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Do you play for the players, or for the game?

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Boardgaming is a great hobby.  There is a huge variety of games to choose from.  More and more great games come out each day, and unlike some mediums of entertainment, almost all great games from the past continue to be great games now.  You don’t need to buy expensive new computers to play the latest games, and you have no problem pulling out a game from 15 years ago.  Games promote social interaction, strategic and creative thinking, and just having something to do when you’re bored, even when the power goes out.

But more importantly, board gaming is truly a social experience.  Unlike online multiplayer video games – of which the social interaction often boils down to pre-adolescent boys screaming profanities and slurs at everyone else – board games get groups of people interacting in person around an actual table, with no digital screens or wires in the way.

So that brings us to an important question.  Do you play for the games? To experience complex rule systems or fun mechanics or to explore strategies or maybe just to win?  Or, do you play for the players – the social interaction, the time spent in person with friends and family, to build relationships and just get away from electronic screens for a while?  The answer to this question can greatly affect your experience as a board gamer.

Now don’t get me wrong – the answer doesn’t have to be a straightforward “yes” to one part and “no” to the other.  You can enjoy the social interaction while appreciating the games and vice versa.  But one is always more important than the other.  And I would go far as to say that if you put the games over the people you’re playing them with – you’re doing it wrong.

For someone who plays “for the game” the thing that matters is, what game are we playing.  He (or she) knows the games he wants to try, he knows which games he doesn’t like, and darnitall if his group tries to play Munchkin ONE MORE TIME he’ll just have to find someone else.

This person has ideals about how a game should be played; when house rules are needed and when they are not, what is the “right way” to play.  They get annoyed at people with weird strategies or when players talk too much.  Honestly they’d just as soon play a game alone just to play it.  Other players are annoyances they’d rather just not deal with.  They can’t understand why some people like certain games or don’t like other games, and it’s very unlikely they would ever have the patience to teach casual players a game.  Winning is the most important.

Then you have those who play for the players.  It doesn’t always matter what game hits the table.  It’s just fun to get together with a group of friends.  Sometimes everyone else wants to play a game that the person doesn’t necessarily like, and that’s okay, because you’re playing it with friends.  This type of player is happy to try new games and introduce them to their gaming group.  They have a few favorites they love to see hit the table but they know other people have their own favorites, and it’s worth it for everyone to get the chance to play a game they enjoy.

This person tries to find ways to enjoy games they aren’t as good at.   They don’t mind losing.  As long as everyone there is involved and having a good time, they’re happy.  They’re eager to help new players learn or teach new strategies when someone is having trouble.

Okay, I hyperbolize.  I don’t think anyone is truly exactly like either way I described.  We all share attributes of both sides, and that’s okay.

It’s okay to have a favorite game, or to dislike certain games, or to just want to try some new games.  That’s all right.  But I think it’s important to remember that board games are meant to be played, with people, for the enjoyment of all.  Since, most of the time, games only have 1 winner, that means it has to be possible to have fun even when you lose.  You have to have a good attitude about it.  You have to learn to enjoy the people, love their quirks, love their flaws.

There are hundreds of thousands of games out there.  Some are great, some are not so great.  Some might even be considered works of art.  But the most important thing, the thing that truly makes this hobby great, is that group of human beings getting together, away from their cell phones and laptops and television sets.  It’s getting them to the table, talking, interacting, and enjoying the time spent together.

Don’t just play for the games.  Play for the people.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. It’s defiantly about the players. I’ve been playing games since the mid 90s, and the games always change, but the core group of players has stayed the same. I would rather play a game I dislike with great opponents then one of my favorite games with the cocky, sore loser type. Back when we were into the Star Wars CCG scene, we would think nothing of traveling four or five hours to play four games in a tournament against different people, even though it would have been easier(and cheaper) to just stay home and play, but there is something about sharing a game with a larger, diverse group that heightens the experience. The memories forged over the game table are some of the best times of my life.

  2. I think your characterizations are a little silly. It seems that if you play socially (like the author), then you are wonderful and pure and chaste and good – friend to puppies and savior of maidens.

    But if you primarily enjoy the mechanics of the game (unlike the author), then you are a curmudgeonly heathen who cares not for the souls of men, but prefers to crush their spirits. This person also only plays games they enjoy and will not play a game another likes.

    Although I like both the mechanics and interacting with friends, if I had to choose between the two, I’d say I prefer the game. After all, I socialize with my friends in a number of different contexts, not just at board game night.

    In fact, I think games are often oversold as “social.” In my experience, playing the game may lead to discussion about the game itself, but any real socializing occurs before and after the game. If anything, a game impedes direct socialization.

    That said, as someone who enjoys the game mechanics, I absolutely adore playing with other people. Those crazy strategies are what make the games worth playing. An AI can be learned and beaten. But players can take the games in new directions – things you didn’t even think about.

    Also, just because a person likes the gaming elements doesn’t mean they turn into total jerks. I’m more than happy to play games that don’t fit my particular thrill if the rest of the group wants it. It’s only common courtesy and it keeps players happy – which means they’ll want to play again.

  3. I agree with GeekInsight that the characterizations (caricatures?) are a little too stark. But you already know this. 🙂

    I think I fall somewhere in between, probably leaning toward playing for the game. I enjoy the company (and there is some company I would prefer, as in, I’d rather play a game I don’t enjoy with the right people than a game I love with people whose company I don’t enjoy), but there are other ways to interact socially. If it’s game time, I’d rather play a game that’s good, with good mechanics. I try not to shoot down others’ suggestions (except Mafia and Apples to Apples–I’m only human!) or be a jerk or become annoyed with new players or pull people’s arms out of their sockets when I lose (oh wait, that’s Wolfies that are known for that), but the game being played is something that is important to me.

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