A crucial difference between the board gaming experience and the video gaming experience is that action and RTS games require actual motor skills. Having an excellent ability to analyze strategic situations is great for sure, but unit and character control is much more fundamental. You can know the perfect counter to your opponent’s build in an RTS game, or know exactly where they are in the level from listening to their footstep pattern in an FPS, but if you can’t control your units properly or track your crosshair on your opponent then that information is almost useless. Worse still, it’s incredibly frustrating to know exactly what you need to do and yet not be able to pull it off, because your control over the game just isn’t good enough. Also, your motor skills can atrophy a lot faster than your analytic skills, assuming that there’s no game-changing patching involved, which means that whilst you can play a board game once a month or less and still be fine at it, unless you play video games pretty consistently you’re not going to stay very competitive.
Part of the frustration of learning a new video game is overcoming the gap between your theoretical ability and your actual play ability. Recently I’ve been playing Company of Heroes casually once a week with friends of mine in Estonia and Australia and even though the game is similar in its mechanics to Dawn of War 2 I still feel like a total klutz whilst playing it. I see the machine gunner emplacement in the building and I know that I need to attack with my rifle squad from long range in green cover, whilst I move up my flame engineers and burn it out of there, but the keystrokes and mouse clicks involved in actually making that happen are not yet in my muscle memory. I have to think about everything, from what units are bound to which control groups currently to what the hotkey for any given special ability is, which slows me down hugely. My APM must be like 30 or lower, which is totally embarrassing. I float huge amounts of resources because I’m distracted, even though I know I should be spending constantly. I lag behind in tech because I’m not spending my fuel as soon as I get it because I’m too busy screwing around trying ineffectively to control my units, even though I know there are crucial timings in CoH that can make or break a game through gaining a decisive tech advantage such as early armor or BARs on your rifle squads.
Back in my power gaming days I would just mass game to build up the motor skills required for competing in a new game so that the actual controlling of the game didn’t take nearly as much cognitive load and I could just focus on doing what I had in mind, rather than battling the controls. Now I have less time, however, it’s tough. I suspect the painful truth that there’s not really any way to fast track one’s way into getting better at games like CoH, SC2, or TF2 that doesn’t involve just playing a tonne of games.
I’m having fun regardless, because playing with friends is inherently fun, but like the dream of MMO uberness I suspect that the dream of mastery of RTS games will be largely unachievable with my current casual approach to video gaming. It’s a frustrating thing to have to accept, but there it is.