Goof’s Guide… Analysis Paralysis

I’m going to be upfront with you today, this Goof’s Guide may turn into slightly a bit more of a Goof’s Rant. So strap in. Let’s do this thing.

There are several blocks to a good game session, things which take the edge off the fun or outright frustrate the hell out of you. Maybe you have that one girl who takes every decision so damn personally, or that guy who insists on Facebooking until it’s his next turn, not paying attention to anything going on so each of his turns is like the flashback intro to a 90s television drama. Whether it be repetitively asking questions or a bias which exists outside of the game translating into gameplay, there are some really annoying behaviours we exhibit as gamers.

But the one which gets me frustrated beyond all measure? Analysis Paralysis. The exhausting length of time it takes for some people to consider all their options and then take their optimal move. I’ve played in games where it has taken an hour and a half for these two guys to make a move (this is in no way an exaggeration. After three hours they had taken two moves. We packed up the game without finishing and I haven’t played the game again since).


Now look, I think it’s fair to say people should want to perform the best strategy they can to win a game. When you’re sitting at a table from anywhere between half an hour to a full day, there’s a lot of time invested so you want to do well. And when you get into the competitive/tournament side of tabletop gaming, of course winning is vital.

Some people are more prone than others to AP. I’ve got two friends who absolutely fall into this category (a different two than the ones mentioned prior), and I find teaching them new games to be a different challenge entirely. They’re often people who are highly intelligent, who can see so many different patterns and combinations of moves that they’re attempting to math it all out in their heads. But they forget something integral to the skill of tabletop gaming. And who can blame them; at no point in the rulebook does it mention this. Unless it’s explicitly spelled out, who can blame anyone for not realising this skill applies to every single game out there…

The ability to make quick decisions.

Take your damn turn

Take your damn turn

Tabletop gaming is not just about making optimal moves. It’s not just about luck mitigation or combos. It’s also about deciding on your course of action quickly and decisively. And practising this can increase your gameplay tenfold.

When you’re trying to hasten your decision making process, you might make suboptimal moves for a while – that’s to be expected. And I’m not saying you should make moves without thinking. I’m saying you need to be paying attention to what’s happening as the game goes around the table, and then taking a few moments on your turn to make a decision about what’s in front of you. Act on it. If it ended up being a bad decision then that’s okay. You’ve learnt, you’ve grown as a gamer.

Think about the opposite for a moment. Say you take as long as you want and make an optimal move every single time. Firstly, I’m not always going to want to play games with you. Especially a beast like Arkham Horror which can take hours. Secondly, you’re not learning as much because you’re always going to try to math out each play. You’re using all the information in front of you, which means you’re not learning, you’re just responding to information. Thirdly, it doesn’t always mean you’re going to make an optimal play. Because you’re not responding to the most immediate information, you’re trying to respond to all the information. The amount of times I’ve been in a match against someone who suffers from AP and heard “damn. Should have done something different”. It also makes you slightly more predictable, and people can easily play around your decisions by responding to the player and not just the game.

Some games try to incorporate counters to AP into their mechanics; either by having timed events or limiting the amount of options available at a given time. I actually often don’t like this in games. I feel it’s either artificial and can detract from the fun in a game, or it becomes too strategically restrictive.

There will be those times when you have to take extra moments to make a decision. That’s good. It means you’re probably in an intense game that’s coming down to the wire. If you’ve made decisive actions in good time then you’ve probably earnt those extra moments – your opponent is probably waiting to see what you’re going to do with anticipation so they may not mind so much.

And who among us hasn’t thought about games outside of playing them? I think about them all the time. I work out what I should have done in certain situations, if there’s a better combination I could have played, or if I can come up with a unique or different strategy. That time becomes so much more interesting if you haven’t spent it all while playing the game (boring your opponent in the process).

So please, practice being decisive. Become a better player through learning to think fast.

Do it for my sake.

This kitten is less exploding and more having a cat nap

This kitten is less exploding and more having a cat nap

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4 Comments on "Goof’s Guide… Analysis Paralysis"

  1. Love your articles but honestly I think maybe you are a bit harsh on those of us who suffer from analysis paralysis. Personally I am really slow when learning a new game, I like to look at every option. Spending 30 minutes on a turn is obviously to much but some of us need a few minutes, especially in a game we are new to just to consider all our options 🙂

    • I certainly didn’t mean to offend, but I want to ensure that I was being accurate for a moment. I think it’s completely fine to take some time to make your actions. In the article I mentioned that you can take a few moments deciding on your turn as the information will obviously be a little different and you will have choices to make. That’s not the same as Analysis Paralysis. AP is very succinctly the condition the table finds itself in when a person has taken so much time each round that the fun in the game starts to become less, a “paralysis” of enjoyment if you will. And while it’s true that some people are more prone to placing the table in this condition, I’ve also stipulated that it’s usually because they’re highly intelligent.

      I think there are a few factors to consider when you play a game and you’re trying to determine if you’re taking too long:
      A) The game and the speed at which the game is supposed to be enjoyed;
      B) The other people at the table and their level of enjoyment; and
      C) The situation you find yourself and what level of time that situation demands.

  2. I think the term “analysis paralysis” is over applied and thrown around as a terminal insult.

    People who are slow aren’t always obsessives compulsively checking all possible options. Often, like me in some games, they’re just struggling to keep up with other players who understand the game better. Some fast players are fond of hassling slow players “hurry up, hurry up!!!” which can freak struggling players into going slower. There can seem to be too many options to even know where to *start*.

    Playing The Capitals with some friends, building up a 4×4 city grid in front of each player, a complex “machine” where different buildings did different things in different places, and different things when activated, and each of then could trigger a cascade of different effects…

    Each of my turns took a while and the game’s owner started rolling his eyes about AP. But I wasn’t making an exhaustive analysis, I was struggling, drowning, trying to remember how the machine worked and how it would respond to new parts we had to select each turn.

    He admitted casually that he could keep the whole machine in his head. I could not. Every turn I needed to reload it.

    That was a horrid gaming experience. I don’t know if with different gamers I would enjoy it more, but I’ve no incentive to even try that game again.

    • That game sounds intense. I understand what you’re saying though. I’ve played with gamers who are new. Or who need additional time to think. And I think that’s fine. I often play with the juniors and part of my job here at TGR is to try out new games with a variety of types of players. I think games have very different angles to them when played with experienced gamers and with casual players. This article certainly wasn’t about insulting anyone who needs to take additional time. It was specifically about those individuals who don’t realise that being decisive and making decisions in reasonable time is a valuable and overlooked component of tabletop gaming.

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