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Expected Expectations - Unwritten Rules of Board Games

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04 May 2021 00:00 #322853 by oliverkinne
For most of us, there is this unwritten rule that...

When we play board games together, each of us will have certain expectations, and it's when our expectations are met, that we feel we've had a good time. In this article, I want to talk about what these expectations can be and what we can do, as a group playing together, to enable everyone to enjoy themselves. (This topic was inspired by the always wonderful Bez.)

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04 May 2021 15:24 #322854 by Shellhead
Games are supposed to be fun, so I prefer to play games with people who prioritize fun over winning. But some games are a bit fragile and fall apart if at least one player isn't playing competitively. I used to love playing Shadowfist, but for a while, we had a player who wasn't interested in winning, just in prolonging the game. And aside from someone running out of cards in their deck, there was no real timer on the game. Fortunately, he eventually lost interest in the game.
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04 May 2021 16:40 #322858 by the_jake_1973
I do play games to win, it's in my nature. I'm not a dick about it if I lose though. However, if I am well outclassed by the rest of the people playing the game, Twilight Imperium for example, it is not likely that I will spend another long session getting hammered. I like to know there is some chance to win. I don't understand the mindset behind the Carcassonne example you presented. I do not think I would play with that particular person more than once as our philosophies would be well at odds. It's neither a good or bad thing, just not right for me.

That being said, the games on BGA are nice since I can digest them in smaller bites (Puerto Rico). Even if I am losing, I do not feel like I've thrown away half a Sunday. Some of this is why I moved on from Blood Bowl. A game can effectively be over in the first half hour and then you are just going through the motions and gathering salt for another 90 minutes. LOL
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04 May 2021 22:28 #322866 by Shellhead
The worst is when you are playing a challenging co-op game and one of the players isn't at all concerned with winning. It's like playing a secret traitor game with no mechanism for thwarting or defeating the traitor. One time I was playing Arkham Horror 2nd with my Call of Cthulhu role-playing group, which should have been an automatic good time. We got Y'Golonac (one player called him Yer Cognac), which meant that finding a tome automatically added one to the Doom Track, each time. So I warned the other players to stay away from Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, the Curiousity Shop, and the Library on the Miskatonic Campus.

Everybody took heed, except for one player who wandered aimlessly about town and hit a couple of those locations, finding three (!) tomes. I expressed frustration even before we got sent to Final Battle, which we lost because we had no time to gear up. After that, she refused to play Arkham Horror with me ever again. All she wanted to do was wander around and have encounters and not get stressed out about trying to win the game. I'm sure that was fun for her, at least up until the berating, but it was selfish and reduced the fun for the rest of the players.

Speaking of traitor games, there was one game of Battlestar Galactica that went very badly for the good guys. One player was hoping to be a cylon, but didn't draw a cylon identity card either at the beginning or at mid-game. So he just arbitrarily started playing like he was a cylon, sabotaging the crisis resolutions whenever possible. That left us with one too many cylons in the game, and totally unbalanced the game in favor of the cylons. He revealed his plan at the end, but one of the other cylon players informed him that he still lost because he wasn't really a cylon. He didn't mind, because he just wanted the cylons to win.
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04 May 2021 23:02 #322869 by jason10mm
This is almost too much topic for one article!

I play to win but have been on both sides of a cutthroat game. When is winning at all costs too much? Certainly with noob players it behooves the group to not exploit mistakes too much or at least offer advice if you ever want that player to touch the game again. But no one wants the other players to throw the game for them either.

I've played with couples that act like a single entity, one just supporting the other. Not cool!

Of course I've had couples basically work through a divorce session at the table as well, the rest of us just hoping not to get caught in the crossfire :PM

There are games that can be played "gentley" and still be fun, then there are games that demand brutal intensity from all players to achieve full potential. Careful game curating before a session is critical. If I'm gonna play with a bunch of folks more interested in getting stoned and chatting thrn the game needs to be one that doesn't require much focus. But if it is hard core gamers out for blood then it's time to dust off the heavy weight games!

