Today I’m going to take some time to talk about how to choose a board game to play. This comes from a question from one of our Tabletop Bellhop Patreon backers.
Joho Rutila writes:
We have an established gaming group of five friends. We get to play about every other month so we want to cherish the time we have found. What would be some of the styles in selecting which games to play? We have now introduced the “Dealer’s choice” so the host of the night gets to pick one game. Selecting games has not been a problem for us (except we don’t get to play all the game we would want) as everyone is quite happy with the games we play but what kind of ways have you seen? Voting? Dictatorship? Round-robin?
The Short Answer:
For most of the game nights I’m involved in the host picks what games will be played.
Thanks for the question Joho, and also thank you very much for supporting us on Patreon. As a quick reminder, one of the perks of being our patron is that your questions get bumped to the top of our question pile.
Our usual method for selecting games is similar to the “Dealer’s Choice” method Joho mentions in his question. Whoever is hosting the game night gets first pick. It’s a little different from that though. Instead of the host picking one game to play, they pick a small set of games. Usually, three to five, depending on how long the game night is expected to go. For a longer event, they pick more. It should always be more games than can be played during the game night, or else it’s just the illusion of choice.
While the host picks a small subset of games, it’s the players who pick what to actually to play out of that subset.
Personally, when I’m hosting, I always take the games I’ve picked and set them out on the table. I then give a quick overview of each game for people who may not know them. If there’s one, in particular, I really want to try I will mention that as well but then will go with whatever game the group picks. If we are playing more than one game a night we try to make sure that we pick a different player’s first choice for each consecutive game.
In addition to this, we often use social media to figure out what we want to play ahead of time. Sometimes I really want to play a specific game and will send out an invite looking for players to play that specific game. Other times I may have a game that I need to get reviewed so I will warn my Monday night group that this is what I expect to play that night. Sometimes someone in the group gets excited for a new game and offers to bring it over to play or asks if I have a copy they can play. We often know at least one of the games we are playing ahead of time.
Overall the system we usually use if very informal but it works most of the time. Sometimes we do run into conflicts when there are players who don’t want to play something that someone else in the group really wants to play. For some solutions to those problems, read on.
The Long Answer:
There are a number of ways to choose a game to play.
So what do you do when the players you have gathered together can’t decide on what to play?
I think the key here is to find a method that everyone in the group finds to be impartial and fair. What this is will depend a lot on your group. It could be as simple as drawing a name from a hat or as complex as an excel spreadsheet listing all of your potential players, the games they like to play, the games they want to play and games they will never play.
No one particular system is going to be perfect for every group. You are going to have to try a few different ones until you find one that is right for you and your game group.
Below I’m going to list off some of the best methods I’ve seen for picking what board game to play on game night.
Check out these methods of selecting a tabletop game to play.
You use whatever your prefered random generation method is to pick either the player who gets to pick which game to play or the game itself. Rolling for the game works best for groups who really can’t make up their mind and when you aren’t going to be gaming long enough for everyone to get a pick. If you do use a random generator to pick a player, make sure you have some way to track who got picked so that the same player doesn’t get picked again until everyone has had a chance to pick the game.
This is the method I use when running a Great Canadian Board Game Blitz Tournament and it works great for large groups of players. This method was created for use in a multi-game tournament. The first round players are ranked randomly. Each player gets an index card or score sheet with their name on it. All of the games for that round are put out on a table in a central location. The first player puts their sheet on the game they want to play. The next player does the same. As soon as a game has the set number of players (usually four for a Blitz) those players collect the game and their card and go play.
For this method, one of the things you have to watch is how many games are getting picked. You need to make sure that once you hit the right number of games for the number of players you have, you pull the remaining games out of contention. For example for a sixteen player event, you may have six choices on the table but once four of the games get picked at least once you need to pull the other two off the table.
Once you get to the second round, the player picking order is now based on who is winning the tournament. For a Blitz, players get points based on how they place, totalling their points between rounds. The player with the most points gets first pick in the next round. For a friendly game night, you may want to reverse this so that the player in last gets first pick.
I’ve found this method works great for any time you have a large group of people, say twelve or more.
