The time I told my girlfriend she could concede. Then she beat me.

As someone who plays games in a variety of settings, something that comes up often is the relationship between winning the game and having fun. While in a perfect world, everyone would have fun all the time when gaming, whether they won or not, sadly, reality sneaks in and finds you in a game you know you’ve lost but isn’t even halfway over yet.  I’ve been in a game of Dominion where my opponent had taken a path to drawing his entire deck each turn and in doing so, would make sure to attack me with multiple cards. Or the game of Race for the Galaxy where my opponent had multiple six cost developments working in tandem while I was still struggling to get my consume x2 VPs engine going. In either case, I see no issue with stopping a two player game when its clear who the victor is going to be.

Well, I’ve been on both sides of these games plenty of times and so in a game of Dominion recently where I was trouncing my girlfriend, G, I told her that she could concede if she wanted to. Here’s that story:

Game: Dominion

Cards: Transmute, Vineyard, Apothecary, Scrying Pool, Courtyard, MenagerieSteward, Coppersmith, Smithy, Fairgrounds

Pregame thoughts:

So there are three important things to notice about this set in my estimation:

  1. There are no split buys
  2. There are no split actions
  3. There are no five cost cards

These three things make me assume that it’ll be a generally boring game, especially since the steward allows you to clear out your estates and coppers fairly early on. Then it just becomes a race to golds and from there a race to five provinces right? The alchemy cards are relatively weak without any extra buys, which makes the cards I’d focus on be the Steward, Silver, Smithy, and Gold (in that order).

The Game Itself:

We both buy Stewards on our first turn, while I buy a Silver, she buys a Smithy. We both begin cleaning out our decks and while I buy almost nothing but currency, she buys, well, everything. A Potion here, a Menagerie or two there and suddenly I’m buying my first Provence while she has no Golds. I’ve had a couple of nice draws (turns where I had exactly 6 while she kept getting stuck at 5) and I’m buying my second Provence when she decides to grab a Transmute even though she Stewarded away two Estates already. In short: things look grim and she’s already mentioned more than once that she screwed this one up.

I don’t disagree. Instead as I buy my third Province I sheepishly tell her that she can concede if she wants to. She won’t hear it. We’re both a bit stubborn, but this is the sort of situation I worry about when trying to bring someone into gaming. If they weren’t a big boardgame person before and they have enough bad experiences, then they don’t want to play anymore. So even though G is mildly obsessed with Dominion, I worry about the 6-2 beatdown I feel is coming.

But it never comes. She hits the Transmute/Estate and then a Transmute/Vineyard. I start getting 5 instead of 6 and foolishly buy a Coppersmith rather than a Smithy (honestly, an incredibly dumb move that I have no real reasoning on what I was thinking. I think I had two hands of Gold, Silver, Copper, Copper, Provence in a row and rather than just grabbing the Gold I thought maybe I’d grab a Fairgrounds later). She buys her first Provence and her second Provence in consecutive turns. She buys her third on her next reshuffle. My Golds that had been paired together earlier in the game now made sure never to be in the same hand, and with my 1 Smithy and one courtyard I found myself getting a Duchy “just in case.” She’s meanwhile grabbed an Apothecary that hits three Coppers and Transmutes a Transmute into a Duchy. She buys a Fairgrounds for good measure but by the time I get my fourth Provence its too late, she has me by a Duchy and a Fairgrounds and I’m left trying to go back a few moves to see how on earth that just happened. Final score: G 31 – Josh 28

The Post Mortem:

I don’t have the suckerpunch feeling that might happen if this was in a tournament, but afterwards the general feeling I have is just confusion. How did that happen? G, meanwhile, is doing a little wiggle of a happy dance in triumph. Overconfidence can bite you, and that’s the only explanation I have. Rather than buying that third Provence, when things were looking so good, I should’ve bought another Gold. Rather than taking the Steward’s +$2 later on, I should’ve trashed the Estate and Copper in my hand to grab another Silver. Rather than seeing the mess of cards in G’s deck, I should’ve realized that those Menageries she bought early would be hitting a lot more often now that she had diversified.

