Day 40: Business Lessons from Board Gaming

If you're not aware, I'm a pretty avid board gamer. Between Paul & I, we have a collection of about 130 board games, which seems like a lot until you hear about all the ones we've gotten rid of. I spent eleven hours today playing a ten-player board game, which was just....the best. I am a total board game hipster. I regret nothing, except for the fact that I'm not really going to explain any of the games I mention below.


I'm not sure which direction it goes, but the longer I've been in business for myself, the better I've gotten at games...or maybe as I've gotten better at games, I've gotten better at running my business.

Lesson 1: Sometimes giving something away for free is a good idea.

In most games, money or resources are tightly pegged to your success--if you make a series of trades that are slightly disadvantageous, those slight losses accumulate and you lose. Wah-wah.

In Bohnanza, there's a tricky element where, by hanging on to all the possibilities, by being stingy--you spite only yourself.

But, if you're generous, willing to pass on possibilities that you know cooooould work if only you weren't already busy with this other plan, and give them to your opponents, you'll be much more likely to succeed. You're able to focus on the plan you set out for yourself, not self-sabotage by trying to follow every last possibility.

Lesson 2: Tactics vs. strategy

I didn't really fully grasp the difference between these two until I started playing war games. Some war games have you literally maneuvering single tanks. Some war games have you moving a whole damn brigade of people. They play differently because one focuses on tactics and one focuses on strategy.

I hear these words thrown around in business, design and entrepreneurship circles, but I find that thinking of them a little more closely and specifically has cleared up some confusion.

Strategic games are the 10,000 people version. The big picture. The way you will systematically achieve your objective.

Tactics games are the 10 people version. How you feed them. How you get them where they're going. Where they hide in the forest.

Both are interesting and important, but if you think that learning about Instagram tactics (e.g. how to find a good hashtag for your post) is the same as learning a good social media strategy, you're effed. Sure, you can sort all this out on your own, but I find it really helpful to separate and approach them differently. If I 'm trying to figure out how to connect with more people and suddenly I'm watching a periscope on tracking money for my business, I usually have fallen down a tactical rabbit hole.

Strategy is for six months. Tactics are for every day.

Lesson 3: It's the end game.

I didn't realize this until I started playing longer games, but pretty much every game has a beginning, middle and end--just like a story. Knowing where you are in the game will substantially change the way you play. In the beginning, you are building economic engines, infrastructure, resources. If you keep building those into the mid game and don't shift into producing points, you...will lose. If you start acting like the game is about to end but there are more turns left, you'll run out of steam will lose.

Lesson 4: Practice negotiation before it matters.

Seriously. Negotiation is tough. It's really tough when you are scared and want a client and you think they are going to say no. But I tell you: Once you grant Henry VIII a divorce way too easily, you will learn. Learn with Monopoly money, not rent money.

(Except never actually play Monopoly. It's awful.)

Lesson 5: It's not always about competition.

This is a lesson I learned from open source as well, but sometimes you can win while your neighbors thrive. And heck, if you don't win, you thrive. It's not a bad world to live in.


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