Optimal strategy vs. Fun Part 1

I was playing a game on Kongregate earlier today called GlueFo2.0, which is similar to the all-time classic Asteroids. For my younger readers who have never played Asteroids, you have a little space ship in the middle of the screen that you can move around and fire shots from. Giant asteroids appear, and you have to destroy them. The first time you hit them they break into 2 smaller pieces, then those 2 can each be broken down into 4 smaller ones, and finally those can each be broken down into 8 tiny ones. Once you hit the tiny ones they disappear altogether. While I was playing  GlueFo2.0 I was of course thinking about the best way to win the game (the optimal strategy).

The best way to beat it or Asteroids is to concentrate on one asteroid at a time, breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s gone, then moving on to another big one and breaking it down. That’s the optimal strategy, but it’s not all that fun, at least for me. I much prefer to just blow away everything I can, creating tons of little asteroids on screen (and in GlueFo2.0 it was even more fun because instead of the little asteroids disappearing when you hit them they stay onscreen and they actually become more ammo for you, so you can collect a whole bunch of them and fire them all off at once). That makes it harder to deal with them since there are so many of them to dodge at once, but for me it’s more fun to fire away like a madman and deal with the consequences later.

This got me thinking about other games that I don’t really enjoy not because there’s anything wrong with the game but because I don’t like the optimal strategy. If the “best” way to play the game is boring or repetitive or somehow annoying to me I won’t use it, and of course I’ll lose most of the time to someone who is using the optimal strategy. I can totally have fun playing a game without winning, but losing almost every time isn’t fun for anyone, so consequently I end up not liking certain games since playing them the optimal way is boring (to me), and playing them the way I want to means I’ll almost never win.

A good example of this problem is the game Dominion. It’s a card-based game where each player builds their deck of cards from a common stock as the game is being played. What cards are in the stock can be different every game, and which cards the players elect to take from the stock is up to them. Each card has a set cost to add to your deck, and a different set of abilities. Some cards let you draw more cards, some let you play more cards, some let you screw with the other guy’s cards, etc. If you’ve played Magic the Gathering it kind of plays out like a game of MtG where both players are using one deck. It’s extremely popular amongst the hardcore boardgaming crowd, and is very addicting when you first start playing it (and for a long time after for a lot of people).

I enjoyed the game when I first played it, but I quickly ran into a problem with the strategy; the best thing to do is determine which cards in any given stock combination is the best (either on their own or in combo with other cards) and buy as many of them as you can, ignoring all others. In each game there are 10 different types of cards, and the best way to win is to figure out which two or three are the best and buy them over and over. I find this pretty boring for a couple reasons. First, it just becomes a race to see who can get the most good cards in their hand. There’s still some strategy and decision-making to do, but it’s not that exciting to me. Second, I think it’s much more fun and interesting to have a variety of cards in your hand that can make for a lot of interesting combos. It’s a lot more fun to me to have a lot of different possible combinations and interactions of the cards then to see the same two or three  pop up over and over again. But adding a lot of varied and “inferior” cards to your deck means you’ll not be getting nearly as powerful combos as your opponent, and you’ll probably lose. I seriously would estimate my overall record at Dominion at around 2 – 20.

[to be continued in the next post]

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Optimal strategy vs. Fun Part 1

  1. Ha! This post is about Scrabble, isn’t it. 😛 Maybe you’ll mention it in the next post.

    There are definitely games out there where I don’t enjoy (or feel competent at) the best strategy, so I just don’t like the game. One of them is Spoons. Kind of a silly example, but I really don’t like the pace and chaos. I have the same feeling about any sort of game where a race of some sort is involved, musical chairs. I just feel on edge the entire game. 😛

  2. Uh.. that’s supposed to say “like musical chairs.”

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