David Erik

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Why I prefer games that give me a headache

There are two kinds of games. (Well, okay, there are a lot more kinds than that. Ignore them.) Games that you play because you want to have fun with your friends, and Games You Want To Win (GYWTW)*. Both of these are nice, and I can appreciate both. Having fun with your friends is nice. But winning is better. And winning is actually only winning if you play a game of the second type.

There are a lot of social games. Lets say Yahtzee. It's a nice and friendly game. But incredibly boring. There are so few actions to take, so few decisions to do, and so little interaction between the players. It can be nice to play, but if you win, it will be because of luck rather than skill.

Now, you can of course be a Yahtzee pro as well. Calculate probability and follow the optimal path, and you are probably going to win more often. But here's the thing with social games: Since the others didn't try to follow the optimal path, there's no fun in winning. Sure, they made some decisions about how many dices to reroll, but that's it. So if you beat them by spending 20 minutes calculating Everything, it really is no big deal.

GYWTW is totally different. The number of available actions is almost infinite, everything you do is dependent on what the other players have done and will do and and there are really unclear variables in play (such as verbally convincing another player of taking a certain action). Acting before the other players complain over how long time you take to act is a sign of either an incredible flow or not trying hard enough to win. When it's your turn in GYWTW, you should almost expect to hear when the fan who keeps the brain cold increases in rotation speed. It's a good indicator that a game belongs to the GYWTW category when I get a headache a few hours in the game. The game search tree expands so quickly and widely and changes entirely all the time, that the task of finding the best possible action is too much to handle and this leads to overheating. Has this ever happened to you while playing Pick-up sticks? I promise you it can happen during Munchkin, Poker or Dominion for instance.

This feeling, that the game stretches my brain to its entire capacity, feels amazing. I take a headache and an amazing game over a non-headache and a game of "Go Fish" any day.

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* Of course, you always play these games to have fun with friends as well. With the possible exception of Poker with strangers.