How To Beat Your Friends In Board Games

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You want to be as relaxed and successful as Rich Uncle Pennybags here? Follow my advice and you'll be closer than you think.

Okay, so you’ve been reading my articles about board games. You spend meticulous time reading and rereading any little bit you can about these games, only to then discover that when it comes ‘round to game time, you’re the one guy at odds with everyone else and treated as the whipping boy. Sounds to me like you could use some strategies to increase your skills. The good news is that I’m here to deliver just that. Pull out a pen and take notes here, ‘cause I’m gonna give you the rundown on how to beat your friends in board games.

There are really three sorts of board games here: strategy based games (Monopoly, Chess, Risk), creative based games (Scattegories, Cranium), and trivia based games (Scene-It, Trivial Pursuit). I can’t do much to give advice on games of chance such as Candy Land since it all depends on the luck of the draw, but I can tell you to always hang in there and never give up, because you never know what’ll be drawn next (though mathematically if you’re down going into the second half of the game, you aren’t winning that game). So let’s get started, eh?

Use Your Friends

First things first when it comes to games where there are multiple players in a free-for-all, such as Risk: Make allegiances. Risk is vital for this play strategy. You’ll never be able to hold onto the larger continents if you try to do it all alone. You need people to back you up. You need that extra rule that plays in your favor that the rulebook doesn’t mention. You need to coast on your friends’ good fortune and backstab like no tomorrow when the time presents itself. Take Risk, as I said. Find someone with some decent weight in the game and do something nice for them, such as attacking an army that’s putting pressure on them or purposefully leaving a territory with one army on it so that they can take it the next turn, pointing out it is a gift to them. Storm the world with your chum, then strike when you find the right chance.

Also, pick the black pieces. They look tougher than the rest.

Monopoly works well for alliances also as you can donate money to players, trade properties, and allow them to stay in certain hotels for free. Get them to trust you so you can eliminate other players, then suddenly stop giving your friends a break when it looks like it’ll soon be you and them left to battle it out. Just be careful that they don’t get you first.

Outsmart Your Friends

When it comes to creative games, you need to know your friends. If you’re playing a round of Scattegories and the letter is P for a City name, you should have a good idea whether you have any friends that are about to answer “Pittsburgh” instead of something more original. It can be possible to out-think your friends to the point that you’re confident none of them would try an answer so basic, so you are then able to get by with simple answers. Also, make alliances in Scattegories, too. They will come in so handy when those inevitable challenges come your way, so give points to other players even if you could out-argue them, because there’s a chance they’ll have to vote for or against you for one of your double and triple-word bonuses and you want to be on their good side when they do.

You'd better be in sync with your teammates, otherwise things will get real rough real fast.

Knowing your friends, as I said, is vital in these creative games. My review of The Game of Things was practically all about the difficulty of standing out too much, so put that into practice here as well. You need to know the people you’re playing against to hope to outsmart them, such as in Scattegories when you could put “Salisbury Steak” as either a “lunchroom food” or a “thing you’d find in a catalog.” You’ve got a double-word score on the line, so know which other friend would think of that and then where they’d think to place it. Plan accordingly.

Having certain words, phrases, or actions already in place before a game like Cranium or Pictionary start is borderline cheating but you’ll thank me later. Having inside jokes with friends makes things simpler to work with, creating a nice shorthand to work with. Did you draw Jim Carrey as an actor you have to silently impersonate in Cranium? You better know which reference is the best to get your friends to know instantly who you’re supposed to be, because if they haven’t seen The Grinch, there’s no way they’ll know you’re supposed to be Slunking to the icebox. Playing Taboo or Catchphrase and have a word that you need to describe? “Kyle’s favorite movie,” or “I ate twelve of these at 7-11” make for really quick references, plus the better mood you have your team in, the higher morale is and the quicker they’ll be able to think. Keep your team of friends limber and calm.

Fake Failure

Possibly the most important strategy that you can use is your friends’ inability to know when you’re a threat or not. This works even better with people you’ve never played with, but it’s vital to use to your advantage. Never let your opponents know just how smart you really are. You must lull them into a false sense of security by causing them to believe that you’re an idiot. I’ve become very good at it over the years.

Who would suspect this foolish creature could be so powerful in a board game setting?

Take Chess, for example. There is a four-move Checkmate that only the rookiest of players fall victim to. Always attempt this when you begin a Chess match, even if your opponent is extremely good. I beat the best kid in school in four moves because he thought I sucked and didn’t expect me to know what I was doing. Four moves. Checkmate. And it was for a qualifying match in a tournament. He beat me for sport in the very next round, but it didn’t count towards the tournament. The deed was done. What’s done could not be undone.

Here’s a perfect example of playing dumb: Ever play the game BS? Well, I’m not going to tell you what BS stands for since if you’ve played it in school, you already know. The point of the game is to place cards from your hand into the middle pile in sequence, hoping to be the first to empty your hand. If you see an eight, you can place down either a seven or a nine. If you have neither a seven nor a nine in your hand, you must lie and say you’re placing down a seven or a nine. If no one believes you, they say “BS!” and you get all the cards in the pile. I’ve found it works every time to trick them by saying you’ve never played the game before, forcing them to explain the rules. Stay inconspicuous about your lying for a while until the pile builds up to a ridiculous number, then ask in your most dumbfounded way, “Uh, what do I do if I don’t have a card I can put down?” This only works if you DO have a card though, otherwise you deserve any ridicule about to come your way. The other players will kindly explain that you’re supposed to lie, so when you place down a seven and say in your best false voice, “Seven,” everyone will be in a hurry to yell “BS!” When you flip the card over and they discover you’ve duped them, you instantly because the king of the game for all time.

When it comes to trivia, obviously playing dumb isn’t going to help you. You need to know what you’re talking about, otherwise you simply can’t win. If you’re playing Scene-It? and the version is one you’re unfamiliar with, always select the most diehard fan in the room to be on your team. You will now win. If you happen to be that diehard fan, you better know your stuff or else no one will want to be on your team ever again. If you’re caught in Trivial Pursuit without a real answer (which will happen frequently), fake it to the best of your knowledge. Heck, you might even get away with convincing your friends that the card was a misprint (“No I’m sorry, it was the ‘Moops.”’). You’ve just got to know your friends well enough to know if they’ll fall for it or not. Most won’t, but you need to know if they will.

Don't lose your nerve when it coms to that final push, either. Only rookies choke in the last leg.

If you haven’t figured out enough by now, my main piece of advice isn’t to play the game; it’s to play your friends. In Risk, make a big show about invading Asia, a generally foolish thing to do, while all the while building up an unstoppable force in Australia for a legendary blitzkrieg of the world (“You cheated!” “Nah, that’s fair dinkum mate”). Purposefully build hotels on the purple spaces in Monopoly to make your friends think you’re daft, but save some cash to royally ruin them when you’ve bought the blue spaces from under their noses. And then of course there’s the dropping of the die on the floor so that only you can see it, only to grab it and raise it up saying, “Oh hey look at that, double sixes!” Build the trust and then ruin it in epic fashion, such as trading false information for something of value in Clue or purposefully throwing people off in Stratego by pretending your Marshall is scared of an inferior piece.

Have you got some winning strategies I didn’t mention here? I want to know some of your secrets (it’s only fair since you just learned all of mine). Post a comment and let me know how sneaky and diabolical you can be when it comes to board games. I really want to know, fair dinkum.

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

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