After that first game of Thunderstone, I kept thinking about the game. It was exactly what I was looking for in a good deck-builder, and I had a blast...but James was taking so damn long! And now that we've worked a few of the "first game bumbles" out of the way, the second game should be even smoother and faster, right?
When I go to these boardgame meetup groups, I have two simple rules, rules I have formed from the experience of dozens (maybe hundreds, at this point) meetings: you don't play a game twice in one night, and you don't play anything heavy past 11 P.M.. You don't play a game twice in one night because there are tons of games that everyone brings to these things, and it's just a waste, when there are so many great games out there. Furthermore, changing the game up is a good chance to connect with other people, rather than staying with the same group and just resetting a board. You stop the big games at 11 because the majority of people in these groups are on a normal, 9-to-5 schedule, and around 11 is when energy levels...and, correspondingly, thinking levels and stress tolerance levels...start to bottom out. In other words, people start getting grumpy, tired, and make bad decisions after 11. Better to leave the night early, on a high note, than to play "one more game" and risk souring an otherwise-enjoyable evening. And if you are going to stay later than 11, keep it to low-key, casual games and party/social games that don't require too much heavy mental lifting.
I broke both of those rules that night. And by the end, I remembered why I made them rules!
Of the three I had just played with, only one...the winner from the previous game...wanted to return for the second game. So he and I spent about 45 minutes wandering the venue, talking with people and drumming up interest for the game. It was past ten o'clock, and most people seemed pretty leery of playing a brand new, involved-looking card game.
"It's easy!" I told them. "You'll have a blast!"
In addition to last game's winner, I rounded up three more players....let's call them Mark, Jessie, and Rob. Mark and Jessie had just finished a pretty-big game of Lords of Waterdeep where Jessie had won. Rob happened to pass the table as we were setting up and remarked that Thunderstone looked cool, to which I persuaded him to join us. Reluctantly, he sat at the table.
As I explained the rules to the game, I could see by Rob's bloodshot eyes and Mark's scowl at his hand of cards that I probably shouldn't proceed. Jessie looked considerably brighter, but that was probably more due to her unexpected win on Lords of Waterdeep than anything I was saying.
Finally, with the first turn of the game happening at 11:00 P.M., we began.
Rob folded first. He seemed to follow the game well enough, but it was clear that he was just too tired to concentrate. He put his cards down and wandered off.
Mark followed a turn later. Frustrated by the lack of good cards he was drawing (frustration caused partially by his refusal to trash his starter cards, along with what I imagine was a decent case of the Late Night Grumpies), Mark huffed off, muttering the entire time about how Ascension was a better deck-building game (I would not go so far, but have to admit that Ascension is quite good).
This left myself, Jessie, and the winner of the previous game, who's fake name for this blog escapes me, and I'm too lazy to go look it up. Anti-climactically, Jessie folded a few turns later. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm just too tired to focus. It seems like fun, but I've got to get home."
Truth is, I was the one who should have apologized. I knew full-well this game was too heavy to play so late in the evening, but I pushed, and pushed hard for this second game. What I wanted to be the triumphant arrival of Thunderstone to my gaming group was instead a challenge of endurance that three people tapped out on. I felt ashamed as I continued to play, now a one-on-one game, with the previous winner.
As if out of karma, perhaps, all my incessant pushing was for nought. The previous winner became the two-time winner, beating me by four points.
This Friday, I will bring Thunderstone again. I will NOT push too hard this time, and I definitely will not push beyond 11. Lesson learned...again.