Category: board games

Games, Rules, Courtesy, and Cheating

I’m a competitive person by nature. I’ve always loved playing games, but–here’s the confession–I’ve lovedĀ winning them more. I don’t typically play to just have a fun time. I have difficulty turning off the desire to win, even when I really should be able to. I’d play a lot of games growing up–against my siblings or my cousins or my friends–and the goal was always the same: win.

I don’t consider myself to be a sore winner or loser. Once the game is over, I tend to calm down fairly quickly, unless it was a really close game. In that case, it takes me some time to get a return to normalcy. Even while the game is going on, I usually am enjoying myself–again, unless it’s a really close game. The more I become invested in a game, the more I start focusing on winning at all costs.

And there’s the question for the day: where do I draw the line for “at all costs”? I don’t cheat. For me, the only way to win the game is by winning by the rules. But I’m really a stickler to those rules, and sometimes that gets me into trouble.

The thing is, often the person who wins any game is the person who understands the rules most completely. I’ve always been a person who lives and dies by the rulebook. If someone pulls out a rule that gives them advantage–and they can prove it in the book–then I’ve considered that to trump my objections. This is sometimes the hardest part of a game to face. I remember a few years ago when I was playing Settlers of Catan and used a settlement to break up someone else’s longest road. They were convinced that didn’t matter–that settlements couldn’t break longest roads. I showed the part in the rules where it said otherwise.

The result wasn’t pretty. (Probably because by breaking that road, I gave myself the longest road, and thereby the win.)

So what do you do when the person you’re playing against doesn’t understand the rules of the game you’re playing. This is where I get myself into hot water sometimes. See, I like playing games against other people. Playing against myself just doesn’t have the same thrill. But if I have to help another person too much, then it feels too much like I’m just playing solitaire. There’s a fine line, then, between helping my opponent and biting my tongue to let them lose. Because on the other hand, how much fun is it to win if I only win because they didn’t understand what in the world they were doing?

In an ideal world, what I do is explain the rules fully and properly, and then answer any question they might have as accurately as I can, but let them play from there on out. This seems cut and dried, but I had a situation the other night where I was playing in an MTG draft. My opponent was misplaying, and I knew it. He/she was also beating me soundly, despite the fact that I felt like I was the better player. I was faced with a decision: should I explain what the proper rules were, as the better player? Or should I just let my opponent misplay.

Since I was getting trounced, I allowed the misplays to continue. I feel fairly guilty about it now, actually. Looking back on it, I think the right thing for me to have done would have been to note that the rules weren’t being carried out the right way, and then to explain what the right way was. After that, I could have just continued to play without feeling guilty. If mistakes were made, I’d know they wouldn’t have been because of anything I was doing.

Of course, because karma is a thing, that first game went far too long, and although I won the second game (without needing misplays by my opponent to save me), there wasn’t enough time for a game 3. I ended up getting a draw instead of a win or loss. I’m fairly confident that game 3 would have gone in my favor. I had a stronger deck and had sideboarded well, and I knew what was going on in my opponent’s deck well enough that–barring getting really unlucky–I should have taken it easily. But because I’d bit my tongue, I didn’t have time to eke out a win.

But still, how do you decide when your opponent didn’t know enough? In my game of Catan, I won due to a rules question. My opponent had no idea that rule existed, and so he played one way. I knew about it, and so I played another. By the end of the game, so much of our strategies had depended upon our individual knowledge of the rules. There was no way to “take it back.” If we played without the rule, I would have lost. Playing with it, I won. Neither side could really feel good about his victory or loss.

The answer, of course, is to not take games so darned seriously. But since I don’t appear to be able to do that, I’m not sure if there really is an answer. And so I almost always fall back on the rules. I rarely care about who wins or loses the first three or four times I play any game. The rules aren’t defined enough in my mind to be able to expect to win by skill. But once both sides have played a game a fair bit, then I think it’s up to each side to know the rules and play by them. You correct infractions as they arise, but I see my opponent making some really dumb strategy errors–and they’ve played the game a bit–then I let them make them, since I know they know the rules.

Who knew playing a simple game could be so complex?

Any serious board gamer, that’s who.

How about you? Do you game? What do you do when you come across tricky situations like these?

Hearthstone Review: Free Computer Card Game Greatness

I love me some card games. I’m also a big fan of computer games. And last but not least, I’m a huge fan of free. Put them all together in one big glossy well-produced package, and you’ve got one happy Bryce. That’s just what it looks like Blizzard is up to right now in Hearthstone, a new free-to-play card game that just went to open Beta. (What does that mean? It means the real game isn’t released just yet, but you can play it in the test phase. They might make some tweaks to it, but you still get access early.)

I downloaded the game . . . Wednesday? I think that was the day. In any case, I’ve had a chance to put it through some test runs, and I have to say I’m very impressed, and the fellow gamers I’ve spoken to have been impressed, too.

This is a virtual collectible card game–like Magic the Gathering, except without the cardboard. You start by picking one of 9 different heroes. Each hero has a different unique ability and a selection of cards that only that hero can use. There are other cards that anyone can put in their deck. You create a deck based on the cards available to you, and you play against another person who’s done the same thing. The goal is to reduce the other person’s life total to 0 from 30. First person dead, loses.

