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2013-52 Week 21

So I got inspired by events from the past week and a presentation I saw today, so all those things I said I’d talk about I’m either working into this framework or putting off even more. Actually, the knee and the food allergy are both waiting on doctor’s appointments in June, so there’s not much more to update there anyway. So what caught my fancy, you ask?

One of the first blog posts I wrote when Jess and I founded this site was an article on why I run, a past-time that has taken up many hours of my life since then for all the reasons that I stated there. Sadly it’s been on the shelf for the last month due to my knee injury, though I think I’m tentatively ready to try a mile or two here and there again. Another interest of mine that I have not gotten to spend nearly as much time on, but has made a resurgence recently, came to mind and I just had to write down my thoughts about it. I looked back at the past year-and-a-half of blogs and realized that the same event prompted me to write a little bit about it last year, but Game Design is only a small portion of what I enjoy. So consider this a semi-sequel to my original running post:

Problem Solving, Risk Taking, and Mortality, or Why I Game

Much like I’ve been asked why I run by various people over the years, I also get the question as to why a (now) 33 year old man would enjoy playing board, card, and video games. Actually, that’s not entirely true, as the running question was often verbalized, while the game question often was conveyed more by look or sigh.

Since we just had my birthday I requested what is fast becoming one of my favorite traditions, a birthday game slash hangout day. Come when you like, leave when you have to, participate in various games if you want, and have good conversations if you don’t want to game. I, being birthday boy of course, got to sit in on all the game sessions (actually, this time, it was largely the same crowd that played games while everyone else talked). We played Space Fluxx, Forbidden Island, and the new DC Deck-building game I bought myself as a birthday present. I also got to play a few more games in the ensuing couple of days as we had house guests and one was willing to play a few games with me in the evenings (the DC game some more and the Star Wars card game that my parents got me for my birthday – yes, I asked for it specifically, that’s the whole point of this post, remember?). Actually, I’m going to detour for a paragraph here to talk about our guests, so if you’re just here for the games you can skip on by.

Yup, for two consecutive weekends (with a stay in Anaheim and Carlsbad in between) we had our friends down from Alaska with their two kids. I will say this, fitting four adults and two children into our condo worked far better than I imagined it would, and the cat actually behaved fairly well both with the visitors and at night when we had to sequester him in our room. We had a lot of fun, especially with the little ones, and it actually encouraged me to maintain a decent bedtime, although that quickly went out the window once they left. We got to spend some quality time with our friends, but also allowed for plenty of family time so Jess and I didn’t feel overwhelmed with constant visitors, and attended outings to Disneyland and the beach. The kids were adorable and well-behaved, even if the youngest one’s default setting seems to often be pout (although it is the cutest pout ever). We miss them a lot and were certainly glad for the visit!

So why do I like to play games so much? Why don’t I feel that games are beneath me; a childish pursuit? Whether they be board games, card games, or video games, it all come down to one things: problem solving. Games all have a set of rules (well, except Calvinball, that only has one rule “You can’t play the same way twice”) to play by and your job, as a player, is to use those rules to win the game. In a fairly new twist there are now games that require all of the players to try and beat the game itself, which are called cooperative games. We played one at my birthday party and had a blast as we barely beat the game and had some great moments of suspense and strategy.


What is it about problem solving that is so important? Well, for me, it represents a challenge to which I enjoy figuring out the answer. It’s actually the part of my day job that brings me the most fulfillment, when there is a problem and I have to figure out the solution. By bringing that experience out of a work situation and into one that is leisurely and generally involves some good friends, well one can hopefully see the appeal. When I draw my opening hand of cards, see my initial board position, or drop into the first few seconds of a video game, my brain instantly starts to analyze my options and formulating a game plan for success. Success does not necessarily mean victory, I play enough games that I know I can’t win them all (which helps me be a gracious loser), but I want to be competitive and put myself in the best position to bring home a victory. I have a couple of shortcuts that I’ve ingrained myself with so that I can play any game competitively the first time I read the rules.

1) Amass resources: This goes particularly for card games where you aren’t trying to be the first one with an empty hand (those obviously have the converse rule – dump as quickly as possible), when the goal is to achieve a certain combination of cards to achieve victory, the more cards you see the better. This has led to what have been dubbed “Matt turns” in games like Fluxx, where I play in upwards of twenty cards over the course of a couple back to back turns in search of the winning combination (this has been eased recently in light of I recognize how annoying it is and the newer versions of Fluxx have done a better job of mitigating my ability to do so – now it typically tops out at about ten to fifteen). In card games where I have the choice of my deck construction, I will generally put as many cards that say “draw a card” in addition to their regular text as they will let me in the deck. More is definitely better in these cases.

2) Be patient: Don’t just play cards or move simply because you have them left. If the game allows you to keep items from turn to turn, then save some for when they may better suit you in the future. You can’t have ten to fifteen card turns in any game if you don’t keep a way to get more cards in the future from hand to hand. The exception to this is the endgame, where you know that anyone could possibly win the game at any minute. This is the time to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.