Board Game Caddie:
Board Game Caddie is a web based resource created specifically for picking what game to play. It integrates with Board Game Geek and you can import your personal game collection. At its most basic, it will randomly pick a game from your entire collection. Where it really shines is when you start using the filters. You can filter for number of players, minimum rating, playing time, mechanics, category, weight range etc.
While you can use this on game night, you better be playing where your entire collection is. The best option would probably be to use this tool ahead of time or use it to determine what handful of games to bring to a game night and then use another method to pick a specific game to play.
While there doesn’t seem to be an app version, the web version works rather well on mobile, at least on my android phone. Overall I’m very impressed by Board Game Caddie. This is a fantastic free tool.
Pick-A-Game is another web based resource for deciding what game to play. While this site doesn’t link to Board Game Geek, I did find it comes up with some really good game suggestions. Instead of using Board Game Geek ratings and filters Pick-A-Game is more about personal preferences and surveys. The basic recommendation system has you select a player count and minimum age.
From there you will pick selections on four sliding scales. Competitive vs. Relaxed, Silly vs. Serious, Psychological vs. Intellectual, and Immersive vs. Casual. from there it will give you a list of three games. You can expand that list to many more. Trying out a few different levels on the scale, I was happy with all of the recommendations.
In addition to this, there are all kinds of other ways to get recommendations. You can do a personality quiz that ranks you in a variety of categories. According to this site, I’m first and foremost an Expert (Critical Thinking) and Thinker, and secondarily a Competitor and Empath. While I rank low on Party Animal and Socializer. Which doesn’t sound too far off.
From there it will recommend games. Now here’s where it didn’t do so great for me. Recommendations number one and two were Specter Ops and Fury of Dracula, two hidden movement games I’m not a big fan of, and up next was Coup, a social deduction game. So not the best results.
There’s a lot more to the site. You can search by subject, designer, etc. You can learn about different player types. There’s a blog to read and more.
Overall it’s a pretty neat site that was fun to kill some time on, though I don’t think I would personally use it as much as a site like Board Game Caddie.
Sauceboss aka Super Awesome Silent Balot Absolute Value Voting System SASBAVVS:
This one comes from the crew at the Out of Game Podcast. A podcast I strongly suggest checking out as I’ve found they have a pretty unique take on our hobby. I’m particularly a fan of when they compare games to sandwiches and also this unique method of selecting which game to play.
Put all potential games out. Everyone gets 3 votes, max of 2 per game. Votes can be used as a positive or negative. (i.e. I could put -1 on BSG and +2 on Scythe and that would be my three votes) Everyone writes the votes secretly then you tally them up.
Now, I haven’t personally tried this system but I always thought it sounded rather cool. What I really like is the fact that you can use your votes as negatives. Great for when you have a player that really doesn’t want to play a game.
Board Game Menu:
I found Board Game Menu on my own about a year ago. This is another web based board game selection site that syncs with your Board Game Geek Account. While this site doesn’t have as many filters as Board Game Caddie, it does let you source more places. You can add multiple BGG accounts, which is great if the members of your group each have their own personal game collections. You can also source a geeklist instead of a BGG user. There is even the option to source reddit for ratings instead of BGG.
While all that is cool, my favourite part of Board Game Menu is that it creates an actual menu. You get a selection of four board game Appetizers, which are games with a length of up to 45 minutes. Then four Light Fare games, with play times up to an hour and a half, and finally four Main Course games with lengths of an hour and a half or more.
While the game recommendations aren’t always perfect (for example I got a Firefly Expansion under Appetizers when playing around with the site for this article), they are pretty decent. Personally, I love the look and theme of the menu. This is something I would do before a game night and then send it out to all of the players ahead of time so I know what everyone wants to “order” before they show up.
Selection by Eliminations from Klaus Gunther Herzog (PlowStr8) on BGG:
1. Everyone put one game they want to play on the table. One person (host, or random) gets to select an extra game, so number of games on the table are number of players plus one.
2. Every player gets to remove one game they DON’T want to play from the table. What is left is the game that gets played.
I have never tried this system but it sounds really solid. Obviously, it needs a group where everyone has their own collection or a shared collection to pick games from. For my personal group, I would probably send everyone my BGG list of games and let them each pick one game from it, or bring one of their own.
So there you have some methods of selecting what game to play. I’m sure there are methods out there I missed. Does your group use a method not on this list? Tell us about it in the comments!