Is it Ever OK to Lose at Board Games on Purpose?

It's hour five of an all-day gaming session. You've been on the hot streak to end all hot streaks. First you successfully stowed away on the helicopter as an imitation in The Thing. Not long after, you lorded over everyone in Lords of Waterdeep. Your Power Grid destroyed everyone else's.

This is the best gaming session you've had in months. You look down at your cards in Ethnos and realize that you have the combination that will push your victory point total over the top and block everyone else from even staying in the race.

Then you look up. Your visibly irritated friends stare at you, as if anticipating that you'll be a jerk and play the lucky hand they've been waiting for all game.

You look back at your cards. What to do? Should you play your optimal hand and revel in your utter domination? Or should you groan that you don't have anything good and play something weak to throw your friends a bone?

Is it Ever OK to Lose at Board Games on Purpose?

 Black just couldn't find a path to victory...

Black just couldn't find a path to victory...

Nonstop Tabletop examined elements of this decision in Fifi's excellent article: Should I Let My Kid Win At Board Games? But what about adults? Sometimes situations arise when it's tempting to give our spouses, friends and acquaintances a little slack. Let's take a look at some common scenarios.

Scenario One: Evangelizing Board Games to New Players

You go out to dinner with some non-gaming friends and tell them about your current Splendor addiction. They seem intrigued, as they haven't played a board game since endless slogs through Monopoly as kids. Someone suggests you grab a growler of a tasty new sour ale and head to your house to give it a shot.

Cut to an hour later. Your friends are still working to understand the basic idea of the game as you and your spouse race towards victory with your finely tuned engines. They seem to like the game in theory, but don't have a firm grasp on it yet. You're losing them. Worse, this experience could be the difference between them falling in love with tabletop or forsaking the hobby forever.

Do you throw the game?

Verdict: Lose on Purpose

It's their first time and they are grossly outmatched by veteran Splendor pros. Cut them some slack and pick a cooperative or secret identity party game next time.

Scenario Two: It's Your Spouse's Birthday

 Don't be the destroyer of birthdays.

Don't be the destroyer of birthdays.

It's her birthday and all she wants is a night out at the cool new local board game cafe. You load up on green tea and mocha lattes and get started on a game of Azul. You win. By a lot. Next up is Lost Cities. She doesn't even have a chance. You don't mean to be on fire, but you are. Her app says your win/loss ratio is close to 50/50, but not today.

Quadropolis is up next. Every tile you need is in exactly the right place for during your turns. Hers aren't. You can tell that her birthday is turning into a bust. Maybe it's time to lose on purpose and go grab dessert somewhere?

Verdict: Lose on Purpose 

Sure, There Are No Spouses In Board Games, but it's never a good idea to ruin someone's birthday, especially if you share a bed with them. We're starting to sound like a broken record here, but a cooperative game may be the way to go on a special day.

A note of caution: don't get caught throwing the game or you'll make things ten times worse.

Scenario 3: You're on Fire and Your Friends are Tired of Losing

You have a hot hand. You've won three games in a row and your friends are looking a little irritated. You're usually pretty evenly matched, but this is no ordinary day. You're racking up victory points, destroying villages, and engaging in subterfuge without fear and they can't do anything to stop you.

Shouldn't you let someone else share the spotlight? After all, this could spell trouble the next time you play a game where they can gang up on you. Maybe you should let someone else take this one instead of running away with the win. Again.

Verdict: Crush Them With all of Your Might, Then do it Again

You win some, you lose some. It's your moment of victory, so be a gracious winner after your utter decimation of their tabletop hopes and dreams. They'll survive to fight another day. It's your job to make sure they fail. Just don't run up the score unnecessarily or the inevitable vengeance may be overwhelming.

Final Thoughts

Context, context, context. In general, it's best to always play to the best of your ability. But it's not worth putting people off of board games permanently or ruining someone's birthday. That said, outside of those and a few other special circumstances, most games contain competitive elements and that's part of the fun. Be a gracious winner (or do some trash talking if that's your group's dynamic) and enjoy your victory. You've earned it! Or at least lucked into it.

Article by The Happy Strategerist, who wishes he were faced with this dilemma a little more often.

What do you think? What situations have caused you to lose a board game on purpose? Or is the entire concept blasphemous to you? Let us know in the comments below.