I rarely win at Carcassonne…

….and I think I know why.

I’ve mentioned several times that the SigFig and I enjoy playing tabletop games. What I don’t think I’ve mentioned is the fact that I lose most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy playing games. I’m just not the greatest strategist, and I think it’s because I’m used to thinking scientifically rather than strategically.

At its heart, science is not competitive. I totally understand that there’s competition for positions, limited funding, and the ever-looming publish-or-perish. But, unlike sports, games, or some aspects of business, doing science doesn’t require a definitive winner and loser. A scientist is figuring out how the universe works; at the end of the day, it’s not (competing theories aside) scientist versus scientist or even scientist versus universe. It’s scientist versus ignorance. Even scientists with conflicting theories have the same ultimate goal of figuring out what’s really going on. When new discoveries are made and new knowledge is acquired, everybody learns something and everybody wins. Scientific investigations require you to work towards a goal, not against an opponent.

Meanwhile, in strategy games such as Carcassonne, preventing your opponent from scoring points is just as important as scoring points for yourself. When I approach the game scientifically, all I focus on is the goal of scoring as many points as possible. I get so wrapped up in making moves that would maximize my own point total that I often ignore moves that would hurt my opponent, even if the latter moves would hurt my opponent’s score more than the former moves would help mine. As a result, I’ve won about three of the many games of Carcassone that the SigFig and I have played against each other since he purchased it about two years ago.

Disclaimer: I’m definitely not saying that the scientifically-minded can’t be good strategists and vice versa; some of the best game-players I know are scientists, and I’m definitely getting better with practice. I’m just noting the differences between the scientific mindset and the strategic mindset.

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