Hearthstone is a pretty streamlined game. It’s not got near the learning curve of Magic the Gathering. Blizzard’s made a great tutorial that you play to begin the game, and by the end of it you should have the basics down pretty well. Of course, since this is a collectible card game, your deck can only be as good as the cards you own for it. But unlike Magic, Hearthstone lets you unlock cards, earn “money” to purchase them, or even craft cards on your own. Basically, you can play for free, although the option to skip the unlocking via paying money is always there.

Some things that I love about the game so far:

  • Ease of finding other players to play against–The game will set up a match for you at any time, against real players, and it usually takes no more than a minute or so. (I haven’t tried it late at night yet, but I’ve tried it at lunch, and it’s been easy then, so I can’t imagine it would be worse at night.)
  • The games are fast and fun. There’s some strategy involved, but it’s mainly just playing a game and having a good time.
  • There are “Quests” you can do to earn in-game currency. Beat a certain number of opponents. Kill a certain number of minions. That kind of thing. It’s a good way to always feel like you’re accomplishing something. Once you earn 100 gold, you can buy a new pack of 5 randomized cards. For 150, you can gain entry to
  • The Arena–sort of like drafting, you’re presented with a series of three cards to pick from. You take one and move on to the next selection. Once you’ve done that 30 times, you have a deck. You then use that deck to play against other people who have done the same thing. You can play with that deck until you get 12 wins or 3 losses–whichever happens first. You get rewards based on your number of wins. Worst case, you get a pack. Best case, you get FABULOUS PRIZES. So basically you’re paying 50 gold more to play a bunch and be in a more level playing field.
  • Spit and polish–This is a Blizzard game, and that means it’s really slick. You can play on PC or Mac. The graphics are great, the interface is intuitive–it’s a fantastic playing experience.

What’s missing so far? The big omission is the ability to play against friends. I’ve got some friends on, and they’ve been on at the same time as I have. But there’s no way to just select them to go head to head–it’s still randomized. That would be a nice switch, though I suppose people could game the system then to just keep beating themselves and unlocking free packs. Surely there’s a workaround, though. (It appears a feature I might not have been able to figure out yet? Or perhaps it was removed temporarily? Not sure–but from what I can see, when it’s available, they just have it be reward-free, which makes sense.)

Other than that, not much. I think the game’s pretty good to go. Once it’s out for iOS, that’ll be even better. Being able to play a slick game like this on computer or my iPad, for free–it would be ideal. Especially if they let your iPad collection and your computer collection be one and the same. But maybe I’m shooting too high now.

In any case, this is a game you should check out. Download it and play it today. Free! What more motivation do you need?

Anyone else already playing? What are your thoughts thus far?

The Game of Risk and the Dangers of the Slippery Slope Mentality

I’m a board gamer. Love me some board games. And while I don’t play it much these days, one of the games that started me off was most definitely Risk. I had a version on my old Mac, and I played against the computer time after time. It was a blast.

What does any of this have to do with slippery slopes? Allow me to explain.

Too often, I think we set ourselves up in a situation where we’ve put all our defenses against something into a single push. One continuous battle line that’s heavily fortified, but behind that line? There’s nothing but plains and orchards ripe for the taking. If you’ve played Risk, you know what I’m talking about: the old Australia Bottleneck defense, sometimes adapted for a South America landscape. Asia can block off Kamchatka or Alaska, but then you have that awful Ukraine risk on your western front. Often these sort of all-or-nothing defenses work just fine. They keep you safe until you can go on to world domination.

But sometimes, things go wrong. Your opponent turns in a set of cards, gets a few lucky dice rolls, and before you know it, you’re left staring at the wastes of your once mighty empire. Get past that one bottleneck–that one strongpoint, and your opponent is home free. There’s nothing to stop them from creaming you. The definition of a slippery slope? It’s a logical fallacy where you argue that one little step in a wrong direction will lead to an unavoidable chain of events that end in destruction and ruin. (Of course, in the Risk example, having that one bottleneck defense makes a slippery slope far from a fallacy. Lose that front, and you really are hosed.)

What in the world does this have to do with real life? Let’s put it in the context of my diet. The dieting approach I usually use is very much one of the one line of defense variety. I have a strict cap on how many calories I can eat in one day. As long as I stick to that cap, everything’s just fine.

But what happens when I go over that cap?

Typically? All sense of will power is thrown to the four winds, and I find myself hours later in a dark alley with chocolate and whipped cream smeared all over my face, and a vague recollection of too many brownie sundaes.

I’ve put all my energy into that one defense. Once it’s breached, I have nothing left.

What’s another example? They’re all over the place. In Mormon-terms, it’s the idea that you can’t make a single mistake, because if you do, you’re going to keep on making those mistakes until you’re doomed to hell. (I imagine Mormons aren’t the only ones who make this argument, but it was just made this past General Conference–which is what led me to thinking.) In parenting, it’s giving your children strict rules that must be adhered to, and giving them the idea that if they break even one of those rules, they’re going to be in deep deep trouble. In football, it would probably be referred to as a “don’t bend, never break” approach.

