For most of us, tabletop games are an escape. We seek them out when we need to relax and get away from the pressures of everyday life. Sure, there’s usually an element of competition, but it’s of the friendly variety. Nothing really tangible is on the line, and if you lose a game, or even ten in a row, the only thing damaged is your pride. However, there are ways of playing that raise those stakes.
For this week’s CMON Feature Friday, we take a look at how playing with something on the line changes our approach to gaming and effects our overall experience.
When we enter a casino, or sit down to a table with friends to play a bit of Texas Hold ‘Em, a couple things happen. First, we start picturing ourselves as Matt Damon from Rounders or Daniel Craig from Casino Royale. The second thing that occurs is physical. Hearts start beating faster, stress levels increase, palms get sweaty. This is not the case for every single gambler. But for the average person, when they have money on the line, they are going to feel those effects to some degree.
Gambling, of course, can lead to addiction, which includes some pretty severe symptoms, including anything from insomnia, to depression, weight loss, and even suicidal thoughts. It is a contradiction between the dizzying highs of being on a winning streak and the terrible lows of losing it all. For years, gambling was not recognized as a serious problem, but more recently, people are seeing the potential pitfalls that can occur.
In my life, I have luckily never been a problem gambler, but even in fun games at a friend’s house for $5 buy-ins, I find there is a physical change in my body. It’s not the amount of money on the line, it’s the very fact there IS money on the line.
This is not to say that all gambling is bad, or even that the physical change some of us feel is bad. In its essence, it’s adrenaline and excitement. Our bodies are saying that we care a great deal about the outcome, and that can be a lot of fun. It’s just important to enjoy those moments for what they are and not get caught up in reliving and recreating that feeling. In the rare occasions in my life that I’ve gambled, I’ve decided in advance how much I want to spend on an evening’s entertainment, and I consider that money lost already. I may walk away with more than I started, or I may not lose it all by the end of the night, but at the very least, I don’t lose more than what I considered acceptable at the start of the night.
Tournaments have a similar, but slightly different, effect on people. In a tournament, you may pay an entry fee, or the cost might simply be your time. However, regular gaming tournaments, unlike gambling, don’t require you to continually add money to keep going. Once you’ve entered the tournament, it’s up to your gameplay to keep you going.
CMON regularly runs tournaments for a number of our games throughout the course of the year. Usually the costs, if anything, are pretty modest to enter, but they are some of the most popular events we have at major shows. For example, at the upcoming Adepticon in Schaumburg, Illinois, we’ll be running Dark Age tournaments where Samarian warlords can pit their armies against one another to prove they’re the best.
Even in a setting like this, the stakes will feel raised for the participants. When you add something to the line, no matter what it is, the desire to win and to not mess up is greatly magnified. A game you may have played countless times before in a casual setting may take on a whole new feeling all of a sudden. The stress, joy, and tension of organized competition are a different beast altogether.
Playing tabletop games is a wonderful way to spend your time. The level of competition can go from none in the case of a cooperative game, to having the stakes raised to a tension-filled level in a tournament or gambling setting. Neither of those situations are bad things when approached properly. Remember that in a tournament, even though the stakes are raised, it is still the game that you liked enough to think you should enter a tournament in the first place. Enjoy it! You’ll have more fun, and most likely, you’ll play better. If you enjoy gambling every once in a while, make sure to be aware of the dangers and keep an eye out for the warning signs. Go out there and enjoy it, just keep yourself in check. Games are meant to be fun, make sure to keep them that way!