Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Familiarity vs. Burnout

I find that I enjoy a game the most once I've grown familiar with it after repeated plays. There is somewhat of a breaking in process during which I read the rules, play a trial game to iron out any ambiguities, then over the course of time hopefully play the game with many different people. As I explore the strategy space of the game in question and build up experiences playing it with different groups of friends I gradually grow familiar with it, which in turn increases my overall satisfaction with the game.

Playing Them All is Not Enough

Many hobby board gamers seem to buy games at a much greater rate than they can play them. Recently this has been somewhat true for me as well, since I've purchased a ton of new games during the first three months of the year, the difference being that I have managed to play every one of them so far. However, I have certainly not grown familiar with the vast majority of my games, so although I've played every title I own I still feel the majority of my collection is vastly underutilized. My games are underplayed due to a variety of reasons: complicated games because most of my gaming friends are new to the hobby and I don't want to overwhelm them, multi player games because much of my game time is spent 2-player with the Mrs., and some games simply because I don't care for them as much as others and I haven't grown into them yet.

Building a Collection of Group Classics

Another part of this phenomenon is the concept of shared familiarity. When visiting friends it is nice to have a number of games in my collection that I can pull out and play with everyone already knowing the rules, everyone having a common history with the game, perhaps including memories of past victories and defeats, and thus being able to jump right into playing and having a great time. To get to this point each game needs to see a certain amount of table time with any given group of friends, and thus not simply becoming familiar to me, but also to the entire group. The game that falls into this category the most amongst my friends is Settlers of Catan. I've introduced the game to lots of my friends, playing it many times with the majority of them. Another game that is getting to that point is Pandemic. Lucy stopped by the other day for a quick game, and since the Mrs. and I have already played the game with her a couple of times we could set it up and jump right into saving humanity.

Now certainly there is something said for both learning and teaching new games, both of which need to be done before that common familiarity can be achieved, and I'm sure I'll continue to expand my collection. My goal, though, is definitely to have a vast collection of games, most of which have become familiar favorites throughout my gaming network of friends.

Walk the Line

An unfortunate correlation to this discussion is the risk taken as a particular game gets played many times that people will begin to get burnt out on the game. Certainly there is a fine line between familiarity and burnout, although since I own quite a few games it should be fairly easy to steer myself away from going over that line. However, I find that as I put in the necessary plays to grow comfortably familiar with a game, the Mrs. in particular is gradually getting bored with it. She has gotten to that point with Settlers of Catan. So when different people in a group approach that burnout point at varying rates, that could be a difficult issue to resolve. In this case, where I enjoy having a feel for much of the strategy in a game, she is primarily interested in learning new strategy and gets bored very easily as she gets to that point where she doesn't feel she needs to learn any more. I suppose one solution here is for me to focus on those games at which she is tiring when I play with groups that don't involve her. This, however, is rarely the case since I enjoy playing games with her and try to include the Mrs. in almost all my gaming activity.

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