Nobody loves to lose. Yes, it encourages resilience, makes us stronger, and all that other character-building stuff, but when you’re learning something for the first time (like a new board game), it’s not exactly fun to get stomped. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to coddle your kids or pretend to be bad at a game you love. Instead, you might want to know about a genius little tactic called variable-ratio schedule and let kids win. At least sometimes.
If you’re saying “variable what?” right now, I had a similar reaction. Let me explain. The head of our studio here at Underdog Games, Nick Bentley, is a former neuroscientist. He used to spend a lot of time in the lab, training animals to do tasks in exchange for rewards by using variable-ratio schedule.
With it, you don’t hand out a reward every time in order to stay fresh and unpredictable. Keep ‘em coming back for more! And you know what? Nick found this system works wonders when it comes to getting your kids, family, or friends excited about board games.
Create a positive experience when you let kids win.
Nick actually explains this approach beautifully on his blog post, How to addict your kids to boardgames, and help them improve super fast . It’s a great read—check it out. But I’m going to highlight it here as well.
When applying this theory to playing games with your family and friends, the general idea is that you can’t let them win all the time because they’ll lose interest. And you can’t constantly beat them or they’ll never develop interest. So you have to mix it up.
Now this assumes you’re playing more of a skills game and have the power to influence the outcome. There are plenty of games out there that are already random in nature. I’ve been beaten plenty of times by my own kids, even though I was trying to take them down. But let’s say you do have this influencing power. What’s the right win-lose ratio to make this strategy work? Here’s where I’ll tee up Nick’s recommendation.
You see how you always start with letting your opponent win out of the gate? They need to both learn how to play the game and enjoy it. Then you mix up the win-loss ratio a little bit at a time, never beating your opponent so badly that they have a negative experience.
And now you have the start of a game nerd.
You should definitely adjust the above recommendation as it works best for you. There are other factors to consider like the age of your subject, their overall interest in board games, and the type of game itself. But variable-ratio schedule works! It’s a great way to introduce your love of board games to someone you care about and keep them interested.
Not only will this give you a willing partner to play games with regularly, but it’s also just good for them. Studies have shown time and time again that board games are great development tools for kids and also help adults as they get older.
I’ve been that person, introducing a board game I love to someone for the first time, where I’m nervous because I want them to love it as much as I do. I’ve also been that person, playing a new game with a friend, while they eagerly wait for me to react.
It can be hard to let someone else win, especially if you’re a highly competitive person. However, it’s important to remember the other great benefits to playing games, outside of winning. For those of us who love board games, the variable-ratio schedule might be just what we need to get others to love them, too.