Psychology of Board Games

Statistics and Speculations on the Behavioral Science of Board Gaming
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Agreeableness and Extraversion Revisited

Corey Butler
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Once upon a time- well, a few months ago- I did a little survey of personality and gaming preferences. Then I started doing this blog to talk about what I found. Along the way, I've gotten into all kinds of other random things that relate to psychology and board games. Then I took a little break... But now I'm back, and I'd like to return to my original analysis and apply it to the issue of board game recommendations. As usual, a certain amount of speculation follows, so caveat emptor!

If you have already been a reader of this blog, you probably remember my attempt to correlate the Big Five personality traits with self-reported gaming preferences. I didn't find much, to tell you the truth, as my correlation coefficients were disappointingly small, typically between .10 and .15. I probably shouldn't have expected any more than that, given the brief measures I used, and the common finding that personality does not always predict behavior very well. Nevertheless, the most robust findings were for the two "interpersonal" traits, Agreeableness and Extraversion, so those are the ones I am returning to. Because these are relatively orthogonal dimensions, it is reasonable to combine them into a two-factor "circumplex" model, as depicted below.

From gallery of shotokanguy


If you take a personality test, you can locate yourself in this two dimensional space, based on your scores for A and E. For example, if you are above the median on both Agreeableness and Extraversion, then you are in quadrant I. If you haven’t ever taken a personality test, why not take this one now?

The four quandrants yield four very different types of people. For example, agreeable extraverts tend to be nice, outgoing, and gregarious, whereas agreeable introverts could be described as modest and reserved. On the other hand, disagreeable extraverts are likely to be domineering and competitive, whereas disagreeable introverts are often more aloof, and happiest when left alone. What kinds of games are these four types of people most likely to enjoy? Remember, there is a lot of random variability here, but there are also some typical patterns. Let's extrapolate a few guesses.

We know from my survey that Agreeable Extraverts (quadrant I) are more likely to enjoy party games and cooperative games. Pleasant social interaction is the way to go for these folks. There is no shortage of popular games to choose from in order to make a recommendation, but I've decided to go with the classic German card game, Bohnanza. Bohnanza is all about the interaction: talking, haggling, and trading bean cards. It isn't really a cooperative game, but donating beans to other players often leads to win-win situations typical of cooperative play. Most people I've introduced this game to seem to like it, and I think it's an ideal game for agreeable extraverts.

What about Agreeable Introverts (quadrant II)? They might enjoy Bohnanza too, but it's not the kind of game they are most likely to thrive on. Instead, Eurogames with individual playing boards, minimal conflict, and less player interaction would probably be a good fit. The term “multiplayer solitaire” comes to mind. We could make lots of different recommendations here, but I’ve decided to go with another great Uwe Rosenberg title, Agricola. It’s a nice game about having a family, preferably a large one, and raising happy little animal meeples on your farm. And you can pretty much do your own thing without having to be mean to other players.

Disgreeable Introverts (quadrant III) are also not that big on social interaction, but they don't mind a little conflict. No party games or cooperatives for these players! Actually, they would probably be good with a lot of the same games that fit quandrant II. But because they aren't afraid to be a little mean, this opens certain doors that might be less attractive to other gamers. Wargames might be a good fit, depending on the player's interest. But my recommendation is Chess. When you play chess seriously, you have to be willing to do two things. You need to be able to stare silently at the board for long periods of the time without talking or even making eye contact. There's the introversion. You also need to be willing to hurt the other player, and there's the disagreeableness. Honestly, chess is a beautiful game but it is also painful and brutal. Nigel Short put it this way: "Chess is ruthless: you've got to be prepared to kill people."

Our last group of gamers are the Disgreeable Extraverts (quadrant IV). These are folks that are still pretty tough minded, but they might want a little more social interaction than chess will provide. Take That games with a lot of potential for screwage come to mind. They might enjoy occasional party games, especially if they get the chance to play something like Cards Against Humanity. Games featuring diplomacy and deal making could also work well for these individuals. My recommendation for this quadrant is A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. To play this game well you need to be able to talk to other players and do a lot of persuasion, but you also need to be willing to stab them in the back when the opportunity arises.

So there you have it, four game recommendations based on personality analysis. But as I said before, don’t get carried away. What the data are most clear about is that I should not expect a strong correspondence between personality traits and game preferences. People who are introverts in real life may actually enjoy social interactions within the constraints of a board game. And I, for one, happen to like pirate games, though I don’t think I have any latent, unconscious pirate traits. My concluding advice is just common sense. Try as many different games as you can, and play what you like.
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