Greg Pettit throws me a curve

Earlier this month I wrote about how my experience as a gamer has made it easier for me to learn new games. My friend Greg Pettit had this to say about it:

You’ve hit upon a very important aspect of this hobby– the learning curve. It’s amazing how the act of learning the rules to games actually makes you more adept at learning the rules to games.

I think this is the root cause of several different phenomena: the constant search for “gateway” games (games that teach new gaming concepts quickly and painlessly), the burn-out on familiar games (Settlers is too basic now that we understand it), and of course, the cult of the new (being addicted to learning/exploring new rules).

Neat post, and something to think about!

I think Greg’s on to something here.

Gateway games

The learning curve for some of the best games of our hobby is pretty steep, so if you want to get your friends and family to start gaming, you’ve got to find a game that will introduce them to some basic game mechanics. We refer to these games as gateway games.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is considered to be one of the best gateway games, but I think that has more to do with the fact that it’s just a good game than with its ability to teach any particular game mechanic. It’s a good way for non-gamers to learn that there are games out there that they have never heard of and some of them are really fun.

I still keep an eye out for gateway games, especially games that I think my children will enjoy. You’ve got to be careful though, some games that may look like gateway games are not. I recently purchased a copy of Wooly Bully, which at first glance seemed like a good introduction for kids to a tile laying game like Carcassonne. However, when I got it home and actually played it, I discovered that Carcassonne is the best introduction to games like Carcassonne. I should know better than to make exceptions to my play it before you buy it rule.


Burn out

A quick check of my stats on BGG tells me that I haven’t played Ticket to Ride since February of 2009. Why? Because even though I like the game, most of my gaming friends are tired of it. They burned out on it long before I even showed up.

The Settlers of Catan

They have also burned out on Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and a bunch of other games. Those games don’t hold a great deal of appeal for some experienced gamers. Like Greg said, those games are so familiar and the concepts so basic that some players now find them uninteresting. Granted, Puerto Rico is different. This game is not simple in any way, but my group, like many others, played this thing to death. They know that they have to use certain strategies at certain times and while it’s not simple, it’s certainly familiar. There is nothing new for them there. I’ve played the damn thing once. I liked it, but unless I go find other players of similar experience, I will not be playing it again any time soon.

I can’t think of many games that I’m burned out on. I don’t think I play enough to get too burned out on anything. I’ve only been seriously into the hobby for a few years, and I used to have this pattern of trying something new, playing it a few times, and then moving on to the next new thing that caught my eye.

The cult of the new

Up until 2010, there was no play it before you buy it rule for me. I bought everything that looked cool and was new, and new meant new to me, not just newly published. In a matter of a few years, I went from having a collection of say seventy games to having a collection of two hundred games. I wanted to try everything. I wanted to own all the cool new games and all the cool old games. If it won the Spiel des Jahres, then I figured I should own it. New new new. My friend Doug Garrett leads the cult of the new, and I would listen weekly to his Jedi mind tricks and put some new game on my wish list like a child at Christmas, looking through the Sears catalog. Buy buy buy.

Alea Iacta Est

At some point, and I don’t remember precisely when this happened, I walked out of the cult of the new compound. I think it may have been due to Alea Iacta Est. Like so many other new games, I first heard about this on Doug’s podcast, Garrett’s Games and Geekiness, and it sounded like something right up my alley. I really needed this game. I had a few opportunities to get it, but I didn’t pull the trigger, and then my buddy Mark Jackson picked up a copy. So I finally got to play the damn thing and I liked it well enough, but I thought to myself how glad I was that I hadn’t purchased it. I didn’t need it anymore.

I didn’t really feel the need for any game after that. I’m now much more concerned about who I’m playing with than what I’m playing, which I’m sure is only reinforcing my reputation as an elitist jerk. I haven’t stopped buying new games. I’m just much more selective about what I purchase, and I do try and play it before I buy it. I’m also trying to trade off some of my game collection. I still listen to Doug’s podcast, and I appreciate that he busts his butt to keep us informed every week of all the new stuff that’s available, I just don’t feel the need to own all of it. I think that this learning curve that Greg mentioned has managed to both speed my introduction into the hobby and then slow my interest in and acquisition of new games.

I don’t want to sound like I think the cult of the new is something wrong. Hell, I depend on my friends who are members of the cult of the new. If they didn’t enjoy that aspect of the hobby, then I wouldn’t get the opportunity to try new games. There’s going to be some particular aspect of the hobby that appeals to someone on a personal level, whether it’s learning new rules, collecting new games or a particular series of games, playing one game until they’ve reached mastery of it, or just finding the right games that bring their friends together in a social setting.

Something to think about indeed. Thanks Gregg!