What is the only thing better than trying out an exciting new tabletop game? Winning the first time you try out an exciting new tabletop game! “Easier said than done,” you might say. After all, depending on the complexity of a game it can be quite challenging to form any sort of coherent strategy with such a limited understanding of it. This would seemingly result in a relative crap shoot as to who will win if the entire group is made up of novices. I am here to tell you this notion is wrong! By carefully observing the behavior of an expert new game winner I have solved this riddle for the ages by copying her method. Who is this nigh unstoppable force of nature at winning new games you might ask? It’s my wife…the one and only Mrs. Heather Hamm!
Frequent readers of Life in Games will have surely heard me talk about Heather and some may have even read one of her occasional guest posts that can be found under the heading, Wife in Games. For those of you not familiar with her it is important to realize she is a skilled, but relatively casual gamer who tends to shy away from the heaviest games or those with too much direct conflict. Despite being more casual and drawn to somewhat less ruthless games or styles of play she has an incredible track record of winning, or nearly winning games that all of the players are playing for the first time. How can this be?
First, a little background on the topic. Heather and I have been married since September of 2008 and she has gone to every Gen Con with me since that year, while we were just engaged. Every year I make a list of new or new to us, games that I believe we would both enjoy and try to seek out as many as we can during the con. It is not uncommon for a few of our friends, often some of my very hardcore gaming buddies, to join us in these games. When this same group plays games at home, ones we have played many times before, she is often competitive, but seldom wins. We tend to simply be more familiar with the game and due to that greater understanding we are able to form optimized strategies that usually results in one of us winning. However, a year or two ago, she and I noticed that she was winning about half of the new games we played every year at Gen Con even though we were with the same four or five people as at home. Even if you account for the unfamiliarity with new games as a balancing factor, a 50% win rate year after year against people who usually beat you is quite surprising and more than just luck. I have often thought my own win rate to be somewhat suppressed in this situation because I tend to be the rule reader and game teacher. Having to constantly reference the rulebook for myself and others takes my attention from the game and hampers my ability to play. This generally does not bother me, as Gen Con represent a rare occasion where I play with a much more casual attitude and focus more on having a good time then trying to win at all costs. Still, I knew there was no way that this was the only explanation, especially since it only applied to me, and not the other players at the table.
The answer came to us one day when she and I were discussing the difference between tactics and strategy. I am very strategic by nature. I formulate a specific strategy and then employ the necessary tactics to implement that strategy. She tend to be more of a pure tactical thinker. Excellent at making the best decision in the moment, but not as strong at the long-term detailed planning. As such, she usually picks a very basic strategy, that may very well be far from optimal, and then focuses a 100% of effort on that one plan. It turns out that this is incredibly effective for winning games being played for the first time by your group, even if the rest of the group tends to be more hardcore than you. In fact, their own hardcore nature may even work against them!
The most hardcore players are prone to trying to create an optimal strategy even when they are too unfamiliar with a game to do so. This natural urge can cause them to make a number of mistakes that they would not make after a few plays. Whether a result of ego or the force of habit, this often places these hardcore players at a disadvantage when playing games for the first time. This provides exactly the opening Heather’s style of play requires to have a very high success rate! Rather then fumble about trying to act like she knows the game perfectly, she picks an element of the game that offers decent value and applies laser-like focus to it and often wins as a result!
After considering her track record of success, I decided to give this play style a try in a recent game of Stone Age in the Indy Gaming Series. I had never played, and neither had one of the other players, with the third having only played three times over a number of years. After a shortened practice game, to familiarize ourselves with the rules, which I lost terribly, I activated the Heather Plan! I proceeded to play a very low risk, highly focused strategy that virtually ignored entire elements of the game. I felt really good as the game was progressing. I had a sense of comfort from not trying to over think something I did not fully understand and when the final scores were totaled, I had won! Eureka! Not only had I won the game, but I had successfully field tested our theory regarding her tremendous success playing new games!
So, if you and your group are all trying out a new game, and you want to win, I strongly recommend giving the Heather Plan a go. It is officially my new strategy for such occasions and I expect that I will racking up quite a few more first time wins! Even though it might cost me a few extra dirty looks from Heather for stealing her move, it’s totally worth it!
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