I saw a video of a robot playing Settlers of Catan recently and it made me think. I enjoy playing board games on my phone against AI opponents, but how would that change if the AI was in front of you? What motivates AI in the game? Winning? The word “winning” is a full word, and means lots of things to lots of folks. It made me think of the broader implications of a robot gamer: why do I play games?
I play games for the diversion. “Diversion” comes from the Latin divertere which means “to turn aside or away.” So, when I play games, I play to veer away from the normal life. “The normal life” isn’t a bad thing. I live a happy and easy life. Even with all my comforts, a break is necessary, and I use games to fill that time. I don’t play to win. I don’t play to become good. I play to play. I also enjoy the time spent with family and friends. I also play for the intellectual challenge and exercise. There is something about learning a complex game and playing it well. When “playing it well” starts to mix with “playing it better,” I begin to lose interest. I’m alway striving to be better at my job, my marriage, and my family. I don’t want to be better at games. I only want to play them.
That is a human thing. A robot can’t play to “just play.” I suppose you could program a computer to make random plays to progress the game rather than win. Its purpose is still derived from its program. I can’t “just play.”
There are many who can’t define a game outside of the need to win it. In that way, I see a continuum. One extreme is the “just play” motivation. The other is the “must win.” Most folks land along that path.
Are there other motivations? Is this too linear? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Every person experiences stress sometime in their life. Stress can come in many forms, whether the problem is real or perceived. People have developed lots of ways to combat stress, from sensory deprivation to working out. For me, a major source of de-stressing is gaming. In a study performed by Real Networks, researchers measured the effects of “casual gaming” on stress. Their findings are what you might think: games relieve stress. They defined casual games as “non-violent games that are simple to learn and difficult to master, and categorized as games that players can leave and pick up again easily.” This applies to many, but not all, board games I’ve played. Below are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years when it comes to playing board games as a destresser.
Adjust your Approach
The most important part of destressing with games is coming at them in a relaxed manner. Are you bent on winning? Is the perfect game always on your mind? Gaming as relaxation may not be for you then. If you answered “no” above, then games can be a great source of relaxation. Games are a way to enter into a world that doesn’t exist and do things you couldn’t do in real life. It’s a fantasy – even if it is realistic. It is a release from actual cares. If that is your mentality going in, it will help.
Vary your Play
Rather than coming at a game attempting to have the best possible strategy, adjust your play to try different things. Some games allow for this more than others. Again, it has to do with your original approach to the game, but if winning is the main goal of the game, then trying alternate strategies could be a great way of exploring the game. There are few more relaxing activities that playing through the many facets of a deep board game.
Choose Your Group Wisely
When playing games this way, it is important to make sure your group understands the low-stress environment. In many groups, this is likely unspoken. Every group has their try-hard types, but most groups are able to tame them by example. If there are those who must win at all costs and will make your experience less than fun, play with someone else. There are times to play for keeps, and there are times to play for relaxation. If you’re like me, the latter is always true.
For almost ten years, my friends and I have met together a few times a year to play board games. Most of us met in college. Since then, we’ve gotten jobs and families of our own, but we are all still friends. This is our reunion. It’s our way of enjoying what we always enjoyed together and keeping our friendships strong.
The event has taken many forms over the years. We began meeting in one of our houses. As that option was no longer viable, we moved to local (Murray, KY) rental spots. Tomorrow, we will meet at the high school where my wife and I teach. We’ll be inviting my gaming club, the Gametes, to join us.
As I’ve stated many times, gaming with family is a good thing for a family. It keeps them communicating and working together. Even in competitive games, the act of learning and playing a game together is a bonding experience. I say the same thing for a good game group. Event though we only meet a few times a year, it’s a great time. We keep our friendships kindled and re-up on life together. We chat daily using Google Hangouts, but there is no substitute for face to face interaction. Board games create that face to face interaction as well as any other activity.
For my next article, I’ll write a post-event wrap-up. I’m interested to see how a bunch of high school kids mix with a bunch of late-30s kids.
Chess is a game with no luck. Everyone starts with the same setup and pieces. Each of those pieces has the same abilities. Each person has the same parameters and win condition. There are no random factors in chess. Though it isn’t random, chess isn’t high or many people’s list of family games. Why? Because it involves a large amount of skill to play well against opponents of equal skill.
Last time, I wrote about the concept of luck in games, and how it can change the game’s dynamics. This time, I want to look at games that don’t include luck as a major factor and why they are good games. Chess is the game most people think of when they think “no luck. ” There are many others that are more family friendly because of their lower skill level. The mechanics of a game can make it more accessible to a family as well.
One example is the game Splendor. This game involves collected colored jewels, some of which contain points. The first person to 15 points wins. There are a few random elements. The type of jewels that appear and the points cards are random. The game bases everything else on the player’s remaining choices. It is very easy to learn and is great for children. It causes you to make long-term decision and associations between several elements.
Another example is the game Rampage (or Terror in Meeple City) which is a dexterity game. That game is fun because you set it up and break it down. You are a monster, and you get points by destroying the building and people in the game. The only skill element is how good you are at dropping or flicking your monster onto things. It is lots of fun, and there is no luck at all – at least there shouldn’t be.
The conversation about luck in games is a moot one if you like luck. If you want there to be an element of change in your games, play those games. Luck brings variety but decreases skill needed (most of the time). It’s a matter of what your group, or family will tolerate.
What level of luck is appropriate for your group? What games do you play that represent that?
I used to fancy myself a pretty good Monopoly player. The reason I was good at that game had nothing to do with the rules. I was good because I was a good dealer. When it came to seeing the long-term value in a property, I was usually best at the table. At the end of the day, though, I could still lose. I would still land on Boardwalk through no fault of my own. I would still only land on two properties my first two trips around and have nothing to trade. Why? Bad luck.
My ability to be good at a game like Monopoly had nothing to do with my skill. It had to do with if the dice were in my favor. Then, it had to do with how well the dice rolled for my friends. I could always best the best decision and still lose. This is why I had to shelve Monopoly for the foreseeable future. In general, the more a game depends on luck, the more I will avoid it.
Does that mean that luck in board games is a bad thing? I don’t think it is as a rule. King of Tokyo is a great game that uses dice. What makes it different from Yahtzee? It’s the fact that there are interesting decisions for the player to make. Sid Meier, the creator of the “Civilization” series, says, “A game is a series of interesting decisions.” If there are no decisions for the player to make, there isn’t much of a game.
When choosing games to play with the family, there is a balance to be had. Random elements in a game create balance. A die roll has nothing to do with strategy. Kids and parents alike can roll a 6 on a die. To that point, some random gives the children in the family an equal footing. If there is too much random though, they may get frustrated. Too much random doesn’t give a feeling of satisfaction when making the correct decision. It’s this risk/reward balance that has to you need to watch in family games. A game like Terra Mystica is punishing to new players because of the lack of random. In contrast, a game like Settlers of Catan is friendly to beginners. The random (and social) elements of the game keep good players in check. That also allows the newer/younger players to keep up.
What games do you think do a good job at balancing random elements? Do random elements in games matter to you? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts