Are new games stressful when the optimal strategy isn’t clear? Does not-knowing come with negative feelings about your own aptitude or character?
I have an approach to learning board games that’s helped me have more fun, and I hope it can help you too.
Play Like An Absolute Fool:
Make The Most Baseline, Impulsive, Low-Hanging-Fruit, Obviously-Noob Decisions Possible
Basically… while the goal of most games is to win, that doesn’t have to be your goal for playing - especially if it’s your first time. There are plenty of other goals…
See how far a specific strategy or gimmick can take you.
See how much you can [responsibly] upset or amuse someone.
Play as if you were a character/faction in the game. Only make choices that your character/faction would ‘realistically’ make (ie, roleplay) and see how you’d fare.
See what a ‘default idiot’ strategy looks like, so next time you play, you can learn what differentiates it from a thought-out strategy.
Today we’ll explore three reasons to do that last one.
1: You Learn Faster
It may seem like you wouldn’t learn as much by playing like a fool, but by making incredibly short-sighted and baseline decisions, you make a great control group for yourself. You’re free to experiment, you’re free to take risky moves, and you’re generally able to see what the ‘default’ progress looks like before layering on strategy. That way, once you actually do start using strategy in future games, you can compare to your original fool-game to see exactly how good your strategy fares compared to before.
2: Choice Paralysis is Diminished
Usually choice paralysis comes when you’re having trouble calculating the long-term benefits of each option available to you, and you get nervous about doing the inferior option. I acknowledge it’s easier said than done, but if you can relinquish the need to make optimal decisions and become comfortable with just playing ‘to see what happens’, then there is no longer such thing as the right or wrong choice. Instead, they become ‘tested’ and ‘untested’ decisions, and it’s always up to you which one gets tested.
3: Winning Becomes Less of a Worry
Playing like a fool doesn’t mean disregarding the race for victory, but it does shift the ‘point’ of playing. Instead of your decisions revolving around point-optimization, they’ll revolve around heart-listening-optimization. You’re playing to observe the result of your actions, to see what happens, and that somewhat shifts your goal away from winning this specific game in lieu of better teaching you fundamentals for any games you play in the future.
And, since it’s ‘obvious’ to that you’re probably not going to win this specific game by playing in such a way, with that acceptance comes a freedom to enjoy yourself in every other way.
Learning board games is kind of always rough, but nobody is great the first time they play. It’s okay to be suboptimal. My advice is to lean into that, since you won’t know the best strategy anyway, and to spend your first game exploring your options instead of trying to win.
It’s not necessarily an easy transition to becoming a fool, but if you can swing it, I hope you may find yourself feeling just a little less apprehension when someone decides to bust out a new box on board game night.