Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nobody's Perfect: A Guide to Playing Imperfectly

There's an old adage that I started, a method in which to get your games out of their shelf slumber - emptying the box. It's a rule of thumb I still stand behind because it's a great disruptive push to get you to learn how to set up your games. But what else can you do to keep pushing that procrastinating envelope? Here are some ways to get your games to the table faster, both when teaching yourself and during game nights!

Embrace Getting the Rules Wrong

Probably the biggest detriment to not playing a game is fear of getting the rules wrong, especially when you're playing a game where points are involved. There's nothing worse than playing a game to its end, only to find that certain rules were forgotten or overlooked that would have turned the outcome on its head. So you bury your head forever in the rulebook, reading and re-reading the same paragraph, wrapping your head around a concept until you know it by heart...until you realized you forgot the previous set of rules before that. Before you know it, you're putting away the game without learning anything at all.

In game nights, surrounded by friends, this obsession is greater with people waiting for you to start the game. Making sure everything is absolutely and perfectly understood by everyone can be a boring process.

Unless you have someone who's well-versed in the manual, you WILL be visiting and re-visiting the manual a lot. I mean, a LOT. But, to save time and sanity, why not just play the game? Sure, rules may get broken, and things become inconsistent, but if you're among friends, who's there to really judge? And, while I'm at it, I'm mostly referring to the more obscure rulings in which certain scenarios play out, not the overall general rules. Y'know, the ones where you'd search BGG tirelessly to find the one person who was smart enough to post a question in the forums to get a response.

And listen, I know you want to play the game right, but wouldn't you still want to just PLAY the game? And getting the rules wrong has its benefits - when you DO realize what you did wrong, you can instantly tie it to some memorable moment, making it easier to NOT get it wrong the next time! Say, you find a friend having a runaway lead throughout the entire game, and find out later that it was due to a rules oversight! Well, now you have an easy way to remember how NOT to play next time!

Expect to Not Finish the Game

It only seems natural that if you consistently have to stop gameplay to reference the rules, you're only wasting precious actual gameplay time towards full completion. And while you may think the small half-minute breaks to verify rules is nothing, they can accumulate fast. Setting a lofty goal of completion is harder when you don't even know if you're walking the right path, and can certainly put you off the pursuit.

In game night, even just setting the goal of completing a game to new players can cause unnecessary tension, because knowing that they can't leave until the game's done can be crippling. People struggle to learn the game already, so pushing them towards the finishing line only pushes them away from the fun.

What's important here is to set a manageable pace; getting into the groove of things. You're sure to stumble and screw up the first couple of rounds, but once you have have the hang of things, try to set the pace. After a round or two of this, you're sure to better understand the gameplay, as hopefully will everyone else. Once players are more familiar, everyone can relax a bit, get even more casual, and have fun along the way.

Oh yeah, right...the "not finishing the game" part. Well, you might stumble on one mechanic or two that are unique to the situation, almost bringing the game to a abrupt halt. You're not sure what to do, how to do it. And that's fine. What's not is failure to acknowledge it. If you don't draw the line right then and there that you can't proceed further without diving into the rulebook head first, you're stuck with yourself (or with impatient friends at a game night) pondering how to handle this. An option is just to call it a night. Make a note to revisit later (or, if at a game night, ask people if they had fun) and schedule the next time you'll tackle this!

The important thing here is to make sure you and your guests are enjoying themselves. It's easy to let a game bring you down, intimidating you with its daunting rules. And while we aspire to tackle games in one night, truthfully it will take a few games for you to really get the rules down. So give yourself a break, make sure you (and guests if at a game night) are having fun. Because that's what's really important.

Abolish AP

Probably the worst thing that can destroy most game nights is the existence of AP, or "analysis paralysis." When people become indecisive, over-strategize, or just aloof, AP can have a real negative impact on game night. Barring the last possibility, usually players want to take the best option possible, so they'll attempt to work out possible outcomes in their head before any action taken.

The solution? Just make a move. Any move.

When learning a game on your own, there's no one to disappoint but yourself. Who's to complain if you make a terrible move? The sooner you make any move, the faster you'll learn whether it's a good or bad choice. Also, with that vested knowledge, you can better inform new players of these poor choices, to help THEIR AP.

Of course, in a game night, you may still run into people with AP. So how do you resolve this? As cliché as it sounds, remind your group that winning isn't everything, especially if this is a game night with new players. People want to experience a fun game, not be burdened with heavy decisions and optimal scoring. If you keep reminding people just to have fun, they'll have less time adding weight to their choices, giving their actions more levity and spontaneity.

It goes without saying that it's also important to not give players a hard time when it's their turn. Players may just be a little slow in processing a game, no matter the complexity. Berating them only adds pressure and intensifies their AP, and is just poor sportsmanship. If you're more knowledgeable of the actions, you can offer them simple choices they can make, omitting the weight of them. The hope is that after a few rounds, they'll realize what impact those choices are, and that they won't feel as intimidated the second time around.

Games Should Be Played

No matter what, games should be played. So, make sure to get your butt out of your chair and do the following:

  • Empty the box.
  • Embrace getting rules wrong.
  • Don't expect to finish the game (at least the first time).
  • Stop AP.

Rinse and repeat, and soon, you'll gain the confidence to say "I KNOW THIS GAME! WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO TEACH YOU?"

Stay tuned for next week's lesson: how to not scare people at your game nights with your newly-discovered booming voice.

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