Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Conceding victory

Sometime in the 1970s, my sister vowed never to play Monopoly with me again.

That’s because, as the hour stretched to 1:30 a.m. and she had every single color-group set and houses or hotels on all of them and I had just one utility left but somehow inexplicably kept missing her and stockpiling cash as I went around go, I refused to concede. She was dead tired – could barely keep her eyes open – but I refused to concede. Told her that if she went to bed while I was still on the board, she would have forfeited – she, in effect, would have conceded.

That’s the way competitions work.

She went to bed.

And so, I won.

Our family took (takes) games-playing seriously. My father, certainly history’s foremost champ at Pinochle, over a series of encounters so thoroughly intimidated his playing partner Ed, who was one of his closest friends, that Ed’s wife was afraid Ed would have a heart attack, and so they switched partners. My mother is also formidable at this game (still, at age 94.5), and at 500 Rummy, but while my father’s approach was combustible, hers is steely and Teutonic. As I grew up, we played a lot of Risk, and Monopoly, and cards, and shot pool in the basement, as a family and with extended groups of friends, and I always played to win.

Throughout my childhood, and into my young adulthood, my mother would say, “Lee doesn’t like to lose.” Well, that was true – but what of it? I couldn’t figure out what the meaning was behind this. Because, after all, who would like to lose? Finally, after literally decades of hearing this, I said, “You know who likes to lose? Losers.” No one I know likes to lose. And no one I would want to know. We all win or lose at things throughout our lives – but people who chase loss? I’d rather keep my distance.

Last night, my son and I started a fresh game of Civilization 6. It’s now been… months? a year? … since I’ve been able to beat him. In one game I was close (playing the Dutch, and trying to win a cultural victory) but then we didn’t finish that one for reasons I can’t remember. In the last game we finished, I was well ahead – but he not only succeeded at the last minute in converting all the other civilizations to his religion, he also converted the seat of my church, meaning I had no way to re-convert people to the one true way (Leeism, a religion I founded in the game), and so I lost again.

I have to admit that I’m conflicted in my feelings about his many, many (many) victories. While as his father I appreciate his shrewdness, and part of me thrills at the success of my offspring, I’m not enjoying losing. (See above.) I also have insidious thoughts rolling around in my head like this one: “Well, sure – he’s got lots of time to play all the time; I’m busy working/writing/paying bills/etc. etc. etc.” I hope you’ll consider it a mark of strength that I’m freely admitting that right here for all to see.

Last night, losing yet again, this time while playing Chandragupta and getting bogged down in a war against Pedro II of Brazil that I had started with visions of easy conquest, I floated the idea of conceding. A two-player (plus AI) game of Civilization 6 can take 10 hours, and we were in hour 4, and I was watching my shot at victory slip down the drain. Scoring at that point put me at 219 points; Dietrich was at 539. He already had twice as many cities as I did and we weren’t even out of the Ancient Era, and he hadn’t started wars of conquest yet, which I knew he’d do soon. But if I conceded, we could start again tonight, with different leaders and a different map, and I’d have yet another chance at my Sisyphean goal of beating him.

Or, I said, I could stay in… and maybe learn something.

“What?” he said. “You wouldn’t try to… WIN? I’m so disappointed in you!”

My three children know that I’ve never thrown a game, not even when they were toddlers. If they wanted to win, they had to learn to win. That kiddie stacking-ring game? I beat every one of them at that. Checkers, Chutes and Ladders, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Connect 4, I won them all. After years of this, they got better. I’ll never forget how ecstatic my eldest was when he beat me at chess in a shopping mall that had one of those sets with pieces the size of school children that you had to embrace to lug across the board. Being in the center of the mall, with bystanders surrounding, it was a very visible win for him, and he was beside himself with glee – because he knew he’d actually won.

What I tried to explain to my other son last night is that while I’ve already lost this game (I’m sure), I could learn something in losing – something that might make me a better player next time, just as each of my kids learned in losing, and as I hope I’ve learned in the many (relatively small) losses and setbacks I’ve had in my life. One thing I’ve already learned in this case, for example, is that, yes, you might assemble six powerful war elephants early in the game and use them to attack, say, Pedro II, who is technologically backward, but if Pedro II has fortified his city with ancient walls, he’ll likely stand you off for so long that the cost in bloodshed and coins will be high, and meanwhile another competitor (like: my son) will pull ahead. I’ve also learned that building the Terracotta Army, which gives each of your land units a promotion, costs more in resources than it benefits in results — like so many things in life.

I also said to him: “My values have changed since I was 14.” Yes, I still like to win. And fully intend to do so. But my foremost goal, at age 57, is to enjoy every moment with my family and with my friends. Continuing a game where I’ve already lost doesn’t seem enjoyable.

Beating him in the next one will, though.

3 Responses to “Conceding victory”

  1. Joe Says:

    ❤️, more comments later

  2. Ski Says:


  3. Dan Says:

    I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating.

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