Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Breaking Through Your Preferences: It's Sometimes Necessary

 We all have our own set of personal preferences which bias how we react to everything.

When it comes to gaming, I dislike a high degree of randomness. I like a fair degree of player interaction. I dislike having to reference charts continuously through play.

So why do I like Pizza Box Football? Seriously.  The game is a quick rock-paper-scissors game with a chart lookup. This tells you what column on another chart is rolled on. That chart gives you a modifier for yet another chart (on which you then roll for final result). Now, I love a good football-themed game. I really do. I even enjoy a fair number of bad ones. But I keep coming back to this one, and I honestly can't figure out why. The game is almost purely randomness and charts. Defense is underpowered.

I could go on for a while about why I should dislike the game, but it highlights something for me: Sometimes you need to set aside your preferences and give something different a shot.

It worked for Dixit. My preferences even boosted its sales.

Here's the thing about our gaming preferences that everyone forgets: You learned them. When I was eight, I didn't sit down at the Monopoly board and complain, "There's too much randomness and not enough direct player interaction!" I had no idea that there were less random games out there. I didn't know that there were games with varying degrees of player interaction.

My gateways to gaming in general are probably very similar to yours at first. Candy Land, Cootie, Monopoly, Aggravation, Battleship, Clue (or Cluedo, if you're in the UK). I was odd in that I rarely played Sorry or Trouble. And I didn't play Risk until I was an adult. These are the gateways through which most US gamers learn boardgaming.

When I was twelve, I played Axis and Allies for the first time (not the version I've linked to - the original Milton Bradley Gamemaster series one). That was a real eye-opener. That year, I was also introduced to Castle Risk - when I played Risk a few years later, I was very disappointed. Castle Risk is a far superior game.

By the time I was seventeen, I'd also played Diplomacy, Kingmaker, The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, The Great Khan Game, Illuminati, Hacker, Talisman, and a number of others. By this point, I'd started to define what I liked and disliked in a game.

Over the next five years, I added a number of games to my list - Robo Rally, Empires in Arms, Shogun, Fortress America, and a whole lot of others.

Some of you are aware of a split in boardgaming between "Euro" games and "Ameritrash" games. Some of you will further note that all of the games listed above are AT-style.  That is, theme before gameplay, lots of bits, lots of dice, lots of direct player conflict. It's worth noting that party games such as Scattergories or Wits and Wagers or Apples to Apples don't seem to fall into either camp.

 I was in my early twenties before I played a Euro. It was, of course Settlers of Catan, and it was (for me and many others) a real eye-opener. On September 13, 2002, I finally acquired my own copy of the game. At that time, I was twenty-six - and already a hobby gamer.

Settlers seemed, to me, to be nearly the perfect game. There was non-conflict interaction, and (through initial placement), you had a degree of control over your luck.  After that, I sought out Euros. There were some ... missteps. Nautilus springs to mind (steer well clear).

Somewhere along the way, I became very set in my ways. Or, as my wife calls me, "A Game Snob." I started sneering at games where dice ruled. I ignored games that were "too light."

Asmodee sent me the rules to Dixit and Cyrano, and I ... flinched. These didn't sound like good games to me. They sounded like party games. And Asmodee had made a habit of publishing good games.

Even after reading the rules to these ones, I hesitated to bring them to the table. But I knew I'd have to be ready to demo them. Which meant I'd need to play them.

Dixit was ... well, the art dragged me in. Honestly, for the first play or two, the game played second fiddle to the art. The next few games, I enjoyed for itself. In fact, the more I played it, the more I liked it.

Now, one of the things I do is take games to some of our local game stores. While I spend the bulk of my time and money at Phoenix Games, I do spend some time at Uncle's Games (less, now that their Southcenter Mall location is gone). I've visited  most of the other local stores, too.

I took Dixit to Uncle's games to demo for them. I ended up not having time to play, so I loaned it to them. When I came back a few weeks later, the district manager told me, "It's not his usual style of game, so when he recommended it, I knew it would be a good one."  This was before it won the Spiel des Jahres.

It rapidly became a top-seller for them, and was their best-seller over the following holiday season. They had so much demand for it that they ended up buying copies from a Canadian distributor because the US was sold out.

They sold so many that I mentioned to Christophe that I'd brought it in to Uncle's to demo, he exclaimed, "We love Uncle's games!" Apparently they'd sold more than just about anyone else.

And all because I reached past my preferences and recommended a game.

So the point is this: When we reach past our preferences, we sometimes find games we would otherwise have missed. And some of these games may become favorites, if we give them a chance.


  1. Dammit!

    1. I don't like card games.
    2. I read your blog
    3. I visit my FLGS
    4. I buy the new Lord of the rings: the card game
    5. I play it and ENJOY it.

    It's all your "fault" for creating yet another black hole in my economy. :)

  2. Björn,

    Thank you for supporting your FLGS.

    And for reading my blog. :)