The more you play board games, the more you’ll run into different flavorful characters. There are plenty of wonderful people out there to play with, but you’ll also run into those people, the people that turn board game night into a series of unfortunate events. They’re the people that sour game night, scare away new players, and make you dread ever sitting down at a table with them.
Okay, I might be exaggerating. A lot of these people aren’t that bad, but they’re not doing you any favors at your game nights. If you have a problem player in your group, don’t lose hope! There are things you can do to minimize the damage, and in almost every case, simply finding the right game to play to make things right.
Also, most of these are lighthearted exaggerations of common annoying traits–it’s not like every player is limited to one of these profiles. A lot of unpleasant players have a combination of these traits, and before you get too comfy and start judging, the cold hard truth is that we all have some of these traits inside of us. Which players are you like? Which ones have you seen at your table?
1 – The Genius
The Genius, sometimes also known as the Alpha Gamer, is absolutely, irrevocably, unequivocally convinced that they are a better player than everyone else at the table. They are smarter, they are more tactical, their strategies are pristine, and everything that happens in the game must validate their superior intelligence. Ergo, every victory is evidence of their unquestionable genius, and every loss is bad luck that was beyond their control. The Genius is so bent on their incredible raw talent that they cannot accept the idea that somebody might have actually played better than them–you will hear them rattle on about their effective strategies when the game ends, but you will never hear them admit to a loss. The Genius whines and complains about luck, and potentially swears off a game if they don’t win, blaming faulty mechanics as the reason why their impeccable strategy didn’t seize the day. If they didn’t have bad luck, then the winning player surely had good luck…and too much of it. Furthermore, the Genius won’t hesitate to point out that, if they were in the winning player’s position, they would have won five turns earlier. Whatever the situation is, the Genius will seize every opportunity to validate their own intellectual might, making sure that everybody knows that they will never reach their level of brilliance.
How to deal with the Genius:
Geniuses can be incredibly frustrating, because their behavior is a matter of pride. They believe they are superior to the other players, so if it is ever revealed that they actually aren’t, they will go into a state of denial. So, dealing with them can be lose-lose. If you play a game that they’re not good at, you’ll never hear the end of it. If you play a game that they ARE good at, you’ll have to continually endure their boasting. Because they are so prideful, the best way to deal with Geniuses is often to not invite them at all. If they must be a part of your group, sincere communication with them about how insufferable their attitude is might work. Will it be fun having that conversation? Nope, but it might at least give them a dose of reality. No matter what you do, there is no easy way to deal with a genius.
What to play with the Genius:
The Genius is basically the worst possible player to have at your table, because they will infect any game with their prideful snobbery. Party game? Too much luck and randomness. Heavy strategy game? Have fun listening to their justifications when they lose. Games with minimal luck and an even playing field can be good to help curb the Genius’s antics, if not just for the fact that they can’t reasonably blame luck. Kemet, for example, is pristinely balanced and has almost no luck. Not that the genius won’t find something to whine about, but at least the other players can feel better about it when it’s clear that they have no case.
2 – The Mind Reader
While the Genius unquestionably assumes that he is the best at playing the game, the Mind Reader assumes that they are the best at playing the people. The Mind Reader thinks they’re some kind of psychological prodigy, and they believe that their ability to read the inner workings of his opponents’ minds is the true key to winning any game. The Mind Reader annoyingly professes their unrivaled skill in anticipating everybody else’s actions. They will gladly steal a card from his opponent in Catan, reading their opponent’s facial expressions as their fingers trace over their hand. It ultimately doesn’t matter what result the Mind Reader gets from their shenanigans, because they will always believe that they got everything they wanted from their play. If it doesn’t benefit them, they’ll believe it crippled their opponent. It’s a mystery as to why the Mind Reader prefers to play at your table of peasants rather than at the World Poker Championship, but until they decide to pack up and attend, you’ll have to continue listening to their boasts.
