Winning at all cost (Topic Discussion)

I think a lot of people in the board game hobby play together for fun and for the social aspect. Sure, many of us want to win the game. We don’t play to lose. However, I think only very few people are hugely competitive. Playing board games is more of a hobby. In this article, I look at different ways of improving your game and what it might take to become better at winning.

Let me start by saying that I usually don’t win when playing board games, at least not when I play competitively with my games group. I approach games as a leisure activity that I do for fun. It’s about spending time with friends, family or other people. If I win the game, then that’s great, but more often than not, it’s about the experience of sharing time with others. It’s also about playing the best game I can, rather than beating the other players. If I come away from a game feeling that I played to the best of my abilities and had an enjoyable time with everyone, then I’m satisfied and happy.

I know there are people who are really competitive and just have to win. Even though I’m generally not that type of person, there have been times when I really wanted to win a game. I felt that I deserved to win it and was really frustrated when I lost. One of the games that this applies to is Scythe from Stonemaier Games. I felt that I played perfectly well and just couldn’t see why I lost. I sort of felt cheated. That’s why I have a love-hate relationship with this game.

Learning From Each Other

Usually, I try to learn from how others play a game. I really love when our games group discusses how a game went afterwards. Hearing how others approached it and what strategy they employed is hugely valuable. I also like to explain what I tried to do to win and find out what others think about why I didn’t do so well. Learning from each other is a great way of improving your own game. It works really well when you play the same game quite regularly. Every time you play it, you can try something different and see if that helps you play better.

two people looking at each other (Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)

Sometimes that doesn’t work for me though. I am often led by a game’s theme as to how I play. My strategy is based on what I think the game wants me to do. For example, Terra Mystica‘s end-of-round scoring bonuses seem to want you to do something specific that round. The problem is, more often than not, they can steer you down a dead end. Sometimes it is better to ignore them and just play whatever is right for your faction at the time. Winning isn’t decided by getting the most points from the bonus scores.

Actually, learning to ignore the end-of-round bonus scoring tiles is something I learned from playing the game with my games group. We worked it out together and decided that sometimes those tiles are great, but then they can also be really bad. We all felt that it’s almost the other way round and you choose your faction based on the bonus tiles. If you have the right faction that synergizes with the bonuses, then you’re going to do pretty well.

Winning Strategies

For some games, there are strategy guides available online that can help you improve your game. For Scythe, I ended up reading them. I wouldn’t normally do that. I much prefer learning a game by trying different things each time we play. However, in Scythe I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees, but when I read the strategy guides, it all made a lot more sense.

I appreciate I got an advantage by reading the guides, when my games group hadn’t read them. However, it still didn’t guarantee me the win. After all, strategy guides work only up to a point. They don’t tell you what to do in every situation. They are more of an outline of how to best play the game.

These guides just allowed me to understand better how the game worked under the bonnet. I wouldn’t have been able to work it out without the guides. I would have simply given up and never played this game again. As it is, Scythe became a game that we played a lot in my games group and really enjoyed. So I don’t object to people reading strategy guides, as long as they don’t try to memorize everything and only use it as a way to help them better understand how a game works.

Some games even include some basic strategy guides in the rulebook or other game materials. For example, Crescent Moon‘s player leaflets have a description of the faction you’re playing and give you an idea of how best to play them. The game takes this a step further by giving every faction a “year 1 objective”, that encourages players to do certain things in the first round of the game that align with how their faction works.

two people looking unhappy (Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)

Winning Competitions

So far I’ve only talked about playing games with friends, family or other people. It’s about board games being a leisure activity. It all changes, when you play in competitions. I think it’s fair to say, that suddenly the gloves come off and you will want to do what you can to play your best game. I guess it goes without saying that I’m not talking about cheating.

However, reading strategy guides is all fair and good. Even memorizing them and going as far as having certain opening moves tested is fine. It’s a bit like chess tournaments, where players know pretty much all openings and the first dozen or so turns will be played without even thinking. These openings have been analyzed over decades and moves and counter-moves have been given scores as to how likely they are to lead to victory.

I think that’s probably why I am not interested in entering board game competitions. Sure, I love a good game of chess and probably remember a dozen or so of the standard openings, but I much prefer playing a game with friends or family for fun. Chances are, I’m not going to be the winning player, but I will still have had a good time. I get an opportunity to learn from my friends and at the same time have a chance to catch up with them and immerse myself in a different world.

How About You?