Really though, its as simple as this, just because things look bad doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way, especially in a game like Dominion. And if you don’t mind a good beatdown every once in a while, you’ll steal a few victories that will leave your opponents scratching their heads.

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There’s Just no Pleasing Him

Those who know me are painfully aware of my current obsession with game developer Dave Sirlin. It’s an obsession in two parts; one of a praise-throwing zealot Fanboy, and one of a raging frothing Madman.

I recently played Puzzle Strike (2nd edition) with Josh. I love the game. It’s a nifty fusion of deck-building and combat, the former based off of Dominion and the latter based off of Puzzle Fighter. Fanboy loves the progenitor games and supports the combination into a new product, Madman is derisive of the obvious ripoff of the ideas.

Puzzle Strike is getting a 3rd edition release, with updated characters and chips. Fanboy loves and appreciates the hours of fine-tuning the game has received by the dozens of fans playing hundreds of games online. Madman is put out that he has to spend another $50 on a game, and while he’s at it, he doesn’t like the cult-of-personality that has been built around the game and its culture. Both are miffed that their current game has balance issues and doesn’t synch with the online game, though they’re constantly arguing over whether to buy the new one. And yes, they’re aware that they bought the game without knowing about the expansion and should be happy with the purchase they have.

Dave Sirlin has made 3 games, each using the set of characters he and his team wrote. There’s Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and Flash Duel. Fanboy loves that there are three fighting themed games that use different engines but still manage to capture that spirit of combat. Madman… he’s got nothing.

For a while I was following Sirlin’s blog regularly. I read his book Playing to Win and followed some postings on fantasystrike.com, the site used for playing Yomi and Puzzle Strike online and discussing the games and other stuff through the forums.

Fanboy is pretty stoked that the games have such a strong following. Gamers are great people with strong opinions and it’s great to have a community who appreciates the hobby and strives to make it better, especially since Sirlin himself pops in to update folks and give feedback from time to time, and update folks on the Kickstarter he has to get the new edition and stand-alone expansion out. And the fact that the games are available online is a nice bonus; it allows anyone to try out the game, it keeps the best players connected to sharpen their skills and is a place for new people to try out the game and learn the strategies.

Madman is disturbed that the games have such a sycophantic following. Gamers are over-opinionated jerks and the community is toxic to outsiders, especially since Sirlin chimes in to be derisive to nay-sayers and those with concerns and gripes about his product, and the Kickstarter is his subversive way of abusing a system designed to give new projects a leg up, as his games are already made and ready to ship and the Kickstarter is being used to cover shipping costs. The online game is another way for him to make cash; only two characters are available at a time, with a “free to play” system of buying characters for permanent use. It punishes new players by constantly matching them with veterans who trounce them. Yes, Madman read the section in Playing to Win on scrubs and losing gracefully, but damn it he hates to lose.

Hobbies are (ideally) borne from passion. Gamers are passionate about the games they play, how they play them, and with whom they play. It’s not so rare to see someone fanatically in love OR “in loathe” with a game, but it’s kind of special to feel both at the same time. And if I’m being honest, I get a similar enjoyment from complaining as I do from praising (and I know I’m not the only one).

A friend of mine and game designer met Dave Sirlin at a developers conference. The general opinion is that he’s “a smart guy, great game designer, kind of a prick.” Based on his writing style and current body of work I’d believe him. People have said the same about me, minus the game design thing. But regardless of my opinions of the man (whom I’ve never met, so yeah, grain of salt with all this), I do enjoy the games he makes, his writings on game design, and I respect his goal to make balanced tournament-level board games.

As for the PS games with Josh, while I did not enjoy losing the majority of games to Josh, despite my thinking I had it locked, I did have lots of fun playing, and I hope we get many more sessions of it together. If it’s going to be tolerable in the long term though, I’m going to need to update the characters.