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Winning at all Cost

O Updated
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

I think a lot of people in the board game hobby play together for fun and for the social aspect. Sure, many of us want to win the game. We don't play to lose. However, I think only very few people are hugely competitive. Playing board games is more of a hobby. In this article, I look at different ways of improving your game and what it might take to become better at winning.

Let me start by saying that I usually don't win when playing board games, at least not when I play competitively with my games group. I approach games as a leisure activity that I do for fun. It's about spending time with friends, family or other people. If I win the game, then that's great, but more often than not, it's about the experience of sharing time with others. It's also about playing the best game I can, rather than beating the other players. If I come away from a game feeling that I played to the best of my abilities and had an enjoyable time with everyone, then I'm satisfied and happy.

I know there are people who are really competitive and just have to win. Even though I'm generally not that type of person, there have been times when I really wanted to win a game. I felt that I deserved to win it and was really frustrated when I lost. One of the games that this applies to is Scythe from Stonemaier Games. I felt that I played perfectly well and just couldn't see why I lost. I sort of felt cheated. That's why I have a love-hate relationship with this game.

Learning From Each Other

Usually, I try to learn from how others play a game. I really love when our games group discusses how a game went afterwards. Hearing how others approached it and what strategy they employed is hugely valuable. I also like to explain what I tried to do to win and find out what others think about why I didn't do so well. Learning from each other is a great way of improving your own game. It works really well when you play the same game quite regularly. Every time you play it, you can try something different and see if that helps you play better.

Two people looking at each other (Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash

Sometimes that doesn't work for me though. I am often led by a game's theme as to how I play. My strategy is based on what I think the game wants me to do. For example, Terra Mystica's end-of-round scoring bonuses seem to want you to do something specific that round. The problem is, more often than not, they can steer you down a dead end. Sometimes it is better to ignore them and just play whatever is right for your faction at the time. Winning isn't decided by getting the most points from the bonus scores.

Actually, learning to ignore the end-of-round bonus scoring tiles is something I learned from playing the game with my games group. We worked it out together and decided that sometimes those tiles are great, but then they can also be really bad. We all felt that it's almost the other way round and you choose your faction based on the bonus tiles. If you have the right faction that synergizes with the bonuses, then you're going to do pretty well.

Winning Strategies

For some games, there are strategy guides available online that can help you improve your game. For Scythe, I ended up reading them. I wouldn't normally do that. I much prefer learning a game by trying different things each time we play. However, in Scythe I just couldn't see the wood for the trees, but when I read the strategy guides, it all made a lot more sense.

I appreciate I got an advantage by reading the guides, when my games group hadn't read them. However, it still didn't guarantee me the win. After all, strategy guides work only up to a point. They don't tell you what to do in every situation. They are more of an outline of how to best play the game.

These guides just allowed me to understand better how the game worked under the bonnet. I wouldn't have been able to work it out without the guides. I would have simply given up and never played this game again. As it is, Scythe became a game that we played a lot in my games group and really enjoyed. So I don't object to people reading strategy guides, as long as they don't try to memorize everything and only use it as a way to help them better understand how a game works.

Some games even include some basic strategy guides in the rulebook or other game materials. For example, Crescent Moon's player leaflets have a description of the faction you're playing and give you an idea of how best to play them. The game takes this a step further by giving every faction a "year 1 objective", that encourages players to do certain things in the first round of the game that align with how their faction works.

Two people looking unhappy (Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash

Winning Competitions

So far I've only talked about playing games with friends, family or other people. It's about board games being a leisure activity. It all changes, when you play in competitions. I think it's fair to say, that suddenly the gloves come off and you will want to do what you can to play your best game. I guess it goes without saying that I'm not talking about cheating.

However, reading strategy guides is all fair and good. Even memorizing them and going as far as having certain opening moves tested is fine. It's a bit like chess tournaments, where players know pretty much all openings and the first dozen or so turns will be played without even thinking. These openings have been analyzed over decades and moves and counter-moves have been given scores as to how likely they are to lead to victory.

I think that's probably why I am not interested in entering board game competitions. Sure, I love a good game of chess and probably remember a dozen or so of the standard openings, but I much prefer playing a game with friends or family for fun. Chances are, I'm not going to be the winning player, but I will still have had a good time. I get an opportunity to learn from my friends and at the same time have a chance to catch up with them and immerse myself in a different world.

How About You?

As usual, I would love to hear from you. How do you go about improving your game? Or do you not care at all? What do you get out of playing board games? Is it about winning for you? If you're competitive, do you prefer learning as a group and exchanging your experiences? Or do you love reading strategy guides and getting better at a game that way? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #336795 14 Nov 2022 14:27
I try to play as well as I possibly can, but I don't get all, 'a card laid is a card played' on takebacks, etc. I figure you owe your opponent your best game.

I also try (and think I'm successful) to not give advice at the table. It annoys the shit out of me when people do it to me; let me screw up the game on my own, kthx.

I haven't been involved in a lot of after-game debriefings. Usually the way the game was played out was obvious after it happened.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #336799 14 Nov 2022 17:03
I also play for the shared fun social time and the experience the game provides (the latter probably why I shy away from most euros as they don't provide me with an experience ... well not one I usually want to remember) and do try and win but, honestly, most of the time don't give a shit if I don't.
I own many games and usually host so I always feel obliged to ensure everyone knows the game well enough since I've probably read the rules at least twice and read a lot of comments on it so in cases when a game is new to everyone I will drop advice in - not play their turns for them but give general hints of gameplay tactics/strategy that I say 'I have read'. Some people don't like it so I'm carefully who I do it with, interestingly the few people like that seem to be the most competitive (and hate co-ops :lol: ).
Also enjoy a post-mortem or 'after match' discussion afterwards, unless it's been a bore of a game that I have no interest in knowing who did what for why.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #336803 14 Nov 2022 18:02
I’ve kinda done a 180 on this in recent years. I wrote dozens of articles around 2010 on tournament Heroscape of all things, becoming the best known theorist in the community. But I still wasn’t the best player… maybe top 25-50 in the country at my peak. I still wanted to be well liked, so I’d be as gracious and sportsmanlike as I could, and never resorted to cheating or anything like that to truly win at all costs.

