A Study in Board Games: Motivation to Play

Join Karlo as he talks about what motivates people to play board games. Will you see yourself on this list?

Hello! Welcome to A Study in Board Games, a commentary on the board gaming hobby.

It is clear that we meet player(s) from all backgrounds and experiences with the hobby, yet, we all gather on a single table to play a game. The motivation to both come together and play can easily vary between players. Through this interaction, we forge new relationships with players, and perhaps even strengthen those bonds to a level of social commitment whereby a gaming group can play regularly!

So, let’s discuss what motivates players to gather around a table.

In 2016, I was blessed to help form a small gaming group, and for it to now stay consistent with weekly game sessions 8 years later has been incredibly rewarding. I have met a variety of players, each with their own specific motivations to play.

From my experiences, I have been able to determine two main “categories” of motivations.

  1. Social motivations
  2. Gaming motivations

From these two categories, players often assume different archetypes that serve as their chief mottos for gaming.  These archetypes are not mutually exclusive, and we may see ourselves assume multiple archetypes on any given day.

Let’s dig in.

Social Motivations

The Jester

  • Motto: “I am here to laugh”
  • Behaviors: Loud, flamboyant, attention seeking
  • Description: Jesters provide presence at your table. They are motivated to entertain themselves and/or the rest of the table, and search for opportunities to make jokes. At times, they may decide on moves that often don’t make sense, but when executed, create some funny moments.

The Host

  • Motto: “I am here to bring people together and make sure we have a good time”
  • Behaviors: Responsible, lenient, flexible
  • Description: The host(s) are the players who are committed to cultivating an enriching playing environment. They are motivated to ensure that the playspace is clean, playful, and harmonious

The Socialite

  • Motto: “I am here to make friends”
  • Behavior: Talkative, engaging, perceptive
  • Description: A socialite may be on your table with motivation to make friends, or even to strengthen relationships with current friends. Gaming and/or winning may be less important to these players, and may be using board games as a medium to bridge any gaps in communication. The socialite may be seen as the player to last leave game night as they love to have extra conversation to learn more about individual players outside of the hobby.

The Gamer

  • Motto: “I am here to play games”
  • Behavior: Quiet, focused
  • Description: Contrary to the socialite, the gamer may be simply motivated by the activity of the game itself. The gamer may be less worried about who is on the table, but may be more particular about the game being tabled. Gamers may be motivated to act socially outside of game time, but tend to be motivated to make sure the table maintains a high fraction of uptime playing games.

The Newbie

  • Motto: “I am here to learn more about the hobby”
  • Behavior: Eager, curious, assimilative
  • Description: Newbies are simply excited to dive deep into the hobby, perhaps they just want to explore more about the various features of board gaming. Newbies can often be tough to integrate to a veteran game table, but should be able to easily assimilate themselves to their surrounding environments.

The Connoisseur

  • Motto: “I am here to share the hobby with you”
  • Behavior: Eloquent, informed, diverse
  • Description: All players are generally informed on the game(s) they enjoy, but the connoisseur may be the player who conducts a tremendous amount of supplemental research. They may have added knowledge that may assist players in finding the correct gaming spaces, stores, and/or games that suit their needs. Their motivation is satisfied when they can please other players in finding what they may be looking for.

The Storyteller

  • Motto: “I am here to create memories”
  • Behavior: Creative, adventurous, open
  • Description: Storytellers really want to chronicle their hobby through specific memories, identifying moments within game experiences that let players laugh and love about why they play board games. They are motivated by narrative, and seek out a journey and experience that is provided by the game and players.

Gaming Motivations

The Competitor

  • Motto:  “I am here to win”
  • Behaviors: Vigilant, intense
  • Description: Regardless of whether a game is cooperative or competitive, it is evident that this player is motivated to be victorious. Competitors seek out players who want to make each other better players. However, their intensity may be abrasive to those who may be motivated for a more casual atmosphere when playing.

The Tinkerer

  • Motto: “I am here to test a game’s breadth and width”
  • Behaviors: Strange, innovative, unorthodox
  • Description: A tinkerer is your desired board game playtester. When gaming, the tinkerer may be more so focused on understanding individual mechanisms in a game, and learning on how specific choices may impact the game itself, than doing well. They may be less so focused on winning, but ensuring the game appears balanced. They are more than willing to obsessively fiddle with specific rulesets to ensure clarity in the game. Their gameplay may be less understood in comparison to the rest of the table. The tinkerer may also want to play a game repetitively, as each game will let them explore different facets.

The Strategist

  • Motto: “I am here to master the rules”
  • Behaviors: Prospective, proactive, decisive
  • Description: A strategist focuses their gameplay even before the game begins. You may find such players making decisions with confidence, knowing that their moves all tie back to their overarching strategy. If distracted, the strategist’s plans can easily fall apart, affecting their prognosis for victory

The Tactician

  • Motto: “I am here to play the players”
  • Behaviors: Turbulent, reactive
  • Description: A tactician may not have the most focused, long-term strategy, but are ready to evaluate the board upon the conclusion of each players’ moves. Decisions are motivated to affect player position, perhaps to hamstring the leader, or collaborate with non-leaders. Such players may also be willing to abandon a long-term strategy for the sake of preventing any snowballing effects from runaway leaders.

The Informant

  • Motto: “I am here to make sure we play correctly”
  • Behaviors: Meticulous, analytical
  • Description: As rule sets become more dense, it is to the benefit of any group that an informant is at the table. The informant’s motivation is to ensure an even playing field, ensuring that all players understand rules and mechanisms. You may find these players constantly evaluating and referencing the rulebook, and perhaps occasionally searching the internet for clarification.

The Professor

  • Motto: “I am here to make sure we can get this game tabled”
  • Behaviors: Committed, prepared
  • Description: Your professor is your primary teacher. Unlike the informant, who may focus on subtle details, the professor is hoping to ensure the players grasp large concepts. They are motivated to have the game up and running, and will consult the rules on occasion. These are also your players who may spend the most time preparing, allowing for a succinct and effective introduction to the rules of the game.

The Detective

  • Motto: “I am here to figure this game out and solve puzzles”
  • Behaviors: Curious, inquisitive
  • Description: The detective may drive their satisfaction in gaming from simply putting their heads down and figuring out how to play the game. They may be less so worried about a reactive approach to a game. Rather, they focus on a proactive strategy, letting their questions drive their decisions. They may not be focused on winning and may just want to understand how the game works. Because of their desire to solve puzzles, you may find inconsistency in their game performance and may find themselves fixated on specific aspects of a game.

The Escape Artist

  • Motto: “I am here to escape reality”
  • Behaviors: Vivid, energetic
  • Description: Contrary to your detective, mechanics is less important. Instead, the theme behind a board game drives their interests. The escape artist wants their tables to divert from their regular lives and explore a new setting. Decisions that agree to the board game’s theme, while also evoking some type of narrative, evoke the most happiness from the escape artist.

As you can see, you may find yourself matching some of these archetypes, and these personalities can easily change based upon the players you are with, and/or the type of game that is being tabled. As you play with your fellow tablemates, you may begin to find subtleties in their motivations, which can only help you in ensuring the greatest amount of success on your board game nights.

You can read Parts #1 and Parts #2 of this series on BoardGameGeek.

What are your archetypes? Please share!

About the author

Karlo Arciaga

Orthopedic Physical Therapist by day, and a heavy board gamer at night. I drive much of my satisfaction in gaming by delving into rich rule sets, deep strategies, and bringing like minded gamers and competitors to my table. I am constantly curious on how to share the hobby, develop players, and master rules so heavier games can be shared to other players.

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