Hate the Player, Not the Game? The Art of Matching Games to Table-Top Personalities
In order to persuade people to play a game, you’ll need to know what motivates them. For some competitive types, it’s all about the winning. For others, it’s about social interaction and the taking part. Some like cooperating as a team. Some aren’t bothered as long as they don’t come last, bless their poor egos. Others, being the little gremlins of chaos that they are, enjoy stabbing people in the back, laughing, and running away. Hopefully not literally. Then there are those who are playing their own game, regardless of what the rules say. Perhaps they like collecting cards with the coolest artwork or enjoy assembling their playing pieces into the shape of a rudely gesticulating monkey.
Pleasing all these types of people can sometimes be difficult, but it’s something you’ll need to consider. At the very least, you’ll need to choose a type of game that your players are likely to enjoy.
Although most people are reasonable, these people – those with the attention span and temper of a hyperactive two-year-old – do exist, unfortunately. If things don’t go their way, they get furious. If you ever come across one, never play with them again. Games are supposed to be fun, and playing with these types can be akin to major dental surgery or a visit to the proctologist. They should grow up, but that’s their problem, not yours. Avoid at all costs.
These beard-stroking types like to consider their moves well in advance, are obsessed with optimal play, and like to maximise the benefits of each action they take. They don’t necessarily feel the need to win – although they often do – but they are concerned with examining the game mechanics to establish the best means of doing so. They often don’t anticipate the non-rational; emotional and counter-intuitive, decisions that certain other players make. This can sometimes be their undoing. The fact that they often win means people tend to gang up on them. There’s no problem playing with this type, but you may need to hurry them along if you don’t want to feel noticeably older at the end.
For this type, immersion is the thing. They view games as an escape, a chance to enter a fantasy land or alternate reality, to play the part of a character. These people want a high number of interactions with other players, and problem solving, with plenty of opportunity to work together. They’ll be drawn to high-concept games, with engaging artwork and lots of world-building. There are games that lend themselves beautifully to this, but it isn’t for everyone – pretending to be a knight can be a touch embarrassing for some – so be sure to balance their needs against the needs of others.
Next are the independents, who view other players almost as a distraction. They may as well be playing minesweeper or solitaire, as they concentrate on what they’re doing and forget everyone else, working out who has won at the end. For me, this misses the point of playing a table-top game. If you don’t want to engage with other human beings there are a plethora of electronic one-player offerings that can scratch that itch. Try and bring them out of their shell a bit with games that require at least a bit of interaction.
The opposite of the strategist. They’re just there to have a nice time, thank you very much, and aren’t at all bothered whether they win or lose, as long as something funny or interesting happens. Theme-heavy or entertainingly anarchic games are often the way to go with this type – probably a good idea to leave your historically accurate recreation of renaissance era Italy in the box and go for something where you act out ‘Godzilla’ through mime.
Gremlins of chaos
Remember the gremlins of chaos? Also known as the griefer, they are the ones that join online games to block the exits, shoot their own team members, or charge headlong in random directions throwing grenades about like confetti. Some people just want to watch the world burn. Most gamers are somewhat risk-averse, but these guys will take massive risks, just for the lols. While this can be funny and cathartic, particularly if you’re playing something where you’re a bunch of apes trying to blow each other up with bazookas, this kind can annoy the more serious types of player, or those who at least expect you to make somewhat rational decisions. Picking the right game, and knowing your players, is key.
Making up the numbers
Then we have those who are there just because their friends are. They may have a passing interest in games, and will get involved if something’s on the table – figuratively or literally – but otherwise aren’t too bothered. Keeping them happy just means involving them and stopping them from getting too bored, so they don’t distract the other players much.
You can sometimes guess what types of player you have in advance based on their personalities. Other times, you’ll only work it out once you’ve been in a game or two with them. Once you know, you’ll have to do a bit of alchemy to match your group to an appropriate game in terms of theme and mechanics, complexity, game time, and number of players, and then spin that straw into gold.
How much conflict, or player interaction should there be? Should your game provide exciting tension or relaxation? How much luck is involved? How punishing is your game to first time players? How complicated are the rules? Too simple, and you might bore the strategists. Too complex, and you may lose the casual gamers. Some people hate abstract worker placement games, others detest too much dice rolling.
Finding some helpful people in your group to help with set up and upkeep – card shuffling, giving out tokens, or whatever – can be very useful. You may also struggle to remember and do everything yourself, so don’t be afraid to delegate to the right person. Perhaps we all have a bit of each type of player in all of us – hopefully less so the board flipper. All of this might seem like a lot of work, but get it right and it can be very rewarding. Don’t give up if you have one or two duds.
I truly believe that games – along with ice cream cookie sandwiches, and Lego figures – are one of life’s great pleasures, and can be a great way to interact with other human beings. Most of it is trial and error, but find the right people, and you won’t go far wrong.