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5 Games Where Winning Isn’t Everything

games where winning isn't everything - a gentle rain

“If you’re not first, you’re last” is a quote from the famous philosopher and occasional NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby. When we play anything, we play to win… right? But winning isn't everything, winning isn't everything, winning isn't everything...

Is the experience of a board game sometimes more important than the result? Some of my fellow bloggers and I have suggested some games where winning isn’t everything or all that important.

A Gentle RainCraig Smith

When I first got into the hobby, I wasn’t sold on the idea of solo games. I love being sociable, and board games was a great way of bringing people together.

I was gifted a copy of A Gentle Rain, designed by Kevin Wilson and published by Mondo games. The first page of the rule book invites you to take a deep breath and relax. This was an introduction to a game unlike any other I’d played before.

The aim of the game is to lay lake tiles in such a way that it causes all eight lilies to blossom at the same time, a very rare sight indeed. Each tile has four halves that match the lilies on them, so you’re trying to match them up, creating space for a lily to blossom in the middle.

If you complete the puzzle, you score eight points, plus any one point for any tile left in the draw pile. However, if you were to ask me what my best score was, I’m not sure I could tell you. You’re actively encouraged to ignore your score and enjoy the game for what it is: a calming, meditative puzzle. It’s a regular part of my lunchtime if I’m having a particularly stressful day or if I’m working from home.

Cascadia - Favouritefoe

Confession time. I am not a zen person. I can’t meditate. I won’t zone out, and life is too short for slow yoga. I am a one hundred mile an hour lawyer-mummy-wife-gamer-ND-control-freak and that doesn’t leave much time for butterfly breathing. So when I game, I want to win. Right now! I generally don’t, but the bubbling desire is there. Is it true that winning isn't everything?

Having said that, there are a few games out there which surprise the heck out of me. They are ones where I don’t care if I win or lose. I simply enjoy the process of playing out the puzzle, and are the closest thing to active-relaxation I have and will ever likely experience.

Cascadia by AEG and Flatout games is one such game. A tile laying area majority, placement optimisation game designed by Randy Flynn, it is both beautiful to look at and play. In it, you are trying to create habitats that suit 5 different indigenous species who call the Pacific Northwest USA home. Each animal type has its own preferences, and you get points for keeping them happy as well as building out connected territory types.

Turns are super simple; pick a pair comprising a habitat tile and a wildlife token from the pool. Place the tile into your habitat adjacent to a previously laid tile, and then lay the wildlife token on top of an empty tile that shows a matching species. If you have any special nature tokens, you can use these to manipulate the pairs on offer in the pool. At the end of the game, you match your groups against the scoring objectives and total up the points for connected territory corridors (including any majority bonuses).

Whether solo or multiplayer, the process of working out where to place each tile and token for maximum points is a game played in my own head. It drowns out the noise of the day, and, unlike real life, allows me to make choices where the consequences disappear with the closing of the box lid. And for those reasons I don’t care whether I win or lose at Cascadia. I just love playing the game.

Kohaku - Neil Proctor

There is nothing quite as Zen as a Koi Pond. The gentle babble of the water, the insects buzzing between the lily pads and flowers and the beautiful fish gently swaying under the water. You can stare at it for hours and get lost in your daydreams.

I always thought it would be near impossible to replicate the same feeling of relaxation in a board game but then I played Kohaku from designer Danny Devine and published by Gold Seal Games and 25th Century Games.

On your turn you draft two orthogonally touching tiles from the main board and place them in your pond. One of the tiles will be a new fish whilst the other will be a way of scoring such as a flower that scores for fish of the same colour or a statue that likes to be surrounded by fish of any colour.

You can make your pond in any shape you like with the only stipulation being that each tile must touch another tile orthogonally and fish can only be next to scoring tiles and vice versa. The central board then gets refilled and shuffled between each players turn.

You continue taking turns until the fish tiles run out at which point you score the game. Technically there is a winner but in reality every player has built a beautiful Koi Pond and can stare and admire their hard work. Each tile has a cleverly placed UV spot which sparkles as it reflects the light and really brings the immersion to the next level when combined with the amazing artwork.

This game also provides an excellent solo mode which is a wonderful way of relaxing as it doesn’t require very much upkeep.

I have taught this game to a lot of people over the summer and it has been a hit every time. It is the perfect game to de-stress as it doesn’t matter if someone takes the tile you wanted as another better option will present itself. It truly is a game where winning isn't everything!

Highly recommended for anyone that wants to build a Koi Pond in less than 30 minutes.

CartographersLuke Pickles

Winning isn’t everything. Unless you’re a professional sportsperson, of course. For the most part, I try to take that into my game playing because it ultimately doesn’t matter. However, the ultimate game for me that I play just for the sensation of playing is Cartographers. I feel this especially when playing solo because there’s no one to win against other than your own best score. If you haven’t come across the map drawing flip and write game, that’s pretty much the best way to describe Cartographers. Over four rounds, players will be drawing polyomino shapes into their map to fulfil the whims of the queen. In each of the four seasons, you’ll be scoring from two of these whims which means you’ll have to try and play reactively to the terrain whilst also trying to plan ahead. On top of that, you’ll have the random ambush cards which will introduce monsters to your world and score negative point.

I love playing Cartographers. I love the puzzle which calms my mind and lets me just enjoy the experience. The solo mode is simple enough that you don’t have to worry about anything major and the replayability is already through the roof before you add in the Heroes sequel and the companion map packs that you can throw in whenever you see fit. I am always up for a game of Cartographers, just let me while away the afternoon with a set of coloured pencils and an eye out for those pesky kobolds.

Rustling LeavesCraig Smith

As Luke has mentioned with Cartographers, there’s something very soothing about playing a roll or flip and write and only having to beat your own score. I’ve played Rustling Leaves countless times, and my score varies greatly… but that doesn’t matter, because winning isn't everything.

You roll two dice and the numbers they land on are the size area you must square off on your page. Within that square, you then must choose one object to score inside it. Your page starts to fill up really quickly, and gaps start to appear as you have to follow the whim of the dice. Once you’ve decided that you don’t want to roll the dice anymore, you add up your score. Each component has a different way of scoring. Maybe they only score in pairs, or groups, or some only score if you leave them out completely. You can lose points if you choose to re-roll the dice, or if one of your grids crosses over the river down the centre of the page.

There is something so soothing about the puzzle presented, that to be honest I have no interest in playing Rustling Leaves as a multiplayer game. For me, I find that some roll/flip and writes like Railroad Ink or Welcome To are generally made better by playing against opponents. Rustling Leaves is such a pleasantly calming experience, I wouldn’t want it any other way. If you want something that can be picked up and played in about ten minutes or so, it may very well be the game for you too.