10 Golden Rules for a Successful Board Gaming Session

Follow these board gaming etiquette tips to minimize conflict and ensure that every gaming session is fun for everyone.
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Game nights are one of my favorite things to do, but it only takes one bad apple to ruin an otherwise awesome session—or worse, create enough continued friction to break up the board gaming group altogether.

None of us ever wants to be that guy (or girl), which is why it’s important to pick up on several key bits of game night etiquette so you don’t inadvertently piss someone off. By sticking to these golden rules, you’ll be doing your part in ensuring that every game night goes smoothly and ends up being fun for everyone involved.

1. Pick a Game Everyone Will Enjoy

If half your gaming group hates social deduction games, then skip the genre altogether. Nothing’s worse than playing a board game with someone who doesn’t want to play—it sucks the fun right out and the good times fade.

This guideline means you may never get to play your favorite games that you love, instead always settling for games that everyone likes. That’s a compromise worth making to ensure fun times. If you really want to play those other games, find a separate group that enjoys them.

2. Don’t Like That Game? Sit Out

It’s healthy for a gaming group to experiment with new games every so often, even games that one or two aren’t interested in. If you find yourself in that situation, do the polite thing and sit the game out.

You may feel like you’re missing out, but it’s better than complaining throughout the game, being bored to tears, and bringing down everyone else’s fun. It’s only a one-time thing—you’ll live. (If it keeps happening, though, maybe it’s time to take the hint and find a different gaming group more to your tastes.)

3. Don’t Abandon Games Halfway Through

Maybe you’ve agreed to try a new game but partway through you realize it just isn’t clicking with your tastes. You could give up and walk away until the next game starts, or you could be a mature grown-up and stick it through so everyone else can see how it ends. And while the game finishes, smile and keep your spirits up rather than whining about how much it sucks, even if the game does suck.

4. Watch How-to-Play Videos Beforehand

If you’re the kind of person who actually listens intently when someone is teaching rules to a new board game, this tip may not apply to you.

But if you’re prone to distractions and quickly lose attention, do everyone a favor and watch a “how to play” video on YouTube before game night. Of course, this is only possible if you know there’s going to be a new game at the next session. If no one tells you ahead of time, you’re off the hook.

5. Be Gracious Toward Mistakes

Board games are getting more and more complex. Some rulesets can’t be fully known until you’ve played multiple times—and even then they can still be confusing. If someone makes a mistake, give them the benefit of the doubt, even if they’ve played the game a few times before. What’s the harm in being kind? It’s only a game, after all.

6. Helping Is OK, Quarterbacking Isn’t

Every participant in a board game is their own player. They have the right to make their own game decisions. If they ask for help, sure, give it to them. If you think they’re overlooking something, sure, mention it. You might even recommend certain actions. But once you start telling people what to do and get mad when they do something else, you’ve overstepped lines.

7. Treat Cards and Components With Respect

Board games are pricey! Each Dominion expansion is about $30. Games like Gloomhaven and Mage Knight can be $100 or more. It isn’t unreasonable for owners to want their games to last as long as possible, and that means players need to be mindful of how they handle cards and pieces. Never bend, warp, or crease cards! If it’s subconscious and you can’t help it, buy a card holder. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if people don’t want to play with you anymore.

8. Phones Stay Hidden or Silent

I once suffered through a three-hour game of Catan, all because one player couldn’t tear himself away from his phone. Time practicalities aside, it’s simply rude to divide your attention between a social experience (the board game) and a private experience (browsing your phone). If you’re an addict and can’t control yourself, sock it away in a drawer until game night’s over.

9. Never Play While Hungry

Hunger while gaming can lead to rash decisions, flared tempers, and soured nights. As a group, you should all agree to eat beforehand or make it clear that snacks and refreshments will be served during game night. Just make sure you avoid messy options like saucy wings and coated chips. Check out some of our own snack ideas for clean fingers during game night.

10. Speak Up, Don’t Simmer

At some point, something you don’t like will happen. When it does, it’s imperative that you deal with it as soon as possible, as tactfully as possible, even if it feels awkward to bring up. Don’t bottle it up, sit on it, and explode at a later date—most of the time, the result will be you being kicked out of the gaming group regardless of how justified your frustrations were.

Did I miss anything? What do you consider to be the golden rules of game night etiquette? Let me know in the comments below!

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