What is the Best Board Game Tournament Format? How do you host a board game tournament?


Over the years I’ve run and taken part in a number of public play board game events. Of all of the events I’ve played in and organized my favourite is the Great Canadian Board Game Blitz. 

The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz is a no-elimination, multi-round, board game tournament that features player driven game selection that is perfect for a one day gaming event or can be extended over multiple sessions. 

Someone is looking to run a tournament with their local game group:

Running a board game tournament at a FLGS.This article is inspired by a question we received from Tabletop Bellhop Patreon patron, Cortney Jackson.

“I have a small group of about 10 or 12 that game with us weekly. We are considering hosting a small boardgame tournament and are wondering,
1. How to choose the game/games for the tournament?
2. How to do the draw so the same people aren’t sitting at the same table the whole time?
3. Would it be better to.do a league style tournament where everyone meets weekly or bi-weekly and earn points over the course of several meets?”

For our detailed discussion on this topic I invite you to check out Episode 136 of The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast.

Instead of just rehashing all of our talk from that episode, what I’m going to do here is jump right to explaining in detail my favourite board game tournament format, which is a multi-round, no elimination tournament I like to call The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz (often shortened to just Board Game Blitz, or the Blitz, for those who have taken part in one of these tournaments). 

What is so great about The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz board game tournament format?

Tower of board games that we played during the Great Canadian Board Game Blitz tournament.I was introduced to this board game tournament format by Marc Lanctot, who at the time was the man behind the Great Canadian Board Game Blitz. This was a yearly nationwide board game tournament that featured regional qualifying events, eventually leading to the main event at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto.

For those that don’t know it, Fan Expo is the biggest pop culture con in the country. Winners of local Blitz tournaments would win various gaming related prizes with the main prize for first place being a ticket to Fan Expo to take part in the finals, which featured a significant cash prize. 

Now I’m sad to say that Marc quit The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz team and the official event only lasted for a couple of years afterwards. However, I had such a good time both running local Blitz events, as well as taking part in them, that I’ve since adopted the format used for any board game tournaments I’ve run.  

One of the major advantages of a Great Canadian Board Game Blitz style tournament, is that it is a no-elimination tournament. This means that participants will get to take part in the entire event even if they aren’t playing as well as some others. There is also a codified system that lets players bow out, or join in partway through an event, keeping the format flexible. 

Another aspect I like about this format is that it is point based, with points being awarded for first through fourth place in every game. With this system, even the player in last place gets some points and the number of points earned each round is based on the length and weight of the games played.

What I love about this is that losing one match doesn’t mean you are out of the running. We’ve had a good number of come from behind victories, and instances where a player that consistently comes in second every game does better overall than someone who does great in some games but poor in others.

Hosting a board game tournament, with many tables of players.Over the many Blitz events I’ve run, players have learned to appreciate that it is a timed event (with some wiggle room). Each game round lasts only a set amount of time but there’s a consideration in there for games that go over the time limit. This is based on all of the games currently being played, with only the final table to finish the round ever being forced to rush. 

Players also love the fact that game selection is player driven. This applies to not only what game will be played but also to who will be playing versus who. Which adds a very cool meta element to the event.

The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz Rules and Guidelines:

Competitive board game tournament at the FLGS.Here are the rules I follow when running a Great Canadian Board Game Blitz style board game tournament.

Tournament Preparation:

When setting up one of these tournaments the first thing you need to decide is how many rounds you want it to be and how long each round will last. 

For a full day tournament, I usually go with five rounds, consisting of two short games (under 1-hour length) two medium games (up to 1.5-hour length) and a final round featuring a longer game (2 hours+ length). This style of tournament can also be broken up over multiple days or even used as part of a regular game night. In that case, I suggest mixing up the game lengths each session so that one night you do a few short games, the next a couple of medium games and every now and then a big epic game night. 

You are going to need enough games for each round of The Blitz, so that you can break your group into tables of three or four players, maximizing the number of players at each table. I then add one game to this total, so that there is more variety for when players are selecting what to play. 

For example, for a group of ten players, you will need four games. Each round three of these would get played and one would not. You will end up with one table with four players and two tables with three players.

For every additional four players add another game to the total available to choose from. You will also need one quick but strategic game for the very end of the tournament in case there’s a tie for first. We found quick abstract games like Onitama, The Duke and Blokus to be great for this. 

What games do you want for a Blitz?

Full trunk full of games to play at the Board Game Blitz Tournament.The main thing you MUST pick for this style of tournament is games where there is a clear winner, as well as players getting second, third and fourth places. You need players to be able to be ranked one to four at the end of each game to properly award points. For example, Catan isn’t a good Blitz game because it’s a race to ten points, you end up with a winner, but that’s it, the other players aren’t ranked.

All of the games offered in a round should be approximately the same weight and length. I use Board Game Geek to help determine this. For example, for a short Blitz round with twelve participants, you will want four games that all take under an hour to play. 

One suggestion is to make the first round all super quick games that can be played in fifteen minutes, or at least in under half an hour, just to get people in the mood and to give you some wiggle room with the timing for later rounds. 

Now that you know the basic format for your event, and what games you will have, you will need to create some scoresheets. These sheets should have a place for the player to put down their name and email address (this is optional but gives you a great mailing list you can use to let people know about future tournaments and events). Then provide a table showing the points players can earn each round (see Scoring below). You will also need a grid where players can list what games they’ve played in each round, their final score, what place they ended up in and the points they’ve earned, as well as a column for their running total of points earned for the event overall. 

Finally include somewhere for the player to note down a playing card value (you will see why in a bit).