3) You’re going to lose: Some people just don’t seem to get this and this both makes them very difficult to play with (for the other players) and less likely to continue playing games (for that player). The funny thing about games is they are just like anything else in life, the more you practice, the better you are. It’s cliche now, but it’s still true: you learn more from defeat than you do from victory. Even if you win you can look at what happened with the other players, did they make any mistakes of which you were able to take advantage? If so, then you know to avoid those mistakes when you are playing. Sometimes going into a game knowing you don’t have a chance can take a large amount of pressure off and allow you to focus on enjoying the experience of the game, which Jess and I were able to do recently (uh oh, I feel a sidetrack paragraph coming on).

While we went to Disneyland with our friends last Monday and Tuesday, we were actually there on Sunday for an entirely different reason. After having asked me for the last several events Jess was able to convince me to sign up for one of the MouseAdventure scavenger hunts through Disneyland. Her usual partner-in-crime was unavailable due to having to take another leg of one of those nasty accounting tests, and Jess REALLY wanted to do one with me. You might remember from my secret project last year (and Jess’ birthday party a few years ago, although I’m not sure I’ve blogged about that one) that I am no stranger to scavenger hunts, and Jess wanted to see if my experience (as well as all the reasons in this post) would couple well with her Disneyland knowledge. About 900 people participate, some of whom are Disneyland Cast Members (MousePlanet, who hosts MouseAdventure, is not Disney owned, thus they are eligible to play), most of which play in four-person teams (Jess discovered the first time that she prefers playing with only two people, less personality conflicts that way), and some of whom simply have ridiculous amounts of Disneyland knowledge (much like my ridiculous amounts of other less-than-practical knowledge). Up against all of that we didn’t pressure ourselves to win, simply to do our best and to finish as much as possible. Well, actually, we did have a bit of a competition going, as two of Jess’ students played as one team, and one of her faculty members played with her family as another, so there is a bit of intra-departmental rivalry there. While the scores aren’t up yet (any time now), we were very happy with our progress and only yelled at each other once the whole day (this is where Jess’ first time-developed pre-apology worked wonders, you just apologize for everything at the beginning and then move on when that kind of stuff happens during the game). We managed to get an answer for every quest (although we think we were wrong on one of them) and completed a good portion of the bigger quests. It was a lot of fun and, if it wasn’t for their propensity for hosting these things on Sundays during church sports seasons, I’d consider playing again.

Ahem, where was I? Oh, right.

4) Look for combinations: Whether it is combinations of moves or card combinations, some things just work out to be better than the sums of their parts. If it is a game you are going to play often, take some time to look at the rules really closely and see how the game elements interact with them. Sometimes the combination isn’t on the cards or with the pieces, but how those elements interact with the rules that are so powerful. Generally if an element allows you to break one of the fundamental rules of the game, then it’s going to be a pretty powerful effect. When you can construct your own deck, look for combinations that compliment each other and further your goals. Our last go-round with the DC deck building game I had a character that let me draw one card a turn when I played equipment, which I then complimented by picking up several copies of an equipment card that let me look at the top card of my deck and destroy it if I didn’t like it. This let me see what my next draw would be and replace it if it was something I didn’t like, which allowed me to thin my deck to my most powerful cards and, when I picked up another few copies of an equipment card that made the victory conditions cheaper, quickly burn through to the end of the game. A couple synergies combined into one really powerful effect.

5) Don’t be afraid to take risks: You thought I just threw that into the title to make it match my running post? It’s a game! Couple this one with number 3 in the list, as there are generally no consequences to losing a game. It’s also why I can have fun at games where the accepted strategy for everyone else at the table is “Get Matt first.” Being the target leads to the development of more risky strategies, as you don’t have time to sit back and develop things when everyone is targeting you. It makes victory all the more gratifying and defeat all the more interesting. I’ve long since stopped taking that strategy personally by the way, because I realized it meant that I had been so successful in the past that I warranted the attention. Even if you are playing a game for the first time, or have been playing the same game for a long time without much success, adding some risky elements to your play makes you unpredictable and my open up some avenues that you had not yet explored and could potentially make you more successful.

I could probably go on at length, but without direction it might devolve a bit (no cracks about it already devolving). If there are more specific questions feel free to ask here or if you see me in person. Of course, that also assumes you made it this far. If you skipped down here from the middle, well, that’s fine too.

And that is why I continue to play games of all types even as I approach my mid-thirties, and will continue to do so for as long as I can. Each game is a puzzle, one that can bring great gratification while not exposing myself to unnecessary risk. We will often play games when we visit my parents for dinner, usually versions of Dominoes or card games like Hand and Foot, and we always have a lot of fun regardless of who wins and loses. In one of the games (we keep a record) I have both the lowest total game score record and the highest single hand record (like golf, high is bad, in fact the single hand record is higher than my lowest total game score record), and I’ve learned to take pride in my epic failures as well as my epic wins (just a little more in the wins, but only a little). As for the mortality part: well, the great thing is that in most games if you die (metaphorically of course) you simply get to restart, often just a little bit wiser.

Weight: 226 Loss: 4 lbs – Running Yearly Mileage: 210.5 miles (+0 miles) Last year-to-date: 168.5 miles – Words-to-date: 39231 (+2508)

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