by Mindy Basi
There are certain comments heard at the game table that can give you a heads-up as to what’s going on during game play. Although a phrase or comment might seem simple enough, it just might mean a little bit more in the context of how the game night is going. Have you heard any of these comments?
“Whose turn is it?”
Typically, this is a polite way of saying somebody at the table is taking way too long on their turn. In fact, it could be that one player has taken so long people have actually forgotten whose turn it is. Conversely, it could be that a player isn’t indicating when they have finished, or the next in turn order isn’t paying attention.
For the majority of games, it’s either indecision or wool gathering, but in a small number of cases the turn order changes or gets interrupted, causing confusion about who goes next.
When this question comes up a lot, it might be time to implement solutions, such as encouraging those who take too long on a turn to think about their moves ahead of time, perhaps offering help if it’s appropriate, or having players do actions that affect only themselves while the next player starts her turn. If it’s inattention by one person, then they aren’t engaged and maybe they need to play another type of game that keeps them interested. Sometimes you just have to accept that some people take too long on their turns. If the offender is around the same skill level as everyone else but just likes to deliberate every move, there’s not much you can do about it unless you are really good at giving pointed stares. If other players say it to you, apologize and hurry up!
“May I see the rulebook?”
Obviously, saying this is purely situational, but in most instances there is probably something going on that is causing a conflict.
If you hear this phrase while you are explaining a game, it could be your fellow gamer is not an auditory learner and needs to read to follow along. That’s ok, everyone learns differently. However, you might consider that your teaching style could use some improvement if the other players aren’t following and asking to see the rulebook themselves. For new players, unless you absolutely must see the rulebook, paying attention to the explanation is the courteous thing to do. When you teach, make sure you know the game beforehand so you aren’t looking up the rules (although let’s face it, it happens).
It might be that your favorite game has so many confusing icons and procedures you can’t get through a round without looking something up. Player aids can help, so if you love a game and it doesn’t have any, find some on BGG.com or make your own. Consider that some games (*cough* Race for the Galaxy) have so many icons and have such a learning curve that it might be better to find something else to play if you have new people, reserving the icon-heavy games for a regular group that knows them.
It could be that a rule needs clarification. A game that needs constant clarification, however, might end up finding its way to the trade pile eventually. There is nothing worse than everyone either arguing about a rule or an interpretation, or waiting around while another player scours the rulebook to figure out if they can legally do some clever move on their turn.
If someone grabs the rulebook in the middle of the game, and it’s not icons or definitions, it might be they are suspicious a rule is being broken somewhere, or someone isn’t playing correctly. That can be a problem. Good game play is built on trust.
“I play with this house rule.”
House rules can be handy to fix one flaw in what is otherwise a great game, but beware. Removing components or altering game play can end up tipping the game balance so in the end nothing works exactly as the designer intended it. The best example of this is Monopoly, where house rules made it easier but turned it into a game everyone loves to hate (it’s just not that good, even if you play it as intended). Use house rules judiciously, and explain them clearly for new players. If a game needs too many house rules it probably needs to be replaced with something better. There’s only so much you can do to fix a fundamentally broken design.
“Have you played many board games?” – or “what kinds of games do you play?”
If someone asks you this before you sit down to the table, they are trying to assess your skill and experience level. If you haven’t played many games, say so. Let people know what you like. Honesty really is the best course for questions like these, because once you are knee deep in hour two of resource management and meeples, you may wonder why you aren’t playing Dixit with the other group.
If they ask it after you have come in last in a game, it’s more of an assessment of your performance, or perhaps they are trying to be nice, in a backhanded way. It’s still a rude thing to say. “What would you like to play now?” is much nicer.
Accommodating a new player’s tastes and skill level is a friendly thing to do. Honesty on everyone’s part is also beneficial. Be forthright about what kind of commitment and skill level a game requires. A group can say, “this game is complex, takes about 30 minutes to explain, and takes 2-3 hours. Are you still interested?”
Players, know what kinds of games you like to play. That way, you don’t get sucked into games you dislike or that make you feel uncomfortable. If you aren’t in the mood for a brain burner like The Gallerist, dislike co-ops, hate coming up with funny phrases, don’t like lying to other players, or guessing things from weird pictures, be forthright about it. Not every game is for everyone.
What if you take a chance and on turn one you realize you would rather gouge your eyes out than play another round? If you want to leave, do it soon enough that it doesn’t change the game state (and realize that many games require an entire new board set up with a different number of players, or can’t even be played if you bail). Be polite about leaving but realize it can be disconcerting for the other players. The better alternative is play it through, do your best, and never play it again. You can’t form an opinion on what you prefer if you don’t try out different types of games.
Explaining what players will be doing in a game before starting is a good way to make sure everyone has a good time at game night. “This game has us all telling creative stories,” or “this is an aggressive game with lots of tactics,” or “this is a co-op where we all work together to win,” or “this game is complex and takes about 2 hours,” helps people decide what they want to do. No one wants to have to leave a game or sit and be miserable. On the other hand, encouraging people to try something new is a good way to be able to have variety of games people will play, and lets everyone get games they like to the table. Experienced gamers, be flexible — you might think you don’t like a certain genre, but some games can implement a mechanic well and in a different way.
On a final note, you may think someone’s game should be burned in a pit, but you don’t have to say it. “it was interesting,” is all you have to say.
“I am going to leave now.”
If this isn’t said at the end of the night, your game group might have a problem. If a stable game group or a welcoming environment is important to you, make sure that a player isn’t leaving because of a conflict with another person, a bad time in a game, a lack of games offered that they want to play, or some other reason you can correct. “Is everything ok?” said privately can sometimes get you an explanation. However, it’s very important to respect people’s personal space and privacy if they don’t want to talk. If something did happen at game night to cause discomfort or an issue, it’s up to the game group to address it. That’s a topic for a whole other article!
Are there other phrases people say at the game table that are more than they seem? Add them in the comments section!