Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Sublime Joy of Losing

You all know how much I love playing games. And I hope you all know that I'm decent at a lot of games. I'm really only good at a small handful of games. I'm a mediocre-to-good player at the vast majority of games that I enjoy.

And that's okay, because it gives me a chance to lose sometimes, even against new players.

Losing is one of my less-secret gaming joys. I love losing.

Losing doesn't mean I didn't play hard. It doesn't mean I threw the game. Losing means someone else was better than I was (for most of the games I play).

When I'm new to a game, I like watching experienced players destroy me so I can learn the strategies they use. I can see how the various pieces fit together into a win.  At that point, I'm often just working on figuring out how the game itself works - what behavior it rewards and what it doesn't.

With "point salad" games, I'm often feeling out if I can single out one element and ignore the others. In 7 Wonders, for example, new players often try to bulk up on military cards. Don't get me wrong - military is great, but it's not The Key To Victory most of the time. It's one part of this nutritious breakfast the win, but it's not the whole thing by itself.

Once I reach the skill level of mediocre at a game, a loss means that either I tried a new strategy that didn't work out or I'm facing someone who is better than I am at the game. Or both. Or sometimes my opponent is also mediocre and her half-baked strategy is better than my half-baked strategy.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to play CIV: Carta Impera Victoria with some friends. The game is fast-playing, and I'd played it a couple of times - enough that I wanted to play with some of its possibilities and see if winning was still viable.  So I used a military discard strategy - it left almost no cards in my tableau and reduced my opponents' tableaus to almost nothing.  It got expensive fast, though, because I was discarding two cards for every one card I removed from their tableaus.  I didn't win, but I learned that playing "pure" discard is not a path to victory. On the other hand, I also learned that some discard can frustrate your opponents and cause them to stumble.

Most of all, though, I love losing at games at which I consider myself skilled, because it means I still have a lot to learn.  I've been playing on lately. I'm a premium member, so I have access to Dungeon Twister. I've tried a variety of tactics against a number of players with mixed results. I'm currently 6-4 at the game online, and every one of those games was fun for me. I especially love the game where I messaged my wife, "I just moved my Warrior one space too far. It's probably going to cost me the game." And it did.

A lot of people hate losing because they believe that losing means you are a bad player. This is not true at all. It means your opponent was better. Or you made a mistake. Or you're having a bad day. Or maybe the dice turned against you. These things happen, and none of them mean you're a bad player.

Even in high-level tournaments, most players don't win. Keep that in mind. There are many games where a draw is simply not possible. And, yes, at the higher levels of many games, sometimes that win does come down to luck of the draw.

Losing is as much a part of playing the game as winning. In many cases, I'd argue that it's more a part of the game because of the number of players involved.

So when you lose, just look at the game, figure out what caused your loss, and try to do better next time. Because more often than not, you will.

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