Sunk Cost Fallacies and Unrequited Love

Okay so today’s #rpgaday #rpgaday2017 thing is something about what game you’ve owned the longest without playing. I’m kind of bored by that! I think my actual answer is my contributor’s copy of Deadlands: Hell on Earth but I totally don’t care if I ever play it. It’s nice to own. I’ve read it. I’ve read lots of games that I have no intention of playing.

But this prompts something I’ve been thinking about for a while that I do want to (over)share, and that is: What keeps a game from getting to your table?

My thought has a couple implications, in case you want to comment with your own stories:

* I’m thinking about games I actually want to play, and
* I’m thinking about the time that has passed.

That second one because I pick up new stuff pretty regularly and I’m all inflamed with passion about it and then squirrel and then I forget why I was even interested.

So my candidates to talk about are a tie, more or less, taking desire and time into account: The Clay That Woke and Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine.

In both cases, the games offer an unfamiliar-sounding experience that I can’t easily map to my existing skill set. Ordinarily that’s not enough to keep me from trying something. I pull apart games all the time. I think the difference depends on the table I’m talking about. At home, I dearly do not want to alienate my players with something so weird that they feel like they’ve wasted their evening (because my standing Tuesday game night does not have “indulge Paul’s insatiable lust for novelty” as a primary goal). At a convention, I’m modestly phobic about looking incompetent.

But even the incompetence thing is only a modest phobia! I mean, gosh, I prefaced my convention pitch for Christian Griffen’s Meridian with a warning that it’d be a learning game and literally unsealed the cards right there at the table. But I’d read the rules and could build a model of how it worked that mapped in some way to my experience.

So “can my experience map how this works?” is the first thing on my mental checklist.

Another part of my personal checklist is “can I imagine what the table experience feels like?” Because that will help me guide my interpretation of the rules. Happily I have a pretty good variety of table experiences in my head and constantly add more as I’m able. What I mean by “table experience” is:

* What does the game design push toward? Feels or hard choices or cinematics or a sense of accomplishment or shared agreement on realism/accuracy? Usually it’s a mix of all of that, so what I think about is apportionment.

* Where are the tension points in play? So I know to set those up for the players.

* What incentive schemes are tugging at the players? I want to be sensitive to the things they’re supposed to be striving toward. This also lets me know if the incentive scheme/reward cycle isn’t actually incenting or rewarding to a player! Sometimes they don’t care about the carrots or the sticks.

* How theme-forward is play? Is its “aboutness” clearly presented and procedurally supported? Is it all about the setting?

So in the case of both The Clay That Woke and Chuubo’s MWGE I’m unable to suss out the desired table experience. There’s some gap between how the designers have presented their answers to these things and my ability to map those answers to what I can relate to.

Despite all that, I still want to run these games at some point. I really do. They haven’t completely alienated me from even wanting to play. In fact I can’t think of many games that would, other than for logistical reasons: multiday blockbuster larps are a no-go because they just don’t fit into my adult obligations, for example. Or if the subject matter was just repellant, like uh RaHoWa or something.

0 thoughts on “Sunk Cost Fallacies and Unrequited Love”

  1. What keeps a game from getting to your table?

    I agree. That this is the more interesting question to me as well.

    In my case, I think it tends to be games that aren’t of interest to my group, and that don’t seem like good options for running at a con. Basically, if I can’t make use of it.

    The other option is games that, after I get it home and read it, I’m just not that excited about.

    Layering this onto your points, except for the final point, my views are similar. I would add that making games easier to pitch, learn, and play certainly helps. This would be why Fiasco gets to the table easier than Blades in the Dark (although I am currently setting up to play the latter).

  2. A compelling pitch will get most players I know over the learning curve. Our current Torchbearer game is pretty high up the list of “hard” games but it’s got a good pitch. Or I was able to pitch it well. Whatevs.

    “If I can’t make use of it” is much more succinct. I could have saved so many words.

  3. I think the thing that most prevents a game from getting to my table is time. I play a six hour f2f game slightly less often than every other week. When we played Torchbearer, for instance, we played 14 sessions. That’s more than half a year. I buy something like fifteen or twenty games per year. We sometimes play one-shots or even fit two or three quickie sessions into one of those meetings, but mostly we play short campaigns. There’s just no way to get them all to the table.

    ETA: I ran Clay for three or four sessions in playtest, but I quit in frustration. I felt like I failed to deliver the fun. But I have every reason to think it would be fun with someone who knew what they were doing.

  4. I’m also staring down the Clay chicken/egg problem. I’m pretty sure there’s a good experience in there! And I’d like to see someone else show what that looked like. But that someone else isn’t going to be anyone but me, probably.

  5. Okay, thoughts gathered.

    tl;dr — People and time.

    Group consensus is the most common for me. When I was in regular groups that gathered around a specific RPG, any deviation from said RPG (or even basic conceits of said RPG) was generally a no-go. And even my current, hardly-meets-anymore group that is generally game for anything doesn’t seem to land on the same preferences all that often. E.g., “will play anything except this category which is totally off the table”.

    Beyond that — though overlapping — is the level of effort. I tend to be a big fan of games that require pretty heavy player buy-in (e.g., Burning Wheel), and that’s a big hurdle. That, or I want to play some baggage-heavy trad game, but with the Quixotic goal of jettisoning the baggage — and apparently ain’t nobody got time for that.

    Or, in reference to my post for today’s topic, it’s a game that I won’t even attempt because my own up-front investment seems so high — e.g., lots of content to digest, or I want some kickass minis to use with it.

  6. I use to push games that I was interested in, but now I have a stance of being way more beholden to whatever table I’m running at. The line “does not have ‘Indulge Paul’s insatiable lust for novelty’ as a primary goal” hit close to home for me.

    I bought M:Y0 like a year ago when Paul was writing about it. I had to sit on it for a while waiting for an opportunity to bring it to the table. I managed to bring it to the table as practice for a convention one-shot and managed to get 2 to 3 sessions in.

    Now a days I make pitch for multiple games I’m willing to run then let the table vote on it. Last vote it was Mutant, Blades in the Dark, and Godbound. The table voted for Blades and I had to put Mutant back up on the shelf. Getting table buy-in has become paramount which stings a bit because I do love novelty.

  7. Table voting on a pool of GM-acceptable games is pretty much the only answer. That’s what I do too.

    Although I do it strictly via email because folks get so damned accommodating at the table that they end up stifling their opinions about games they’d rather not play.

  8. A lot of the above sounds familiar, especially the table buy-in, I have to say that sometimes I also get kinda stage-fright on the cusp of having something prepped and not launched as I don’t want to impose my desires on the group. Easier to just default to some boardgames that offend nobody. Sigh.

  9. In addition to the normal logistical stuff that’s always a problem (finding a group of people who all want to play together, play the same game, can get together at the appropriate time, etc.) I think I’ve noticed a “social proof” thing where I have trouble staying enthusiastic about a game if I don’t feel like other people are playing it (I’ve noticed something similar with video games, too). Intellectually I think it shouldn’t really matter, whether the game is fun at the table should really be the determining factor, but based on observing my own patterns of behavior I think there’s something about energy and buzz or the lack thereof that has some effect on my motivation to play a game.

  10. Dan Maruschak​ oh that is for sure true for me too. I don’t know what the precise algorithm is, but I get swept up by mob excitement about stuff. I think I probably trust the wisdom of the masses more than I should.

    Mostly it’s not led me astray, unless I got sucked into something that is super-duper Not My Jam (most recently: Stars Without Number).

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