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Is Your Relationship Ready for Board Games?

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One of the most frequently discussed questions on BoardGameGeek is, “How do I get my spouse/partner/date interested in board games?” But this is the wrong question. Sure, you may be able to kindle a budding interest with some well chosen games, but the real question you need to answer first is, “Is this relationship ready for board gaming?” Only then can you even begin to consider how you might begin to lead your partner to the game table. If the answer is no, that your relationship is not ready for games, no game will make a difference.

Let me say this: I completely understand the impulse that drives people to want to convert their partners into gamers. If both partners are interested in games, you’ll always have a built in game group, even if you can’t make it to your other game groups. Heck, if your partner is a gamer, you might not even need those groups!

But if your relationship can’t support board games, then trying to “convert” your partner may only end up making it worse. Generally, many healthy relationships can stand up to board gaming, but there are some things to consider before you try dragging your partner down the rabbit hole of gaming.

1. Are you both interested in games?

If one of you simply has zero interest in games (or an outright aversion), you really shouldn’t bother trying to bring games into your relationship. No amount of, “If I can just find the right game, I know he’ll love it,” will help if your partner is really opposed to gaming.

Gaming is like any other hobby or interest. I have no interest in woodworking, for example. Any attempt to make me into a woodworker will fail. I don’t care how wonderful it is, how fun, how therapeutic, or how useful, you simply will not get me to care. Some people feel that way about games. If this is your partner, forget it and find something else you can do together.

Let’s face it: Board games are not rare and obscure items. Almost everyone has had some exposure to board games so if they say they don’t like or care about them, it’s not as though it’s because they’ve never seen one in the wild. Yes, it may mean they’ve only been exposed to Monopoly or LIFE, but if someone has a deeply entrenched dislike or apathy toward games, you probably aren’t going to change their mind. Particularly if they don’t want it changed.

You cannot force someone to take an interest in something in which they have no interest. And if you try, you’re only going to alienate them because all they’re going to think is, “If my partner really cared about my feelings, he/she would not keep trying to push this hobby on me.”

Now, if someone shows a glimmer of interest, by all means work with that. But if you ask if they are interested in games and the answer is, “Nope,” for heaven’s sake don’t lay out a copy of Splendor and say, “This will change your mind.” It won’t.

2. Why do you want to introduce games into your relationship, and are games the best way to accomplish that goal?

What’s your reason for wanting to get your partner into gaming? There are plenty of reasons, but making that reason clear, both to you and your partner, can help you figure out of gaming is really something for both of you.

Is it so you can spend time together? So you will always have a gaming partner on-hand? Do you want your partner to appreciate your hobby the same way you do? Do you want them to meet and like your other friends? Is it so your partner will stop complaining about the time/money you spend on games? Figure out your most important reason for pursuing this entertainment option and then figure out if gaming is really the best way to achieve the goal.

If you want to spend time together, will you both be happy with gaming, or are there other things you could do instead which you would both enjoy more? If you want your partner to like/meet your gaming friends, does your partner have to become a gamer for that to happen, or can they join you for after-game drinks sometimes? Having a built-in gaming partner is a noble hope, but is it necessary (or even desirable)? Maybe you can play solo or find a gaming group and you as a couple can pursue another hobby together.

If you want them to appreciate your hobby, remember that couples don’t have to share everything in order to be a couple. It’s okay to have your own hobbies. You should both respect each other’s hobbies (don’t criticize or complain about them), but you don’t have to share them.

If you’re hoping that making your partner into a gamer will stop your partner from criticizing or complaining about your gaming, don’t bet on that working out. The reasons for those complaints might be rooted in something other than simple like/dislike of games. Those complaints may stem from, “I’ve seen our budget and we can’t support this!” or “You aren’t pulling your weight around the house because you’re always gaming.” Converting someone to games won’t change the underlying problem in these cases. You have other issues to address, first.