How to deal with the Mind Reader:
The most fun way to shut down a Mind Reader is to just not give them the satisfaction. Do they need to steal a card from your hand? Fine, shuffle them all so you don’t even know what they’re stealing. This really depends on the game that you’re playing, but Mind Readers thrive most when they think they’re working their magic, so simply not giving them the opportunity is always pretty effective. They always want you to play their mind games with them, so unless you absolutely have to, just don’t.
What to play with a Mind Reader:
The Mind Reader doesn’t do much to harm your game night other than be generally annoying, so it’s not THAT bad if you have one in your group. If you do find yourself annoyed with their antics, stay away from games with heavy player interaction. The less that you can benefit from reading other players, the better.
3 – The Referee
Don’t even bother reaching for the rulebook when you’re playing with a Referee, because it’s always going to be right at their side. The referee will leave no stone unturned in the rulebook, at least, as long as it rules in their favor. See, despite their obsession with making sure every rule is obeyed to a tee, they somehow only manage to pull out that book when they need to dispute something that would end up benefiting them. Indeed, their qualms are conspicuously silent when the legality of their own actions are dubious. The worst kind of Referees are the ones that opportunistically enforce nebulous tabletop rules that the table never agreed upon. If you hear the words, “Erm, you can’t take that action back, you took your finger off the token,” you might be playing with a referee.
How to deal with the Referee:
Communicating as a table is often the best thing for these players. Referees depend the ignorance of their fellow players to get what they want, so make sure everyone knows the rules well.
Furthermore, establish table etiquette beforehand. For example, what house rules will you or will you not be playing with? How do you roll your dice? At my table, we have a rule where, if a dice is cocked enough to where you can’t stand another die on top of it without it falling, you have to reroll ALL of your dice. This also applies if one of the dice falls on the floor–the whole thing is rerolled, every time, no questions asked. By establishing “laws” at the table, it gives the Referee less wiggle room to bend things in his favor. Also set rules in regard to redos. Does a turn end when the player has declared it? Is an action final if you’ve taken your hand off the piece? Can you redo an action, so long as there’s no new information or effects on other players? Figure these things out! Also, if your Referee is particularly obnoxious, it’s generally good to play games with lighter rulesets.
What to play with the Referee:
Stick with simpler games when you’re playing with a Referee, and play games that have rules that are easy for all players to digest. Settlers of Catan is pretty easy to follow, whereas Cosmic Encounter might have you looking up rules every five minutes. Also, if you do play a heavy game, it’s always good to have a Rules Reference Guide. Many recent Fantasy Flight Games do this, such as Star Wars Rebellion and Forbidden Stars. This means that, even if you have a complicated ruleset, at least they can be looked up pretty quickly.
4 – The Master Strategist
The Master Strategist is the person at the table that needs to find the best possible combination of moves on every single turn they take. They see the game as a huge puzzle, just waiting to be solved. “Good, better, best” are words that constantly echo through their mind, and only “best” will do. The Master Strategist analyzes every conceivable combination of available actions, and runs through them in their brain like a supercomputer. Unfortunately, the Master Strategist is not a supercomputer, meaning that all the other players at the table are continually forced to endure their prolonged strategizing sessions. They will look at the board in silence for minutes at a time. They will move their piece, and then utter a “wait…” before pulling it back up and staring at the board again. Sometimes, the Master Strategist will think out loud, expressing all of their options to the rest of the players, despite never being interested in their advice. Indeed, the Master Strategist is the living human embodiment of analysis paralysis, and their disease will plague your table every time it’s time for them to make a decision. Peculiarly, the Master Strategist typically seems utterly incapable of planning while it’s not their turn.
