That Sweet Spot of Board Games

I am not a huge board game player, but I’ve come to greatly enjoy a very particular kind of board game.

My friends are avid board gamers. They play board games that have rulebooks the size of novels, require bluffing and/or strategy at the level of a military commander, or require you to physically destroy the game and its pieces over the course of playing it. I have tried those games with them and am always the buzzkill at the table, because I get frustrated at my own inability to keep up with the level of intellect, planning, or deception required to enjoy them. They have stopped inviting me to board game nights when those games are being played, and they are right to do so.

Board games have a social aspect to them that is undeniably attractive to me. When everyone is having fun at the board game table, with jokes and playful teasing going back and forth, it is an unforgettable experience. But for me, it has to be a specific type of board game, and it must fit within these parameters:

It has to have a time limit. Board games that are played within a set number of turns or until a stack of cards runs out is an important factor for me. Not only does it mean that one game will not dominate your social gathering, it gives someone who is perhaps not enjoying the game a finish line to look forward to. Some people rather enjoy lengthy board games that have the potential to go on for hours or even days, but not me. Give me a countdown and a definite ending and I’m happy.

The rules have to be just complicated enough to allow for creative play but not so much that they make my eyes cross, and simple enough to be quickly learned but not so much that they are boring. These are the trickiest parameters to find, because every board game is different in its execution and the implementation of its rules. The only way to discover the game that fits into that sweet spot is trial and error. Mostly I rely on my more intensive board gaming friends to expose me to several games, and sometimes one will stick. It’s happened a few times so far.

My son can learn it. Your mileage will vary depending on whether your kid (if you have one) enjoys board games or has trouble focusing on rules. With my eight-year-old, it’s mostly trial and error. We know the type of games for kids he’ll like, so games aimed at children are easier to qualify, but it’s the ones for adults that become tricky. When he wants to focus, my son can play a few quick-to-learn adult games with me. Whether he wants to focus on them is another matter entirely.

Those are the most important factors that go into my enjoyment of board games. Whether a game is cooperative or competitive doesn’t mean much to me (though my son enjoys cooperative games more). What matters is the fun you have playing it with people who enjoy the experience.

On the other hand, it can be heartbreaking. Playing a game you’re excited to introduce to people and none of them like it is akin to recommending a restaurant or a movie that you love, and no one enjoys the food or the story. I am that guy when playing a game outside of my very specific parameters. Like I said, there’s a reason my closest friends have stopped inviting me to play many of the more complicated board games they enjoy.