I would probably get a good amount of mileage out of talking to a therapist about why I don’t like hidden movement games.
“Hidden movement games?”, Dr. Weschler asks through an unintended sigh.
“We don’t have to talk about this,” I say.
She looks over her glasses. “Clearly we do.”
“One player moves around the board in secret, unseen, while everyone else is trying to find them.”
“Unseen? Do the other players have their eyes closed, or…”
“Usually you have a miniature version of the board and a dry erase marker, maybe a chart. Some sort of log of your movement. Everyone else is out on the board like normal.”
There’s an uncomfortable pause. Dr. Weschler waits. I center my glass of orange juice on the coaster before continuing.
“The hidden player has some sort of goal to accomplish. In Sniper Elite, for example–”
“Oh! I think my daughter has played that,” she interjects. The briefest of shadows crosses her face. “It’s terribly violent, isn’t it?”
“The video game is pretty violent, yeah. Fortunately, it’s hard to carry that sort of thing over to a board game. Fewer cut scenes. I suppose there could be a deck of cards you reveal with each successful snipe, with some sort of horrid illustration on it, but that’s really not the vibe. It’s entirely family-friendly. Shooting is a huge risk, actually, You’re really only meant to do it if circumstances demand it.”
I sip some of the orange juice, and center it again.
“Most of what you’re trying to do as the sniper is reach whichever two spaces you draw from the objective deck during setup. The Germans, meanwhile, are trying to find the sniper.”
“How do they do that if he’s invisible?”
“There are three squads, each with three soldiers, and you can do two things with each squad per turn. Move, check surrounding squares, shoot. The sniper can’t move through squares that Germans are in, so if you’re smart about it, you can make it very hard for him to get anywhere. Each squad also has a commander, who has a special ability you can use twice during the game.”
“Nine against one sounds like tough odds for the one.” She shifts her legs and raises her hand up to her chin. “We’ve talked quite a bit about fairness and how important that is to you. Do you think you dislike it because of a feeling of unfairness?”
“Yes, but not in the direction you’d think.”
“Being the sniper feels…” I search for the word. “Awesome. You’re the protagonist in a movie. You’re the hero, and everyone else is trying to stop you. You’re invisible, death in the night, you’re Batman.”
“Not actually Batman.”
“But you’re Batman.”
I continue. “Being the Germans, though. It feels a lot like when my friend Aubrey will text me to say ‘Guess what’ without any other context. How am I supposed to guess, Aubrey? I have no idea. No earthly idea. I’m supposed to find this one sniper on any one square on this entire board? Find him and shoot him twice? Well, find him and shoot him twice or prevent him from accomplishing his goal for long enough.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Pretty bad! Neutered! Adrift in a pitch-black sea!”
“You know, you don’t have to play the game.”
“Well, I received a review copy, so, I mean, I do have to play the game. And it’s good! I’m not complaining. It doesn’t have the wild, cuckoo-bird energy of Mind MGMT, but the tension for both players is significant, and it’s not like it’s a major time investment. The game takes about 45 minutes or an hour.”
I bite at a cuticle.
“The tension is so high that it’s a blast to watch. My favorite game of Sniper Elite was one I didn’t play, actually. The German player did a great job casting a wide net and slowly cinching it. The sniper pulled out a victory at the end with a good fake-out, shooting someone who wasn’t in his way to draw her off his path. But it was close. Sweat-on-your-brow energy for all parties.”
“What is it about watching the game that allowed you to enjoy it more?”
“Well, I didn’t feel like an idiot, like a failure. I’m not stymied by knowing there’s something I don’t know. What I wonder is why I love puzzles, but not this…” I scratch my third eye. “Probably because the opponent isn’t a person, it’s a set of facts. A set of facts isn’t smarter than you. Anyway, my friend Skye did a much better job as the Germans, so the game I watched was actually a, you know, a game. The matches where I’ve been the Germans, were not so much a competition of equals as an opportunity for the sniper to have some fun at my expense. But that observed match was a compelling game of Cats and Mouse.”
“I guess I don’t enjoy being confronted with what I don’t know. Sniper Elite is constantly confronting me with things I don’t know that I feel like I should know. It makes me feel small.”
“Think of it as an opportunity for growth.”
“It’s like, couldn’t I play Santorini instead?”
“You know, there are other hobbies.”