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Why We Should All Love Hate Drafting

Sagrada expansion feature image with dice pool

According to the Urban Dictionary, the definition of hate drafting is to make a selection that will “spite or anger one or more of your opponents because they had intended to select” a certain commodity. I have seen many board game reviews both in the form of blogs and playthroughs that have listed a players’ propensity towards hate drafting as a reason why some people may not like games.

This irritates me a little because surely hate drafting is less to do with the mechanics of the game, and more to do with the mechanics of the people playing it. So for that reason, my question is a quite simple one:

What is actually wrong with hate drafting?

Allow me to use a sporting analogy if you will. Jose Mourinho is one of the world’s most successful football coaches, who has built his career out of making teams defensively sound in the first instance. He has built his reputation on what many in the game call “parking the bus,” taking a lead, and then doing whatever is possible to stay in the lead. Is it attractive to watch? No. Is it an idealistic way of winning? Hard no. But does it get results? Certainly.

To me, hate drafting is the board game equivalent of parking the bus. It’s a pragmatic, defensive tactic that allows you to suss out what your opponents are trying to do and preventing them from doing so.

One of the games we play frequently in our house is Kanagawa, a drafting game where you are collecting cards to make the best piece of art, expanding your studio or collecting diplomas to earn additional harmony points to win the game. One player takes the role of the ‘Grand Master’ and is responsible for the placement of the cards which players can in turn place in their picture or their studio.

A lot of the time you look at your own cards to decide which are best to pick up. But sometimes… just sometimes, you might have a casual glance at another players’ board to see what they are most likely to pick up. In a circumstance where none of the cards on display carry much merit for you, are we really suggesting that picking up cards that would benefit another player is in any way wrong?

If anything, I would say that so-called hate drafting is a more advanced way of playing. You are not only looking at what would benefit yourself, but you are also considering what would benefit others, and tabulating how much of an advantage they would gain from being in possession of specific items.

Now there are two quite common rebuttals to this when I have discussed it with friends:

Hate drafting is not playing in the right spirit

For the significant majority of people who play board games recreationally, there is an argument for saying the intentional blocking off of another person takes the fun aspect out of playing. Consider this: when you have someone hate drafting you, you then are given an opportunity to plot another route to victory, and wouldn’t that victory taste oh so much sweeter?

Also, board games have victors. They’re fun, but they’re so much more fun if you win. Hate drafting is only mean spirited if you let yourself believe its anything other than just another tactic and, let’s face it, it really isn’t.

Hate drafting isn’t fun when it happens to you

I actually think the exact opposite. I would say that hate drafting is one of the biggest compliments you can receive when playing a board game. You are seen as so much of a threat to another persons’ chances of winning, they have to restrict your chances to increase theirs. There’s nothing funnier than playing Sagrada (which is a brilliant game by the way) and seeing someone pick up a dice that you want and then not being totally sure what to do with it as they don’t really need it that much, but they REALLY didn’t want you to have it.

It becomes a running joke and for me makes games that much more competitive and therefore more enjoyable. Having also played Azul (which is also brilliant by the way) with some of my friends, I can honestly say that by the end of the game, the hate drafting brought about a new level of pettiness. I finished last but I didn’t honestly care because it was probably one of the funniest board game nights I’ve ever had. It encouraged me to buy the game for myself rather than putting me off.

Fundamentally, I don’t think hate drafting is a reason that a person should ever be put off buying a board game. There are other concepts in board games that I find a lot harder to stomach than hate drafting (like Monopoly where the only way to win is to make everyone else bankrupt) and surely cause players to be much more spiteful and self-serving. Ultimately it is just another tactic, and often a very useful one.

So there you have it, I strongly believe we should normalise hate drafting and think of a better name for it because honestly… I love a bit of hate drafting.