Why I Love To Lose
I never liked losing when I was younger. It was always during long sessions of Monopoly that I'd feel that moment of dread when I'd get closer and closer to bankruptcy and have to endure the mocking of the other players as my pile of play money dwindled ever closer to oblivion.
It wasn't until my late teens that I discovered that games weren't meant to be about punishing the weaker players - but rather about healthy competition, chance, skill and strategy. In particular, as my knowledge of game titles grew, I began to discover that there were some experiences that would prove far greater a spectacle when in defeat than in victory.
One of my all time favourite moments in gaming history for me, was when I played Matt Leacock's Pandemic for the first time. Our group of three were not avid gamers by any stretch (myself excluded) and while we'd played a regular game of Monopoly here and there, Pandemic was a hard sell to the other two present. However, after realising that there was nothing on TV worth watching (there never is anymore) we discovered that a rich theme experience with a 'do-or-die' urgency driving our group of three to attempt to save humanity was made all that more exciting when we realised that the simple task of getting five cards of the same colour to cure a disease... was anything but simple.
For those who don't know Pandemic (and if you don't, stop reading and get a copy. Seriously. Do it. We'll wait here...), it's a cooperative experience for 2-4 players, or more with expansions, and offers a challenge to cure the world of four very nasty infectious diseases before the overrun the planet. You and your posse take on the roles of CDC operatives and set out from Atlanta in the USA to begin your epic task. There is only one way to win, and there are about twenty ways to lose.
We drew our first Epidemic Card on our second go round the table, and found ourselves way out of our depth with black disease cubes dominating the world map. We found ourselves outgunned, outmatched and out of options, and the game ended with zero diseases cured and a cacophony of viral outbreaks exploding across the planet. Go team.
When the dust settled, my group immediately began what has become known in our house as the 'what-we-should-have-done' discussion, and I found that all three of us had been hanging on every card played, each infection, each cure, each move across the board, following along and trying to think ahead, and thus further deepening the experience provided by the theme and the global emergency the game provides. The one thing we all agreed on was that we failed to communicate to each other enough. So many games require you to keep your hand of cards secret, whereas this new breed of cooperative game requires players to share as much information as possible, or suffer grave misfortune, punishment - and in some extreme cases - elimination.
Following this discussion, the unthinkable happened. One of the two 'non-gamers' asked "Shall we go again?" I smiled, and we reset the game, drew new roles and once again set out to rid the world of deadly strains of syphilis.
We, as a group, sharing information and planning ahead as much as we dare, fared a little better, managing to cure our first disease and even came close to curing a third, but, once the infection rate crept up, we found that we were about five turns short. Again, the discussion about our failure occurred, and again, the group requested that we have another go!
"What's happening here?" I remember thinking. We must have played out about five games of Pandemic in that one night, spending about three to four hours traveling the globe in search of that elusive cure - without success. We didn't beat the game once. But the experience, the discussions of 'what would have happened if-', made us all feel empowered, and gave our brains the cerebral workout that they needed. The best part about the evening was the pledge by my fellow gamers (yes, they are our people now) that we would, come hell or high water, play again tomorrow.
When the moment of completing the task arrived and we had saved humanity in a dangerously close call of a game, the reward was that much sweeter. Had we been successful straight off, I doubt we would have ever played again. My wife and I now use Pandemic as a Gateway game of choice to showcase exactly what the modern boardgame can be, and how it can promote camaraderie rather than conflict.
This is why I love to lose. It's not the victory that's important. It never was. The actual gameplay, with people that you care about or are like-minded, is what makes the experience all the better. Succeed, fail or otherwise, the resulting discussions you'll have long after the game is over will be worth so much more than the board game's $65 price tag.
And for those that are wondering - we didn't beat Pandemic the next night. It took us four weeks of solid play throughs to beat that bastard!
Pandemic: Z-Man Games, designed by Matt Leacock RRP: $65 (HP GAMING PRICE $57.95!)
Matt Hillman is an avid gamer of any variety, and is fast becoming a major backer on Kickstarter. He in an experienced writer, theatre director, and producer, and runs a respectable Photography business along with his Gaming company - HP GAMING.