Tuesday, September 6, 2016

LS: Defining Competitive Games

LS: Defining Competitive Games

Everything in life has both a beginning and an end, and neither beginning, nor end are guaranteed to be fun. You begin a new job, and there is training and meeting new people.  Even if you leave for a better job, under the best of circumstances, it still requires that you leave something behind.  The beginning of a game requires set up, learning rules, finding other players, and carving time out of your day.  The end of the game typically requires that someone wins, and someone loses.
I’ve already written about cooperative gaming.  You work together towards a goal, and everyone wins or loses together.  It is a great way to play a game, particularly if your party has one or more sore losers.  And yeah, I am sometimes that sore loser.
Unfortunately, if you only play cooperative games, it will severely limit your gaming options.  This means diving into the deep end, and selecting a competitive game.  Don’t worry, there is no need to go alone.  We’ll begin by defining competitive games.  I typically consider there to be three major categories of competitive games; coincidentally competitive, strategically competitive, and advanced competitive.
 Coincidentally Competitive

A coincidentally competitive game will have a winner, but much of the outcome of the game will come down to luck.  One of the most simple examples of this will be the classic game, Go Fish.  As a player, you have your hand of cards, and you don’t really know what anyone else has.  Each time you ask the other players if they have a card, you reveal a little of what you have, and remembering what others have asked for allows you to strategize.  You make decisions, but at the end of the day there is a lot of luck involved.
Another example of a coincidentally competitive game is Fluxx.  MK has talked about the rules before, if you need a refresher, but the basics is this; playing different cards changes the rules, and changes what is required to win.  As much as you may strategize or scheme, others can easily force your hand.  Someone will win, but there is no guarantee that any card I lay down will not be the card someone else needs to win.  This luck component of the game makes it harder to deliberately target another player.  Instead of focusing on making you lose, I need to worry about playing the winning cards before you.  Coincidentally competitive games are there for the person who will sit down and not care if they win or lose.
 Strategically Competitive

Strategically Competitive games require you to try to win, sometimes by trying to make someone else lose.  We will use another classic game as an example again, Connect Four.  Two players, each trying to reach the same goal first.  I can see where you are going, you can see where I am going.  This transparency allows not only for me to try to win, but allows me to make a specific move that will stop you from winning.  A strategically competitive game works for people who sit down and want to win, and are willing to work for it.
Most competitive games work in a way that is similar to this. So many, it is hard to list them all.  In Clue, I try to figure out who murdered Mr. Body, and occasionally throw out a misdirect to everyone else along the way.  In Battleship, you position your ships so that no one else can tell where they are.  All of these games require you to try to win, but stopping others from winning is not intended to be your goal.  When stopping others from winning becomes your goal, this is where we enter what I call Advanced Competitive gaming.
 Advanced Competitive

In a lot of ways, advanced competitive games are not about the games, they are about the players. You all know that person.  The one who feels the game starts before you even sit down.  They have been recruiting allies and picking targets for days in advance.  They are not just playing to win.  No, these people select their games because they are there to destroy you.  Advanced competitive games are for those who don’t see winning as enough.  The game isn’t a success unless they have beaten you badly enough that you are humiliated.
There are some games that tend to attract these player a little more than others.  First and foremost, the game that has ended friendships, Monopoly.  I cannot even begin to guess why this game has caused so much pain.  It isn’t exactly an accurate example of how business, real estate, or economics works in the real world.  I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but I am pretty sure large business deals are not decided by a roll of dice.  And that roll of the dice?  It has denied my ability to buy good properties much more often than it has helped. In fact, the last time I played, I did not land on a single property that I was able to buy.  Seriously, not one.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t trying, it was simply bad luck.  So why do so many people get so competitive over this game? A more logical example; Risk.  You are literally waging world war.  You invade others, make alliances, and betray each other.  It is a haven for the advanced competitive gamer.

So what does all of this mean?  Does this actually mean some games are better than others, or that some gamers are better than others?  Of course not.  It just means that not all games are for all people, and not all gamers are compatible. 

Some people should not play certain games together, and that is fine.  You can play other games, there are lots of choices.  Or you can still play whatever you want, it is your life.  But for the sake of your relationships and your sanity, know what you are getting into before you set up your tabletop.  The more you know, the better choices you can make in your gaming.

Happy gaming everyone!