If you’re playing a board game, your goal isn’t necessarily to win, but to have fun. Nonetheless, a game can be tough to enjoy when you never have a shot of winning. Here’s how you can get better at board games, and how those same techniques can improve in your workplace, relationships, friendships and other areas of real life.
Conduct a Postmortem After the Game Ends
Whether you’ve just lost or won a game, conduct a quick postmortem review. For those unfamiliar, a postmortem is simply a quick exercise where you evaluate your activities and which ones helped you achieve a goal, and which didn’t.
Postmortems are probably not always the first thing you think of when it comes to board games. They are best practices in some professional fields, like project management and business administration, but they’re really not that obvious in other fields. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself these questions:
- What did you do that was good (got you closer to your goal)?
- What should you stop doing?
- What should you keep doing and improve on?
- What should you try next?
By asking yourself these questions, you force yourself to think about ways to improve and to consider which of your efforts aren’t paying off in the way they should be. You can identify your sticking points and flaws in strategies that are throwing off your game.
This also works in other aspects of your life, like your work and hobbies. It’s especially useful for physical activities like sports. Every few months, conduct a quick postmortem so you have an idea of how to improve your real life.
Play with Others for a Wider Range of Experiences
A few months ago, I started playing Settlers of Catan. My friends had a few months’ head start on me. However, I got really into the game and started playing online. Now, I win a decent chunk of the games with my friends, despite them having played longer.
Admittedly, I’m not a tactical or strategic genius. I think I improved because I played so much online — I didn’t have to wait for setting up, drawing cards, and so on — and I could play more rounds in a given hour than if I’d played in the real world. These faster cycles paid off, and I got a lot more practice at the game.
Additionally, the other players in the online community were more experienced than I was. They used a variety of strategies and tactics I hadn’t seen before. Having a wider range of experiences contributes to a better overall understanding of the game and will throw your opponents off when they first see them. When you play the same people all the time, you tend to see most of the same strategies.
The real world equivalent to this is two-fold: Find ways to practice, and get a wide range of experiences. For example, if you’re working at a corporate job, try a side project to stay on your toes. If you’re an accountant, offer to do your family and friend’s taxes (not necessarily for free, depending on your relationships). It will seem like unnecessary work, but it could improve your skills. Freelancing or volunteering can be an excellent way to explore and try different types of work. You can also learn through meeting other people and learning about their stories and experiences.
Look for Patterns, Principles and Antipatterns
When you’re playing a board game, you can’t control everything people do, and you can’t think too much about each single tactic in your strategy. Instead of micromanaging, keep your eyes peeled for patterns that usually lead to better outcomes (victory). For example, capturing Australia or South America usually determines winners in Risk. In Settlers, I noticed that I’ve won without brick and wood, but I’ve never won without ore. That helps guide my decisions, and now I rarely play without a starting point on ore. When I do, I make sure I’m near an ore resource and make expanding there a priority.
You should also notice antipatterns to avoid, which is anything that generally leads to a poor outcome. For example, I used to never trade people (my thought: “Why give them a resource what they want?!”), but I noticed I kept falling behind because of this. My opponents had a way more diverse set of resources than I did. Plus, usually, they would get what they wanted with or without my participation. If I were to trade, at least I could get something out of it.
This applies equally to the real world. What are patterns that lead to desired outcomes — in terms of work, relationships, friends and other goals? Your families and friends have probably already warned you against antipatterns that lead to undesirable outcomes (drugs, bad friends, alcoholism) — but what other ones can you think of in your field, or in your current stage of life, that they didn’t share? Make a list and review both of these, either quarterly or monthly.
Connect with the Community to Discover Strategies
Realistically, reading forums is probably the most effective piece of advice to drastically improve board game performance, especially for beginners. Unfortunately, a lot of times, forums can also take the fun out of learning or developing these strategies and tactics yourself. For that reason I minimise it as much as possible. However, if your opponents or peers are using these strategies, then you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t understand them.
In real life, time is often a luxury that you may not have, and the stakes are much higher than just a board game. You may need to stay up-to-date with industry information or strategies to achieve what you want. These communities still exist online, where people meet up and share advice (such as Quora). Learn from them.
Most of your learning will probably happen through one-on-one conversations, or reading. We’ve already discussed the types of information you can get from networking. If you have the time and energy, read biographies about people in your field or people who you respect. These books typically share details and various perspectives on some of the most remarkable or successful outcomes in all types of fields, so you can dissect it and see which parts apply to your scenario.
Improving at Board Games can Prepare You for the Game of Life
Learn from your mistakes and your happy accidents, practise with faster cycles, keep your eyes peeled for patterns, and learn from other people’s experiences. If you’re in a dire situation, look for other people who can help you and think about how you can make their time worthwhile. And if you’re excessively stressed out when you shouldn’t be, remember: the point of the game — and of life — isn’t necessarily to win, but to find fulfilment in the process and have fun.