Psychology of Board Games

Statistics and Speculations on the Behavioral Science of Board Gaming
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Game Day or Game Night?

Corey Butler
United States
Saint Paul
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Microbadge: Chess playerMicrobadge: EurogamerMicrobadge: Coffee drinkerMicrobadge: MinnesotaMicrobadge: I Sent Monkey Auto Races to #1
When do you typically get together with friends to play games? Evenings or afternoons? Afternoons allow more potential game time, but they usually need to be scheduled either Saturday or Sunday. Evenings can be scheduled any day of the week, but how much energy do you have to game when you've spent a long day at work? Because gaming is a social arrangement, this decision will likely be a compromise about what works best for the majority of the group. But which time would be your personal preference?

I like afternoon gaming. Yes, I'm willing to play games in the evening, especially card games, which seem to pair well with beer. I also enjoy light, two-player games with my wife after dinner. But by 9:00, I'm starting to wind down. My eyes glaze over, my conversation disappears, and my strategic thinking drops too. I definitely don't like playing long epic games in the evening, or learning new games. I suspect I'm not alone.

It's been estimated that about 15% of the population falls under the category of morning person. That's me. I've even got the microbadge to prove it. I'm not saying I can't be tempted by the snooze button, but I do tend to get out of bed pretty easily, and within a half an hour or so I am fully alert, feeling good, and ready to go. My wife is a little more sluggish in the morning. It takes her an hour or more to really get moving, but she can stay up much longer than me in the evening. She's an evening person, in that other 15% on the opposite end of the distribution. Most people are somewhere in the middle, with perhaps only a small, inconsistent preference in one direction or the other.

From gallery of shotokanguy

If your score is ten or more, you might be a morning person.

Circadian preferences, like morningness and eveningness, are heritable traits, showing quite a lot of stability over the lifespan. You can retrain your rhythm to some extent, especially if you do it gradually and consistently, but at some point you will be fighting against nature. Incidentally, if you read any of my earlier blog entries on personality, you might be interested to know that morningness is correlated with the Big Five trait of conscientiousness. Morning people tend to get more done and be more achievement oriented, though this could simply be the result of their schedules lining up better with our culture's work norms and expectations.

Although people tend to maintain their relative positions on morningness and eveningness in comparison to each other, there are also longitudinal changes that occur over the lifespan. Preferences for an evening schedule peak among adolescents, who have a great deal of trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Ask any parent if you don't believe me. Later in life, after age 50 or so, people tend to shift toward a greater preference for earlier activities. Senior citizens tend to be more interested in the early bird special for dinner, and an early bedtime too.

1. What is your circadian preference?
2. When does your gaming group normally meet?
      46 answers
Poll created by shotokanguy

If you are a morning person in a game group that usually meets in the evening, you are going to be at a slight disadvantage. Not only will you be more prone to mistakes, but you might not even enjoy a game as much if you are learning it in the evening. This is something to be aware of when you go to rate it on BGG the next day. If you found the theme lacking, or the mechanics overly fiddly, you might want to consider your circadian preference and what time of day it was when you learned the game.

Caffeine is a well known cure for morning people who have to stay up later than they would like. Caffeine activates the cerebral cortex and improves alertness and cognitive function when you are drowsy. But be careful! Caffeine is not a complete fix and will not necessarily make you play or feel 100%. Caffeine also has a long half-life (maybe 5-6 hours) and can keep you from falling asleep long after game night is over.
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