The point is this: There are many reasons for wanting to bring games into your relationship, but you need to articulate (both to yourself and your partner) why you want to do this and then have a conversation about whether games are a good way to meet those goals. Games are great, but sometimes partners don’t share the same goals or the same methods of reaching those goals.

3. Can you have a mature, honest discussion about your needs, wants, likes and dislikes?

If you can’t even have a conversation about any of the above without someone getting angry or defensive, you aren’t ready for games. I see so many people saying things like, “He keeps trying to push me into heavy games and I don’t know how to tell him I don’t like them.” or “She won’t listen when I tell her we need to get [Insert Hotness Game Here] but I’m going to get it anyway.” Some couples can’t even stand in a game store together without arguing about themes, mechanisms, artwork, or whatever else. How can you even choose a game if you can’t have a rational discussion? Worse is when one partner says, “I’m going to get these games but then I’ll have to hide them because my partner will get mad that I bought them.”

If you can’t even have a discussion about what sort of games might interest you both or how much you can spend, or if you feel compelled to lie and hide stuff from your partner, you’re in trouble. Work on those issues first and then think about games.

4. Are you both good sports, or are you hyper-competitive?

If you’re going to get into games together, it helps if you’re in tune with each other’s competitive drives. Games can work if you’re both super competitive as long as you can both be good sports when it’s over. If one of you is super competitive and likes to rub the other’s nose in a loss, games are a bad idea. Co-op games are an option for couples with competition issues, but if one of you is an alpha gamer, it’s not going to be much fun for the other. If you’re both alpha gamers, even a co-op game can end in a fight. Knowing how you both react to competition can mean the difference between a lovely gaming relationship and one that ends after the third date because you made each other too angry to speak any longer.

5. Can you compromise on your tastes?

It may be that your partner expresses an interest in games, but not your games. Maybe you like war games, but your partner prefers Euros. Or you like lighter games while your partner thinks anything lighter than Through the Ages is a waste of time. The question is: Can you compromise? Is gaming important enough to both of you that you can agree to play each other’s games once in a while, or find a happy medium with some other games? If the answer is no, resentment is on the horizon. If one partner is always playing games they don’t like, that’s a problem. If you can’t compromise, find your tribe of gamers elsewhere and let your partner find theirs. You’ll both be happier.

6. Can you agree on the expenditure?

I touched on this above, but games aren’t cheap. Sure, on a per hour basis they’re pretty cheap entertainment, but if you’re amassing a big collection, it ain’t cheap. Can you and your partner agree on the cash outflow? If you can’t agree on a budget and stick to it, there’s trouble ahead. If one partner feels like other goals or needs are going unmet because of gaming, resentment will brew. If one of you feels like you have to lie about how much is being spent, that’s a big red flag that something is wrong. If you can’t agree on the money, you’ll either need to find a way to game for free (friend’s houses, gaming cafe’s, etc.) or find some other way to work it out. Money is one of the biggest sources of stress in relationships, so don’t let something fun like gaming spill over into a money fight.

The bottom line is that board games are great, but they are not for everyone or for every relationship. It is never about finding “the perfect game” that will convert a person into a gamer, because there is no magic game that will make someone a gamer or turn a relationship into a gaming paradise. For gaming to work in a relationship, both partners need to be open to the idea and willing to compromise to make it work. You need to know yourself and your partner, and both of you need to be able to communicate your wants and needs. If you can’t do that on even a basic level, you’re not ready for gaming.

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I'm also one of "those people" who likes dice and revels in randomness.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Totally agree. I had to tone down my expectations regarding introducing heavier games to my wife. I now know the rules have to be pretty light and also include a decent amount of luck. She also likes beating me, so co-ops are out!

    This way we can both have fun playing games – it’s no good trying to get your spouse to understand that a game is fun if they aren’t feeling it.

    Thanks for this well thought out piece. More non-review articles are always welcome.

    • Jennifer Derrick

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I’m really glad that you and your wife have found a good compromise so you can both have fun.

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