What are the best games?

I loved this post by Bryan Caplan, even if I don’t quite agree with it.  Here’s his bottom line:

The best games are inter-disciplinary, combining economics and
psychology. Games of pure strategic reasoning like chess are dry. Games
of pure social interaction are a little silly. But games that bring
together strategic reasoning and social interaction are a joy for heart
and mind.

I do believe that Bryan’s claim is true for smart people with no managerial or administrative responsibilities but not for those who experience such joys in the course of daily life and thus do not need the game.  Similarly, I believe that people with highly analytical day jobs do not usually go to chess clubs at night, even if they in principle enjoy the game of chess.

A simple one variable theory is that the qualities of the games you play reflect the qualities which are missing in your regular life.

There are a number of obvious exceptions to this theory.  For instance highly social people may play highly social games because their marginal utility for sociable activities does not decline very rapidly if at all.  Or you might play a particular game just because your wife makes you.  Still, my one variable theory is a starting point for understanding which people enjoy which games.

If you’re wondering, I don’t play any games at all.  I’m not saying I’m so wonderfully complete, but overall I prefer stories to games, at least at my current margins in life.

Comments

Just to defend Bryan Caplan from the implicit criticism here
of him as infamously asocial nerd, I would note that he especially
praised the game Diplomacy, which is very much about social interactions,
as much as any game I have every played.

Both sexes tend to like Mancala, a game that involves seeing several moves ahead and social interaction.

And of course Risk is an all-time favorite for guys.

I'm not sure what kind of games just Girls like?

> I'm not sure what kind of games just Girls like?

I thought EVERYBODY knew they toyed with men's passions!

I posted an alternate theory here. In sum, we find chess boring because we're free, and Russians love and dominate the game worldwide because they aren't.

By contrast, I explain why I believe Civ fills the strategy niche instead for free peoples.

Try bridge (www.acbl.org). Logic + psychology.

A third approval of Settlers of Catan. Hits both intellectual, social, and economic points.

Another vote for Settlers of Catan.

Although, despite my econ background, I truly suck at that game.

I really need to play Settlers of Catan.

Instead I'll chalk one up for Dungeons and Dragons. (Yes I know, the pinnacle of geekdom).

Still it was a blast in college and we had a pretty diverse group we played with, physics majors, Econ guys, Political Science guys (funny how they usually started much of the violence), and philosophy guys.

Everyone enjoyed aspects of the game from social role playing to accomplish goals to tactical combat planning.

I wish to state for the record that Bryan is social, just not managerial (yet)

I agree with those who note that both bridge and Settlers of Catan
have both intellectual and social interactions aspects, with S of C
also being very "economics-oriented." Diplomacy is still more
complex in terms of social interactions, however, easily.

Of course the most intellectually challenging game in terms of pure
abstraction without social interactions, although I perhaps should
not say this on a bog run by a leading chess expert, is Go.

Another vote for settlers.
In regards to the games that females like ... Settlers of Catan is up there. My wife and the wives of many of my friends enjoy the game. I'm not sure why, but it seems to resonate. Although their desire to play declines once you start adding the expansions...

Ben - I totally agree with your post. Settlers is fun, but Puerto Rico is far more strategic. Settlers is a bit too dice-roll dependent. Puerto Rico may not have the trading element that Settlers has, but is still my favorite game. Also check out Tigris and Euphrates, and Ticket to Ride is a fun little game.

Bridge is certainly about logic and psychology, but I'm not sure it's "social" in the sense meant here. It's a two-person (two-partnership or two-team) game so forming temporary alliances or working out complex trades don't really enter into it. Free-form social interaction among players is not part of the game. Indeed, socila interaction is severely constrained.

The fascination lies in both the analytical aspects, which can be very tricky, if nowhere near the complexity of chess or go, the need to coordinate strategy with a partner using very strictly limited communications methods, having to decide what the opponents are up to, and some important probabilistic elements.

I found this site useful when I developed an interest in board games:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/browser.php?itemtype=game&sortby=rank

It's a massive community with thousands of members each ranking games on a playability. I hadn't heard of a single game in the top ten (including the winner Puerto Rico) before reviewing the rankings. You'll all be happy to know that economic based games are extremely well represented at the top.

Settlers comes in at #32, so clearly there are a lot of undiscovered gems out there that we should all take an interest in.

Curiously, all the old favourites (e.g. monopoly, risk, scrabble) tend to settle at the bottom.