And in my experience, it just never works.

We’re all going to make mistakes. Fact. We’re going to fall down, whether it’s in the middle of a diet or the tail end of a long Risk campaign. And what matters at that point isn’t that you fell down. What matters is what you do once you’ve fallen.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to pick apart that one General Conference talk. There’s certainly the argument to be made that big decisions come from little decisions. No one wakes up one morning deciding to make a huge life-altering change to their life. (Typically) Those life-altering changes come a decision at a time. And while there was that one talk, there was an even more powerful one that spoke exactly to the point I’m making today. That the best sort of defense is the one that recognizes that there will be breaches in your bottleneck from time to time, but you’ve built up more defenses behind that one line, so you can rally the troops and win back the original battlements eventually.

There is no slippery slope. Not that I’ve ever seen. There’s a continuous battle over the middle ground. In dieting. In life. In religion. You name it. And once you recognize that and start doing your best to keep up a sustained effort, you can stop being so hard on yourself when a skirmish doesn’t go your way from time to time.

And now that I’ve beaten that warhorse to death, I think I’ll leave you all be on this fine Wednesday. Thanks for reading!

Board Game Review: Dominion

Played a new game (to TRC, not to Denisa and me) yesterday evening: Dominion. This is actually a game Denisa and I have played quite a bit, and since TRC likes Magic: The Gathering, I thought he might be up for another card-based game. DC played with us, on Denisa’s team.

Dominion, for those of you who don’t know, is a deck building game. You all start with the same amount of resources, and then you spend those resources to “buy” other cards, that then let you get more resources, buy more cards, penalize other players–a whole variety of things. By the end of the game, everyone can end up with drastically different decks, depending on the strategy you choose to employ.

I enjoy the game a lot because it gives you the sense of a collectible card game like Magic, without the need to actually shell out money for the cards. The popular cards are gobbled up pretty quickly as players all buy their favorites, but there are less popular cards that can be exploited, if you can just figure out the right way to “break” them. Better yet, the game has a ton of replay value. The base game comes with 25 different kinds of cards, and you only use 10 of those card types each game. You can either choose the 10 yourself to try and make the game dynamic, or randomize selection to make the game unique. In addition to that, there are multiple expansions that give even more deck options.

How did it run with an 8 year old?

Very well. At the end of the game, Denisa came in first, TRC came in second, and I finished a distant third. TRC loved it, and he told us he wants us to play again as soon as possible.

In summary, Dominion is a great game for 2-4 players. One game lasts around 30 minutes once everyone knows what they’re doing, so it doesn’t take forever to play, either. The artwork could use some help (I still think it’s kind of rinky-dink), but if you look past that, you’ll find a game that can offer a lot of entertainment for a wide variety of ages.

Board Game Review: Seven Wonders

I love me some board games. Last year for Christmas, we got 7 Wonders as a gift. I’d read that it could be played with just two players (my long standing requirement for most board games I asked for–the other being that it hopefully would appeal to Denisa). Once I got it and looked at the rules, I discovered it was really intended for 3 or more players, so it sat on the shelf for quite some time.

While we were in Germany, I stayed with my friend Dan Wells for a few days. He’s possibly a bigger board game nut than I am, and he and his wife taught Denisa and me how to play 7 Wonders. Denisa enjoyed it, and I lamented that we didn’t have a third player to make it possible for us to play the game back in Maine.

That’s when Dan pointed out that his kids all love the game, even his six year old.

I haven’t played many games with TRC and DC beyond the Candyland, Monopoly variety. I just wasn’t sure they’d have a fair shake at winning, and so I didn’t want them to have a bad gaming experience and be turned off the hobby for life. (Okay. Sometimes I overthink things a bit. Sue me.) But after talking about it with Dan some more, I decided we might give it a go, just to see how plausible it was.

Monday evening, we all sat down for a game of 7 Wonders. I taught TRC ahead of time, and Denisa still remembered how to play. It’s got a really cool theme–each person is trying to build one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. You’ve got armies and guilds and trading–lots of interaction (more or less). Not the easiest game to learn, but far from the hardest. Denisa and I each each gave it our best.

TRC won the game.

Granted, he asked me for help from time to time, and I gave him good advice, but he beat us fair and square. DC had a great time, too–playing on Denisa’s team. I thought it went very well.

The next evening, both kids pleaded for us to play again. We got two games in that time. Yesterday evening, they asked for more of the same. TRC does a great job on his own now. He’s starting to figure out the strategies involved and use them to his benefit. He hasn’t repeated a victory yet, now that he’s playing on his own, but he’s getting much better with each game.

I’m beyond pleased with this. It opens up so many more games to be played. Catan of course. Carcassonne. More advanced games of Small World. I’ve got a ton of games, and kids that are just coming into their own at being able to play them.

So–a big thanks to Dan Wells for convincing me this was possible, and a big thanks to 7 Wonders, for making an awesomely accessible game. You can fit a whole game into a half hour, and everyone has a good time. Bravo!

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