Hey again gang!

I’ve been thinking. Thinking is, of course, great…however, sometimes it gets me a little off topic, so you’ll all have to wait for the next instalment of Mental Cesspool.

Since you are all here however, I guess I should get on with jabbering about the epiphany I’ve had today.

A few weeks ago, Pigtail (my much better looking other half) and I were invited to go have lunch and boardgames with Mr G and Mrs G (I’m of course not going to use real names here). It’s always nice to spend a good afternoon with friends, but I digress; the point of this is not that we had a great afternoon boardgaming. (Nor is the point to brag about getting stuffed full of delicious pulled pork rolls.)

I want to talk about the ‘social contract’.

Hungry_Hungry_Hippos

We talk about the social contract a lot. As each of us is a different person, we all have unique perspectives, wants and needs. Some want to play games to win at all costs. Others just want to feel like their plays matter, winning or losing be damned. Others want to achieve other bizarre game objectives (like killing a whole board with the backlash damage from Psionic Blast). My understanding of the social contract is to try to find a middle ground where all our wants can be met through the medium of a game of Magic – be that kitchen-table style, a fun draft, a Grand Prix, or a Commander melee.

You may well ask, “Well Kaka, what the smeg do delicious pulled pork rolls have to do with this?”  Funny you should mention it – absolutely nothing, apart from being part of a great social get together to play board games.

Boardgames is really what I am getting at people! 

What do board games have to do with the price of Guru lands?

Boardgames…I’m sure we’ve all wanted to stab our families to death over the monotonous and painful grind of a game of Monopoly, right? I’m sure many of us have also faced each-other over a chess board, or perhaps Hungry, Hungry Hippos? Backgammon? Ludo? Chutes and effing Ladders?

Exactly…I knew I’d get one eventually. My point here is that all these board games are competitive. You want to win at these games…you want to get there first, attack your opponent and their board position, and achieve victory. These are games that are social only for competitive people. The person wanting to chat a bit and play lightly will get their ass destroyed at Hungry, Hungry Hippos. You’ve got to mash the living shit out of that button to gobble the balls up as fast as you can.  (EDITOR’S NOTE: Good…lord…must…resist..!)

Over the last few years, I’ve been seeing a change in the boardgames that my group likes to play. In this, I don’t mean growing up from Monopoly to Ticket to Ride – I mean an insurgency of co-operative boardgames. Games where we have to work as a group to win, as opposed to being all hell-bent for ourselves. This is not to say we don’t play any cutthroat boardgames at all; we most definitely do.  Some of us still prefer a good slug fest, but others prefer a hug fest.

I remember when this all started coming about – a few years ago a friend brought over a copy of Battlestar Galactica: the Board Game. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a hybrid competitive/co-operative game. One side plays as humans trying to survive calamity after disaster to achieve their one win condition. To achieve this win condition, they have to manage resources and work together. On the flip side of the coin, the Cylons (a.k.a. ‘walking toasters’) – much like a game of Werewolf  – are hiding amongst the humans as their own team hell bent on killing them off in any way they can.

Battlestar

Over the years, more and more co-operative board games like this have crept into our mix. Our social dynamic allows that we competitive players bend our competitiveness to help the group win at all costs, while our more social “I just wanna play and chat and have fun!” or our “I wanna feel like my plays were worthwhile!” gamers can join in with us and have a good time too.

This is OUR boardgaming social contract.

We talk about what game we all want to play as a group. Today, we had two casual “Wanna have fun!” gamers at our table (Pigtail and Mrs G), and two battle-hardened competitive players (Myself and Mr G). We started out with a few games of Pandemic; As this was new to Pigtail and I, we played the basic game and ramped up the difficulty after a test game. We talked about what the game state was, we discussed what resources we had and talked about lines of play. Everyone contributed their own play style and made their decisions how they wanted, but everyone joined in and took on board with them everyone else’s view to try win the games as a group.

To cut the story short we came down to the wire a few times. When it got to that level, the strategy deferred heavily to Mr G and especially myself (as I am sure you are all aware from reading my mental dribble, Uncle Kaka’s brain is a very demented computer…) to sequence events to achieve our goal of victory.

My point here is that we all enjoyed the game enough to actually play 3 or 4 times. Literally 3 to4 rounds of a game mixing various player types in perfect harmony. Normally after a single round of a competitive games, our less-competitive members would be looking to do something else or change it up; Why?  Because their needs may not have been met in a competitive game. The more blood-driven of my group (especially players like myself) can present a truly demoralising experience to play against. Cutting off routes to victory, casually making plays worthless (or negative value even), running up scores that are several multiples of the casual gamer scores.

(However, our more casual members do still join in those games on occasion and it beats me why. Pigtail tells me it is because they enjoy watching the likes of myself, and our good friends Obscu, Mr R, the other Mr R and Mr G all duke it out with our barely-hidden knives aimed for each other’s throats (or in my case not hidden, but meat axe swinging openly). They like to sit back and chat while watching the carnage and occasionally prodding the bear with a burning twig. 

I think they are closet trolls.)

Closing Thoughts

I guess what I am getting at here is that the social contract is not just for playing EDH. It’s something to consider when playing any games with your friends. Your regular EDH night group (I would hope) are people you can become friends with; if not, perhaps that is a part of the problem. The next time you have a new person join in your group, why not try welcoming them as a potential friend? Heck, why not start a night with a game of Commander and finish up with something a little different, like a boardgame?

I guess that is really why it is called a “Social Contract”.

Talk to me; what games (other than Magic) do you and your play groups play?  Do you have a ‘social contract’ for them?  Is it different than your Magical one?  Let me know in the Comments below.

Uncle Kaka

P.S. Mr P, I’m bringing a little something to GenCon that I call “Drink Thomas the Tanked Engine”.  It’s going to be the best.