Fun to Lose – how opponents’ skill levels affect gameplay experience (Topic Discussion)


I don’t mind losing. In fact, when I play with my weekly game group, I usually lose. There are very few board games that I am confident that I will win or at least have a good chance of winning. However, there is something interesting I noticed recently. Irrespective of whether you’re a sore loser or gracious winner, I think it is true that gameplay experience changes depending on the skill level of the other players. Playing the same game with people who are as good at a game as you just feels different to playing it with people who are better than you or worse than you. In this article, I want to investigate this a bit further.

Professional Level Losses

The first time I noticed it was when I played a game, that I had played many times with my friends in person, against people I didn’t know online. As you learn a game together and get better at it together, you, as a group, play it a certain way. You will have a rough idea of what the people around the table are likely to do in response to your turn. You can gauge how your regular game group plays a certain game. However, when you play against people you have never played with before, everything feels different.

So when I played Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers on Yucata, I was a bit surprised at how competitive everyone was. I had played the normal Carcassonne many times with my friends, as well as my family. I appreciate the two games are a bit different, but in principle, they work very similarly. So while my family usually plays this game very much just for fun, my friends can be very competitive. However, their competitiveness is nothing compared to how my Yucata opponents played this game.

People actively placed tiles to block me off and it felt like they used every trick from the competition strategy book to win. Of course, that’s all fair and legal, but it just wasn’t what I had expected. It really changed the gameplay experience for me. While I didn’t mind losing as such, it felt different to losing against my friends. I wouldn’t say I felt cheated, but there certainly was a little bit of bitterness in me. Playing this game at a competition level is clearly very different to playing it casually.

Level Playing Field

I reckon the overall gameplay experience would have been different, if I had also been at a competition level. In fact, when playing since, I adapt my playing style to those of my opponents. If they play competitively, but at a more casual level, I do the same. If others place tiles to actively block me, then I have no regret doing the same to them. Suddenly, I enjoy the game very differently. It is a lot more fun and when I lose, I don’t feel bitter. I guess I’ve improved my game and can now hold my own against good players, even if I still often lose. It just feels a lot fairer.

The good thing is that on Yucata, you can see other players’ skill ratings and choose which games to join based on that. You can also set up your own games and limit the range of experience that other players have. That means I can decide whether I want to risk it and play against someone who is much better than me or whether I prefer to play with people who are at about the same level as me. I can mentally prepare accordingly.

On the whole, I enjoy playing people who are similarly proficient at a game as me. That’s why I love it when our games group learns a game together. Not only does it make it easier from a rules perspective, but we also all get better at it at about the same speed. The gameplay experience just seems a lot better for everyone.

the goddess "Justice" (Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash)
(Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash)

Diverging Abilities

Of course, at some point, someone in the game group will figure out how best to win the game. They will get better and better at it, while the rest of us still try to catch up. Yet, it is rare that someone gets so good at a game that it becomes frustrating for the rest of us. Our skill levels usually stay within an acceptable range and the gameplay experience is still good.

In fact, sometimes it means the rest of us can try different strategies and beat the best player’s approach. More often than not, eventually someone else will be the best player. That’s really good and helps make playing the game more fun even when some people in our group are better at it than others.

There are also situations where someone in the group just can’t figure out a game. That’s completely understandable. Not every game suits everyone. Some games come more naturally to some people than others. While many games do work for everyone in the group, some just don’t click for some people.

When that happens, the player who just doesn’t get how to play this game gets frustrated. Their gameplay experience is ruined. At that point, we either don’t play that game again or maybe play it when the relevant person isn’t around. It’s a real shame when that happens, of course, especially when one or two of us really love a game, but nobody wants someone to sit through a game and really not enjoy it.

How About You?

So how about you? Have you ever noticed that a game just feels different depending on who you play it with? Did your gameplay experience change when you were playing someone who was a lot better or a lot worse than you at the game? Who do you normally play games with? Do you tend to play games with them that everyone is roughly as good at as each other? Or do you relish always playing with people who are better at a game?

As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you have to say about gameplay experience and other players’ skill levels.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music by Bensound.com/royalty-free-music
License code: WRHG5P8Z4H2XTVRX

Music I Use: Bensound.com/royalty-free-music
License code: ZGKQ8G7AOLEEBJCK

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

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