking about what it meant to have transition time between the end of school and the beginning of camp. Those few weeks were some of my favourite times of the year, as I got to take time to recuperate and reconnect with friends and relax. It was so nice to just shut down my school life and have nothing to do except enjoy a few weeks before moving into my summer employment. It was so refreshing to have a clear transition marked by moving and relocating, and to be able to wrap everything up and leave it behind for a few months while I worked at camp. It was a different rhythm of life for a different time, and it was great while it lasted. Of course, that type of constant transition is not a reality now, and it has not been for about five years. The weird part, however, is that I have still constantly been in transition in a different way, one in which it is increasingly difficult to wrap things up and leave them behind and to just relax. Whether it's the pressure to apply for jobs or working through financial pressures caused by not having stable work or the stress of working through what life looks like in the midst of it all or the need for monitoring issues in church leadership or trying to make space to dream about camps or trying to have a social life, there's just always something going on.
The whole experience of life right now fees like working on your computer. At any time, there are a lot of programs running, but you're probably only working on one or two at a time. The other programs are minimized, so you might not always notice them, but they are still running in the background and taking up memory. Occasionally, you realize that your computer is running slowly, and you have to shut down some of those programs or even reboot the whole system; at times, you even need to defragment the hard drive or start deleting files to make space. That's kind of what I'm doing right now, in a sense - I'm getting rid of some files and programs for now to make space for things to run. Most of that space will be devoted to running Forge Camps, looking for work for the fall, and trying to reconnect with people here and back in SK, all of which will be good. I am really looking forward to a different pace this summer with far fewer things on the periphery and in my direct vision. I am excited about returning to direct Forge Camps, as there are a lot of really cool things that are happening that are carrying over from last year. I am really excited about enjoying life for a couple of months, rather than always feeling like I am just biding time until the next thing I have to do has to get done. And I am happy that, even though it's only one day, that I have had one Official Off Day between school and camp.

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