Board Game Player Counts

I couldn’t come up with a puny title for this, but while it’s not a thing people tend to think about with board games, it can be a pretty big deal. A board game can play extremely different with a different number of players that can affect different areas of how the game runs. It’s possible that a game that you might have liked if you’d played with three players will be horrible with four players for various reasons, or it could be that a game with five people is really bad with two.

So, let’s start with, why do they say a game is for 2-5 players if the game isn’t that great with four or five players?

Image Source: Across the Board Cafe

I mean, that should be pretty obvious, it’s for money. If your game is limited to 2 or 3 players you are going to have more trouble selling it to people, because some people only really play games in groups of four or five. The same is for the opposite, if a game is really better at higher numbers. It’s always kind of gross to think about the money factor and how a game might be allowed to be play in a way that will give a number of people a bad time while playing it.

However, I don’t want to make it feel like you’re just going to have to hope you have the right number of players for a game, there is a website, Board Game Geek, that not only has a ton of information about any board game you’d ever wonder about, but you get to see game ratings and preferred player counts for games. And while your experience might vary, if you’re wondering about a game, you can see what other people thought is the best player count.

There are a couple main reasons why people might not enjoy a game at a different player count. The first one being time. When you sit down to play a game, unless you’re playing something like Arkham Horror 2nd Edition or Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition, you might not be sitting down to play a seven hour board game, or even something that’s three hours long. There are a number of games out there that with higher player counts are going to stretch out the game a whole lot longer. The box might say an hour, but that’s for three players, with five, it’s going to be two hours because every player beyond the first three add half an hour each to the game. And that’s not just because those friends play slow, but because it opens up more options or complexity to the game.

Fortunately a number of game companies or developers have realized that this is a problem, so you start to see more games giving you a time amount per player. I’d still assume those are a little short like the game time on the box normally is, but if you see that it takes thirty  minutes per player and you have five players and two hours to play a game, you know to pass on that one. A game being too short normally isn’t a player count issue, so I’ll pass on that, but I might come back to explain why sometimes games are too short.

Image Source: Board Game Geek

The other big reason is that it changes now the game is played. Now, it might actually change the rules or it might just cause the game to change in some other way. The game might become too logical or random or complex with a higher or lower player count. For example, Gloomhaven with one player might be too logical because you know all the information and could end up planning everything out and could ruin the Gloomhaven experience that way. Or if you have four, it could be too random, you’d have a number of times per scenario where the last player to go could have nothing to do, and if that is the same player often, it would be boring.

Abstract strategy games are another big area where this happens and for that reason a lot of them are two players. They are meant to be highly logical and have people plan out their turns and then have to stop and replan turns when something changes. When you have multiple people between your turns, that can cause a strategy game to become random and less what a person who likes those games normally is going for.

How do you fix this issue?

Honestly, it’s about playing games or using board game geek.  If you play enough games you can probably tell from reading a rule book or even looking at the back of a game what might be a better player count. Board Game Geek with it’s recommended player count is also going to be very useful to you. Finally, you can just play at multiple player counts and see what you like best. That, however, is going to take the most time out of all the options you might find that you don’t like the game at any player counts, even if you have kept an open might through all of the games. So really, research is probably your best bet with Board Game Geek (BGG), but reviews on Amazon or CoolStuffInc might also give you information as well.

Have there been any board games that you’ve found that you won’t play with a certain number or at you think are better with a certain number?


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