Boardgaming for Life

Play to Win. Play to Learn.

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Playing to Win and Playing to Learn: Can you do both at the same time?

Power Grid
Board games are dynamic and playing to win always requires me to play to learn. It is this relationship that I will be discussing in this week’s post.

Very early during my introduction to euro gaming, I played my first game of Power Grid. As is typical of any new player to Power Grid, I’m sure that I bought too many of all the wrong plants as well as built out at the wrong times and in the wrong places. But for me, I didn’t care. I was having fun and learning the game. My only goal was not to come in last place. It’s been two years since that game, and I don’t even remember if I accomplished that goal. I do remember that I had fun and enjoyed the game.

Since then, I have been introduced to many, many, many (did I say many?) new games. When playing a game for the first time, my goal is always the same – don’t come in last place. For a competitive hobby such as boardgaming, this may seem to be a strange goal to have. However, I have come to realize that these games are too complex to know what is a good decision or good move to make when I haven’t played the game from beginning to end. If ever I do win a game on my first playing, I tend to consider that as stumbling into a win. I diminish the win because I most likely didn’t know what I did to achieve the victory and therefore couldn’t do it again.

For the next several playings of a game, I continue on the quest to earn the initial first place victory. My goal for these games is to finish in a better position. In order to achieve this, I aim for first place and muster as much confidence as possible to feel like I can do it. Whenever I make a mistake, I console myself by saying “Play and learn.” Much like I would if I realized I made an error in real life and responded with the cliche response “Live and learn.” For either statement to be more than a coping mechanism, they must be made with the intent to actually learn from the misstep and make note of how to avoid it in the future.

Eventually the fateful game occurs and I finish in first place. Hooray! Hooray! It took me a year to finally win my first game of Power Grid. It was a momentous occasion for me. It was on the Brazil map. I can remember where I was sitting at the table and who I was playing against. I don’t remember which color I was playing as, though – I think it was either yellow or black. All of the lessons I learned from previous games led up to that victory, and it was truly one I feel I earned.

Now that I have my first victory behind me. I shouldn’t rest on my laurels. That victory occurred on one specific map and in the context of each player’s reaction to the random elements that occurred in that specific game. The next time I play, it will be a whole new ball game. Only the rules will be the same.

If I were to play my next game of Power Grid merely to learn a map’s mechanics or to answer the question “what would happen if…” I would be gaining information that may not be helpful, useful or applicable to future situations. If I’m not playing to win, I won’t be learning how to make the best decisions in the given game situation. Therefore, to add more wins to my scoreboard, I must continue in the dual mindset of “Play to Win. Play to Learn.”

What are the guiding principles or mantras that you keep when playing?

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