The Kitchen Table #268 – How Many Games Does Your Group Play Per Hour?

Read Abe Sargent every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, January 14th – I try to win every multiplayer game in which I play, but even if I lose, I have fun. I have fun being with friends, slinging cards, and trying my best. If I come back from a night without winning a single game, so what? I have fun, because it is a game.

Good morning, and welcome to the column that supplies the casual resistance with weekly bits of information. This column is like a weekly newspaper, giving those striving for casual gaming an opportunity to find out what’s going on at the other tables around the world.

If you were to ask me my favorite Magic writers of all time, here would be my list:

1. Anthony Alonghi
2. The Ferrett
3. John Liu
4. Zvi Mowshowitz
5. Ben Bleiweiss

Ben moves up because of his new column here at StarCityGames.com, which is, simply put, my favorite thing being written on Magic right now. He hits a home run virtually every time he picks up the metaphorical pen. I’ve long listed my love of Anthony Alonghi in my articles, because he could, week in and week out, churn out stuff that wasn’t just good, it was so good it was always used in our multiplayer games.

John Liu was a great multiplayer writer who wrote for StarCityGames.com, but only for a limited time. Although he only wrote here for a bit, his stuff was always top notch and showed a real understanding for casual and multiplayer.

The Ferrett is no surprise either, as a guy who knows multiplayer politics backwards and forwards, and often has insights for the casual and multiplayer adherents out there.

These four are no real surprise, but what you might be shocked to see is just how highly Zvi charts on my list. You might also be shocked to see none of the classic casual faves, like Jamie Wakefield or John Friggin’ Rizzo, or even Mike Flores.

I likes me some Zvi. This guy can break down Magic, even tournament Magic, like no one else. He has a talent for writing and describing that is unparalleled among tournament writers. Sure, I may not play often in offline tournaments, but I still have to appreciate the talent and craftsmanship that Zvi put into his articles, and how they personally helped my deckbuilding and game playing skills.

You can get something from a lot of writers, even those who may not focus on casual land. Likewise, I think tournament players can get a lot from the casual crowd, including a sometimes-needed dose of reality. Ever read a tournament report about someone going to a Magic tournament with a deck they thought was a surefire win? Then they lost to players that they “should” have beaten (which in itself is very pejorative), and then rant about it? Some tournament players (not all, not even half, but a few) have lost their fire for the game. Their gaming experience has become so obsessed with wins and losses that they forget why they are here in the first place.

I try to win every multiplayer game in which I play, but even if I lose, I have fun. I have fun being with friends, slinging cards, and trying my best. If I come back from a night without winning a single game, so what? I have fun, because it is a game. It is a social experience. It’s that element that prevents Magic from being just another game. The massive interaction and fun that can be had is top-notch.

You probably got into this game because it is cool, fun to play, to be with your friends, etc. I doubt any players saw Magic and immediately said, “I want to make money on the Pro-Tour” and that’s why they started playing. Some players have lost that essence, but in casual land, we haven’t.

Tournament players can keep that spark alive, and also sometimes see some wacky deckbuilding that might help them outside of the box. Many tournament players remember what Magic is about, and play casual games in their spare time, and need the ideas from casual articles, so I welcome any and all tournament readers.

Anyway, I wanted to talk for a bit about Kelly Digges and his new column over at the Wizards websites. Up until recently, I haven’t found too much from his articles yet to write about or use in my playgroup. He’s still a new writer, and appears to be growing into the casual writer role.

Last month, Kelly mentioned a multiplayer variant that he and some of his friends played for a day and it was a blast, but they hadn’t had a chance to play much since then.

