Optimal strategy vs. Fun Part 2

[continued from the previous post]

It’s actually reminiscent of the very early days of MtG. Originally there were no rules about deck composition other than you had to have at least 40 cards in your deck, so people would make decks that had 30 of one card (Lightning Bolt) and 10 of another (Mountain). Then the creators quickly realized there needed to be a little more variety, so the now standard rule of no more than four of any one card was adopted. Something similar would be easy to do in Dominion and for me at least would make the game a lot more fun. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done or that the game would be better. I look at it as more of a personal hangup on my part then a shortcoming of the game. Playing the game the way it’s “supposed” to be played isn’t all that fun for me, so I simply don’t play it. “Well that’s just part of the game” people will say, and my response is “Yeah, and that’s why I don’t like it!”

The ultimate example of this for me is Scrabble. I’ve hated the game ever since I was a little kid, not because I dislike word games or I can’t do well at them, but because the way I want to play isn’t the best way to win and it always frustrated me. To me, Scrabble should be about making the biggest and best words and using as many of the tiles as you can. But of course that’s not even remotely what the game is about, at least at the “kitchen table” level; it’s about dropping Xs, Qs, and Zs on the premium letter squares and preventing your opponent from doing the same. I just couldn’t stand it when you would make a nice six letter word and get 12 points and then your opponent would drop a single X on the board and get 60 points. Again, people would say that’s just part of the game, but I hated that part of it, so I just didn’t play Scrabble.  I always said if a couple changes were made to the game (eliminate the premium squares and make all tiles worth 1 point after they’d been initially played) I would like it. Of course, it would be a totally different game, which was sort of the point.

But I recently started playing Words with Friends, and it was either adapt or die. I’m slowly getting over my beef with the game (it’s virtually identical to Scrabble), and I’ve started playing in a much more defensive way, wary of allowing my opponent to use the premium squares and always trying to use them myself, rather than just putting down the biggest word I can think of. There’s still a little bit of a mental tug-of-war going on for me whenever I play, but I’m coming around. I’m still not great at the game or anything, since I’ve avoided these types of games for so long, but now that I’m at least trying the optimal strategy perhaps I can figure it out and become a decent player. Scrabble was always one of the few “holes” in my gaming resumé, so it would be nice to finally get that game down.

Even though it leads to some frustration with certain games, I’m glad I have this dichotomy of optimal strategy vs. fun. It’s nice to know that when I do struggle with the two it’s fun that wins out for me, and that I’m not one of those “just win no matter what” types that I’ve run into on more than one occasion (and been friends with!). And I’m even glad I’m finally adapting and learning how to play Scrabble/Words with Friends the best way, even if it is a struggle.

I imagine something similar happens to a lot of people in Poker, where they naturally play super tight or super aggressive and have to dial it down or up in order to play better. I know I’m naturally pretty tight and probably could play a little looser at times myself.

How about you, have you ever run into a similar problem with a game, where you wanted to play one way but that didn’t work out for you?



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2 responses to “Optimal strategy vs. Fun Part 2

  1. Hi, it’s me again! I can’t remember what game I’m thinking of, but I know there are many games where I would enjoy them if I could play more conservatively, but that won’t help me win. Often this is just early on when I still don’t know the game very well, but I always feel that little sense of dread when I find out the real winnings come from some other strategy takes planning and holding out.

    For a silly example (not the one I’m forgetting), I’m pretty sure Toki Toki Boom was this way for me. I just wanted to get rid of squares, but then you taught me how the best way is to get rid of a bunch at once. That felt less fun, but I grew to like it. 🙂

    This is a great topic!

  2. dantherpgman

    Thanks! It’s one that’s been rolling around in my little cabeza for a while but it all kind of came together when I was playing that game on Kongregate yesterday.

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