Analysis Paralysis – The Option Overload

by Sep 29, 2021Olaf's Corner

Recently my wife and I decided to get some new blinds for some of the windows in our house…

This week we went ahead and met with a salesperson for a consultation. After carefully discussing our different options for the kind of blinds we might want, we eventually ended up having to choose a colour and style of fabric for our upcoming purchase. The ever-patient sales person presented us with two large books of fabric samples and the three of us worked our way through them, discussing our favourites along the way and commenting on why a certain colour might be a good choice for the room. I did notice something interesting happening in my own mind: For the first 15-20 samples that I was presented with, I was rather focused and was able to form strong opinions on which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. After a while, things started to get less certain and eventually everything ‘blurred’ from one colour to the next. It became more and more difficult to make a decision on my preferences. Why? Because there were just too many choices. By the end of it I was completely lost in sea of possibilities. Luckily we were able to agree on two or three favourites which we will consider again during our next meeting. 

So what then, is the point of this story? Choices are a good thing. Too many choices can become problematic and might eventually lead to feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to form a decision. 

Board gaming is all about choices. In fact, that is one of the things that makes a good game so enjoyable. We are able to make decisions during gameplay that are risk-free as far as real life consequences are concerned – but they will influence the outcome of our game. Especially Euro-game style games try to eliminate the elements of luck and randomness as much as possible as to leave plenty of room for the players to take charge of their own fate. That is a beautiful thing, but it can come with its own challenge: Analysis Paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis (often shortened to AP) has become a phrase that is often used in the board gaming community – but it is not unique to it. Generally speaking it refers to a state where someone is overwhelmed with information to a point to being paralysed. They therefore take a long time to make an upcoming decision. This can be amplified by the fact that some more strategic games require decisions that not only impact the immediate game, but might influence your performance for many turns to come. The information that one has to consider might be influenced by a player’s cards, their resources or available actions – to mention just a few. It is therefore not surprising that it might take some lengthy mental acrobatics to ponder one’s next move. That in itself does not have to be a negative, in fact it is something a lot of players enjoy. The problem arises if one or more payers take considerably more time to take their turn than the other people they play with. Eventually this will disrupt and hinder the flow of the game for everyone involved. Maybe this is not an issue with the group of people you game with, but if it is, then here are some suggestions on how to deal with the occasional analysis paralysis.

Be a little more patient.

I myself have a habit of rushing into many of life’s decisions. This is no different when it comes to playing a game. I make choices quickly and try not to waste too much time pondering about every single aspect and consequence. If there are players that take more time than me in taking their turn, I ask myself if they are actually slow or if they are just better and planing ahead properly. I often remind myself to be a little more patient with others who might be approaching their strategizing with more care. One can always use the downtime to plan a future move or to socialize with others around the table.

Choose games with less down time.

If you do find that some people in your group are struggling with analysis paralysis, I suggest you chose a different style of game. Games that are less heavily weighted towards making choices or games that offer simultaneous play (like 7 Wonders) might be a good choice. See what kind of games they might enjoy or gently suggest a game that you know does not require too much planing ahead.

Use an object to gently remind players to speed up a little.

Once trick that I have used in the past is to use some kind of playing piece (i.e. a large pawn) and place it in front of players that are taking a long time to finish their turn. This gives them a gentle visual nudge without the embarrassment of a verbal reminder. I find this to work well as it keeps the atmosphere lighthearted or often comical. Make sure not to pick on one player only. Let everyone know what a little time pressure might feel like.

Have a conversation.

If all else fails I suggest you have an honest conversation with the person who is struggling with AP. I know that this might not be easy for everyone. Maybe ask them what could be done to keep the flow of future games at a reasonable pace for everyone. See if they are able to acknowledge their struggle and see if you can agree on a different gaming style or any other solution.

Be aware of your own playing style.

Maybe you are the player who is taking more time during your turn than the others in your group. In that case see if you can plan ahead already while others are taking their turn. That way you have had plenty of time to ponder your next move before you have to take it. Stay focused on what is happening simply to be kind to the other players.

Whatever solution you choose, remember that the main reason everyone got together was to have fun as a group. Choose something that does not make people feel bad about the way they approach a game. Don’t make another players feel weak or less intelligent because of the way they approach logical problems. Just like you, they are there to enjoy themselves and each others company. Be careful to not let them feel like they are not wanted.

Board gaming is about connecting with others. Sometimes that means that we have to acknowledge that we are all approaching challenges in life in a different manner. Maybe that is something we can celebrate rather than trying to correct it. Happy, patient, efficient and relaxed gaming everyone!

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