Quantifying Fun

I just listened to Mark Johnson’s always fabulous podcast, Boardgames To Go, and he and guest David Gullett were talking about the games they played in 2009. I’ve already written about my look back at 2009, but one of the topics that came up in their discussion was regarding what actually represents a unit of play, in terms of how you keep track of the games that you play throughout the year.

Now, many gamers don’t bother keeping these statistics, and you may wonder why anyone would bother to attempt to quantify a hobby in this manner, but I think that’s a topic for another post. What I’m interested in exploring is this idea of what represents a play of a particular game.

Some games are very easy to quantify in terms of a play. This month’s Game of the Month, Patrician, is a good example. It plays in under an hour, and if you feel like playing it again, then at the end of that game, you’ve played two games. Even a very long wargame, that may take several sessions of play, would represent a single play of the game, even though you may have met a few times over a month in order to finish it.

Some games that take place over several rounds or hands have the concept of a game built into the rules. I just played TransEuropa last week, where several rounds are played until a player reaches a certain score. Tichu is a wonderful trick taking partnership game that is also played until a predetermined score is reached. Many games, like Animalia, are played for a number of rounds equal to the number of players.

Shorter games can be more difficult to quantify, and players must establish some subjective criteria for what represents a single play. For example, in the podcast, Mr. Gullett mentions that nobody would consider counting each hand of poker as a single play of poker. In poker, players usually establish a particular time (“It’s late and my wife wants you guys out of the house.”) or a set goal (“Let’s play until someone loses all their chips.”) that will indicate when the game is done. Now if you play poker at Dave’s place in the morning and then play over at Joe’s house that afternoon, and then return to Dave’s place that evening for another game, not only have you played poker three times that day, but you also have a gambling problem.

I have a policy that if I play a shorter game, like Animal Upon Animal, with my kids, and we play four games over the space of fifteen minutes, then I count that as one play instead of four. If we put that away for a while, played something else, and then came back to Animal Upon Animal later for a few more games, then I would record that I played it twice.

This may seem silly but a lot of gamers think about things like this all the time. There should be a geek term for a quantified unit of play, like a Gygax or a Knizia. Wow, okay, that’s too geeky even for me. I will go and get some fresh air now.

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