I'm Gonna Lose

Game

"How many cards do you have in your hand?"

This is a common question. I'm used to it. The man sitting across from me is trying to kill me. He intends to do this by reducing the cards in my hand to negative numbers. I have only three, which is low, but when you have two brain damage, it's the best you can do.

My right hand is firmly connected to my forehead with my elbow on the table for support. I'm not a regular and I don't have a fancy mat yet, so it's just elbow on table. Need to get a mat. I shift my left thumb to fan my measly three cards to answer my opponent.

I'm so close to victory and death simultaneously that I'm shaking from nerves and adrenaline. I'm not sweating, but I'm clammy, and shaking. I keep joking aloud that I need a cigarette, which was funny the first time, but certainly not the third. I don't smoke, never have, but by god I'm going to beat this cliche into the ground.

It also kills me that my opponent is incredibly slow to make decisions. I just want this game to be over. Win or lose. The anticipation is killing me.

"I need a cigarette."

Goddammit. There's a lot of apprehension from never having done this before.

I consider myself a competitive person. I want to win, or at least try real hard to do so. If the person on the treadmill next to me at the gym is running at a 6.5 setting, I'm going to run at a 7 setting. I'm absolutely not a jerk about it, though, which I think is the right mixture. An 'E' for Effort, but not a 'J' for Jerk. I've generally excluded games from this, which is arguably strange as games have been a top factor of my life for about 14 years now.

I think the reason for this is that I don't want to ruin my favorite thing with unsavory competition. Yes, I once played in a 5 versus 5 infantry only Battlefield 2 tournament at Quake Con 2005, and it was so amazing that typing this still gives me an adrenaline high. But, I've also been screamed at by "friends" regarding my World of Warcraft character's inefficiency. I cancelled my subscription the next hour.

Friends of mine who have competed before generally speak very highly of the experience. Some with longing and regret for no longer being involved. Sure, I've stumbled into a few former Magic guys that clearly need a cigarette, even now, far away from any competitive table, but they aren't the norm.

I love Android: Netrunner, the best selling Living Card Game from enormous hobby publisher Fantasy Flight Games. I bought it relatively soon after its release, but never played it. I bought Data Packs, inexplicably, and still never played. Then, I picked up someone's entire collection for about $100. At that point, I realized it was time to get off the metaphorical pot and play the game. I did, and my affection was immediate. But, it wasn't until I organized what I thought was then a substantial collection of cards to build my first deck while watching It's a Wonderful Life in December of 2013 that everything really sunk in.

In 2014 I made it a priority to play with friends, and play we did. But, I'm talking 30 plays, which is a great deal for me, at about 45 minutes apiece, but insignificant for folks who play weekly at their local store and in tournaments. I spoke often about entering local, casual tournaments, but with about as much truth as "I have a girlfriend, but she lives in Canada." Plus, I'm not really tapped into my local game store scene. It's easy to miss the tournaments if you're not paying attention. Then, I can't be disappointed.

Disappointed in what exactly is a topic of myth and stereotype at this point. Was I worried that I'd enter a room full of weird, butt crack sharing people? Perhaps the notion of a 14 year old foul-mouthed Spike scared me off? I've played a lot of XBox Live. I've heard some chilling stuff. Even South Park has commentary on this sliver of American culture.

In truth, it's probably a little bit of all of those things. I find that hosting friends, having a beer, and playing a friendly game with our inside jokes is intensely comforting. None of that would be at any tournament. But, my fears go farther down a path of paranoia. I don't play Poker or Black Jack or Roulette in Las Vegas because I don't know the rules and I'm terrified of looking like a jackass in front of a pile of strangers. Or worse yet, the dealer throwing me off the table for a serious faux pas and security dragging me out.

I never said I was reasonable. I didn't want to have to endure an opponent's eyes rolling when I riffle shuffled my un-sleeved cards, or forgot a rule, or played a deck that only morons play. I don't think that's too unreasonable a human expectation.

Fantasy Flight Games promoted my local game store's tournament on Twitter last week. I don't follow my store, but I do follow Fantasy Flight. I clicked it for details:

  • Saturday afternoon
  • Show up to sign in
  • $5 entry fee
  • Promo card for participation
  • Boxes and mats for the winners

That all sounded really casual. I told my friends and social media at large that I was attending. As I couldn't sign in ahead of time, I cemented this decision with the Sword of Damocles of social shame.

As soon as I made the decision, it felt amazing. I was so excited! I spent every spare moment during the week furiously designing decks, tweaking those decks, and testing those decks. The new expansion arrived Friday afternoon. I tore it open, reviewed the cards, and figured out which ones to swap into my decks. After dinner Friday night, around 10 pm, I had a killer idea for a deck. I made it, slept on it, tweaked it, then agonized whether to take an untested deck to my first tournament. I did.

Now, that deck was in the hot seat. I had three cards, clammy hands, and a professed false need for a cigarette. Aside from my cliches, I played very well. I mean, I lost, everything, and no, not from losing all of my cards. I lost control of my economy towards the end, and the threat of traps forced me to take costly measures to not die. It was a death by a thousand bureaucratic cuts. In the end, my opponent squeaked over the finish line and beat me by a single point.

I lost another game as well, but again, was proud of my tactics and deckbuilding. I played aggressively against a very difficult deck and made my opponent earn his win. I think. I lost another due to time. Our first game took so long that we only had about 5 turns each in our second game. He had a lucky early score, 2 points, and that gave him the win from the time victory.

I almost skipped home I was so excited. It took me about an hour to calm down, but in a good way, unlike the earth quake this summer that sent my nerves spiraling for hours. It was honestly the most fun I've had playing a game in a really long time. Maybe since that Battlefield tournament at Quake Con 2005?

The reality is that any community will have some dead weight, some jerks, and negative stereotypes. One built around competition that requires a meaningful investment in time and money is most assuredly going to recruit such types. But, you cannot, and should not ignore such a rich gaming experience. The guys (and gal!) I played with yesterday were jovial, familiar, bearded, sportsmanlike, and sincere. My first opponent even riffle shuffled his cards! I mean, yes, they were sleeved, and he had a mat, but we shared the thhhhffft sound as we prepared our decks.

I know that if Spike shows up, he'll be the exception, and that I'm only one game away from playing against someone more kind.

You should attend a tournament. Pick a game. Any game. You need to get the shakes for yourself and be overcome with anticipation. You need to wrestle with the pixie in your head that's screaming "we can win we can win oh my god oh my god we can win." Plus, that camaraderie about which I spoke? It just might appear at even the tournament scene. I just have to be a regular.

You're going to have a great time, I promise.

Helpful Links

  • You can find the game on Board Game Geek here.
  • There is a great free tool with which to build decks or learn about the game here.
  • The Gamescape SF Event Calendar is here. Next tournament in March!
  • You can buy the game via Amazon here.

I appreciate the editing notes from Todd Edwards, Matt Worden, Joshua Buergel, and Chevee Dodd.

Comments

Sounds like a great time. My first Netrunner tournament experience was much less interesting: I showed up to my FLGS on time, ready with my own fairly untested deck.

No one else showed up.

blah.

Great read! My wife & I really enjoy Android: Netrunner. We have not yet tried a tourney yet, but it sounds like it could be very fun. We play a lot of Magic: The Gathering and like our local scene. Perhaps we should make the plunge and brew up some competitive decks.