Why I enjoy losing boardgames

Its a Monday morning in an old job I did and I’d be asked what I did over the weekend. My reply in general, “I played boardgames”. The first questions that was then fired back was almost always “Did you win?” It was never “Did you enjoy yourself?”

At times when I’ve been talking about the board gaming hobby people people have said things like “I wouldn’t enjoy that because I’m very competitive and don’t enjoy losing”. I’ve not worked out the link between ‘being competitive’ and ‘having to win’. I always thought being competitive was about trying your best and enjoying that. What I don’t understand is why there seems to be a link between ‘winning’ and ‘enjoyment’. This implies that ‘losing’ means ‘not enjoying’. I believe that losing is often more fun than winning.

I play boardgames because I enjoy the thinking, I enjoy keeping my mind active and participating. I enjoy trying to come up with a plan to do the best I can. I enjoy the tension right until the end of a close game where its not clear what the result will be. I don’t enjoy playing a game where I crush my opponent totally. It’s not fun and I find it a bit embarrassing. How close the scores are not only affects my enjoyment but I tend to rate games with close scores as being better.

However the idea of ‘enjoying losing’ might sound strange so let me explain. If I’m losing a game and want to play it again thats the sign of a good game. Something thats engaged my mind and made me want to try something. I want to work out what I did wrong. What did my opponent do that I didn’t. When I first started playing Caylus online I lost well over 20 games before I finally worked out what I was doing wrong. That was the fun. Getting better at it. Eventually I could see mistakes I was making and started playing differently.

Another favourite of mine is the card game Saboteur, a team game about mining dwarfs where some of your ranks are trying to sabotage your work. Normally this is played by a large group of people. Many times I had come close to winning, a few times a dismal last. That never put me off wanting to play. I enjoyed the interaction, the silliness of shouting “bad dwarf” as each other. I enjoyed working as a team trying to find gold and discover who the saboteurs were. I enjoyed trying to keep my role secret and cause as much chaos as I could when I was on the bad dwarf side. When I finally won a game of Saboteur all I felt was disappointment. There wasn’t really anywhere to go with it after that. I still play it but never thinking “I wonder if I’ll win this time” as I already had.

I’ve a friend who I think I’ve played San Juan against maybe 20 or so times and don’t think he’s ever managed to beat me. It feels automatic to play as I’m just making the same decisions each time. I think he enjoys it more than me as he’s still working out what to do. His gaming experience of losing is probably more enjoyable that my winning.

I like to think that everyone I play against enjoys losing. If the winning of a game is the most important thing to you and you don’t enjoy a game you lose at then I’d wonder why you are playing a board game in the first place.