It Takes Two

Posted on Jun 26 2012 by pomomojo in Backgammon, Board Games, Bridge, Chess, Dominoes, Parlor Games, Poker
It Takes Two

It Takes Two

There are many things I enjoy about games.  I admire the brilliance of a good design.  Chess, for instance, really has very few rules yet it has engaged millions of minds for centuries.  But even simpler games can have admirable design elements.  I rarely request a game of Trivial Pursuit, but I can still admire the design of the circular board that gives you options about which topics to take questions in each turn.  The circular board was not necessary for the game to work, but someone came up with the idea to add it in.  I enjoy seeing such subtle ideas come to life regardless of how much I enjoy the actual game.

The pieces themselves are also enjoyable.  They can be enjoyed for their functionality, such as the clever layout of a roulette betting table that allows players to signify dozens of different bets based solely on where on the grid they place their chips.  They can also be enjoyed for their material qualities.  I have played and enjoyed games printed on cheap cards or pieces of paper, but there is a tactual pleasure to holding professional poker chips (just watch how much time professional poker players spend fiddling with their chips).  They can also be enjoyed for their aesthetic design such as a backgammon set that transforms the familiar points and colors into something new.

All that being said, most games are about interacting with other human beings.  We can play solitaire games to pass the time but the games that we obsess over and that thrill us usually involve another player.  It is this very element of social interaction that is leading to a number of adults, such as this blogger, to re-discover board games.  The thrill of interacting with other players comes in a variety of flavors:

1)      Competition – It’s fun to win!  Although there are plenty of board games where a new player can defeat a skilled player through luck, in general, I think we make personal connections to our victories.  Although I’m not that competitive when I play, I know that a string of losses can start to affect me emotionally.  I know that being good at a board game means nothing in the grand narrative of my life, but it still feels rewarding to be better than other people at something, even if only for one night.

2)      Socialization – My wife will tell you I’m not easy to talk to.  I am quite introverted.  But I turn into the life of the party on board game night.  In everyday life I find it quite difficult to keep a conversation going, but once we are all staring at the same board and talking about the game I find it easy to make a string of comments.  The game creates an instant common ground for all involved.  Although there are versions of dominoes that can be quite strategic, people who spend all day playing the game likely do so more for the social interaction than the mental challenge.

3)      Variety – This is related to competition, but can be enjoyable whether you win or lose.  It is possible to master the primary elements of many games, but the real fun and challenge of the game is being able to figure out how to apply that knowledge against a variety of different opponents.  Backgammon is basically a game where you roll dice and move checkers across the board.  It sounds almost child-like.  Yet, when you place that other player opposite you, suddenly there are a variety of new considerations.  The basic strategy is still to get your checkers off the board the fastest, but how best to do that depends on the moves you opponent makes.  A different opponent will require a completely different strategy.

4)      Getting to Know You – If you have a regular gaming partner you can actually learn a lot about them through games.  In my game group, husbands and wives usually end up thwarting each other’s moves since they each seem to know what the other wants to do.  I know for me one of the biggest thrills is when a game has an auction, such as in Monopoly.  I love seeing how high I can push the price, especially if I don’t even want the property.  When my opponent begrudgingly raises his bid one more time after I went out on a limb with my bid, I feel like I have really looked into their brain and figured something out about them.

So when you are picking out a game you need to not only consider how much fun it is to play and how nice it looks, but exactly what social experience you want from it.  Poker and Bridge are both played with a deck of cards, but the social experience will be vastly different.

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