How to deal with the Master Strategist:
The Master Strategist can be so detrimental to game night that we’ve already written an article about how to deal with them. You can check that out, but in short, timers can be a great way to discipline these players, as well as table-wide penalties for ridiculously long turns. Encourage them to plan during other players’ turns, and if all else fails? Just talk to them. Master Strategists aren’t malicious in their nature, they just think too hard, so it’s not uncommon for them to at least try to amend their ways if they know that it’s causing frustration at the table.
What to play with a Master Strategist:
Stay away from games that will easily induce analysis paralysis. Galaxy Trucker is a game that’s played simultaneously, preventing any one player from ever holding it up. Any game with simultaneous decisions is great for these guys, and team based or cooperative games work well too, because other players can take charge if the Master Strategist is taking too long. You’ll also want games that easily allow you to plan during other players’ turns. So, stay away from games that are constantly changing, because the Master Strategist will have a field day with that.
5 – The Sore Loser/Jolly Winner
These two players are sometimes separated, but the worst players exhibit both of these traits together with aplomb. Because they so often go hand-in-hand, we’ll keep them in the same entry. No matter their differences, these two players have the same thing in common: their happiness is directly correlated with how well they’re performing in the game.
The Sore Loser is everyone’s favorite whiner. Misery loves company, and this was never more true than with this player. The sore loser hates to lose, and when they do, they will complain, whine, moan, and pull out whatever else they have in their crybaby arsenal to make sure all of the other players are as miserable as possible. Upon close examination, you’ll find that Sore Losers actually go through the five stages of grief throughout the game–except for that last one, “acceptance.” Sore Losers also have a peculiar body language, being known to sigh heavily whenever they have to do something, slam their hands on the table when they put down their deck, and lazily/haphazardly chuck their dice onto the table whenever they need to roll. Sore Losers are just the worst.
The Jolly Winner is, as you might have guessed, the opposite of the sore loser. The Jolly Winner is upbeat, jovial, and more or less pleasant to be around…when they’re winning. While it’s entirely more pleasant to be around a Jolly Winner than a Sore Loser, they can still be frustrating to play with, because there’s no guaranteed that they’ll stay jolly for long. Again, these players’ moods are correlated with how well they’re doing in the game, and seeing this player’s attitude completely flip-flop throughout the game can be insufferable. The worst Jolly Winners are the ones that are also Sore Losers, going from whiny crybaby to laughing buffoon just because they scored some points. The disingenuous nature of the Jolly Winner’s personality, regardless of how pleasant they are or aren’t, is their most irritating trait.
Dealing with the Sore Loser/Jolly Winner:
Communication is your best weapon against these guys. Emphasize over and over that having fun is the most important part of game night, and make sure everyone acts cool even when they’re having a bad game. If a Sore Loser/Jolly Winner can see how badly their behavior contrasts with the others, it might help them to recognize their folly. Honestly, though? They might just need to hear it to their faces. If you can’t solve their behavior any other way, just tell them how unpleasant games are when they take things so seriously.
What to play with the Sore Loser/Jolly Winner:
You don’t want to give them a lot of room for their antics, so play games that have narrow victory margins. In other words, you don’t want a game where it’s easy to have a commanding lead or a staggering loss. Games that score at the end can also be good for this. In 7 Wonders, it’s hard to tell how well you’re doing until the very end. While you may have to deal with a tantrum after the game ends, at least you’ll already have finished the game. Also, avoid punishing games. Competitive worker placements like Agricola, or the harsh Dungeon Lords can be very hard on the player if they make the wrong decisions. You’ll want “easy” games, or a Sore Loser is going to get frustrated really fast.
6 – The Snob
Don’t be fooled – the Snob doesn’t come to your game sessions to play your games, they just come to complain about them. For whatever reason, the Snob insists on haughtily remarking about your game’s inferiority to more elegant games, you know, the ones in their collection. The snob is more frequently encountered among seasoned game vets, droning on about game design theory during a game of Cards Against Humanity when the rest of the table just wants them to shut up and play. The snob cringes, physical wincing involved, at the mere mention of Risk. The snob wouldn’t touch a game of Monopoly with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. This wouldn’t even bother the other players, if they weren’t so determined to let everyone else know about it. Whatever their taste may be, the Snob is almost never content with the game at the table unless it’s a part of their own collection.
