Learning about Buddhism has taught me a lot about board games. I think it’s all about expectations One of my theories for the wealth of dissatisfaction in today’s world is that people’s expectations are way out of whack. Spend a few minutes on Instagram and you’ll think life should be filled be toned bodies, stacks of shiny possessions and beautiful vistas.
Spend a few minutes reading board game synopses and you’ll expect to master every mechanic and be rightfully crowned champion. When you finally sit down to play your $75 worth of miniatures, you might find your friends grasp it far better than you. You might have to painfully swallow the loser pill.
Letting go of expectations of victory makes for a more enjoyable game, in my opinion. I know there will be lot of fierce opponents to this point of view. Still, I’m here to make the case for not only accepting defeat in board games, but also embracing it.
If you’re an avid listener of Board Game Royale, you’ll know my favourite games involve city-building or construction. Like 7 Wonders, where you decide whether to build out your empire’s military or invest heavily in the arts. Or Castles of Mad King Ludwig where you build extravagant mazes of halls and corridors.
Ludwig was a real king. He had a real castle. But he, by conventional assessments, was a colossal failure. Succeeding to the throne at the age of 18, Ludwig quickly lost two wars before retreating from stately affairs to build bizarre and complex architectural projects.
He spent every penny of his royal revenues on castles like Neuschwanstein castle. Despite many attempts to restrain him by state officials, Ludwig kept spending and borrowed more to build yet more castles. That’s what happens when you truly embrace your creative side in board games. You get a euphoric, satisfying masterpiece at the end of game. But you’ll be at the bottom of a scoreboard.
Where’s the real victory in chasing victory points? A sensibly planned new town in Suburbia doesn’t inspire a generation of free-thinkers like a sea of primary schools next to power plants next to fast food chains.
I don’t measure my victory in points and neither should you.
In some ways humans are drawn to feeble losers. It’s a complex relationship.
While people we work our lives to distance ourselves from the lower ranks of unsuccessfulites, they’re also kept within arms reach. They let you prove how far you’ve come, how much better you are because of your hard graft and strategy. It takes a lot of practice to build up a winning engine in Splendor. A first few bad games can turn newbies off the game entirely – or even off all games forever.
If they’re sitting down with experienced players at their best, they’re going to lose. That won’t be a good time. So why not try embracing the losers’ mindset when sitting down with new players? In my view, that’s a key part of successful board game tutorage.
Handicapping yourself isn’t patronising to new players, but a crucial part of letting unpracticed players see their own path to victory. It’ll trigger that victory-condition dopamine rush experienced gamers chase every week.
Playing risky moves might not come naturally to a experienced player. Tempting the fates and stacking the odds against yourself elevates games above min-maxing tedium for new players. If they’re not getting schooled, they’re enjoying it a bit more – and they’re more likely to come back.
One of the first large-scale hidden role games I played was Mafia, at a gathering with a few drained bottle of Côte de Rhone.
Our game-master arose suspicion around himself almost immediately – and he was the first the be voted out. He didn’t truly leave the game, though. As he no longer had any skin in the game, his role became the (probably rule-breaking) general troublemaker. He’d whisper suggestions to other players, make outlandish claims about the trustworthiness of others and overall stoke much more debate than if we were left to our own devices.
Some might be find this dishonest and against the spirit of the game.
They’re probably right.
To loosen up a group, sometimes a little two-facedness and trickery is warranted. That means a dose of self-sabotage. A letting go of the desire to win. An embrace of the brand loser.
Sure, for hardcore gamers, the last 750 words might seem like utter blasphemy.
For me, at least, the enjoyment and fun that can be extracted out of playing games badly is proof that you don’t always have to ‘try your best.’