As usual, I would love to hear from you. How do you go about improving your game? Or do you not care at all? What do you get out of playing board games? Is it about winning for you? If you’re competitive, do you prefer learning as a group and exchanging your experiences? Or do you love reading strategy guides and getting better at a game that way? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (
Main Music: Afternoon by DreamHeaven
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Winning strategies – ideas to help you win (Topic Discussion)

Even if you’re not a particularly competitive player, trying to win the game is what you should aim for. You may not care if you do eventually win and prefer to focus on doing better than previously. That’s fine and at the end of the day, playing games is about having fun. However, if you do have even a small competitive streak in you, then this article may help you become a better player and win more often.

Let me start by saying that I don’t win very often. The people in my games group tend to be better players and are great at spotting how to win before I do. So maybe I’m not the best person to write an article about improving your winning chances. But then again, being the one who rarely comes first, sometimes second and often last also means that I’m the one who has the biggest potential to improve.

Learning from Others

I think the best thing you can do, when you play with people who are better at winning games, is to watch what they do. Keep an eye on the actions they take, what they do with their resources or workers and how their score changes during the course of a game. There are often many ways to win a game and some players like to score a steady amount of points every turn, while others score nothing or very little to start with and then race ahead with huge amounts of points towards the end of a game.

It will also depend on the game, of course. Engine-building games are an example, where you probably score very little in the first few rounds or so. As your engine sputters to life, the points you gain increase in proportion. The last round or two of an engine-building game can be really decisive and someone who was in last place can suddenly take the lead.

I know it’s not always possible to see what other players are doing. Many games keep a lot of information hidden, making it a lot harder to work out what others are doing. However, there will still be something you can glean from what’s going on. Also, don’t forget to discuss the game when it’s over. Ask how others went about playing the game and how they thought they won. Talking it all through is always really useful.

(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)

Changing Strategies

One thing I’m guilty of is not always changing my strategy for a game. I tend to be the sort of player who doesn’t like having a lot of resources in front of them. I want to invest everything as much as possible, because that’s my natural approach to playing games. That’s why economic simulation games are my favourite. They reward me for my approach.

However, there are plenty of games that don’t want you to do that. They prefer you to save up until you can make one big purchase that then almost guarantees you victory. It’s really hard for me to do that and it’s why I don’t tend to play so well in games that want me to do so.

Also, some games require you to change your strategy during the game. You may have had the best possible strategy at the beginning, but then things change and other players take actions that make your approach impossible or at least very difficult. I know, people often say that you should stick with your strategy and not keep changing things around, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable. If you rely on harvesting wheat every turn, but someone else takes it all before the round comes back around to you, then complaining and not changing your approach will probably lose you the game.

There are also plenty of games where the same strategy just won’t work every time. How you play will depend on what factions are in play and what cards come out or similar. You basically need to assess the situation at the start and then keep reassessing it at every turn. These games will be more about tactics than strategy. You can’t just fall back on your favourite plan and expect to win every time.

Online Learning

Another great way is to learn online: by playing against AI players as well as by reading strategy guides.

Some games have a digital implementation with AI opponents. You can look at how they play and try and learn from them. I wrote a whole article on the topic of learning from computer players, so have a look there for more information.

a laptop on a coffee table showing the digital version of the game Root, next to a small tea pot and a mug (Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash)
(Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash)

When it comes to strategy guides, I know that many of you will probably say that using them is cheating. However, I think they’re fine, if you only use them after having played a game a few times with your friends. I think it would be unfair to bring a new game to the table and defeat your friends, because you took advantage of the knowledge of others. If you try and learn the game together with your friends first, and I don’t mean just the rules, but also how to win, and you don’t get anywhere with that, then strategy guides can be really useful.

I have only used the help of online advice once and that was for Scythe – and only after having played the game about half a dozen times with friends. I just couldn’t work out how to win and it was driving me mad. I always looked forward to playing Scythe, but afterwards was really annoyed and frustrated, because, despite feeling I played really well, I never won. The strategy guides helped me to understand the factions much better and allowed me to win my first game. However, it didn’t mean I would win every time. So I think it was fine for me to do that. I certainly enjoyed the game a lot more since.

What About You?

Now I’m curious how you go about improving your game. Do you tend to win most of the time anyway? Or do you tend to lose? What do you do to get better? Is it just a matter of repetition? Do you talk to the games group after finishing a game? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below. I’d love to know how you get better at winning.

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Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Buzzkiller by Alexander Nakarada
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):
Artist website: