We all have that one friend. You know the one — that guy or gal who is a good friend until their one button is pushed.
Then they are an embarrassment.
They rant, they rave, they are loud and unashamed as all around them turn red and try to shrink into their surroundings.
While they might not all go to such an extreme, they all are sore losers and they are rough on any gaming group.
It starts with a quiet distance, disengaging from the other players.
Then it moves to half-vocalized grumblings, criticizing the game at hand. It simmers and builds, louder, more openly confrontational, until … BOOM!
The final straw falls and now nobody is going to have fun anymore.
Instead, we all get to listen to a lecture on the imbalance of the game, how every other player is acting in spite and how he or she should have been the winner, explained loudly, at length.
As awkward as that experience is — or any experience in which we feel guilty for having a good time while one person simmers and stews in his or her obvious displeasure — what is more troubling is when the next board game night rolls around and everyone’s RSVP is predicated on if “that one guy” does not get invited, or at least “I” do not have to play with him.
So what do you do about sore losers? There are great people who are awesome to watch a movie or share a meal with, but terrible around the game table.
It is hard to just exclude them. Maybe you are married to them, or maybe they own all the games.
There are both nonconfrontational solutions and other, less savory means. One of the least confrontational means to combat sore losers is to change your game.
You do not have to play a zero-sum game. There are wonderful games in which I do not have to make you fail in order for me to succeed.
A group of games, known as Euro games, tend toward this style.
They take their name from their European origins and are known for a lack of direct conflict, a plethora of cubes and grumpy-looking dudes on the box.
These games can be great for some sore losers, because even though they do not earn the most victory points, they end up building something — a farm in Agricola, a kingdom in Kingdom Builder, a business in Power Plant. Whatever it is, they built it, and nobody came over and tried to wreck it as part of their game strategy.
Some people are still going to be sore about these games, though. For some, it is not about the theme, but those points, and if they do not end up with the most points and that blue ribbon, they may become upset.
If your particular sore loser is not into the story of the game and only focuses on the mechanisms and the points, you might need to look beyond Euros to cooperative games.
As the name suggests, cooperative games — often shortened to co-op games — are games in which all players get to work together. It is harder to complain about, and to, your fellow game players when you all win and lose together as a team. There are many games of this style, ranging over wide swaths of themes and difficulties.
Your group might be firefighters saving families from burning buildings in Flashpoint: Fire Rescue, or the lords and ladies of Asgard defending the Bifrost from the likes of Loki and Hel in Yggdrasil. Or you might just be trying to put on the best fireworks show you can in Hanabi.
No matter what theme, your group must come together to achieve some goal to win the game while avoiding numerous pitfalls built into the game’s mechanisms that will cause your failure. So why not just switch to all co-ops?
Well, there are some problems there, too. One is burnout. While there are a good number of co-ops out there, they still are less numerous then competitive games.
With only a few good ones coming out each year, it is harder to have as diverse an experience with just cooperative games.
A second problem is also burnout, in a way. You see, you lose a good co-op far more than you win.
Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic and many other award-winning co-op games, is credited with saying you only should win a cooperative game one out of every four times.
Other designers seem to think that is too generous, and thus crank up the difficulty to make it an accomplishment to win their games.
Losing a co-op repeatedly will wear on a group, though. At first, it is a challenge, but eventually, you become annoyed, or worse, you win and never want to look at the game again.
The last danger of co-ops — which tends to overlap with sore losers, in my experience — is the “alpha gamer,” the player who takes over the group and orders all of the other players to do specific things on their turns. They mean well and simply have gotten into the game, but forgotten that first and foremost, the game is about fun, not winning.
Everyone else might as well pull up stakes and leave because the “alpha” just takes over their turns.
Some games fix this by giving each player something vastly different to do, and all at the same time, so nobody has time to boss everyone around.
Others just hide different information from different players so no one player has all of the information to run the game.
Whether you can solve it with Euros or co-ops, these nonconfrontational workarounds might keep your gaming group sane, but they do not really solve the problem.
To truly solve the sore loser problem, you need to confront your problem and your sore loser. It will be hard and awkward, but you need to talk to the person causing the problem.
Tell them they’ve lost sight of the idea of gaming — having fun in a structured social setting — and provide them with specific recent examples of how they have disrupted others’ ability to enjoy a game. They may not even realize they are being a sore loser, and I know they do not see how it affects others at the table.
They are simply too focused on their emotions and engagement with the game.
The earlier you confront the problem, the better — for the group and for the person you are helping. Parents, read that as an instruction to talk to your kids about it now.
As you play with good and bad losers, remember what I once was told by a good gaming buddy: It’s just a game.
The Game Is Afoot is a column written for Ark City Daily Bytes by Ark City native and guest contributor Dustin Ward.