The People You Play With

A while back, the one reader I have on this blog, trying to be helpful at some of my musings, made the suggestion to incorporate some posts about the hobby of board games, beyond just mentioning what I’m playing. I think it’s a decent idea and might help me keep my goal of more frequent posting.

The intention is to talk about aspects and elements of games I enjoy, why I enjoy them, and what some of the common themes and mechanics are. I had even thought briefly about starting a podcast about it, but one major aspect of such an endeavor has been vetoed by my gaming group — recording our gaming sessions to play excerpts that pertain to a given topic of discussion. I may still do a podcast (I’ve been itching), but it will not take the form I initially envisioned.

That said, this first blog post about the hobby is not a positive or a pleasant one. It is a major consideration when deciding on where and how you spend your time playing the games that you love… the people. The people you play games with can make or break your experience. 

I recently had an experience that solidifies my general distaste for the human race and soured me to my weekly gaming group. I’m not going to name names or try to shame anyone about anything, but the situation is worth highlighting. It can mean the difference between finding your new favorite game and walking out the door, never to return.

A person I will refer to as THAT GUY brought a game to a recent Game Night. It is a game I have myself but have not had an appropriate group to play with. I had, in fact, resigned myself to the idea that I would have this game in my collection, admire the art from time to time, and never actually play it. That game is Marvel Codenames, a licensed theme based on Codenames Pictures by Vlaada Chvatil and published by Czech Games Edition and USAopoly.

In Codenames, each team has one designated clue-giver (Director in this incarnation, as the teams are SHIELD and HYDRA). 25 tiles are laid out, each with a word, a phrase, or a picture. We played picture-side up to make it easier for the non-Marvel fans of the group. The Director’s job is to give a one-word clue and a number. The number represents how many of the tiles the Director believes applies to the clue. In my opinion, this is the hardest role of the game, because you are trying to give clues that will lead your team to guess the right tiles while not guiding them to the opponents’ or neutral tiles. And you certainly don’t want to lead them to the SPY tile, because that’s instant Game Over You Lose.

NOW: Here’s the set-up to the situation. 

Over the last few years, I have developed something of a visual impairment. Because of this, I have difficulty seeing the finer details in things I am looking at. Such as small cards with comic book imagery on them. The reason this is important to note is that after the teams were randomly determined, no one on my team wanted to be Director — so I jumped in. THAT GUY was on the opposing team.

I took some time to try to familiarize myself with the code card (which the Directors use to determine which spaces belong to which team, which are neutral, and which is the SPY) and the tiles on the table. Since I couldn’t see them very well, I got up close when the image was not obvious to me.

THAT GUY: “You’re giving information!” Which is true… I was telling people without saying anything that I could not tell what image was on that tile. (As Director, you have to be completely neutral. Give your clues, but reveal nothing via facial expression. Say nothing else — a rule HE violated multiple times but I opted not to point out.)

Here’s where I admit to my big crime. There was one tile in particular that, no matter how much I looked at it, I could not tell for certain what it was. Problem was, it was one of my team’s tiles. So I took a LONG TIME at the beginning trying to figure it all out.

The thing about Codenames in general is that it requires a LOT of thought on the part of the Spymasters/Directors. As I said, you have to give clues that are going to point at your tiles but not the others. That’s hard. It can take some time.

THAT GUY has proved before he is not a patient person when it comes to waiting for the other players. He is very vocal about how long someone is taking on a turn. We as a group have had that experience with him in a cooperative game before, and I should have remembered that before agreeing to be the Director in a game of Codenames.

So after my admittedly too-long examination of the board and the second-turn mulling of the clue, he instigated a ONE MINUTE TIMER for the Directors (including himself) and then for the guessers. If, heaven forbid, the teams actually discussed what they should guess, he would show his phone (which I couldn’t see anyway, so ha), implying that his impatience should trump our fun.

We played two games. I was the Director for the first, and when everyone else wanted to play again, I insisted someone else take the role. I would discuss with my other teammate what we wanted to choose, and THAT GUY would flash his phone at us. I got irritated with him at one point and told him to “Calm your [vulgar term for breasts], dude!”

Even his own teammates got annoyed with it.

At the weekly game night, there is a policy of inclusion and positivity. Two of the people playing with us were new to the group. We like new members and want them to return, so when my friend who runs it caught on that my sniping had turned from its usual good-natured taunting (as it always is when directed at him) to aggravated and malicious, he ordered a stop to it. Good move, because it would have escalated — at least on my side. I do not suffer fools lightly, and THAT GUY was tap-dancing all over my nerves.

I had taken a one-month sabbatical from Game Night because I was getting easily annoyed at minor things and did not want to bring that energy to the group. It was mostly related to time of year, so I knew when I could safely return. My first week back was groovy. But this time… 

For me, the matter is closed. My solution is that I will not join a game if THAT GUY will be playing. He saps the fun out of games, and I am there to have fun. I should have loved my Marvel Codenames experience, but because I was pressed to hurry, both as Director and as guesser, it was much less fun.

However, even with the matter being closed, it does serve as a highlight for someone who may be new to the hobby. It is this: Not everyone you meet will mesh with you or your play style. You’re going to get your Alpha Gamer, your Rules Lawyer (two things I have been guilty of being at times and have made efforts to cease). The impatient person. The “win at all costs” person. Not every game you play will be to your taste, either. I am not a good strategist, so strategy games tend to be very difficult for me.

If you stick with it long enough, you’re going to get to play some amazing games with some amazing people. And those sessions are what it’s all about.

We have scheduled our March game day for today (as this is posted), and this entry reminded me how lucky I am to have a regular group I mesh with so well. We all like some of the same games, hence the campaign games we play. We like and respect one another. Most importantly, if someone needs a little help, guidance, or just plain ol’ patience, we are there for one another. Yes, I pull out the rule book to verify that we’re doing things in the right order. Yes, I make heated recommendations during a cooperative game. But when all the cards are played and the villain has either won or been defeated, we have had fun together.

And if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing Gaming right.

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