The variant he mentioned seemed like a lot of fun to play, so my friends and I got together and began to play it, and it was really, really good. Perhaps the ideas are not perfect for every play group, but they worked wonders with ours. For those who may be wondering what the variant is, here you go. I take no credit for this idea, it is all Kelly’s. (I did tweak it just a bit)

Kelly Digges‘ Multiplayer Variant

1. Instead of players leaving the game when they die, they chose a deck, shuffle, draw a new hand, resolve any mulligans, and return to the table.
2. When a new player arrives, they pick a deck, shuffle, pick a chair, resolve mulligans and come to the multiplayer game already in progress.
3. For three turns, players who have joined the game either through death or late arrival cannot be targeted, damaged, or attacked by opponents. Starting on their fourth turn, this immunity goes away. If a player attacks during their immunity, they lose it.
4. A player may leave the game at any time to do homework, leave for the night, go play Xbox, eat dinner, talk to their girlfriend, etc. They can return later under rule #1.
5. A player who dies loses a point. Gain a point each time you kill an opponent. If a player voluntarily leaves the game, they lose a point, and the last person to damage them gains a point. (If that’s no one, then no one gains a point). At the end of the night, whoever has the most points wins.

Here’s the beauty of this format — maximum flexibility. There is no more PJ Effect (where one person dies early and then the game drags on forever and they can’t play). Have you ever wanted to play Magic, but not at the moment people are shuffling and getting ready to play a new game, so you beg off, only to want to play again in fifteen minutes or so? Now you can just rejoin the game fifteen minutes later.

You are constantly playing Magic. There is no time that you are not playing Magic, unless you want to stop, and then you can jump back in whenever.

There is still an end goal, to accumulate as many points as possible. The game is going somewhere. It’s just over a long haul instead of the short one.

You can change your decks, add cards, do whatever to your deck and then shuffle a new one after you die. You can even voluntarily leave the game, take a loss, just to get a new deck. Maybe you want to punish someone so you pull out the “One Kill” deck that you have in your box that will kill one person at the table reliably before it goes down itself. Vengeance will be served very, very hot!

It’s a great format, and I’m happy to report that it was a big hit with our group and I hope to see many future games built around it.

This led me to thinking. Why was this so successful in my play group? Would it work in The Ferrett? Over the years, we’ve really peered closely at The Ferrett playgroup, and I’ve gotten to wonder at some of its workings. Would Kelly’s variant work there?

I know that The Ferrett group and mine are different. We have different players of different skill levels, and have for years. We have this rotating group of players that is centered around a core group that usually attends. Over the years, we gain more regular attendees and lose regular attendees, but a core group of three usually attends (Me, Aaron, and Jason). Some players move into new aspects of their life. We’ve had players leave college, get a job, and find they have no time to toss around the cards. Some get attached to long term relationships or marriages, and have no time. One got stationed in Iraq for a while, and left our group. Others have moved away. Some players drift away because Magic no longer holds their interest. For whatever reasons, over the years, we’ve really only had a small core, but an ever-changing kaleidoscope of Magic nomads who may settle in our group for a year or three, or attend occasionally. Frankly, I think that would be an ideal name for our group — The Nomads of Magic. One of our core players (Aaron) will be leaving for a new country soon, and I have moved to Detroit, which is farther away than we’d like to pretend since I am sans vehicle. The result may be the slow death of the group. On the other hand, it may morph into something else or merge with another group altogether.

I’m not sure if our multiplayer experience is typical for most. I have no idea. However, thinking about the success of Kelly’s variant in my group got me to thinking about groups in general. I think I know how my group and The Ferrett deviate, and I think I can show that in numerical form.

I created this statistic for measuring multiplayer groups. I think it will be very enlightening. Here it is:

The Average Number of Multiplayer Games Played Per Hour

Pretty simple, eh? After all, this is casual Magic, we don’t want to run regression analysis or anything. What this tells you is legion. How many games does your group get in an hour?

My guess is that The Ferrett ratio is a lot higher than ours. I think we had moved from about one an hour a few years ago to about half a game an hour. My guess is we average one game every two hours. Our ratio, I believe, is 0.5 games : 1 hour.