How to deal with the Snob:
If you must have a Snob in your game circle, compromise is your best tactic against them. It’s unlikely that they want to play your game every night, and your table probably doesn’t want to always play THEIR game. Come up with a systematic approach to choosing your games, such as rotating between players. If your system is set in stone, the Snob has no right to complain.
What to play with the Snob:
Well, the easy answer is “whatever the Snob wants,” but that might be what YOU want, which is why compromising is so important. If you have flexibility, however, you might be able to accommodate them. For example, stick to the Snob’s genre if you’re okay with it. If they’re absolutely anti-party game, then you’re going to have a bad time if you play a party game. But if they’re heavily into eurogames, you can at least choose something within that realm which should help to please them. Every Snob is different, so there’s no definitive way to recommend games here.
7 – The Bored Gamer
“Why are you even here?” That’s the question that everyone at the table is thinking about this player, but no one will say it. Regardless, the reason for the Bored Gamer’s game night attendance IS a veritable mystery, because this player tends to be aggressively uninterested in the game. You can chalk it up to any distraction in the book–they might be texting, they might be Facebooking, they might be reading a book, they might be doodling, or they might be creating exquisite artwork with their unused game components. Whatever they’re doing, it’s clearly more interesting than the game. Bored Gamers can be dangerous to the game as a whole, because their incredible powers of apathy might lead them to make whatever decisions necessary to end a game, which can lead to kingmaking. In some cases, they’re so distracted that they may as well not be playing at all, leaving the other players to control them as a dummy player, or leave them idle and continue the game without them. Both cases are not ideal.
How to deal with the Bored Gamer:
I’ve found that a “cut your losses” approach is typically better than trying to suffer through it. Let’s be real–nobody wins by keeping this player at the table. So, give ’em some options: allow them to quit if they want, or tell them that they have to pay attention if they want to stay in. Command their tokens if necessary, or leave them idle. This may seem like a sucky solution, but in my experience, it’s almost always worth the tradeoff of not having a rainy cloud of negativity at your table. Alternatively, give them something to do, like go on a food run or something. Just because they don’t want to play doesn’t mean they can’t be a meaningful part of game night.
What to play with the Bored Gamer:
Generally, it’s the Bored Gamer that doesn’t want to play, so this question is kind of moot. But, if you’re anticipating having one in your group, there are some things to consider. Pick games that easily allow for players to drop out. Dropping out of Tzolk’in wouldn’t be terribly inconvenient; you could just add new dummy tokens to the board as per the instructions. Dropping out of 7 Wonders would be another story; the game’s setup relies heavily on the amount of players, and having one leave could force everyone to start over. Also, cooperative games are great for Bored Gamers, because if they quit, you can just pick up their role, such as Pandemic.
8 – The Nice Guy
There are lots of people on this list who take games too seriously, but the Nice Guy doesn’t take them seriously enough. The Nice Guy comes to game night because he loves the company. His reason for attending is always the same: to have fun. The Nice Guy doesn’t care what game is being played, who’s coming, or how long it’ll take. He just wants to come and enjoy the ride.“Why is this a bad thing?” Well, most of the time, it’s not, but there are some problems that Nice Guys can cause. Nice Guys might be easily manipulated by the table, and can often make irrational decisions for the sake of “not being mean.” Because the nice guy never wants to be a bully, he caters most to the players that take advantage of this. When a player is more committed to being nice than to playing a competitive game, it can easily throw a game off-balance, especially when more malicious players use them as pawns.
How to deal with the Nice Guy:
The Nice Guy really is a nice guy, so he’s not terribly hard to deal with if he’s causing problems. In most scenarios, it’s likely that he’ll listen to admonishment. If he’s being too nice, not playing competitively, or being used by other players, it’s good to just tell him these things directly. Some people need to know that it’s okay to be assertive in a board game, because that’s what some games are for.
