The Cowardly Gamer, or Why I Regret Buying Some of the Games I Love (Tactical Competitive Games)
Years ago, I had been away from RPGs for a while when a co-worker introduced me to Magic the Gathering. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the game before. I had seen ads in Dragon Magazine, and even seen the game played at the local convention before I just gave up on my RPG habit (for a while). But I had never played.
We played over lunch breaks. We worked second shift, so sometimes we would play after work as well, if our wives weren’t expecting us home right away. I picked up a lot of Ice Age cards, and started to collect Alliances as well. I was having a lot of fun. I wasn’t great at the game. But having a regular opponent that got lucky from time to time at least made it so that my coworker could practice a bit and got to use his collection as well.
Full disclaimer before I go any further: I’m not very bright. No, really. I come across as a nice average intelligence, but I’m not. I’m out of my depth a lot, but without intending to be particularly deceptive, for some reason I sound smarter than I am. If you already don’t think I sound that bright, well, okay, you’re probably close to the mark, and I’d be happier if I made that impression on everyone. But beyond my general lack of brain power or processing speed, I’m not a good strategic thinker. It’s not just that I miss obvious moves, it’s that I can somehow pull off the most boneheaded, least effective move in the game and not even realize how dumb it was until the whiplash of my defeat sets in.
But I forget the above when I see a shiny new game.
Back to the story I was telling–I was enjoying Magic quite a bit. I bought one of Wizards of the Coast’s snazzy official Magic strategy guides, learning how I should be building my decks, and reading about how the organized play circuit worked. I was interested enough that I started buying Magic magazines, and that’s when I started to realize that I was a fool to have even started down this path.
I read about deckbuilding advice that contradicted the articles I read in the (now outdated) WOTC strategy guide. I read about an ever-changing landscape of what deck is dominant. I read about rules interpretations that technically were true, but never would have occurred to me, and yet were the basis of nearly all winning strategy. In fact, part of the competitive atmosphere seemed to be coming up with rules interpretations of your own about how the rules interacted, arguing that it would work, and then taking advantage of your interpretation until word came from on high that it shouldn’t work that way. Then find a new interpretation.
Remember when I said I’m not very bright? This didn’t just remind me of that fact, it made me feel as if I shouldn’t be attempting to eat cereal in the morning without protective eye wear. I had wasted a lot of money–money I should have been much more careful with, on a game that, should I get lucky, I would be below average at, and should I run true to form, I would be wasting my time and my opponents.
I’ve never really looked back on Magic the Gathering.
But I fell for the same thing all over again, and I’m getting the same feeling of being a sub-par idiot that probably needs a power of attorney, at least for his gaming purchases.
I really enjoy the Star Wars Living Card Game. I’ve had a lot of fun playing it with friends. Similarly, I love the minis for the X-Wing miniatures game, and I enjoyed the whopping one game that I’ve played. Unfortunately, the more I read about strategies and what works and what doesn’t, and the more I see the local Star Wars LCG and X-Wing scene grow, the more I am reminded that I shouldn’t have gone down this path.
Strategies, combinations, builds, meta-games, seasonal changes to what should and shouldn’t work . . . I’m starting really feel like this stuff isn’t for me. I’m stubborn. I want it to be for me, both because I have invested some cash in the games, and because I love Star Wars. But I am wondering at what point I should become more of a realist. The games themselves still seem fun, but there is this whole other layer of complexity and interaction that exists if I want to actually play with a larger group of people.
It’s not that I’m afraid of losing. I’m good at losing. I expect to lose. The problem is that I don’t really want to waste anyone’s time. I’m afraid that I’m so bad at all of the above that not only will I lose consistently, but that I will actively frustrate people and ruin their enjoyment of the game with how bad I am.
Is it just me? Are there any other gamers out there they get drawn into the shiny bright light of a tactical competitive game just to have reality fry them with the Bug Zapper of Truth?