In my last column of 2008, I made a public declaration that I was going to use John Farrels’ excellent stats tracking facilityto actually try and make a concrete, measurable effort to play myfavourite games more, try out more of my unplayed games and buy lessgames. Having made this public declaration, it struck me that I couldactually make the whole thing a public enterprise - set myself somegoals for the year and keep regular updates on my progress, therebygiving myself some real incentive to try and meet them. The finalimpetus I needed to commit myself to this course of action was aplayful jibe from one M. Barnes that it seemed as though “‘buy fewergames, play what I have more’ is the #1 resolution I’m hearingfrom...everybody”. So I had to demonstrate that I was serious. I pointof fact I was amused to learn that Michael has made this exact same resolution himself but nevertheless, doing the whole thing in public seemed like a fun idea, in spite of its obvious anally-retentive qualities so I thought I might as well go ahead with it.
But what goals? Well John has two metrics which measure collectionusage in different ways. One, the “Friendless Metric”, is a straight upinteger which, for people with more unplayed games than games playedmany times (which is most gamers) is negative. The other is apercentage which attempts to express how well utilised your collectionis. My starting number for the Metric was -24 (with the average for allusers being -118) while my average utilisation was 32.45% (average forall users 33.41%). I looked at the numbers for these measures achievedby current users, and did a few “what if” calculations and decided thataiming for a Friendless Metric of at least +1 and an averageutilisation of 50% would be a gettable, if challenging target. Butthere’s a flaw: I could get these figures, or close to, by playing abunch of unplayed games just once which is only half the resolution: Iwant to properly explore the depth my collection and play more gamesmultiple times. So I’ve added a third goal, which is to have more gamesI’ve played 10+ times than games I’ve only played once. If I fail tomeet any of these targets then I have to trade away or otherwisedispose of unplayed or played-once games until I hit the goal.
The remaining question is, what counts as a play? Well really itseemed that the only sensible thing was to record plays in the same wayI’ve always recorded plays. Face to face games against other real livepeople count, obviously. But I also count plays online against realpeople, although not against computer AIs. Although this isn’t,strictly speaking, playing a game that I own it seems fair to countthese. After all, if I’m playing a game a lot on the internet or byemail then it’s only fair I ought to reward the designer by purchasingthe game. More practically, there are some games I would not be able toplay online if I didn’t own a physical copy of the rulebook because thepublisher does not make an electronic copy available. I also tend tocount solo games provided that the game in question has official solorules released by the designer or publisher: I don’t count plays fanmade variants nor multiplayer games in which I play against myself (intruth I hardly ever do either of those things anyway). This again seemssensible - some games can only be played solo, and others seems to havebeen designed with an official solo option in mind. Finally there’sexpansions. I register a play of a game with an expansion as individualitems. This is because there are many, many games which remainperfectly interesting and playable without expansions, so counting theexpansion as a seperate play helps me track how much use I’m gettingout of an expansion. But I’d be interested to hear if anyone thinks I’m“cheating” by counting these sorts of solo, expansion and internetplays.
Having decided in advance that I was going to do this and, in spiteof how obviously anally-retentive it is, do it in public where everyonecould see it, I got off to a cracking start by playing an unplayed gameon the very first day of the New Year. We had some guests and, triedand hungover though we were, one of them suggested we play a game of Carcassonne. So I decided to break out The Riverfor the first time. Indeed I made my first progress toward my targetsplaying light Euros with friends and family: I got to ten plays of Carcassonne and also of Ra in a similar manner.
Having made such a great opening, I ruined the whole thing by then going on a game buying splurge. I picked up Through the Agesas the number 1 game on my wants list because I was sure it’d see playthanks to the Vassal module. But then someone flagged up an online siteselling Battlestar Galactica and the new edition of Cosmic Encounter at quite outrageously cheap prices. I couldn’t resist the bargain and got both. Not a problem, I thought. BSG has solo rules. CEshouldn’t have much of an impact either because I can ditch my GWedition of the game in favour of the new one. Then I managed to unearthwhat seemed to be the last sensibly priced copy of Galaxy Truckeranywhere in the UK and the bargain hunter in my felt I had to buy that,too. It’s short, so I was sure to pick up some plays, right? Well,possibly. But with those last two I was really teetering on the top ofa slippery slope. I’ll have to show some more willpower in future.
Next up I turned to my long-suffering PBEM friend Sam Marsh. We hada quickfire exchange of games through all the scenarios in the Memoir ‘44 Eastern Front expansion to hit another ten plays. I have both expansions for my copy of Dungeonquest and with a combination of solo and PEBM plays I managed to push both of those over ten plays each. We then both explored Through the Ages with a PBEM play like I’d planned. The next obvious place to look was for solo games so I got in a couple of solo sessions of Arkham Horror to reach the ten play mark on that game, and popped my BSGcherry with a solo game. I’m not sure the solo rules are terriblyinteresting but it’s a good way to learn the game for a session on allcylinders later in the year.
I wanted to reserve an entire paragraph to talk about Agricola.Now, a family member gave me a copy of this for Christmas, quiteprobably because they walked into a game shop and asked for arecommendation without knowing much about my tastes. I was happy to getit - I figured I owed it to myself to at least try out this new gameeveryone was talking about and since it had solo rules that was sure tohappen. However without having made this resolution, it might have beenmonths or years before I tried it for the first time. In point of factI read the rules, played it for the first time and went through tensolo plays all in the space of a couple of weeks! But this highlights aweakness in my approach. Whilst I enjoyed the puzzle-like quality oftrying to “solve” a solo game, Agricola isn’t a game that I can everimagine wanting to play with other human beings. Therefore there willcome a time in the near future when I’m likely to want to trade mycopy. And in doing so my metrics will actually go down becauseI’m trading away a game I’ve played more than ten times. There’s acouple of other games in the same boat that would actually hurt myscores if I got rid of them. The obvious solution is to cling on tothese things for one more year and then trade them, but that seemscounterproductive. Any suggested solutions will be gratefully received.
Unfortunately, the stats package isn’t returning accurate results atthe time of writing, but the last time I looked I’d managed to get upto something like an FM of -20 and a utilisation of something over 35%.Not bad for a month in which I bought four new games! I’ve actually played more games this month that in the previoustwo months of 2008 combined. And that’s great because really, that’swhat this is all about - to encourage me to play more games. And itseems to be working handsomely. The only fly in the ointment is that inmaking up the big improvements this month I’ve used up most of my “easywins” - i.e. games that are fast playing, or solo or can be playedeasily online. So future months aren’t going to be quite so easy.
More importantly than a bunch of numbers, what did I, personally,gain from this excercise? Well I’m pleased to report that I feel like Igained quite a bit. In getting out and dusting down some games that Ihad near the ten-play mark I was able to reassess what I enjoyed aboutthem - in particular I’d forgotten quite how much fun Ra and solo sessions of Arkham Horror can be. I’m still not entirely sold on Carcassonnebut at least I’ve gained a greater appreciation of what a clever designit is. I’ve also been inspired into trying out a couple of games thatmight otherwise have sat on my shelf for untold ages. Agricola didn’t really interest me that much (if I’m going to play an efficiency game, Puerto Rico remains my game of choice) but it’s good to have tried out the game that so many people are raving about. And my solo play of BSG should hopefully make the real thing go much more smoothly when it finally hits the table.
On the whole, it’s been a great month of gaming. And I’m hoping myresolution is going to pay off a whole lot more in the months to come.Watch here for further updates on my progress.