11 Tips for Good Board Game Playing Etiquette

Playing board games without proper etiquette will lead to hard feelings and controversy.  Neither of these outcomes is acceptable for having a great game night experience.  After many years of playing games, and having some unfortunate experiences, I have some basic game night ground rules.  Following these rules surely will improve your game nights too.

Board Game Etiquette Tips

1   Have Fun 

The whole purpose of game night is to get together with people you like being around and sharing an enjoyable experience. The games are the common ground that brings us all together.  Don’t let the games be the reason that you will never talk to each other again.  This is simply a choice of focus that every player needs to make.  Know that you are going out to have some fun with some great people; winning, losing, or any other circumstance shouldn’t interrupt that fun.

2   Be Prompt 

When invited to attend a game night be sure to show up on time. Being late for a game night is more than being tardy, it’s rude.  It’s not like the other guests can just start eating without you, they have to wait for your arrival before they can start playing any games.  Game night is often an event that many people look forward to all week long and waiting to play is a huge let down.  Late arrivals can also affect how many games can be played that evening.  What if the other guests do decide start to playing without you?  After you arrive they may feel obligated to quit that game so that you can be included.  Note:  LIFE HAPPENS – If you do know that you are going to be late then be courteous and notify the host so that they can make changes to the night that will be beneficial to the other guests too.

3   Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions 

Game night should be a time away from your daily distractions. If you are distracted then you are not playing your best game and this is not fair to the other players.  If possible get a babysitter so that children are not distracting, and slowing down, game play.  You may love you dog, but if he can’t let your guests alone then put him in another room.  Your guests may not like your dog as much as you do.  Cell phones should be avoided as much as possible.  It is understandable to occasionally text your spouse or kids just to keep in touch – this way they will know when you plan to finish and what time they can expect you to get home.  Otherwise avoid using your phone for social media and surfing the web.

4   Play to Improve Your Position and Win 

As games progress there are some players that clearly lead and others who lag behind. When you find yourself trailing in a game the proper thing to do is to continue to play your game.  DO NOT intentionally try to harm one player or purposely help another player.  Your game play should be dictated by what is best for your game.  Only make moves that will improve your position as if playing for a win.  In Settlers of Catan trading with some players and not others would be inappropriate.  Any trading that doesn’t benefit your game or your personal strategy is also inappropriate. 

5   Play Games Until Their Natural Conclusion 

This rule is similar to the previous rule, but instead of providing other players with advantages or disadvantages the malicious goal is to simply end the game – DON’T DO IT. There is no good reason to purposely end a game quicker than it needs to.  Some people intentionally do this when they are losing, others do this because they don’t like the game and they want to play something else, others want to play quickly because they have to leave.  All three examples are poor etiquette, but if you do have to leave unexpectedly in the middle of a game just apologize and let the other players know that you cannot finish.  The remaining players can decide how best to handle this circumstance.  Examples of this poor etiquette are randomly building trains in Ticket to Ride that don’t help you make a connection or only trading with the player in Settlers of Catan that has the most points with the purpose of assisting them to victory..

6   No Bullying, No Grudges

This third consecutive etiquette rule is similar to the previous two, but is a little more personal. It occurs when one player specifically is out to get someone else.  It will manifest itself in Settlers of Catan by repeatedly playing the robber against an opponent for no strategic purpose or by refusing to trade with this player.  In RISK a person may be purposely attacked to help someone else’s game and not your own.  Breach of this etiquette is a symptom of a potentially bigger problem between two people and should be dealt with outside of game night.  Long term, if this issue is not resolved one, or both, of these two players will no longer want to come to game night.

7   Be Patient & Let’s Go Already 

These are two separate etiquette rules, but they need to be mentioned together. The first is to be patient with other players when they are making a decision on their next move.  Some decisions require a little more time and thinking than other decisions do, and some players are just naturally a little more analytical.  Be patient and allow everyone the opportunity to play their best game.

On the other hand playing games are not life and death situations that need to take forever.  If you are a player that tends to take a long time, then be considerate of other players and speed it up a little.  This effort will afford you some grace from your competitors and they will likely allow you some more time for the more critical game decisions that you need to make.

8   Be a Humble Winner and a Congratulatory Loser 

Win, lose, or draw always show respect and kindness to your competitors. There is nothing as satisfying as playing a great game. On the other hand there is nothing as unsatisfying as not having your great game recognized by your opponents.  So shake hands, give dap, hug it out, do whatever you do and be sure to say, “great job,” “nice game,” “well played,” or “congratulations.”

Winning can also be challenging if you are prideful and like to engage in trash talking.  It’s best to recognize that you did a great job, there’s no shame in that, but to stop short of putting your win in everyone else’s face.  Be humble, act like you have been there before, and get ready for the next game.

9   Respect and Follow House Rules 

Following house rules is the key to being respectful to your host and to potentially eliminate any controversies related to game play.  The house rules can include everything from how to handle food and drinks while playing games to specific rule changes that are different from the boxed directions.  A RISK house rule that we use is to take turns picking territories instead of dealing them randomly.  Another Settlers of Catan house rule is to allow the host to design the Settlers of Catan game board – we NEVER play with the recommended board.

10  Clean Up Time 

At the end of the night take some time picking up the games and helping to clean the house. Throw paper products in the garbage, help put plates and dishes in the sink, and put food and drinks back in the refrigerator.  Many hands make for light work and any host would welcome this, especially when your game nights go early into the next morning.  Minimizing this clean up time for the host will allow them to get some rest too before the next morning.

11  No Cheating

Maybe you’ve heard it said that “If you aren’t cheating then you aren’t trying.” Others may say, “it’s only cheating if you get caught.”

Well the truth is cheating is the greatest breach of board game etiquette whether you get caught or not.  Cheaters believe that there is only one good reason to play a game, or to do anything for that matter, and that reason is to win.  However, no one willingly wants to play games with a cheater.

The reality is that the other breaches of etiquette discussed in this article are just as bad as cheating.  Many of which communicate the same poor attitude, “if I can’t win then I’ll control who does.”


Have Fun – I know that this is Tip Number One, but it bears repeating.  Game nights are meant to be a time to unwind and relax.  Sure you may be playing RISK, but you’re not actually solving all of the world’s problems.  So don’t take the games, or yourself, too seriously and you’ll be able to ensure that game nights will not only be fun for you, but everyone will also enjoy the night.

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