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The smart play or the thematic play?

Gameplay

I was thinking about games where either through the theme or just play interaction tend to tell something of a story, games like #Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, #Archipelago, #Eldritch Horror, #War of the Ring (Second Edition) and the like: Where you often embody a character or faction that either inherently has traits or you end up developing them over the game. Often I find at some point in the game I am torn between doing what I believe to be the thing that gives me the best chance of winning and doing what feels 'right'. Be it charging in (hello my Rohirrim army, come to save helms deep) or leaning into my engine in a thematic way rather than mechanically (I need more boats if I am to be the pirate king of the archipelago! Do I need them, well no, but I'm a pirate!). I come down on different sides of that question on different days and love it when the two line up so that I can go all cinematic without and doubts.

Is this something any of you also grapple with and if so where do you tend to come out and why?

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Premium User6 months ago

It depends on the game and my mood. 

Most euros I'll be playing the best move even though I do love to get in to the theme of the game and tell a story.

For thematic games, think #Big Trouble In Little China or #Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game I'll be more inclined to play thematically.

However, I won't purposefully pick a super sub optimal play.  I'll pick a less good one though if it hits the theme for the game and I'm in the mood.

6 months ago

I think we fall into a pretty similar boat, mostly I just love games where the two are one and the same.

Premium User6 months ago

Yeah, that is a sweet spot.  

Supporter6 months ago

I've never really thought about this before.  But... I always make the choice that I think is going to help me win.

6 months ago

Fair, I definitely do this most of the time, and absolutely don't think that is wrong, just sometimes I have the urge to create something cinematic. I am dramatic at heart :D

Supporter6 months ago

If the game presents ways to win that are strictly non-thematic or were thematic actions are at a disadvantage then that would be somewhat of a put off for me in some ways. Obviously this doesn't apply to every game, and furthermore some games are way more interesting from a mechanic stand point than the theme itself. That being said I do experience this conundrum sometimes, for example in games like #Star Wars: Legion, but that game handles theme really well most of the time.

6 months ago

I think it depends on the game. In a serious or long game, I don't want to potentially throw it away by making what I know to be a sub-optimal play. If the mood is light, however, or maybe I've won this game a couple of times already and really don't mind losing, I could see myself going for the "fun" play. I do have a friend who almost always goes for the "fun" play over the "best" play, which I kind of admire.

6 months ago

That makes complete sense, wouldn't ever want to make someone feel like I wasn't taking the 'game' or social contract (thank you @Marshwiggle92 for that idea) that I have with the other player/s

Supporter6 months ago

I like this, I think I would do the same.  Fortunately we tend cycle through winners in my group so this opportunity may not come up too often.

Supporter6 months ago

I think I usually go for the winning play, and try to invent a reason it could have happened that way. 

6 months ago

Same question for you as I asked of Skurvy5 as you both used the term 'winning play' :

Would that still hold true if it wasn't a 'winning play' in that it will end the game/ensure victory at the end of the round, because in that case I think I would tend to chose that, but more a option part way into a game, where you think one move is probably the smarter play but the alternative just seems to fit better with how the game has developed so far?

Supporter6 months ago

I believe when I play a game I am, to a certain extent, entering in a social contract to try to win. That, to me, means that even if it might not be a winning move, I'll still try to improve my position. If I don't, it could throw the game off for somebody else.

Of course, as Reiner Knizia once stated, "the goal of every game is to win. But, it is the goal that is important, not the winning." 

6 months ago

That's absolutely fair, and I don't disagree. I never do the thematic thing in order to go easy on someone, and not if it will tank my chances of winning. Sometimes it is just a much riskier play that if it pans out will pay off nicely. However, sometimes I just love telling a story, it is why I adore RPG's (not that I have had a huge opportunity to play them) as you aren't so much trying to win as tell an interesting story together, you aren't asking 'how do I win?' you are asking 'How would this person act in this situation?'. At times the answers to both questions might look very similar: in a fight, your character wants to win the fight so you will be doing a lot of similar calculations in your head. However, it also leaves room for your character to fight sub-optimally, because they are scared or greedy or had a 'falling out' with another character and doesn't feel like saving them quite yet.

Obviously RPG's and Board games are often distinct (sure there is overlap) so what applies in one doesn't and shouldn't necessarily apply in the other but I think I remember the epic charge or being the pirate king more fondly than times I played smart and won, and as far as I can tell it didn't hurt anyone else's enjoyment of the game.

Supporter6 months ago

Those are good points. 

6 months ago

Why thank you, I do try :D

Supporter6 months ago

Interesting question! One I’ve never really considered. I think I would usually go for the winning play. But now that you’ve mentioned it maybe I’ll start thinking about it.... 

6 months ago

Would that still hold true if it wasn't a 'winning play' in that it will end the game/ensure victory at the end of the round, because in that case I think I would tend to chose that, but more a option part way into a game, where you think one move is probably the smarter play but the alternative just seems to fit better with how the game has developed so far?

Supporter6 months ago

Hmm. Interesting to consider. I guess my goal is to always do the best that I can throughout the course if the game. I think that if the game is thematic enough then whichever decisions I make should fit within that theme... so it’s kind of the same thing?

6 months ago

Yes, and I love it when those things line up. I have often thought and commented that what I look for in games is a good integration of mechanics and theme. So while I enjoy euros with a theme pasted on but the games I have loved blend the two so that the 'best' and 'most thematic' moves line up a lot of the time.