Some games are dangerous because of the mechanisms they employ: deception, debate, co-dependency without communication, runaway leaders, alliances and backstabbing. But sadly, these are not the only things that cause board-gaming arguments. As you play games, try to find the triggers that upset, anger or worry your family. Each person is different, but here are a few things to look out for.
1. Playing the victim
Players that whine about being attacked or badly treated often cause other players to treat them differently, thereby swinging the game in their favour. Everyone gets so fed up with the moaning, that people stop attacking them so they don’t have to listen to it. The moany player can end up winning, which only perpetuates the problem, because now moaning is a winning strategy. If this happens in your family, tighten your Metagame to reframe destructive behaviours.
2. Oh, by the way…
Teaching the rules gradually to new players really helps to get games started quickly, but revealing rules just when a player is about to break them can cause trouble. Equally, performing a tactically brilliant move before you explain that this is legal, will attract huffy mutters. Castling in Chess is a good example of this.
3. The spirit of the game
Players interfering with the ‘spirit’ of the game will undoubtedly spark a row. These are strategies that are perfectly legal within the rules but give the player an unfair advantage that is difficult to stomach. You will certainly win Ticket to Ride if your strategy is just to claim routes that others want whilst taking minimum tickets, but it won’t make you any friends.
4. Prior knowledge
Games that give some players an advantage because of their level of knowledge are not really suitable for family playing unless they are adapted. Playing Trivial Pursuit with the same set of cards for adults and children is just mean. Unless you employ some really good House Rules to level the playing field, or you’ve raised child geniuses, younger players don’t stand a chance and you may have a full scale mutiny on your hands.
5. Reliance on luck
When a game is completely reliant on luck for success and the roll of the dice just isn’t with you, the situation could become messy. When players feel as if they have no control over their fate whatsoever, they’ll quickly lose interest and often become disruptive. When playing Sorry, players must draw a 1 or 2 before they can even start. Cue screams of frustration and accelerating disengagement. The game is over before it has even begun.
Nobody likes sitting around waiting for other players to make decisions. If some of your family are prone to Analysis Paralysis, which increases the amount of downtime for others, this should be carefully managed. Games that enable you to see many turns into the future, like the tile-laying game Cottage Garden, may have players wanting to decide on their next four or five moves before they make a decision on this turn. AAAGH!
7. Inadvertently over-revealing
Sharing information about your cards, your game-plan or your short-term tactics can be fatal in some games. Even staring at a certain part of the board may give your opponents information that they can use against you. An innocent, “Remind me where Windermere is again,” in The Great Game of Britain, may see another player placing a train signal on this branch of the network, preventing anyone from entering the Lake District. Not fair. Much crying.
8. Looking at the rule book
Super complicated games that require the rule book to be consulted on every round will surely end in fireworks. A game whose box proclaims it takes 60 minutes, will be accelerating downhill when you enter the fourth hour. Check the size and quality of the rule book before you buy the game (you can get pdfs of most online). If it has 240 pages, uses 7 different fonts or loses you in the first paragraph, avoid it!
Which of these points do you relate to?
Now you’ve identified the issues… what’s your plan to fix them?