But games that bring together strategic reasoning and social interaction are a joy for heart and mind that is Monopoly,Risk Art Auction
I agree with tom

I now know why I enjoy reading MR and other related blogs so much. The reasoned, logical, and compelling discourse of these blogs fills a void in my non-blog life.

There is a problems with games without luck. The best player wins just about all the time. In any social circle where there is an uneven distribution of talent and gaming experience this can translate into a bad time for many players.

I agree with many of the suggestions above, so here is a few more:
Lost Cities
Kill Doctor Lucky
Imperial
Carcassonne
Acquire
Ticket to Ride
Playing All Fives rules Dominoes

Backgammon is indeed an interesting game for people, but haven't computers solved it completely?

"A simple one variable theory is that the qualities of the games you play reflect the qualities which are missing in your regular life."

I think I would disagree. Playing board games was once my biggest hobby and I would regularly play at gatherings with others who also played lots of board games. Generally, the soul of a particular boardgame is the decisions the players must make. Suppose you have a person whose life circumstances don't change. I would then expect, if Tyler's hypothesis is correct, that people would prefer to continue to play the same games regularly (although this inference might not follow depending on how you model people in general). My experience, however, is that for most gamers and most games, the games that they play changes. The games are most exciting/interesting when you're learning to play them reasonably well: once the decisions to make appear obvious (i.e. you've learned the game well) the game is not as interesting as it was when it was first encountered. So in general people play the games where they learn the most. The subset of people I played with most, however, may be substantially different than the average person and my experience may not be applicable to others. Or maybe Tyler's right and the curves of the people I played with strongly supported the learning experience.

"I prefer stories to games" Or you may just not have played the right games yet: try Ingenious (2 players or 4 players w/ teams) or Samurai if you ever have a chance (both games by Knizia).

As to good economic games, I would say that Power Grid, Acquire and McMulti are better than Settlers (which is still an enjoyable, luck-filled game, especially the Cities & Knights expansion).

-Kevin

Puerto Rico is nice. It is much more detailed than Settlers. If it had an inter-player trading component it might be the perfect game (any experimental economists listening? Grad students are cheap)

It's hard to learn and quite involved. For a very fun intro to it, get the card game version San Juan.

Regarding dearime's point: When I was a kid I loved boardgames. Now that I'm a grown up mathematician, if I'm going to put thought into something logical, I'm going to put it into my own research, where I get something back.

The card game I had most fun playing recently was an English game called Bugger Your Neighbour, or something like that. Like War, there is no luck (after the deal) and you make no decisions. I loved it.

There is a game out there that is far more socially interactive and yet allows one to maintain complete anonymity and there is no geek stigma as all those other games convey.
Horse racing.
The intellectual requirements of handicapping and a fair bit of luck all play a part.
In addition to the economic vestiges of capital allocation and marginal utility.
You can't beat a race but you can beat the game.

There is a game out there that is far more socially interactive and yet allows one to maintain complete anonymity and there is no geek stigma as all those other games convey.
Horse racing.
The intellectual requirements of handicapping and a fair bit of luck all play a part.
In addition to the economic vestiges of capital allocation and marginal utility.
You can't beat a race but you can beat the game.

I don't know if I've ever found a board game I really love. I am terrible at poker, but always have a great time playing it, particularly if I play it with people who know how to play variants other than Texas Hold 'Em, which apparently became the only form of poker under the sun about six years ago (maybe longer).

I've only played craps once, and not at a casino, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. This might've been because the stakes were low, and I was cheating, but I think it's a pretty strong game for social interaction as well.

The best games I've come across for social interaction and strategy with just the right amount of luck are team-based card games, such as Pinochle, and some variants of Canasta. I've always wanted to play Bridge, but I'm in my twenties, and none of my friends are old enough to know how to play.

Euchre is fun and doesn't take long, but it seems that only people from Michigan know how to play it.

dsquared,

Thanks.

As a casual backgammon player I wasn't aware of all that. I am surprised that there is not more decision tree analysis in backgammon software, but my understanding of all that is limited.

Starting, I think, in the early eighties many top bridge players became options traders. In fact, the ones who did it early set up a nice operation training and financing newcomers in exchange for a share of profits. There is some overlap between bridge and backgammon players so I wonder what the actual dynamics of the whole process were.

It is not just the skills of traders and top players that are similar, but their personality traits as well.

From the comments, you all may like Go. Ancient. Will not be solved by computers in the next century, I think. Simple rules, deep strategy. Offers lots to think about related to game theory. To make it more social, yahoo has a nice interface with chat. I play the beginner room sometimes (nickname bikeinsted), but I usually get beaten -- I think there are countries with many millions of good players online. Parke

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