Losing at Board Games: The White Whale

by Jon Beall


The Urban Dictionary defines “white whale” as:

1) Something you obsess over to the point that it nearly or completely destroys you. An obsession that becomes your ultimate goal in life; one that your life now completely encircles and defines you.

2) Term used to describe an opponent/nemesis who is extremely difficult to defeat. The term can also apply to miscellaneous games or events which are difficult to master.

You may be reading this because you are expecting “Animals in Gaming, Pt. 2” this week.  If that is the case, you may need to wait a bit.  The roller coaster events of this weekend necessitate a change in plans.

Stage of Gaming: Optimism
Stage of Gaming: Optimism

Let’s put it this way: I was going to rename this column “Why I’m the best at board games always forever”.  

I’ll rewind the tape a bit.  This column is called “Losing at Board Games”.  This is not a clever title.  It is the kind of title that is grounded in indisputable fact.  Other than rare moments of clarity, if I’m playing a board game I am likely be badly beaten.  This is doubly true if I’m playing the Political Mastermind.

Loyal readers, do you remember why I call my wife the “Political Mastermind”?  It is because she has beaten me every game of Campaign Manager 2008.  This is a game which involves card drafting, tactical play, and the counting of electoral votes as swing states are swung.


Friday evening was the meeting of a game group at the house of Beall.  I introduced Dungeon Roll and was immediately trounced as W set a new house record.  This isn’t that big a deal, I thought.  This game is primarily about dice rolling.  Nothing to take personally.

Stage of Gaming: Attack
Stage of Gaming: Attack

Mars Needs Mechanics hit the table next.  It was new to the group, but the game is easily teachable. W and K started stockpiling money.  I wasn’t concerned.  I thought that surely I would catch up.  I never did, and received a solid whomping at the gaming table.  1st and 2nd place were close.  I was 3rd.

If gaming was golf, I would refer to that as being “par for the course”.  You win some, you lose some.

Stage of Gaming: Underwater
Stage of Gaming: Underwater


Saturday morning I made a pot of Ethiopian coffee. As the sweet swell of fresh coffee filled the house, the Political Mastermind suggested playing a game of Mars Needs Mechanics.
Of course, the answer is yes.

Stage of Gaming: Coffee
Stage of Gaming: Coffee

We started setting the game up and the great cup of coffee I was drinking told me that the day was going to go well.

I lost.

Later that day, the Political Mastermind suggested we play Campaign Manager 2008.  The game was down to a handful of small states.  The cards were going my way.  Luck was on my side.  And then…

VICTORY!  Sweet victory! Wooooooohoooo0000!!!

Stage of Gaming: Victory
Stage of Gaming: Victory

A cry escaped my lips. I extended my arms into the air, scarcely believing my gaming white whale was finally lifeless in the water.

The Political Mastermind sat stunned.  “I can’t believe you actually beat me” she said.


My exultation at having won was short-lived, as Sunday afternoon she beat me again at Mars Needs Mechanics.

And then I realized… I had played Mars Needs Mechanics four times against her.  And lost each time.  I played Mars Needs Mechanics with my gaming group.  And lost.

There is a new goal.  Win.  This.  Game.

Stage of Gaming: Determination
Stage of Gaming: Determination

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