Monday, November 28, 2005

Pod People

I was surfing around BoardGameGeek, a website for board gamers that is also a treasure trove of great memories and fun games. They have pages on more than 20,000 games! These are not just the old stand-byes like Monopoly and Risk, nor wargames like PanzerBlitz and Squad Leader, but seemingly everything released in the past forty years, both here and in Europe. They have an active, vibrant and fun community there. It's an easy site to get lost in, believe me.

It was this thread, though, that caught my eye. A player of the board game Ticket to Ride, Europe was baffled by the reaction he got in one recent game session. Read the following:
Tell me if I'm mean. Here's the story: So we get together with some friends to play some Ticket to Ride Europe. All four of us have played before, but not together. I begin by placing all the single-track routes needed for my long ticket, and to play it safe I stockpile some cards in my hand for several double-track routes. At this point it is semi-clear what routes other players are playing in another part of the board, so I take a turn to "block" a fellow player by playing a critical two-train link that is clearly part of his route, even though it is nowhere near mine. The next turn I play another two-train link in the middle of a second player's route (which also helps safeguard my "longest train" points).

At this point I am nearly lynched by a very upset group! Comments like: "You're not supposed to do that!" "You're blocking others from getting their trains! The only reason you are doing that is to block people!" Reply: "Well...yeah, exactly, isn't that part of the game?" "That's just not nice, that's not the idea of the game!" "Reply: Why not? I'm taking a risk by doing this, aren't I, using resources and time and leaving myself open for the same thing?" But my reasoning doesn't go over too well, and it seems like the group only wants to play with everyone focusing on their own routes, and playing anywhere else is just unthinkable and absurd. Although it clearly wins me the game in the end.

Are they being unreasonable? Or am I being overly mean? I have learned not to do it again with this group, because it will spoil the gaming experience for the others. But it seems to me that the game itself does allow this style of play, and that a good player will also take into consideration how he can slow down his opponents by a carefully chosen "blocking" move. (Alan Moon's game Elfenland takes this a step further by giving each player an "obstacle" token, which seems to me a very similar idea.)

So in my mind it wasn't too big a deal - the game even has its own solution in the form of Stations, which admittedly cost a few points to play. But the group wasn't happy, and it didn't help that I ended the game by hoarding some cards, and then surprising the other players by ending the game with three quick routes in consecutive turns to use my last ten trains - with most of the other players receiving minus points for multiple incomplete routes. To top it off, I had the longest train, so nobody even had the slightest interest in adding up the points.

So what do you think: was I too competitive and mean? Or was I just playing the game strategically the way it was intended to be played?
Read the long comment thread, where the concensus is that he's right, but he wasn't paying attention to his fellow gamers.

What fascinated me was the attitude of the others. They didn't seem to be competing but working in parallel cooperation of a sort. Something about that makes me think these were youngish people, or left-leaning parents of young children. It sounds too much like the stories you hear of schools removing games of competition to replace them with group games.

I like playing games, but I like competing. I try to keep it friendly, to always remember that the point is to first have fun, then to win. Something in the attitude of this guy's group bothers me.

What say y'all?

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