Analysis Paralysis is a problem for tabletop gamers. It is a problem for the active gamer, and it is especially a problem for the other gamers.
Let us look at the common causes of Analysis Paralysis, and look at some solutions. To save me from having to type Analysis Paralysis so much, I will simply use the commonly used acronym AP from now onward.
The Wikipedia Definition:
“Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.”
This is correct for non-gaming situations, but it is not complete when applied to the world of tabletop gaming. Here the situation is complicated by other factors that are not present in real life decision making. There is the game itself, and other gamers too.
An practical definition of AP for tabletop gaming could be:
“Analysis Paralysis is that seemingly long, often uncomfortable, delay in a game when a player takes too long to complete their turn.”
The active player is over-analyzing their options and choices, all towards actually taking their turn. The other players are patiently waiting. This waiting only adds to the perceived length of the delay. AP is a problem for those who suffer from it, and for the other people who are playing the same game.
Although my focus is on the board gaming sides of tabletop gaming, the problems can also apply to card games, classic board games, miniature games, and Role Playing Games.
"I tend to suffer more from AP in a game that is new to me, due to the fear of not seeing a choice that is obvious to a more experienced player of that game."
The Common Causes of AP
There are many causes of AP in the tabletop gaming world.
- Lots of options, or choices, in the game play.
- Many choices without an obvious best choice.
- Fear of missing an obvious move.
- Waiting to review their choices until the start of their turn.
- The game design itself.
- The player did not realize it was their turn*.
*You may scoff at this statement. During a recent 4-player game of Catan, we had a experienced player who seemingly forgot it was his turn. The other players repeatedly looked at each other. The game went quiet. Hours, days, months seemed to pass. Finally, someone spoke. "Hey Fred (although Fred was not his name), what are you going to do ?" "Oh" replied Fred, "Is it my turn ?". What made it even more frustrating was that he had rolled the dice, and he had moved the Robber. His focus then seemingly wandered off into another place."
The Games Themselves
The AP problem can strike in almost any game, especially for new gamers. As a gamer plays more games, and gains experience by replaying games, they are better able to process the game decision choices more efficiently, and thus more quickly. This skill takes time to learn, and it is a good idea to show new players some helpful tips while teaching them a new game.
An example is the light, dice based game Qwixx. For an experienced game this is an easy game without the need for deep strategic thinking. The decision points are few, and the options are easy to process down to the better choices. If you watch an experienced gamer play this game you will quickly sees the player look at the sums of the dice, look at their Qwixx board, and make a decision. Play this game with a complete newcomer to gaming, and you will often see the deer caught in the headlights look. For them there is an excess of choice. An overwhelming problem of what to do. The beginner needs to learn to systematically process their choices down to the few that matter. This skill often needs to be taught by the more experienced players. Help the newcomers in the short term, and you will help yourself in the long run.
One element that players complain about is downtime during the game. The players have little or no choices to be made when it is nor their turn, thus they have to wait while each other player takes their own turns.. One solution that helps to keep people engaged during the game are those where the players has choices during other players turns. An example would be the deck building space game Eminent Domain. The players should always be looking ahead, and analyzing their choices for their next turn. It can be difficult to have your own game turn planned out when you are being active on other players turns.
Within the board gaming community the medium-heavy complexity euro game has become very popular for experienced board gamers. A common attribute of these games are lots of player choices, the simple reason is the players themselves want lots of choices so they can explore different strategies. The players want their decisions to determine the victor of the game. Lots of choices therefore means that more game analysis is required is determine the better choices.Unless the players take steps to avoid it, the unexpected side effect of more choice, and thus more analysis, is more AP.
Solutions for AP
There is not one solution for AP. Here are some guidelines to reduce the impact of AP.
- Ensure each player clearly ends their turn, and verbally hands over to the next player. This is especially important in loud, or distracting environments. Delaying the game because someone did not know it was their turn is easily avoidable. Communicate, and acknowledge it is your turn.
- Communicate, let people know you are processing your choices.
- If the game is new to you, ask for advice from the more experienced players.
- Weigh up the pros and the cons of your options in a systematic manner.
- Play the same game multiple times to become more proficient.
- Focus on the game during the other players turns.
- It is just a game. Make a decision. Move on!
When stuck In An AP Cycle.
Sometimes it hits you like a sledgehammer, you do not know what to do. The game board is a mass of indecipherable symbols, and the cards are written in an alien language. Then you look up and see that the other players are staring at you. What do you do ?
- Let people know you are processing your options.
- Try not to focus on the delay, concentrate on completing your turn.
- Set a time limit for yourself. Then go with your best option you know at that time.
- Scan the game board in a systematic pattern to ensure you review all of your options.
- Weigh up the pros and the cons of your options. Once you have eliminated a choice, move on to the others.
- If there is a choice between a risky and a safe option. Go with the safe option.
- There may not be a perfect move. Go with the best option.
- If you are unsure, ask others to confirm what options you have. This is not asking them to tell you what you should do, this helps to confirm that you have considered all of your options. This also buys you some more time.
- It is just a game. Make a decision. Move on!
When Another Player Is Stuck In An AP Cycle.
Time goes slowly during an AP players turn, especially so if the other players are taking quick turns.
- If you are sure the AP player is actually formulating the next move, do not disturb the player. Disturbing an AP players will only extend the delay.
- Do not distract the AP with excessive table talk.
- If asked to give strategy advice, ensure you give fair and honest advice.
- If that player is extremely prone to AP, diplomatically suggest that they play other games with less player interference.
Do’s And Don’ts When Experiencing Analysis Paralysis From Either Side.
- Ensure that each player knows it is their turn.
- Be patient.
- Review your future options when it is not your turn. Prioritize your choices as not all of the options will be available when your turn comes around.
- Ensure the player knows their options. Don’t tell them what to do, advise them of their choices. If you are going to give another player strategy advice. Always give honest and good advice. I should not have to explain why you should give honest and good advice!
- If you suffer badly from AP. Consider playing games where your options cannot be blocked by other players.
- Taking back your move. There is nothing worse than completing your turn, and immediately seeing a better option. This, unfortunately does happens. This is very dependent on the game itself if such a re-do is practical. Generally, I would resist the urge to reset the turn and repeat it, but that does rest on opinions of the other players.
- If your turn is over, and you see a better option. Please resist the urge to go back and re-do your turn. This is up to the discretion of the other players, but a simple rule is if the game-state has changed, then it is too late.
- It is just a game. Make a decision. Move on!
“The maxim nothing avails but perfection may be spelt p-a-r-a-l-y-s-i-s” – Winston Churchill
How players deal with AP is a good barometer of the type of person they are. Other players should have patience. Find nicer people to game with next time, or play other games that suffer less from AP players. Even so, I sometimes have little patience, and can be short with people who take an extremely long time to take their turn. I should be more understanding myself.
“It’s just a bloomin’ game”
21st March 2017
9 Tip To Avoid Analysis Paralysis
Forbes – How To Overcome The ‘Analysis Paralysis’ Of Decision-Making
ToDoIst Blog – The Science of Analysis Paralysis: How Overthinking Kills Your Productivity & What You Can Do About It