I noticed this slowdown months ago, and the trend has continued. We became less cutthroat and moved to just playing stuff for a while. It’s still fun, but we play fewer games per evening. When you are playing a smaller number of games over a longer period of time, I believe that Kelly’s format will appeal more to you.

After all, if you are gaming for three games per hour, then how long are you really waiting for the next game anyway? Show up late, and it’s not like you have to wait around for a while.

I think this is why I’ve found some of The Ferret’s statements on multiplayer to be jarring. He once stated that he did not believe that a group built around different play levels of players could last for the long haul, and our group has lasted for six years built on that foundation, so how could one of the most insightful multiplayer writers of all time have missed this?

Because I believe his game has a much higher ratio that ours does. When you are averaging two or three games per night, instead of two or three games per hour, then your game is naturally more forgiving to newer players. To be fair, since it is not as demanding, it is also not as good as a learning experience. You have many opportunities to recover from a mistake.

On the other hand, if you are winning and shuffling at a greatly accelerated clip, then your deckbuilding and playing need to be a lot sharper, so I think you’ll get better faster, but the game is not as forgiving, so it does not allow for players of different play skill to shuffle and play successfully.

This is, I believe, the fundamental difference between my multiplayer experience and The Ferrett. Our Games/Hour ratio is probably significantly different. When you have a significant difference like that, it can’t help but contribute to viewing multiplayer from different vantage points.

I have to go back and wonder at my own advice in multiplayer games over the years. Have I been giving advice for cards and game play that would be successful in my multiplayer group, but not in most? I mean, sure, we can all identify the hits. I think Alonghi, The Ferrett, me, John Liu and every other multiplayer writer ever would agree that Pernicious Deed is one of the strongest cards ever printed for the format. We can agree on that stuff. But as to the small stuff, have my recommendations been off because groups have a radically accelerated Games/Hour ratio than my own group?

Take Spite/Malice, for example. I love it. I have advocated that it get played as much as possible. Combining a Terror with a counter is just massive fun. However, in groups where the Games/Hour ratio is a lot higher, Spite/Malice might be too expensive to be that good. If you are ending games quickly, then the more expensive stuff gets cut, from Decree of Awesomeness (I mean, Decree of Pain) to classics of the format like Insurrection and Blatant Thievery. These cards have little to no value in games that end in twenty minutes.

Perhaps Wall of Blossoms isn’t as good as I think it is out there. Perhaps cards like Spike Weaver, Cho-Manno, Silklash Spider, and Commander Eesha have diminished value out there because the games are quicker. Perhaps the two Fundamental Enemies of Multiplayer (Akroma the First and Darksteel Colossus) aren’t played frequently at some other tables, because their ratio is too high.

On the other hand, I can be sure of my advice to those who have a similar ratio. If your games are slower, then yes, you need more answers to Akromas. Enter Silklash Spider and its awesomeness. If your games are slower, then yes, you need answers to Darksteel Colossus. Say hello to Crib Swap. If your games are longer, then you can use versatile cards with disadvantages that are smoothed over the long haul, like Arcane Denial and Oblation.

Oblation seems like the perfect card to use as a test. In my playgroup, and therefore in my articles, I have long espoused the power of Oblation. It can handle virtually anything, including Planeswalkers. Sure, your opponent draws a pair of cards, but you can also use it on one of your cards to allow you to draw if you need them. Oblation will save your life, and it is an answer to both Fundamental Enemies.

In other groups, if you are playing quickly, then Oblation might be pure jank and worth every bit its current value as a junk rare. The cards yielded are simply too much to give away in the tight environment of a game that begins and ends in a half hour.

I think Oblation is a good litmus test for different multiplayer groups because it shows the games/hour ratio in action.

What is your group’s games/hour ratio? I think that will usually be a very revealing statistic about the nature of the group itself.

I hope you enjoyed another spin through the land of the casual. Catch you next time!

Until later…

Abe Sargent