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05 May 2021 00:07 - 05 May 2021 00:08 #322871 by RobertB
A couple more expectations: I played with a group for a while that considered every game a negotiation game. Everyone had 'advice' that would aim you somewhere not in their direction. Can you play Goa like that? Or Puerto Rico? You damn sure can. I asked for Puerto Rico, not Republic of Rome, so I eventually grouped with other players. They're still playing and last I saw everyone seemed to stay quiet and play Terraforming Mars in peace.

Advice is also something that brings expectations with it. Some folks can ignore it, some folks appreciate it, and some folks absolutely don't want unsolicited advice. I myself just tell folks that are trying to help (or 'help') me out that I want to fuck up on my own, thanks. Heck, that's the fun part of learning a new game. "Well, guess that doesn't work."
Last edit: 05 May 2021 00:08 by RobertB.
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05 May 2021 01:10 #322874 by Greg Aleknevicus
When playing with strangers online (at Yucata and BoardGameArena) there's essentially no table talk. Surprisingly, I've found this to be a bonus, precisely because it means there's no "advice" given.
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05 May 2021 03:03 #322875 by mc
I stopped playing with strangers on yucata and BGA very early on precisely because there was no discussion of anything. That's very much part of the game for me. I like there to be some kind of interaction above the table, real or virtual, related to the game or no, trying to impact the game or no, I don't care, just, something.

I was also going to say - it's not quite so simple as playing to win or not playing to win. I can play with the aim of winning - if I really want to win though, then I could AP it up and spend 20 minutes on my turn trying to calculate all the odds and all that. That's "playing to win" but also against some people's expectations (including my own). My "playing to win" is letting the goal of winning guide my decisions, but it's not the only thing that is guiding how I'm playing. An example of this is my risk levels. I tend to really enjoy taking a high risk strategy because when it comes off it's hugely satisfying. If I was "playing to win" to the letter, maybe my odds are better with a safer strategy... but stuff that, I'll pick the interesting option. I'm still "playing to win". But that version of playing to win might not meet some players expectations, particularly if my high risk strategy opens the door for the player following me in turn order or what have you.
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05 May 2021 09:55 #322877 by Shellhead
I just realized something awful. I haven't played board games with anybody else since February of 2020, not even online. But I have played a lot of solitaire board games. Arkham Horror, Magic Realm, Dark Venture, Death Angel, Masters of the Night, Cursed City, and especially Silver Tower, Blackstone Fortress, and Marvel Champions. And I haven't had a single bad experience in all those games. I do miss playing games with other people, but people can be quirky and some of them will bring too much baggage to the table.

Jason, I have had that exact same experience with couples. Usually they play like a solid team, which can throw a non-cooperative game out of whack. And once in a while, you will have a couple that is almost gleefully antagonistic towards each other, which is can mess up an otherwise co-op game. One thing that eventually burned me out on Battlestar Galactica was that the married couple that always showed up for our games insisted on playing the same two leadership figures every game: she was President Roslin and he was Commander Adama. Every game. Fortunately, that made it easy to spot when either of them was a traitor, because their playstyle would shift and the tight teamwork went missing.
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05 May 2021 13:17 #322879 by Sagrilarus

Shellhead wrote: Jason, I have had that exact same experience with couples. Usually they play like a solid team, which can throw a non-cooperative game out of whack.


Bring up old girlfriends.
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05 May 2021 13:48 #322881 by Shellhead
I just realized that part of the brilliance of Cosmic Encounter is that it doesn't have any unwritten rules because they are all incorporated directly into the design.

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07 May 2021 03:04 #322924 by oliverkinne
Thank you for everyone's comments. It's great to hear about the huge variety of approaches and that everyone is respectful of how others approach playing games. It's fine if one approach doesn't work for yourself, but that's why it's so important to have a good understanding of what everyone expects before starting to play - to avoid the disappointment or later. Thank you again. It's great to hear what people think.

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