A Look at Analysis Paralysis in Board Games

Analysis Paralysis in Board Games - Terra Mystica

Analysis paralysis (sometimes shortened to AP) is one of those phrases that you might have heard tossed around in places like like BoardGameGeek, social media and podcasting. Without an explanation, it’s a phrase that might not immediately make sense in the context of tabletop gaming. My hope is that, by the end of this post, you’ll understand what analysis paralysis is and be able to make sure that it doesn’t cause issues between the people that you play games with.

You might also have found this post because you’re aware of the term and you’re looking for a solution. If that’s the case, skip straight to the ‘what can you do?’ section.

What is Analysis Paralysis in Board Gaming?

Analysis paralysis is not unique to tabletop gaming. In its broadest sense, it refers to a state where someone is overwhelmed with information and takes a long time to make a decision.

It’s easy to apply the concept to games. Many strategic board games from the last few decades involve tough decisions, some of which might have an instant impact on the game, others of which will continue to influence your performance for turns to come. Players are normally required to make these decisions based on different kinds of information. It could be influenced by cards in hand, resources, available actions, other players or a whole host of other factors. It’s not surprising that it sometimes takes players a little while to make their choice.

Analysis paralysis is generally mentioned when a particular player gets a reputation for taking a long time to make their decision. Rather than taking a while over one tough turn in a complex game, they might have a habit of taking much longer to make decisions than the other people they play with.

You’ll often see analysis paralysis used negatively as people complain about other players. The point of this article is not to make anyone feel bad, but to provide some practical tips for dealing with analysis paralysis within your game groups if you notice that it’s causing conflict. If it’s never caused problems in your games, then don’t worry about it. Just keep playing and enjoying yourselves.

Before we go any further, I should say that I’m not prone to analysis paralysis. I take pretty quick turns and, if anything, don’t think enough. So I don’t have the experience to offer advice to gamers who know they suffer from analysis paralysis. Instead, I’ll focus on what regular gaming groups and friendship groups can do to make sure everybody at the table has a good time.

What can you do about it?

With all that said, let’s take a look at four of my ideas for how to enjoy games as a group when you know that you’re playing with people who are prone to analysis paralysis. If you have any other ideas, let us know on Twitter (@ZatuGames).

Be a little more patient

My first tip involves taking a step back and asking yourselves if analysis paralysis is really an issue for you. Is the length of time it takes someone to make their decision actually affecting your group, for example, by preventing you from playing as many games as you could otherwise? Or is it just that one player happens to be a bit slower than the others and you’re getting impatient?

If the latter is true, my first tip would be to try and keep analysis paralysis from becoming an issue at all. Once you recognise that it’s not actually preventing you from playing anything you want to play, just try to relax and realise that there is nothing wrong with one or two players taking a little longer. Be more patient and try to use down time to plan your own moves or socialise with other people at the table.

Play games with less down time

If, on the other hand, analysis paralysis is a real issue for your group, you may need to take action. One possible option is to play games that have less downtime for the players. They could be games that involve simultaneous actions (7 Wonders is a popular, accessible example) or they could be games that involve a lot of player involvement no matter whose turn it is. Dice Throne is a game I’ve been playing that falls into the latter category. You can also look for the ‘engagement’ metric at the bottom of the reviews on our blog.

While playing these games doesn’t do anything to reduce the time it takes AP players to make their decisions, they do reduce the amount of time that other players have to wait without doing anything, making the analysis paralysis less noticeable. It might not be feasible to play this type of game all the time but playing them more often may allow you all to enjoy the sessions more.

Play games that don’t cause the issue

Another practical solution is to identify the types of games that don’t cause analysis paralysis in the people you play with. Is there too much information available? Are there too many options? Or is it possible to see how your actions will affect the game several turns down the line? If you can identify a trend, you can intersperse your sessions with games that don’t trigger analysis paralysis.

Depending on how comfortable you are talking to AP players about the time they're taking, it might be worth simply asking them if there is something that causes them to take longer. If you’re not comfortable having this conversation, you may just have to experiment with different types of games until you find some that work. Ultimately, if you can find a few game that will minimise the analysis paralysis, you can play them alongside other games to make sure that everyone plays the titles they’re looking forward to.

Have a conversation

Finally, if issues persist and you haven’t found a gaming solution, have a conversation with the AP player. If you haven’t already, ask them if there are any types of games that make their analysis paralysis worse.

Alternatively, you might be able to arrange some way of helping them out irrespective of what game you’re playing. Even making the player aware that their turns are taking a while could make them more conscious of the time they spend making a decision and help them to speed up.

Whatever solutions your group comes up with, remember that the main goal should always be that everyone at the table enjoys the game. You don’t want players with analysis paralysis to feel like they’re not wanted but you want everyone else to be able to have a good time, as well. You might need to compromise and it may take time to find a solution that works. But if you do take the time, analysis paralysis doesn’t have to be an ongoing issue.