Monday, January 09, 2006

An evening with Type B slowcoaches

On New Year's Eve I met up with Sue, Linda and Balazs to celebrate with a meal and some boardgames. You may remember that these are new-to-gaming folks, but once again the inclusion of boardgaming activity in the evening was their idea not mine. This time I tried them with Carcassone, another noted "gateway game", which says 30 minutes playing time on the box. In the event we took a solid 2 hours, even though I gently prompted them from time-to-time about "not over-optimizing too much" and that sort of thing. Carcassone is OK as a game, not one of my favourites, but after 2 hours it had definitely outstayed its welcome. This led me to meditate upon the subject of slow gamers, and I came to the conclusion that there are two kinds.

Type A: These are experienced gamers whose desire to win completely overwhelms any considerations of courtesy to the other players. I heard recently of a player in an 1830 session who took 40 minutes to make his decision about one turn of a stock round. 40 minutes! And then he passed. In my view this is unacceptable. If your desire to win means that you are willing to make the evening a long dragged-out torture for the other players, then I do not wish to be in your gaming group.

Type B: Unlike the Type A slowcoach, these players are new to boardgamimg and have not yet mastered the skills involved in making your moves promptly. And believe me there are quite a few skills involved, which may take a while to master. Firstly there is the habit of planning your next move during downtime. Even in Carcassone where you do not know what your next tile will be, you can think about which tiles you would ideally like to see, so that if one of those turns up you just shout "Huzzah!" and whack it down. But you can also think about what to do if you are less lucky and you get a tile you don't really want - maybe there would be a way to use it that screws up another player? Plenty to think about there while you wait for your turn to come around. I know one gamer whom I won't name, who has been gaming for decades but still has the habit of zoning out while it is not his turn, then regularly has to be reminded when it comes back to him. Then he has his thinking all still to do. Gets frustrating sometimes.

Then there is the skill of knowing how far ahead to analyze and when to quit the analysis and go with your best guess. Some games in particular feel like they can be analyzed until you know you've chosen your optimal move, but in a time-frame that is inconsiderate to your fellow players. This is often associated with the end-game, as in the last round or two of Vinci, and can tack an infuriatingly dragged-out ending onto an otherwise perfectly enjoyable game experience.

And don't forget preparation for a game. Not always possible, but if you can spend some time beforehand internalizing the rules and thinking about your first turn, that will speed things up for everyone. It can be horrible being the only person at the table who knows the rules - never getting chance to think straight about your next turn because you are constantly being asked about rules or strategy advice, or simply monitoring the moves of the novice players for rules errors.

So - Linda Balazs and Sue were definitely Type B slowcoaches, and thus not culpable in the same way as Type A's. And hopefully it won't be too long before they pick up some of these skills I've been talking about. Then they will be well on the way to becoming perfect gamers like me......



Michael Longdin said...

2 hours of Carcassone! Ugh. Happy New Year! We always play that we draw the next tile immediately after your last tile lay so at least you get a bit of time between turns to think about it. (Actually we always play with 2 tiles in hand but that may make it a little longer)

Jeff Coon said...

I have a work group I play games with once a month on Thursday nights. This past Thursday I brought Settlers. Two had played the game once before, and the third was new to the game. It took 3 hours to play, including about 15 minutes of rules. It was brutal.