The Chumbawamba Approach to Board Games
No, I didn’t sneeze while typing the title to this post. Chumbawamba was a British rock band that most of us know for one reason, and one reason only: “Tubthumping.”
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
And this song has come to serve as an anthem of sorts for me when it comes to a handful of tabletop games that I just can’t seem win.
Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight
And here is the weird bit in all of this: All of this losing should serve to demotivate me, not keep me coming back for more. I would argue that perhaps I’m channeling my inner Steve Rogers and boldly declaring, “I can do this all day,” but I know better. Sometimes after a defeat I’ll request that we switch gears to something we can win at. I’m admittedly not made of the toughest of stuff!
The most recent example is Xenoshyft: Onslaught: A co-op deck builder that places you and your partners on the front lines between a base that is to be protected at all costs and wave after wave of alien foes. This game is so much fun…but we’ve never made it past the 8th of 9 rounds of play. There have been times immediately after playing that one of us at the table will ask, “Is it even possible to win this game?!” But we keep coming back to it over and over again.
Why is this?!
Why I Keep Turning Up To Lose
I think there are several factors at play here. Sometimes multiple of the following reasons are true simultaneously, but it really only ever takes one.
Occasionally its because the game is immensely fun! Some are just so well designed and an absolute delight to play that I don’t consider victory a requirement for enjoyment. These are the best games out there, in my opinion. If you can design a game at which I have fun even when I lose, you’ve done something spectacular!
Other times I get excited about refining my strategy. The first time I play through a game, I’m really still learning how to play, despite having familiarized myself with the rules and means of victory. All subsequent play throughs should see some sort of improvement. A tweak here, a wholly different strategy there. Having the ability to play the game almost entirely differently from session to session is exciting to me! Similarly, playing through games that force you to reconsider your strategy from hand to hand or round to round are fun for the same reason. If you can keep me thinking, I’ll keep playing.
Sometimes, folks, it just comes down to pride. I like to think that I’m a reasonably intelligent individual. I ought to be able to sort this out! I’m not so naive as to think that I can sit down and sort out exactly how to win every single time I play any given title, but gosh darn it I should be consistently in contention for first place and should not go winless in any game! I will beat you, game or opponents!
Ultimately, if there’s no challenge there’s no fun. I don’t want to coast into victory with little or no effort. So in a way, losing is a plus for me. I’m not a big fan of winning all the time (I know, I know…I’m weird). If I sit down to a game knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that I’m going to win…why play at all? I’ll pass on that experience every time.
So maybe, in a way, losing is winning…?
No, no its not, guys. I’m just in denial and rationalizing. CLASSIC defense mechanisms. While there are some pros to games at which you can lose and try, try, try again, I really wanna WIN! We all do! So get out there, pick that game up that’s got your number, and show it who’s boss!