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The Advantage of Experience

The other night I managed to squeak in three different gaming experiences. The first was playing a game where both other players had experience with the game but it was my first time with it. The second was playing a game I brought and that nobody else was familiar with. The third was playing a game everyone was somewhat familiar with, but also a game I had played hundreds of times via an app on my phone. Each experience yielded a few thoughts as a gamer:

1 - Being the novice

I'm actually quite comfortable being the novice in a game. While the others are busy with their knowing strategies, I get to play around with the game mechanics and likely mess with their game play. I never expect to win in such a situation where I'm the new player, and, to be honest, unless I know I'm on the right path, then I don't even try to win. I'm not a player who actively screws with the other players though, I'm not trying to play spoiler, but I am trying to figure things out, see how mechanics work, and see if there's a strategy, or strategies for approach the next time I play.

The game this time was Architects of the West Kingdom, which is a worker placement game and therefore shouldn't have been so unfamiliar to me, but the twists in the formula (such as starting with so many workers, the virtue track, the need for both characters and resources to build, the stealing/jailing of workers component) were enough to throw me for a rather huge loop.

The game wound up being a close race between first and second (43 points to 41) while I was quite handily behind (24 points). This was perhaps the first experience with a game where I came out of my first play session and still had no real idea for strategy or how to approach it the next time I play. But I had quite a bit of fun figuring it all out and I was never upset with the fact that I kept messing up and putting workers in places that didn't really matter in the long run. My only frustration was sometimes the indecisiveness of where to place my worker.

2 - Owning the game

The second game of the night was Roll Player, a dice-as-resource game which may in fact be my favourite type of game. I own the game and I've played the game maybe about a dozen times, so I'm quite familiar with it. It's not a complex game, but there are complexities such that being familiar with it will help you in playing.

As owner of the game, one tends to be responsible for the rules conveyance. I walked the three other players through the rules and I tried to explain some of the little things that might come into play throughout the game in terms of strategy. Of course, everyone else being a new player, I'm sure that some of the things I said didn't register as they were processing the other details.

Everyone caught on to the game play really quickly (as I said, it's not very complex) but throughout the game they would ask questions or realize things that I had mentioned earlier but they probably glossed over or I didn't stress enough (like when you get your Attribute card, you can choose either side, and in some cases, like where you need to total an Attribute row 18 on the nose but there's a "-2"to that Attribute, you're going to have a very difficult time scoring that Attribute unless you're really lucky in the market). As well I forgot to explain that the Attribute card also had a regular use power, which we didn't catch onto until the third round. Little oversights like that would lead to some frustration on the players ends as it impacted their strategies or they would spy lost opportunities.

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Constitution requires 18 points but you must apply a -2 to the attribute

For me as a player, when it's my game and I'm the only one experienced with it, I feel I have a level of responsibility for the other players' enjoyment of it. When I mess up and forget a rule or don't explain it very well, I feel really bad, mostly because I'm playing the game to its full extent while realizing the newbies are a bit hamstrung. I think the fact that I focus pretty intensely on how the other players are playing and helping guide them a little bit in their play and/or strategy is the balancing factor, it takes me away from my gameplay and I don't focus so hard on winning. Also, I never want to use my extensive familiarity to crush the other players, there's no fun in that for me or them.

The thing about Roll Player is it's kind of like a puzzle as you're trying to fit all your randomized pieces into place in the appropriate sections to maximize points. It's very individualistic so, due to my familiarity, I managed to outplay everyone else. However the second place player was only about 4 or 5 points behind me, but the third and fourth were 15-20 points back, so kind of the reversal of my Architects game.

The good thing was everyone was just as enamored with the game as I am, and were keen to play it again now that they were experienced with it. They're also eyeing up the expansion which I think requires a little more experience with the base game before I throw that into the mix (I think I've only played the expansion once or twice anyway, so it will be even footing when we get there).

3 - App Trained

Our third game of the evening was Splendor, a game I've never physically played, but I have played hundreds of games of on the app for Android. Hundreds. I'm intimately familiar with that game. The other two players were also both familiar with it but having only ever played the table top version a few times. They had no way to prepare for what was about to happen.

Splendor App

Even though I've never touched a jewel token or played against a living person before, the experience of playing against the AI that the game has provided will hone your skills on that game rapidly. You will either learn directly from the AI or by repeatedly playing the AI the optimal strategies for winning the game. The AIs are built for ruthless efficiency and so you will learn ruthless efficiency in order to beat them. Some games-as-apps find their AIs having particular quirks built into them which you as a player can take advantage of. Splendor's AIs aren't very quirky, the most I can say is they don't go in with an overt strategy like I do, which is to build a lot of cheap Development cards early, with an eye towards collecting one or two Noble cards (usually with overlap in the colors on the Noble cards). Meeting the objective of gaining two Noble cards usually gives you focus enough on specific gems on Development cards that usually means you will accumulate enough points between gaining Nobles to start the endgame when you get your second Noble.

Of course, you can get stymied by this if other players catch on to the tactic, but I've never had to worry about that with an AI (because their intelligence is artificial). This time around the other players were so focused on their own objectives they weren't watching what I was up to. Within the span of about 12 minutes I was at 11 points while they were around 3-5. They did start to see what I was up to and attempted intervention but I had enough to maneuver around their blocks. The game was over relatively quickly. I scored 16 against 8 and 8.

Sometimes you can only play the game the way you know how. It's like if you're a pro baller at a 3 on 3 pick-up game. It's not going to go well for the other team but you can only play the game as you know how to play it and if your level is that far above someone else's, so be it. There's a little bit of guilt associated with this ruthlessly efficient win as a result of extensive training, I feel bad for crushing them. I suppose I could revel in it but its not very sportsmanlike. I don't think anyone bears me any ill will for my slaughtering them, but I don't know. I just hope they still have fun and I try not to be a dick about it.

There are more than a few games that I have played pretty heavily as apps that I have never played the physical version of before. Usually I burn myself out on the game by playing it so fervently (Small World, Pandemic, Catan) but some games I know mainly as apps I'm super-keen to play in person (Castles of Mad King Ludwig, GanzSchon Clever, Lords of Waterdeep). Some games just need the hand of real people to play as I find the apps frustrating (Smash Up, Tokaido). But when you're not able to get out and play, they scratch an itch. They fill a void. And by taking away the game set up and tear down, they're so much less time consuming. They will never replace in person tabletop playing but I'm glad they're around.

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