What Board Games Taught Me About Business

[originally published on Medium]

Board games have come a long way. They have grown up quite a bit since the Monopoly and Life games from my youth.

Today’s games are not only artistically superior, but they also appeal to those who want to be intellectually stimulated. When my family sits down at the game table, we work together to survive the shifting sands of the desertcure global diseases, and build trans-European railways. Sometimes we play against each other; other games we play in co-op as a team against the board itself.

This week, as I approached yet another new game for the first time, I realized there were lessons to be learned here for my other competitive interest. Business.

Like starting a company, a new game can be intimidating. Lots of rules to employ, strict engagement sequences, and strategies to discover in order to be successful.

That last part is particularly important. The strategies can only be discovered through experience. Rarely, if ever, are they listed in the rulebook.

Our new board game is called Above and Below by Ryan Laukat.

After playing a number of board games over the past few years, we were looking for something that seemed to be a little more intense. We decided that Above and Below seemed to offer lots of intricacies and nuance that could be both challenging and interesting, although we were aware that this also ran the risk of being a little overwhelming!

Not unlike a startup.

We decided to begin our journey by studying the game from higher level before we invested money. We researched several videos on gameplay walk-throughs, and got a sense for the game. So far, so good.

Next, we made our initial investment which provided us the tools (board, pieces and rule book) we needed to learn more.

Then, before we assembled anything, punched out the cardboard game tokens or started tossing dice, we read the rules. This would have not gone as well as it did if we hadn’t familiarized ourselves with the space in advance. Nonetheless, the rules were a bit heavy to digest so we decided to dive in and play and learn as we go. Entrepreneur much, anyone?

Our game started slow at first as we carefully advanced step-by-step, following along in the rulebook and trying to understand what it was we were trying to accomplish.

In a short amount of time, we were playing along smoothly, only referencing the rulebook when a question was raised. At this point, we felt that we had a pretty good understanding of the game and were enjoying it.

But it turns out that we actually understood very little at this point . We only knew the mechanics of play, not how to succeed.

At the end of the game, my wife, son and I were pretty sure that I was going to be the winner of the game. As we tallied up our scores, in fact, I came in last. My wife won by a substantial amount with my son besting me for second place.

It then dawned on me that during the entire game I was operating in survival mode, with no clear plan for victory. When I got to the end of the game, I felt I had accomplished something, only to find out that simpler approaches prevailed.

But the beauty is, whether it’s a game or your business, if you are learning from your experience you will live to play another day; and be the wiser for it.

In retrospective analysis, we can clearly see the strategies emerge. They are obvious to those who take the time to look. One should never rush into a rematch without reaping the benefits from the previous match.

What actions¹ had worked that lead to success?

And what tactics² were pursued that didn’t provide the desired results?

With our new understanding and strategies in hand, we are eager to play the game another time. And as we apply these new lessons, we are well aware that there will be more given along the way.

Play. Learn. Repeat.

And remember, if you stop having fun, it isn’t a game worth playing.

  1. For starters, pick a course of action and double down on your decision.
  2. Trying to play all fronts. It’s a finite game, you don’t have time to accomplish everything.