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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Exploration in Depth

My first question of the month - and first crack at the response!

The question at hand:

Do you prefer learning new games frequently - but only playing each game once or twice - or playing a smaller set of games several times each?

As people who read my post on 18xx games may guess, my general preference is to play games enough times to get a good understanding of the rules, and an opportunity to experiment with different strategies - hopeful that I'll find an effective one, in fear that I'll find the optimal one (rending a game "solved"). This assumes, of course, that a particular game rewards this experience - there are definitely games that, rather than revealing hidden depths, lose their appeal after a few plays, because the decisions become trivial or uninteresting. These games tend not to be my preference.

This prediliction may come from having been playing these games of ours for over 10 years (I bough my first German game circa 1994 or so) - so I've been exposed to a lot of new games over the years, and it's a rare gem that isn't reminiscent of something I've played previously. Sometimes a new game will combine well-worn mechanics in a new way (or ways), and that can result in an interesting and "new" experience, but on the whole most games are at least echoes of earlier ones.

I prefer games that reveal themselves best when played a few times (in relatively close succession), to allow experience from earlier games to be rewarded in later games. This is a balancing act, however - if a game is TOO obscure (or complex, or whatever) and the learning curve is too steep, it can be difficult to pick up the first time, and even more problematic it may be difficult to interest other people in trying the game once you are experienced. 18xx games definitely suffer from this, in that many people hear stories about how hard it is to win your first game, and are turned off (an application of the inverse of Cooley's Law, perhaps).

A more Euro game that has suffered from this to some extent is El Caballero - in my previous group, one of the players become very good, by playing at conventions and invitationals and the like, and this lead to the game being pulled out rarely (since the assumption was that this player would stomp on the rest of us). El Grande also suffers from this, to some extent, as it certainly rewards regular play - and also has enough "fiddly bits" to it that it helps to keep everything straight if it's been played recently.

So, while I'll admit to enjoying trying new games - certainly, that is one of the appeals of going off to Ohio every year - my preference is to plumb the depths of a particular game. How this is accomplished varies from group to group - my group in Dallas (The CardBenders) tended to pick a game and try to get a game at our weekly meeting for a solid month, and if it was a hit it would likely keep coming back (El Grande was one of these hits). This didn't prevent us from trying new things, but it gave us an opportunity to get to know a game well, and decide whether it was interesting enough to continue to explore. The RipCityGamers, my current group, definitely seem to be more interested in trying new games. The existance of "burn-down" lists are helping bring out some older games now and again, but to some extent these are one-shot appearances, not sustained engagements, and as such still don't allow the opportunity to explore the games in depth.

So - I definitely prefer to delve into a game, and hope that it has enough depth to it to reveal something about itself over multiple plays. I enjoy trying new things, for certain, but I'd like to get to know games a bit better before I decide whether they're for me or not!

Until next week, happy gaming!


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