How to play boardgames faster
Many boardgame players wish they could play faster. While there’s nothing wrong with playing at a relaxed peace, many feel their enjoyment is reduced by taking too much time. Furthermore, there are players who would like to play in a competitive environment but fear not being able to keep up with the strict time requirements.
The good news is that fast play is a skill. It can be taught, practiced and learned. In this guide, I’ll provide basic tips for those who want to improve and become a faster player.
KNOW THE CARDS, INTERACTIONS AND RULES
Most instances of slow play are caused by not knowing the game well. Having to stop to read cards or check the rules takes time and doing so repeatedly will slow it down. Even worse, having to stop to read or pick up the rulebook breaks the game’s flow, causing players to lose focus and disengage.
Reading the rules, even if someone else will explain them or you’ve already played before helps prevent that. It gives you a better understanding of the game and, most importantly, makes it easier to internalize how it works. And, if you want to play fast, you need to internalize. Having a diffuse understanding of the rules won’t be enough.
I know it’s work but it saves time. Stopping once or twice is fine, but if every player at the table has to stop to ask questions, the game will slow down to a crawl. And the fewer people know the rules, the longer it takes to resolve any issues that come up.
As for cards, give the deck a look before playing. You don’t need to know it by heart, but you should have a general idea of what’s in it. This is especially important if you play with a specific deck, like in Magic, or faction, like in Root. A good rule of thumb is that you should always know what “your stuff” does so you can explain it to others.
Similarly, you should know the basic interactions of the game. How is turn order determined, what happens in case of a tie, if you can “respond” to the action of another player and so on. Don’t guess, learn the exact wording.
ORGANIZE GAME COMPONENTS
Handling components takes time. While grabbing a token from across the table may only take a couple seconds, having to do so every single turn slows down the game. Keeping your components organized or in reach of all players can help everyone play faster.
Let’s run some numbers to put things in perspective. Picture a 5-player game in which it takes 5 seconds to grab tokens. If the game goes on for 10 turns and players take 5 tokens per turn, how much time is spent grabbing components?
Twenty minutes. Twenty full minutes spent in five second increments. And it’s not a farfetched example. You’ll encounter similar numbers in many popular games, like Le Havre or Terraforming Mars.
Ideally, game components should be placed on the centre of the table and separated in piles. Use small bowls to put and avoid having more tokens than players could conceivably need. Don’t be afraid to split piles between two different sides of the table and remember it’s acceptable cover some of the game’s artwork if needed.
Most importantly, let players be their own bankers. Having to ask another player to handle components for you is both slow and unnecessary. Furthermore, there’s no need to stop the game while a player picks up what he needs. If the turn is over and there are no more decisions left to take, proceed with the turn. The whole table should not wait for one player.
Some games also benefit from using poker chips or computer assistance. The paper money included in most games is surprisingly slow, as is tracking damage chit by chit. If possible, consider using gamekeeping apps when available, like with Gloomhaven and keep around a small set of poker chips for economic games.
Still, I think some players just take too long to do their turn. And the reason is not the way they handle components or their knowledge of the rules, but the way they approach information.
The most common issue is not being able to cope with too many choices. I often see players going through their possible moves without a clear goal, resulting in poor decisions and very long turns. Being efficient at handling the information present in a game is vital to fast play.
My advice is to try and categorize your possible moves. That is, instead of analysing them one by one, group them based on similarity or need. For example, you can put all economic actions in one group and all military ones on another. This allows you to make a smaller number of important decisions (Do I want economy or military?) instead of a long series of questionable ones (Which of my twelve cards should I play?).For example, when I play Terraforming Mars I categorize my cards like this:
– Cards I cannot play (or that are terrible)
– Cards that are versatile and cheap.
– Cards that have expensive requirements, are narrow or questionable.
So when I start the game, instead of having lots of different choices to make I only have a few. All the false choices, like unplayable cards, are quickly done away with, leaving more space for the decisions that matter.
The greatest advantage of categorizing information this way is that it’s also good from a strategic standpoint. Good players don’t consider every single move. Rather, they follow strategic principles like controlling the centre of the board, prioritizing economy actions at the beginning or trying to leave the opponent exposed.
THINK DURING THE OPPONENT’S TURN
Most people are aware of the importance of thinking during your opponent’s turn. But I find many people struggle with the concept when it’s time to put it into practice.
After all, how can you think about your next turn if you don’t know what your opponent is going to do? The game may change a lot by the time you are able to pick up your cards again.
My advice is to use this as an opportunity to judge the board state. Take the time to reflect on how the game is developing and what your position is.
– What do I have?
– What do I need?
– What am I scared of?
– What tools do I have to win this game?
With some practice, you may start asking yourself more difficult questions:
– What are my opponents trying to do?
– What cards does my opponent hold?
– How long will it take for the game to end?
– If the game goes on like it’s currently going, who will win?
Asking yourself these questions makes your decisions during your turn faster and easier. If you already know what’s threating your position, you’ll have an easier time recognizing what you can do to solve it. Remember, your opponent’s turn is half of the game.
A LEARNING ATTITUDE
As we are seeing, much of playing faster is learning how to do so. And yet, we don’t often approach games with learning in mind. We tend to focus on competition, even when a game has just been introduced to us.
Next time you play a game, consider what’s your goal. If it has just been introduced to you, don’t focus on making great moves. Rather, explore the mechanics a little bit. If the game has combat, try to fight. If the game allows you to buy and sell stock, do that. You might not make the best move, but you’ll learn and play better the next time.
Because, let’s be honest, you are not going to play well the first nor the second time. So why not focus on learning? It’s not possible to do everything at once, you cannot learn to play and play fast and try to win all at the same time. Ask yourself: What do I want to focus on in this game?
Keep in mind that it’s better to play a game twice in a row, if imperfectly, that taking three or four hours to play it once “skilfully”. You’ll learn more, it will be more fun, and chances are you’ll end up playing better or faster in less overall time.
Ultimately, nothing will impact the speed of play more than experience. A person who has only played a game once will always be slower than someone who plays it regularly. Being able to understand the board state, formulate a strategy or react to an opponent are all skills that require experience. And if players lack that experience, they’ll be forced to compensate by taking longer to play.
The length of some games is also heavily impacted by player skill. Generally speaking, better players are more aggressive and more productive than weaker ones, leading to quicker competition of a game’s objectives. For example, Food Chain Magnate ends when the bank runs out of money. And since experienced players are much better at making that money, the game is faster for them than it is for newcomers.