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The Psychology Behind My Love for Board Games: Explained (Partially).

There are so many reasons why I love Board Games. But I wanted to focus on one point in this blog. That bit when a game makes sense.

Why do I love board games?

I play 100-150 new to me games each year. Exactly 162 so far this calendar year. That is a high amount I would wager compared to the national average. I am certain some people play a lot more. But I presume most would play a fair bit less. Anyway, let’s just all agree for the sake of this piece that it’s a lot. Because the point is, with all those new to me games, plus all the obvious repeat plays of those and other games that I have played before, my gaming itch is never scratched. I have never got to a point where I am not eagerly craving more games. It has led me to wonder if there is something wrong with me! And I have certainly bugged a few people by asking for one more game when everyone else is either ready to go to bed, already asleep or perhaps even gone home.

So, I have had a long hard think about what it is about games that I crave the most. To see if I can isolate the core route of my obsession add more of that to my life in other ways. I have thought about what I enjoy most and really tried to narrow that down. I know I like playing new games over older ones. But what is it about playing new games that really gets me going.

Well, after much thought I have come to the conclusion that the thing I love most about games is that moment in your first play when the matrix all comes together. You have read the rule book. Maybe watched a video or two. Explained it to your gathered friends or family. And taken a few turns and then your brains clicks. The rules make sense. The strategy starts to sink in. It’s that moment when you move from sort of getting it and knowing enough to take a turn to understanding the math or structure of the game to be able to take a good turn. It’s that moment when I go from partial confusion and sometimes blind panic to clarity. It is a wonderful feeling and I want to explore it a bit more here.

Learning a new game can be tough, some rule books are terrible. Not every game has a video made for it. Some rules videos are long and complicated. It is not always an easy or enjoyable process. Rule books for games like Daybreak break the norm though. That is fantastic. Simple layout. Great examples. A nice pictorial introduction before you get into the meat of it. It is a fantastic way to learn a game. Some games use the play along app. Have you tried that? Dized is a very good one I have used a few times. They walk you through your fist few turns and teach you as you play without the need for any reading prior to starting to play. But it does make your first game very much a learning game. Which is fine. And sometimes unavoidable. But it does take some of the fun out of it. It walks you through the process in too much of a formulaic way for my liking, and essentially takes turns for you. It tells you what you can do from a rules perspective, rather than teaching you about your options and why you may choose to take one action over another. Or at the very least, creates a situation where you take turns and make decisions before you know the full game. I don’t like that.

I also don’t like that feeling of uncertainty when you play a new game for the first time. Particularly if others around the table that you have taught are confused. If other players are having a bad time because of my poor rule teach, I feel terrible. It is a horrible feeling. It makes me feel guilty. I feel pressured to do something to make it better for everyone. But I am also confused as I don’t quite get the game yet and don’t fully know how to help them. It is one thing to learn and understand the rules. Even if I fully understand the rules, it is quite another thing to help people with the strategy and give them assistance when they show confusion as to what they should be doing. The strategy and structure of constructing a good turn is a very different thing to the rules. Particular in games like Root where every player is working to completely different strategies due to the asymmetric player powers used in that game. I can do that quite well now as I have played it so much, but learning Root takes at least ten games if you want to understand all the factions fully.

But when this clicks for me, it feels euphoric. It is a wildly satisfying, beautifully clear, and wonderfully peaceful moment. I feel at one with the game. I can help others if they want me to, and I can construct well informed turns for myself without any confusion. It’s a great feeling and one that I have become utterly addicted too. It is why I want to keep playing new games. And why it seems, that no matter how many new games I play, the itch doesn’t go away. It’s not just that I want to play games. I want to experience that moment of clarity. And of course, that can only truly happen on game one. I need to keep playing new games.

I have rather sadly come to realise that I would not be satisfied with finding ten games that I absolutely love; ten games I rate 10/10, that I play over and over. I would have fun with that. Of course I would. It sounds great. But I know deep down, as strange as it sounds, that I would prefer to play a load of new-to-me 7/10 games instead. Just so I can experience the endorphin rush when the game makes sense in my brain. That honestly makes me a little sad. I don’t like this about myself. But it’s the truth.

Now that I have recognised this, and I am fully aware that it is unsustainable and a potentially unhealthy obsession, I am trying to work on it. There are several problems with this. I cannot always get hold of that many new games. I don’t have the storage space for any more. And the whole thing feels utterly wasteful and overly indulgent to my personal perspective of right and wrong. I understand this behaviour is not normal and very much something that needs to stop. My house is already overflowing with games. I give a lot away for free, but they often come in quicker than they go out and we are already over capacity. It is causing an unfair stress of my family about what we do with them. This was very much made apparent to me when we re-did the games room and I had to move 700 plus games out of this room. There were stacks of games everywhere. My children’s room. The landing. The living room. Everywhere! You can see some of this carnage in the video below. Where hilariously, you can also here my eight year old daughter on a voice modulator talking to our Cat!

And this of course causes a problem. I want to keep playing new games. I would like to play more new games than I currently do. But I cannot keep playing new games at the current rate. Now of course, not every new game that I play is my own copy. A lot of new games that I play are at conventions, friends, or board game cafes. Around 50% this year were played in one of those three other ways. But this still means a couple of new games coming into the house every week.

I recently had a big cull. Around 50 games were piled up in the lounge to give away. Most went pretty quickly via a local Facebook group. Perfect. No postage to worry about. I think I will need to do more of these. They will help keep the numbers in my house at a more controllable level. I think I need to try and get to more cafes and conventions. But these all cost money and I do much prefer to play in the comfort and peace of my own home. I find the noise levels in these places sometimes very stressful. And not ideal to my own personal requirements for the perfect environment to learn a new game. Great for a party game or game I know well. But less ideal for when I need to sit and quietly read a rule book. Or try to explain complicated rules to other multiple people.

Ultimately, I don’t have a complete solution for it and part of the reason for writing this piece was to noodle it out in my brain a little more as I write it. But also see what others think. I would love to get your opinion on this topic. If you have the same issues. And what you have done about it. Does anyone else find that moment when new games make sense as deliciously addictive as I do? How can we satisfy a never-ending need for something that has a material, physical, and time based demand on our lives? I want to feel more fulfilled and satisfied in my life generally. Don’t we all. And I certainly don’t like the idea that my main hobby is hurting this rather than helping. No matter how much I play!

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