You pour your eyes over the board, looking at an array of possible actions and moves, and suddenly it clicks.
You’ve got a plan.
It’s perfect, but it’s not your turn. You’ve got to wait.
Games are mostly about interacting with other players. Sometimes you’re just racing each other, but a lot of the time there’s a shared space you’re fighting over. Sometimes this is a significantly more peaceful fight than others.
Worker placement games, where you take actions by placing your ‘workers’ on a shared board and block that space for others, are often considered a bit lacking in interaction. You’re more likely to accidentally piss off somebody else, than you are to do it intentionally. There’s a delayed effect, and often a second way to achieve your goal anyway.
I think people often talk about the frustration of this, or accuse it of being blandly passive-aggressive.
I want to talk about why it’s great.
Even a tiny possibility of your plan being broken brings tension to the table. The more complex the plan, the more time you’ve got to wait, the more that tension rises.
It’s one of the great thrills of games, and one of the reasons why waiting your turn can actually be the hardest, and most entertaining part of it.
There’s a rhythm to a lot of games. Planning, waiting, action, planning, waiting, action. A lot of people think of that waiting as a fault, and sometimes it is. Particularly when you can’t make even vague plans until your turn, it’s frustrating to just be waiting. (Although it’s also time to chat and bond and tell stories).
But there’s such a huge thrill that comes from peering at the board, formulating a plan, and then holding on to the hope you can see it through. All that waiting becomes pure anticipation. It’s a slow crescendo, that swells and ebbs and burns throughout a game.
Honestly, it might be my favourite. That huge tide of emotion as a plan comes together. The relief when an opponent doesn’t quite block you. The quiet hope and the roaring satisfaction.
Even the acid ‘oh fuck you’ that sears across the table, as someone screws you over. The way they curl their lips back at you. The way you have to re-concoct.
Boardgames are made of decisions, but they’re also made of taking your time. They’re made of the waits where you feel the hope course through you. They’re made of the tiny defeats and victories that build up to the finale of point scoring. They’re made of looking at your friends with silent hope, or seething rage.
It’s never just the moves, it’s the space between.
And what you fill them with.
With additional thanks to Emma for illustrating this one with her face.