Reading Alan Moon's confession in Counter #12 made me realize that I, too, must come clean. I first became aware of the German game craze in 1996 and I instigated a regular gaming night. It was a moderate success in that we were able to play every Tuesday for several years but the number of players stayed rather small. I was rather enamoured of these games and liked talking about them so I would write up the results of a gaming session and e-mail them off to everyone that had ever attended a session. In addition to sparking debate about a particular game I hoped that it would encourage more people to attend on a more regular basis. Well, the group never really grew particularly large but we always had enough bodies for any one session. More often than not there would be four regulars with the occasional fifth player joining. Having players to game with was great but none of the others were as involved with the hobby to the extent that I was. I purchased 99% of the games and was the only one really interested in reading about it on the net or in magazines. Fair enough, but it meant that most of the session reports I was writing were falling on deaf ears (or so it seemed). It's actually rather difficult to explain in plain language what occurred in a game, especially if you're playing the same games week after week. So, eventually, when I stopped writing the reports, the others piped up that they enjoyed receiving the "post-battle" summaries. To be honest I didn't really feel liking going to all the trouble of describing what happened and before long I was simply recording the scores at the end of a game and sending then off. Not as fancy as the written summary but it was enough that if anyone had any comments to make about the game they could do so.
This continued for about a year and soon became a habit. Now in my real life, I'm a database programmer and often have to learn new languages and development tools. I've always found that the easiest way to do so was to actually write an application, even if it's something very simple. This way you're presented with real world problems and difficulties to overcome. At some point I was given a Foxpro development package to evaluate and so decided that I'd write a program to keep track of the scores of the games we played. A fairly simple task but it did the job (learning the tool that is) and made score keeping a little easier. Of course having all the information stored in a database made writing specialized reports very easy. In addition to the simple session summaries, I added reports to display the all-time high scores in games, how many times each game had been played, the number of games each individual player had played and so on. I tell myself that it was simply an excuse to learn the tool but I must admit that it was fun playing around with the data. I ended up working on the program long after I had ceased using the development tool I originally used in its creation. It was fun and as my group consisted mainly of four players the statistics were quite useful. It was very interesting to see that, for example, Al was quite good at Acquire, having won five of the nine games we played or that Danny had somehow managed to score $631 in Modern Art on June 17, 1997. It was also enlightening to see exactly how many times a game had been played. Often I'd be surprised to look at the data and realize that I'd only played Drunter & Drüber four times, "I could have sworn it was more than that!" "Wow! Has it really been 4 years since I played Cosmic Encounter?" I've always felt that people are notoriously bad when it comes to estimating numbers or dates. People are very quick to makes statements such as "I must have played that game 1000 times" without realizing exactly how many times that really is. Of course, what they really mean to say is that "I played that game many, many times" but they aren't actually sure of the exact number. Having a record means that you are able to state with confidence that "I've played 332 games of Liar's Dice!"
As with most things, this group didn't last forever. The other players were casual gamers and so interest faded to a point at which I wasn't interested in hosting it at my house anymore. Furthermore, I had started to play with another group at a game store in town and, initially, I didn't think that I'd bother keeping track of the games. The statistics were much less useful since it wasn't the same group of people. (Well, the personal stats anyway, it was still nice to know what games were being played.) I'm not sure what the trigger was but I did end up entering this new data anyway. Habit, I suppose. At this point the database became much more personal. Knowing that I'd won 26 games of Bohnanza and that Al had only won 3 wasn't as interesting or useful considering that I would have played the game so many more times than he had. Still, I continued entering data.
The collection of statistics became even less relevant on a group level when I started gaming with a third group. I was now playing a great many more games than anyone else in the database so it became very heavily skewed to me personally. Further, the only scores being entered were the games that I had played in. So even if Tigris & Euphrates had been played at a Wednesday night session, if I wasn't one of the players it wouldn't be recorded. While this lessened the usefulness of the database, it still had plenty of benefits. One of the most used functions was the listing of when a game had last been played. My gaming nights are almost exclusively outside my home which means that I have to pick three or four games to pack along with me when I go. Often I find myself staring blankly at the game shelves wondering what to take. In these circumstances it sometimes helps to peruse the list to see what hasn't been played in a while. (This doesn't always produce a winner—often there's a reason why a game has been left on the shelf so long.) There are also other benefits I wouldn't have thought of when I originally started keeping this record.
At one point I decided to replace the scoretrack in Evo with one of my own devising. (Those that have played the game will know that the original is next to useless.) One of the more important decisions in this endeavour was deciding how many spaces to include. There needed to be a balance between making the spaces as large as possible while having an adequate number. Looking through previous games I found that winning scores were usually less than 50 points and so decided on that as the length of the track. (A copy of my completed work can be found at http://www.pacificcoast.net/~greg for anyone interested.)
The greatest unforeseen benefit though has been in remembering the names of people new to a game group. We often get new people joining a session but only attend every once in a while. I'm sure others have experienced forgetting someone's name that they've met only once or twice. Having previously written that person's name down and entered it into the database seems to really solidify it in my memory and I think this is a very fortunate side effect of this obsession. Breaking into an established group can be a daunting task for a newcomer and I think it helps if at least one regular remembers that person's name. Most groups benefit from "new blood" and so I don't think this bonus should be underestimated.
Now, if the above sounds somewhat like I'm trying to justify then you'd probably be right. Truth be told, I keep these records because I like to, not because they serve some greater useful purpose. This is especially apparent when you consider that there has been at least one not insignificant downside to keeping records.
I've always said that I play games for the fun of it and I believe this to be a truthful statement. However, I do consider myself a rather competitive player and find that I strive very hard to win. There have been times that I've let this get in the way of actually enjoying the game. This is, in my opinion, a bad thing and keeping records and scores tends to exacerbate this. It's so much harder to just let things go when they're recorded for posterity. While the root of this problem doesn't originate with record keeping it's not helped by it either. I don't keep a record of scores when I play games at the Gathering of Friends and there's certainly a much lighter feel to things there than with any of my regular groups. Some of this is no doubt due to the lack of rivalry when playing with people you see only once a year but I suspect score keeping also has something to do with this.
There have also been some good-natured accusations of narcissism because of this. I tend to win more than my fair share of games and so there will sometimes be jokes that I'm only keeping score as a form of self-aggrandizement. I disagree with this of course but I can't say with 100% certainty that there isn't some small truth to it, would I really be as happy to keep track of repeated defeats? It has become a bit of a running joke that if a game goes particularly badly for me that there's "no way this one's going in the record books".
Still and all I think keeping track of everything is a good thing and when it comes right down to it, it doesn't really matter. It's just something I do and, for better or worse, I will likely keep on doing so.
- Greg Aleknevicus