Here is a link to the sheets we first started with but have modified a bit since then: http://www.gcbgb.ca/scoresheet.pdf

Game Rules:

The rules for each game must be played RAW, rules as written, straight out of the box. No variations or house rules will be used unless otherwise noted. The tournament organizer has final say on this. If there are rule ambiguities I suggest including a copy of any errata or FAQ in the box so there will be no questions. Make sure everyone is on the same page before you start.

There is one exception to this rule and that’s in regards to start player. Many games like to include silly arbitrary start player rules like Youngest Player, Tallest Player and Last Player to Feed a Bird. You don’t want something as arbitrary as that to influence the outcome of a game in a tournament, so I insist everyone use the Chwazi app or some other impartial randomizer to determine the start player. This avoids giving an unfair advantage to one of of the players due to something that isn’t related at all to the game.

Playing a medium length game at a local board game tournament.Learning/Teaching Games:

Players don’t have to know the games to play them at a Blitz tournament. That said, knowing the rules will provide a strategic advantage, so players are encouraged to play games they know.

If needed, the rules for each game will be explained before starting, and any rules questions during the game will be answered.

For this, I always ask if there is someone at the table who is going to play the game that is able to teach and if not I teach the game. This involves some trust and knowing which local players are okay game teachers and which are not.

If no one at the table knows the game and the organizer would be forced to teach more than one game at a time, a great alternative to having someone teach the game is to have the entire table watch a how to play video. I personally recommend finding something from the trifecta of Watch It Played, Rhado Runs Through or Gaming Rules for this. 

One thing that will help with players learning games ahead of time is publishing the list of games to be featured at the tournament ahead of time. This gives players a chance to learn the rules (and to practice up before the actual tournament day)

Time Limits:

Everyone taking part in The Blitz is expected to take their turns in a timely fashion which includes planning your moves on the other players turns when possible.

After the allotted time has passed if there is only one table left finishing up their game they have ten minutes to wrap up (even if not completed). If they are unable to complete the game within that time frame, the organizers will work with the entire table and use the rules of the game to determine player positions for assigning points.

Note, this only kicks in when there’s only one table left playing. If two groups are falling behind, they are good to keep going until ten minutes after the other group finishes.

Game Selection:

This is my favourite aspect of this tournament format.

Choosing which games to play during a board game tournament.Each round you place the games for the next round out onto a table. Player order is determined randomly between all players. We usually do this by using a standard deck of playing cards. Players get a card they write down what card it is on their player sheet then everyone hands the cards back. The organizer shuffles them and then draws one card at a time to determine the game selection order. 

The first randomly chosen player then takes their score sheet and places it on the game they want to play. Then the next player places theirs on the game they want to play. This can be the same game or one of the other selections. This continues onto the third player and so on.

As soon as a game has four sheets on it, those players collect the game, find a table and start playing. Players continue selecting games until all of the games for the round are in play. The number of games will depend on the number of players taking part, making sure that all games have at least three players and as many games as possible have four. At some point the maximum possible amount of games for your participant count may have been chosen, having at least one player sheet on each game, and then the extra game on the table will be removed from the table. 

For the second round of the blitz, you reverse this player order, so that the player who picked last in the first round gets first pick in the second round. If using cards as noted above you just flip the deck. 

For all further rounds, you will total each player’s points and the player with the most points overall, so far in the tournament, will get first pick, followed by the player with the second most, etc. If there is a tie, player order is randomized between those players (we shuffle the tied players’ cards together and draw).

A long game of Terraforming Mars during a tournament blitz.Points:

At the end of each round players earn points based on what rank they finished during that round. These scores are weighted by the length/weight of the game. With 1-hour games awarding 5, 4, 2, or 1 point for first, second, third and fourth respectively, while 1.5-hour games give 7.5, 6, 3 or 1.5 points, and long games award 10, 8, 4 or 2 points.

You are welcome to mess with these numbers, perhaps even adding in something like an ultralight category (but we have found these numbers seem to work well as they are). 

Finishing Games:

If a player starts a game they should do everything possible to finish it. If this is not possible, the organizer should work with the other players at that table to find the best solution. These could include just continuing the game without that player, ending the game early, or having the organizer or someone else not playing in the tournament take over for the player who left. No points will be awarded to the player who left for that round, though they can come back in later rounds and still earn points in the tournament overall. 

Missing a Round / Joining an Ongoing Blitz: 

While it is expected that all players will take part in all rounds, players may choose to skip a round. In this case, they will get no points for the round that they skip. When this happens you may need to adjust the number of games for future rounds so that you have enough games so that every table has at least three players.

Similarly, someone can join in partway through a Great Canadian Board Game Blitz tournament. A newcomer will start at zero points and will begin accumulating points after their first game. They will go last in the game selection phase for the first round they take part in, and then will select in total score order for future rounds. Again you may need to adjust the number of games in future rounds to accommodate new players.

Tournament Winner:

The winner of a Board Game Blitz is the player with the most accumulated points after all rounds are completed.

If there is a tie, the tied players will play a quick strategic game to determine the overall winner. 

Hosting a board game tournament with over a dozen participants.

If you have any questions about this tournament format please comment below or send me off an email. I would love to see this board game tournament format spread. I personally think it’s the best format out there for a public board game event. 

I personally use this format once or twice a year, often as part of our Extra Life charity fundraising efforts. We charge an entry fee for the event, with half of the money raised going to Extra Life and the other half going towards gift certifications for the FLGS that hosts the event. Our local store has always offered to not only match our charity donation but also to double the prize pot as well as tossing in bonus participation prizes. 

For more information on raising money for charity and tournament prize support check out this podcast episode where we talked about The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz tournament format in even more detail!

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