I’ve kind of let go of this desire to win, especially if others value winning more or if I win in away that isn’t fun. This topic of letting go of the desire to win is something I’ve been thinking about writing an entire article about for awhile.

EDIT: Cooked this up tonight.

It's somehow more personal and missing some of the key points I wanted to make, but I have a bad cold and maybe I'll expound in the comments if it also gets a discussion going.

Basically as I've aged or matured or whatever I've become less concerned with winning and therefore maybe a less fierce competitor but also hopefully more enjoyable to be around? It's also coincided with some real-life L's. I feel pretty beaten down, and assigning my self worth to performance in games doesn't seem like it would help, so I try to just have fun with the systems in games and screw around a bit more.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #336810 14 Nov 2022 22:39
I'm always the teacher and I've won every game I own at least once, so I don't really give a shit about winning anymore. I still try my best but often fumble the ball because I'm trying to ensure that everyone is playing correctly and is having a good time; both of which are far more important than whether I win. For me it's more about the experience of playing the game with people I enjoy being around.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #336812 14 Nov 2022 22:47
Yeah. I was so excited when I taught two new people how to play Race for the Galaxy pretty quickly, and one of them won! And then we played a second game.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #336824 15 Nov 2022 17:49
I try to win because it's how games work and become interesting. I don't care much about winning, it's just that trying to win is how the game happens, like reading the words in a book or figuring out the symbolism of a movie.
Nodens's Avatar
Nodens replied the topic: #336830 16 Nov 2022 01:41

Erik Twice wrote: I try to win because it's how games work and become interesting. I don't care much about winning, it's just that trying to win is how the game happens, like reading the words in a book or figuring out the symbolism of a movie.

We are nearing that Knizia quote. :)
While I aspire to this mindset, if I win a fair game against strong opposition, I find I do like winning a lot.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #336834 16 Nov 2022 06:12
I play the best game that I can, but I know going in that that's only going to be so good. I'm not a winner. I'm not motivated by winning. Even a game I love I'll never feel a desire to get good and will only do so through repeated plays. I just don't care enough to really concentrate on learning how to win consistently.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #336839 16 Nov 2022 07:05

Legomancer wrote: I just don't care enough to really concentrate on learning how to win consistently.

As much as I like Summoner Wars 2e, there’s one faction where people report spending 10-20 minutes (async) puzzling out the best set of moves for their turn.That’s not me, so I avoid playing that faction now.
mtagge's Avatar
mtagge replied the topic: #336842 16 Nov 2022 09:29
I like playing four player games and a variety of games. If someone is winning 50% of the time at four+ player games something funky is going on. I'm better at some types of games, others are better than me at other types of games.

You want to win a lot, play a co-op game on easy difficulty.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #336856 16 Nov 2022 12:25
I do sometimes read guides on how to optimize a game,especially ones that have a lot of choice for exploiting factions or assembled capabilities that aren't necessarily spelled out in the rule book. But ain't no one got time for that for all their games.

I tend to play to win unless I'm playing with absolute noovs. But a certain amount of gentleman's agreement for taking back a particularly bone headed move that leaves you open to a crushing defeat or something allows the game to be more fun so long as it isn't abused or used to make up for just not paying attention to the game.

I find the analysis paralysis players least tolerable when it's paired with a "win at all cost" player that is playing out 100 strategies for every move and just CAN NOT start their thinking until everyone else has finished. If you can't accept some risk taking off the cuff play to keep the game moving, even in a math heavy game like Power Grid, then at least make your turn as fast as possible and pre strategize your 12 options before your turn instead of playing with your phone.

And of course the gloating winner is as bad as the sore loser, so for friendly play both are best left out of stressful games.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #336910 20 Nov 2022 06:16
I am motivated by having a good time with the people I am playing with and that's it. For probably the majority of games, that involves rolling with whatever goal the game throws at you, and that's what I'm generally trying to do, but, I could not care less about whether that means I win or not, and table dependent, I'll just relax and try and few things, and, say, if there's an opportunity to go for shooting the moon, then I'll take it.

Of course if the table is all serious and someone's going to get offended unless i've tried my hardest to give them good competition by making the correct moves because it will sour their win otherwise, or some such nonsense, I will play to suit, and then ideally not play with that person again and wonder how it is that people put such stock in things that really don't matter.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #336911 20 Nov 2022 10:15
Like Erik, I play to win because that's how games are supposed to work. But I would rather play a great game and lose than play a boring game and win. Jyhad is one of my all-time favorite multi-player games, and I played on a weekly basis for a year before I won my first game. I often enjoy playing co-op games with friends, so we can all enjoy playing together without worrying about a winner. I've got a few friends who are extremely smart and win a disproportionate number of games, and I even enjoy playing with them because their style of play can often yield insights about a game. However, I don't like playing a game with anybody who is so concerned with winning that they will cheat, trash friendships, whine, or play extremely slowly, because they are basically putting their desire to win ahead of the entertainment value for everybody at the table. If I see that, I am done playing games with that person.