Overcoming Analysis Paralysis – By Jarrod Piccioni


When it comes to modern board games (particularly euro games that generally come with more complex mechanics and a large number of choices to make), many of us suffer from analysis paralysis (AP) – which is a situation where you’re presented with so many choices that you freeze up and can’t decide on what to do. While this doesn’t bother all players, it can create situations where an affected player will become stressed, turning something that should be enjoyed into a miserable experience, particularly when learning new games. There may not be any one “cure” for AP, but as a sufferer myself, there are a few things you can do to try and minimize it and speed up your games as well as your enjoyment of them.

1. Make a plan and stick to it

Speaking from my own experiences, making a plan has helped immensely in cutting down the amount of AP I suffer through in games, even if that plan turns out to be an abject failure. Many modern board games give multiple avenues to victory, even if the end result is “have the most points.” Games like Lords of Waterdeep simplify this by giving you hidden role cards which give bonuses for certain types of quests, which makes the choice much easier, however games like Russian Railroads give you many options for scoring a great number of points, so it’s important to determine what you want to do and then stick to that plan.

Russian Railroads player board

Image originally from http://boardgamegeek.com/image/2199142/russian-railroads

The main goal behind making a plan like this is because in many games, this will help cut down on the different options that are available to you to choose from each turn, which usually makes the ‘best’ option more obvious.

I also believe it’s important to stick to a plan that you may decide on, even if it doesn’t seem to be working out at first. Modern board games are heavily tested and balanced so even if a particular plan of action doesn’t seem to be pulling out to an early lead, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the plan won’t pay off at the end of the game. Comparatively, if you abandon a plan halfway through or try to do a bit of everything, you will likely fall behind other players who are focusing on a particular strategy.

2. Make sure you’re familiar with the rules

Admittedly, this is much harder to do for games that are new to you, however being familiar with the rules of a game can help give you clarity on what you need to do from turn to turn. Many games come with Player Aids, which are a great way to know what’s possible at a glance and can help in building a plan of action.

Terra Mystica Player Aid

Image originally from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/1660324/terra-mystica

The above image is the Move Summary card from a particularly complex board game, Terra Mystica, that shows off the 8 different possible actions that a player can take on their turn. While knowledge of the iconography from the game is needed to understand what’s going on, having that card available can help a player know what they need to do mechanically to in order to stick to the plan they’ve made earlier.

For those who may not know of it, the website Board Game Geek is a database of almost every board game ever published, and most games have their rules posted either as files available to download or as links to the official website of the publisher. If you suffer from AP, I highly recommend taking the time to review the rules of a game before you play it (assuming you know which games you will be playing beforehand).

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Asking for help from your opponents may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me when I say that AP-based inaction is far less fun than simply throwing it out to the table that you don’t know what to do, especially when you’re still learning a game. Most board game players will be happy to help make suggestions on how to approach a turn, because at the end of the day, the best games are those played against other good players.

Learning Russian Railroads

Some of us from Charlottetown playing Russian Railroads for the first time.

In the same vein as asking for help, it’s also important to pay attention to what the other players do on their turns and try to understand why they are doing what they do – understanding how others approach the game is a valuable learning tool as well as an important way to improve your learning and strategic thinking. Some other players will give up more information than others, but generally speaking, using other players turns is a great time to try and plan out what you’re going to do when the game comes back around to you.

Although not an issue for all players, some people may be more reserved and asking for help may be awkward for them to do. If this is the case, I recommend watching some of the videos in the “Meeples for Sheepish Peoples” by Chaz Marler of Pair of Dice Paradise on youtube for some suggestions on how to approach others when it comes to board games.

Wrap up

In a nutshell, analysis paralysis stinks but it’s a valid concern in modern board gaming, particularly due to how complex many new board games are. Unlike video games, there’s very rarely a single player mode where you can get a feel for things before jumping into the fray with others, so there’s almost always going to be a learning curve, particularly when getting into the world of heavier euro games. Thankfully, if you’re aware that you’re experiencing AP when learning (or playing) games, you now have some tips to try and work past it. In the same vein, if you’re playing with someone who’s taking a long time on their turn or seems to be stressed out, a simple suggestion or offer of advice can go a long way to making sure everyone’s having a good time.

Article submitted by Jarrod Piccioni

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