What games to play with the Nice Guy:
The Nice Guy is fairly malleable, so once he gets used to game night, he probably won’t cause many problems. That being said, start him off with lighter games, so he can get used to how board games “work.” He needs to understand that being competitive is just a part of playing games, so he doesn’t have to feel bad about being mean. If the Nice Guy is throwing off your games significantly, stay away from games with heavy player interaction. If you play a game like Dominion, where everyone is just doing their own thing, then the Nice Guy won’t have much of an effect on anything, even if he is being a total bozo.
9 – The Victim
The victim is incapable of handling anything that could possibly be construed as “personal.” Throw strategy out the window–if this player is targeted, they will make a scene out of it. Winning or losing, rain or shine, day or night, this player just can’t deal with personal attacks. Every time a move affects them negatively, they will incredulously ask why the player would do such a thing. If said move is still executed even after their desperate pleading, they will find reasons as to why it makes more sense to attack the other players. The worst victims will throw tantrums and construe your move as a personal attack, perhaps even crying and halting the entire game so that everyone can know how bullied they are. With any game that’s played with the Victim, you’re walking on glass.
How to deal with the Victim:
The best way to deal with the victim is just choosing the right game, which we’ll get to in a moment. Aside from that, you’ll just want to be sensitive with them so you don’t break their little heart. If they can be convinced through explanation that you’re not personally targeting them, it might fix your problem. If that just can’t happen, it’s time to play a different game.
What games to play with the Victim:
The nature of your game is really what it comes down to here. You just have to choose the right game. Stay away from conflict and aggression games. If you’re able to attack, block, or otherwise impede your opponents in a big way, the Victim will have a field day. While this is highly variable, eurocentric games tend to be less aggressive than American games, so “multiplayer solitaire” games with little to no player interaction are great, such as Castles of Burgundy. Worker placement games can be a good choice, as long as there’s not a lot of blocking. Finally, cooperative games might just be the best choice, because if anyone is getting screwed over, it’ll be by the game itself, and there’s no way for that to be “personal.” The Victim is fragile. Share your wins and losses with them, and they’ll probably be a happier camper.
10 – The Alliance
It might be a husband and wife. It might be a set of twins. It might just be two random people at the table, but whoever it is, the Alliance is always working together. This isn’t a problem in team-oriented games, but The Alliance can be a huge nuisance in free-for-alls. When the Alliance joins your game, the two players involved have a mutual understanding that they’re in it together, and they will bring down their opponents one by one. They will help each other out, avoid each other when things get competitive, and will only turn on each other once the rest of the competition has been dealt with. Two players become one super player in games that the Alliance is part of, and if the game isn’t balanced to prevent something like this, it can throw your whole night off.
How to deal with the Alliance:
Call them out. There’s really no way to deal with people like this unless you address them directly. Make it clear that their actions are game-breaking, and that everyone would be better off if the game was played like it was intended to be. If they talking about it doesn’t help, fight fire with fire. Team up with somebody else in the room, and turn it into a pseudo team game. It’s not the most ideal solution, but it can be fun in its own right. If your group is cool enough, it might even turn into something you want to do again!
What to play with the Alliance:
Of course, the easiest way to deal with the Alliance is simply to facilitate them. Team based games are great for these players. Many games have team variants, such as the newly released Star Wars Rebellion, or Battlestar Galactica. Alternatively, there are games that encourage diplomacy and alliances. Eclipse has rules that reward players for working together, while Cosmic Encounter invites players to form temporary alliances every single turn. Party games have team play all over the place, such as the recent hit Codenames, or the venerable Cranium. Finally, cooperative games are an obvious solution, so don’t be afraid to bust out Pandemic or the campaign mode of Imperial Assault.