I've always thought that the "What do we play" game is my least favorite game. I really enjoying playing a lot of different types of games but I've always been frustrated with people's inability to actually pick a game and start playing. The amount of time spent picking games over the course of a game day on the weekend is usually enough to get in a whole other game play.
Because of this I've always been interested in the different strategies people use to pick games. I'm going to highlight five different methods and propose the skeleton of 6th method. I don't want to give the false impression that the method I'm proposing is the best, I actually like one or two of the other methods a lot and I'm intrigued by one of the others.
For each method I'm going to try and do some pro's and con's and also what situations they're appropriate for.
The "What game are we going to play next" Game
While not actually an active "strategy" this seems to be by far the most popular way to pick games. It usually starts with one or two people throwing out games they'd be willing to play which usually draws murmurs of modest approval or disapproval. Then after a few minutes of this someone will get anxious to just start playing anything and will push one game hard in an up/down vote. Sometimes someone will suggest something that everyone wants to play and it sorts itself very quickly, but more often than not a consensus is reached with lots of reluctant players rethinking how active or passive they were in the process. "I should have suggested my game later, people would have been more receptive after hearing a few other suggestions." or "I bet I could have gotten Bill to play my game if I had emphasized how much player interaction there is"
This strategy is only more difficult when you have more than one table's worth of people as you have people angling not only to play their game or a game they'd be happy with, but also angling to play with the people they like the most.
Pro's- Organic, requires no organization to accomplish, is it's own negotiation game
Con's- Chaotic, can take a while, disadvantages quieter players, motivation to decide on an actual game usually comes from a desire to play "something" rather than to play a game you want to play
Appropriate for- pretty much any situation
I haven't actually used this method, only had it described to me. It consists of using a whiteboard to have everyone write the games they want to play listed under their name. Then you look at what groups of people have what games in common. It definitely seems like it works better for groups of more than one table. It also seems like a more organized version of the first approach. It also seems like it takes some of the negotiation out of the process although that can still happen as a "meta game" alongside the actual process of writing on the whiteboard. It is possible to "stalemate" with this method if there isn't any overlap at which point it probably devolves into the first method.
Pro's- Organized, gets equal input from everyone, doesn't disadvantage quieter players
Con's- Takes some time and equipment, stalemate possible, not great for single table groups
Appropriate for- Multi-table groups who have the resources and time
Everyone Picks One
This method allows for everyone to get what they want, but might have you playing a game you don't like. In this method Each player picks a game and they are all played. The first(and only) time I've done this we actually picked in secret, writing our picks on pieces of paper. Then we drew a slip at random, played that, and then drew another slip until all the games had been played. This strategy obviously only works when this math equation is true:
# of players X Length of games ≦ Time available to play
If it works though it has the great benefit of people getting to play games that no one else wants to play. Of course for those people that isn't always a benefit. I do think it's important to play games you don't like to keep your calibration of what you do and don't like. It's also possible that a game you wouldn't normally play(because of designer, mechanic, etc) ends up being a game you actually like.
Pro's- Get's "hard to get played" games to the table, gets input from everyone
Con's- Only works for smaller groups or longer sessions, you'll end up playing games you don't like
Appropriate for- Smaller groups or longer sessions, groups of people that value their friends getting to play games they like rather than making everyone happy all the time
I discovered this system from a small game that was in the BGGcon '16 goody bag called Which Game.
It was just a deck of 8 cards with numbers from various classic games(eg 504, 5 tribes, code 777). The idea was that you have everyone playing put a game on the table with one person(usually the person that lost the last game or the newest to the group) picking two. Then you deal out the cards, one per player and one by one going in ascending order each player removes(vetoes) a game they definitely don't want to play. After all players have picked there should only be one game left on the table. My game group really enjoys this method and I actually made up numbered poker chips instead of using the cards. The great thing about this method is that it gives all players both positive and negative input on which game is played. The downside I've found is that the games that get picked sometimes end up being "lowest common denominator" games, games that are generally agreeable to everyone but nobody seems particularly excited to play them.
Pro's- Structured, quick, gets input from everyone, easy to improvise equipment
Con's- Lowest common denominator games
Appropriate for- Only works with single table groups.
This is another system that I've only heard about and haven't actually used. There are many versions of this, but they all rely on points. Usually points are spent/paid to get games played with those points going to the people that played the game. Usually whoever has the most points gets to pick which game is played and they pay an amount of points(usually tied to length of the game) to each player. Some systems include ways to earn points outside of playing games like bringing snacks, hosting, or teaching games(that other people want to play). Some systems also provide for players using points to veto other people's picks. So if you really don't want to play a game you can pay the person picking it to not play it. The biggest drawback of this system seems to be the administrative overhead of managing this system. Even if you use some sort of physical currency you still have to make sure everyone brings their points with them each time. It also disadvantages people who don't come often, although you could include an incentive bounty for people to come back(if you've been gone for 3 weeks you'd get x points when you came back and that would increase each week you missed).
Pro's- Very structured, let's individuals have "the" pick on a rotating basis, get's often unplayed games to the table
Con's- Complicated, need to manage the "economy" and tweak "prices" as the system goes on, management overhead
Appropriate for- Single table groups seem better suited, groups with fairly regular attendance, people who like that extra structure in their gaming experience
This is the idea I just had last night so it's not fully formed. It's a system where people are given a certain amount of points each time they come to a gaming event. Those points aren't carried over from one event to the next but are instead used to bid for games to be played. I don't know what this looks like though. Maybe each player can spend a single point to nominate a game and then once people see what games are nominated everyone bids on which game they want to play.
Of these ideas, I've used the Veto system the most and I really like it. I've only used the "Everyone Picks One" once, but it was a really good experience that I'd like to do more often. I'm really intrigued by the points system, but I've yet to find a group that was interested in trying it.
What have you done to pick games? Are you happy with the results you get?