Everybody knows that there are some things you just shouldn’t do when you’re tired. Like driving a car, operating heavy machinery, piloting a commercial jet, conducting an orchestra, defusing a bomb, assembling a bomb, juggling sharp knives or talking to call centre employees.
But what about playing games? Is it really a good idea to break open the box and start rolling dice when you feel like you’ve been kept awake in a North Korean brainwashing facility for the past 76 hours? To answer this question, let me relate a recent experience
The other weekend our crew here at Games vs Play had an enjoyable evening playing Robo Rally. This is a fun game from the mid-‘90s that can perhaps be best described as Marvin the Paranoid Android goes postal on the robot factory floor as expressed through the medium of simple programming language. I won’t go into detail, but Robo Rally basically works like this: players have to guide cute little robots around a maze-like factory littered with traps and obstacles towards the goal of collecting a number of strategically placed flags. At the start of each round everyone is dealt ten movement cards. Each card describes a separate movement such as “go straight ahead one space”, “turn left”, “make a U-turn” and so on. Out of these ten cards, players can only choose five cards to make up their robot’s total movement on the board for that round. The tricky (and fun) part of this game is picking the right combination of five cards that will allow your robot to avoid the bottomless pits, unidirectional conveyor belts and lasers of your opponents, while still moving closer to the next flag.
Robo Rally is a game that requires concentration and a fair bit of forward planning. Neither of which is easy when you’re tired, as I discovered on the night in question.
Why was I so tired? The answer is legion, but let’s put it down to the usual balancing act between work commitments, having a young family (where sleep is an optional extra rather than a necessity), and my grimly determined attempts to socialise. Plus those damn magpies that warble outside my window every morning at 4:45am. I’ve heard about early birds and worms, but honestly any worm that’s awake at that unearthly hour of the morning deserves to be eaten.
The effects of my tiredness were spectacular – well to me, at any rate. In the first part of the game I was more or less in control of my robot. I was able to visualise where I wanted my robot to go, and even pick the right movement cards to take it there. I could see the way forward! It was like a minor religious experience. I even managed to make it to the first flag (though I did get shot by lasers a few times – ouch!).
But then we went out for dinner, and everything started to unravel. After we returned from the Japanese restaurant that big, lovely, gooey mass of slow release carbs sitting in my stomach from the yaki udon I’d ordered began singing a sweet, sweet blood sugar lullaby that I just couldn’t resist. Then the early morning starts and the broken nights began to lend their hoarse and throaty voices to the chorus. I started making small errors in my programming, with dire results for my robot. No longer did the cards speak to me! Suddenly I felt like Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die after she sleeps with James Bond and loses her psychic power to predict the future through her Tarot cards. [Er, except for the bit about sleeping with Roger Moore. Now, if it had been Sean Connery that would be a whole different story – Ed.]
First I turned left when I should’ve gone right, which sent my robot hurtling down a conveyor belt towards a bottomless pit. Yikes! Then I hit a wall, literally. Instead of surging ahead three spaces to finally escape that damn conveyor belt, I banged my head three times against a wall that I just didn’t see. Double yikes! And then it was pretty much over for me and my robot. Somehow I managed to get off the conveyor belt, but by then everyone else was waving flags like they were gymnasts in an Olympics closing ceremony.
Obviously, there’s no moral to this story. It’s just what happened. Should I have played Robo Rally when I was feeling so tired? Yes, of course! And so should you. Playing a boardgame is not nearly as risky as, say, controlling a real robot, or driving a car at night. I mused on this later that evening as I hurtled through the darkness on my way home to my sleeping family. As I came up to the alarmingly narrow Chandler Highway Bridge that spans the Yarra River I had a sudden realisation that if I didn’t play my movement cards correctly at that moment, I might end up having a midnight dip in the river. So I eased back on the accelerator, wound down the windows, opened the sunroof and cranked up that old Chemical Brothers mix CD. Perhaps this is the true moral of my story: if you do have to drive home after a games night when you’re exhausted, it helps if you have the windows down and the stereo cranked to 11. Or even 12, if your chassis can take it.