Cow Burps, the environmental economics blog curated by eftec, is featuring a post by yours truly on why the art cuts are a loss much greater than the projected £350m over the next four years.
Trot to read it! (Or whatever cows do to deambulate)
September brought an unusually high equine presence in my life.
I rode a horse.
(I’m the one with the fancy scarf).
(The riding was inspired by Alex Horne and his cricket on horseback, by the way. I wrote about that a while back).
I also played a board game about horses. That may not be a lot of horse, but it is more than I get in a normal month. So, about the board game with horses in it.
Royal Turf is: a circular racecourse, seven horses, betting, dice and a sprinkling of strategy and psychology. In short, you bet on certain horses and bluff about having bet on others. You then roll the dice and move the horses, but are restricted in how you can move them so you have to operate strategically. Everyone is trying to guess what the others are actually betting on, to try to hinder the horses the opponents have their money on, and make their own horses win the race.
Easy to learn, quick, simple, and a lot of fun. I remember laughing a lot. I teamed up with someone else on Earl Grey the lame horse. I forgot or pretended to forget what my real and bluff bets were. People kept getting the horses mixed up as most of them were of varying shades of brown. We were a group that hadn’t really met before, and yet I had a feeling we all had a good time with Royal Turf. Despite that having nothing to do with the satisfaction that comes from playing a complicated game.
It made me feel a bit like the horse-riding above did: clumsy, but having whole-hearted fun.
Thinking about Royal Turf some weeks on, after a couple of conversations about the purpose of scoring in games, I realised I completely forgotten who won. I vaguely remember that I thought I was doing well but I ended up not doing anything special, and that all the scores were very close together. I also remember counting the scores up at the end almost got boring. That’s interesting because the aforementioned conversations about scoring were questioning whether scores are and should be the main incentive in games, or what else motivates players.
Perhaps the worry over the over-importance of scoring belongs more with video games than with board games. It is mainly when you are playing solo that you start obsessing over improving your score and your ranking. It is when the purpose of the game is to keep you hooked that scoring is prominent. But is it the same with board games? Is it because in board games it is easier to tell who won?
Since asking myself these questions I have noticed that all my favourite board games are based on a scoring system that only “seals the deal” at the end of the game. You may feel during play that you are doing very well and then lose. Or you may be surprised at the end that everyone else did worse than you when you thought you were doing badly enough already.
My enjoyment and my interest in board games, if it wasn’t clear already, are in the interactions amongst players. What’s happening there between people that isn’t strictly to do with the mechanics of the game? When you can’t keep tab of the score very closely, or it is unpredictable until the end, all of what goes on “around” the game takes centre stage. Playing a game that requires making some guesses about the other players’ psychology, and playing it with strangers, really merges the “getting to know each other” with the game tactics with the filler conversations that happen during play anyway. And that, for me, is blissful fun.
Disclaimer: The new (and much more widely available) version of Royal Turf is called Winner’s Circle. Some of the game dynamics are different though so I don’t know how the experience would compare!
Diplomacy and I didn’t get off to the best of starts. First time I tried to play it with some friends, we didn’t realise it’s more of a day-long game than an evening one. By the time we had removed all the cardboard counters from their holders it was practically time to go home. Though not without me getting my fingers stuck in said holders first.
A few days ago I had another go at Diplomacy. Relations between us don’t seem to have improved. Not only did I have the worst starting position ever, but things got worse over the next couple of hours and I would probably have sorely lost had my fellow players not graced me by saying that we would “continue next time” and now watch Basil the Great Mouse Detective instead.
So, what is Diplomacy? At first we described as “like Risk, but not up to dice because you decide what your troops do, but you have to collaborate with others to make it all work out”. Eventually we settled to “ModelUN on a board”. Evidently my cheeky style of ModelUN playing (I remember once promising both a free election and a theocracy in Iraq) doesn’t quite pay off in Diplomacy.
The most and least enjoyable bit of Diplomacy is the negotiations phase. You shut yourself in a room with other people and try to subtly lie to them until they bend to your will. I don’t know whether it’s the lying, the subtly, or the bending people to your will that I can’t do, but I could tell from the beginning I was not going very well. A silly betrayal of France early in the match and a scary Russia picking up the game to great level within a few turns didn’t help, and soon enough I started to actually feel rather uncomfortable with it all.
It had never happened to me to actually feel uncomfortable while playing a board game. Confused because I didn’t understand it, or self-conscious because I could tell I was losing straight away, yes. But Diplomacy rubs the knife in the wound by having you sit in negotiations with players when you are already confused, and self-conscious. I was so desperate that I gladly accepted, in typical Italian style, the dry satisfaction of a purely technical point victory (this is a good place to speak of Diplomacy’s thick and detailed rule book including headers such as “Self-Standoff” and “A Convoyed Attack Doesn’t Cut Certain Supports”), just so that I could hang on for an extra turn.
So as you can tell by now I am a lame Diplomacy Player. But on a purely intellectual level, I enjoyed the experience of actually being made uncomfortable by a game. On top of that, I decided to make Diplomacy the first of what I hope will be a long-running Board Game of the Month series is because of how it relates to physical place, and no I am not referring to the map of Europe it is played on (although the fact that it features many of the same cities as Ticket to Ride was odd – I did get nostalgic for some Roma-Smyrna when I saw them on the board). Because we had to negotiate secretly, we ended up moving around the house, confabulating behind closed doors of rooms we wouldn’t have otherwise been into. The other half and I found ourselves, for no other reason than myself trying to look like I was having talks, in the kitchen, with the light off – it was so paradoxical we had to giggle. My first negotiation phase of the game was a one-on-one with the night’s host, in her bedroom, a place I hardly ever ventured into since I helped her assemble the bed when she moved in. Nonchalantly discussing the future of dominion over the North Sea was a different and unexpected way to experience that part of her house. And it got differenter and unexpecteder when, shortly afterwards, I also got diplomatic in that same room with France, a girl I was meeting for the first time that evening. Surely that’s not the point of Diplomacy, but as the main point of Diplomacy is a bit lost on me, I prefer to consider it an unusual, tangential way to inhabit and explore spaces around us.
Post Scriptum: Since starting this post, in my googling I have stumbled upon Diplomacy’s rife online community of players, strategists and nerds of various degrees. My favourite quote comes from Matthew Shields, and with his words I leave you:
I’d say that the difference between a mediocre player and a good player is, as you say, being able to exploit the tactical nuances inherent in the rules to his advantage.
The great players are on a whole different level.
They can suck at the tactical nuances and still beat you because they knew what you were going to do before you did, and had already got the other 5 guys on board to kill you.
Be in the Hayward’s stomach, in its heart, in its womb, and, if you really want to, swim in its waste.
You will see a lot of photos of my friends and of other visitors in this slideshow because it made me look at other people as owners of their unique, beautiful bodies, and as fellows inhabitants of the Edges of the World. Interactions from odd perspectives. Relaxedly relating.