With industry forecasters predicting a growth rate of almost 60% in the board game industry by the year 2023, adults are increasingly finding themselves invited to days dedicated to playing games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and Betrayal at House on the Hill. The realms of board games act as liminal zones where individuals can act out their competitiveness, their lust for adventure and to satisfy a sense of curiosity often ignored in our daily functioning.

In short, board games provide a fun opportunity for people to let go and focus on activities that aren’t necessarily incentivised or life changing. As a space solely dedicated to play, board games are the outlet that playgrounds provided when we were children. Often, the dynamics provide an opportunity to roleplay power positions, relinquish control, navigate relationships or strategise avenues of victory. The completion of these games can lead to a sense of cathartic release or a feeling of certainty sometimes missing in our work or personal lives.

Within the microcosms of the board game worlds, I have noticed there is an interesting tendency for certain parts of people’s personalities to be magnified. The relaxed atmosphere combined with the objective-based functions creates a unique setting for people to simply be amplified versions of themselves. This can result in beautiful moments, where you might see a normally shy friend come out of their shell, adopting a raucous drunken pirate captain personality for a roleplaying game. On the other hand, you might see a normally stoic individual burst into frustrated tears after a particularly embarrassing loss. That is not to say that there is a shift in people’s personalities when playing a game, but a wonderful uncovering of what is behind the façade of the everyday.

That being said, if it is accepted that board games awaken the primal side of people, for better or for worse, I’d wager that a good measure of sensitivity leads to more pleasant experiences for everyone involved, regardless of differences in personality-type. As such, I propose a series of five guidelines for more successful board game playing, especially if your sessions often devolve into tears, snot and anguish.

  1. Be on time
    Before we even get to the gameplay aspects, I think nothing kills a good board games session than late guests or blasé hosts. Many game sessions, even with more family-oriented brands such as Monopoly and Risk range from 1 to 3 hours. If you are invited to play games somewhere, I highly recommend arriving on-time or risk either overstaying your welcome or foregoing playing games altogether. People underestimate the energy expended spent setting up board games and especially learning how to play them – being late to any event usually means people have less vigour for activities that require set-up and thinking. Being on time, board games or not, shows respect for your host’s (or your guests’) time.
  2. Be clear on the rules
    For me, (and I know not everyone agrees with this) the most tedious part of playing a board game is learning the rules. If you ever play a game with me, you might see my eyes start to glaze as soon as someone starts to mention the rules. I have very little patience for auditory learning, so someone reading rules often leads to lots of misunderstanding on my part. However, taking the time to sit together as a group and making sure that everyone is clear on the rules does lead to less confusion and frustration down the line. Newbies excluded, having to repeat instructions countless times to someone who refuses to concentrate on learning the basic mechanics of the game can lead to stilted play and general annoyance in your group. Often, I find that refusal to learn the rules usually comes from an overall disinterest in the game from certain players. The solution to this, as harsh as it may seem, is usually to exclude those players from future sessions and perhaps include them in activities where they have a more vested interest.
  3. Let other people do what they want to do
    This might seem counter-intuitive to the last guideline as it focusses on following the structure of the game. But one of the best parts of playing any type of game is that there are usually different ways to get to the end goal. People can beat master-level chess robots because they have the ability to deviate from the beaten path, innovating new playing styles and devising new strategies (this is my guess, as I’ve never been able to get past the easy bot). Having said that, I’ve often seen and even been on the receiving end of abuse from people who think that there’s only one way of doing things and that is THEIR way. Part of being a good board game player, or at least, someone who other people want to play with is allowing others to make mistakes or to follow their own path even if you wouldn’t necessarily play their way. Having one person control the actions of all the other players is boring and one-sided: allow other people to play and watch them have a good time!
  4. The whole thing isn’t about you
    Connected to the previous point, board games give us an opportunity to take a break from focussing on ourselves and letting other people thrive. Many games are about resource collecting, points accumulation or becoming a new character. If we make everything about ourselves, the result is inevitably that other people are not going to be having as much fun as you are. We make things about ourselves when we take a loss personally but fail to see the look of pure joy on our partner’s face when their winning strategy worked out perfectly. We make things about ourselves in a cooperative game when we constantly take all the best spots for resources on a map, and there’s only sub-standard spots for the rest of the group. We make things about ourselves in general knowledge games when we berate young children for not knowing who Bill Clinton is, forgetting about generational gaps. If we can take a minute to let go of our own egos and competitive spirit and recognise the skill or even the lack of skills in others, board games can even provide opportunity for personal growth.
  5. Help clean up!
    Is this last guideline kind of anti-climactic? Perhaps! At the driving force of this proposal is a notion that board games can mimic life. If someone has taken the time to share a game with you, the least you can do is help them put stow away their scattered meeples, tokens and coins. Having to ‘clean up the mess’ of fun is part of the ebb and flow of life. On top of that, playing something and not participating in the clean-up, I think, is just straight forward poor manners (unless the game owner is very particular about the way their possessions are arranged). Rather offer your help than to leave a dishevelled board game behind, I say, and potentially gain someone’s gratitude and respect.

I hope these guidelines have left you with some points to ponder, or at least, have left you inspired to start your own board game group and contribute to the success of a burgeoning industry. With a little more care in the way we act, we can create more positive group experiences and spend less time clashing and more time gaming with the ones we love.