What is….Quarterbacking?

In many co-operative style games (such as Pandemic, Flashpoint: Fire Rescue, Dead of Winter, etc.), there tends to be a trend where one player will try to dictate moves and plays of the other players, which takes the decision making out of their hands and makes them passengers to the game as opposed to drivers.

For reference, quarterbacks tend to run (American) football teams and dictate the offense of the players around them, hence the term used for when someone tries to run a board game the same way.


There are co-operative games that are very resistant to this phenomenon due to their design. Games with a traitor element (Dead of Winter) or hidden hands of cards/objectives (Hanabi) are common design features that keep the game with the entire table as opposed to one player. Real-time games also tend to curtail quarterbacking due to the amount of information needed to process in a short amount of time (FUSE, Captain Sonar).

There’s a debate to be made whether or not quarterbacking is a game design flaw or a player’s fault. I tend to lean towards it being a player error but that doesn’t mean it’s done with malicious intent.

So how to handle quarterbacking? If it’s someone in your group, talk to them about it. It may not be a conscious decision by them. Everyone should be able to handle a mature conversation. Board games are typically a social setting and should be enjoyable for all.

Now, if you’re the quarterback, there’s a few ways to handle that. The hardest is to stop doing what you’ve been doing and say nothing. This will take restraint and there’s the possibility that other players don’t align with your strategy and maybe you’ll lose the game, which can be frustrating. But this allows other players to learn and explore the game in their own way and to reach out when they have questions or concerns.

A better way is to change the way you phrase things. Telling someone to move their piece to Atlanta and remove cubes is direct and forceful. Instead, phrase it as a indirect question that brings the group together to talk tactics. “What should we do about Atlanta?” doesn’t put the onus on one person and allows players to see and matriculate the information you’re presenting on their own.

Also, with board games commonly seeing multiple plays, let your co-player(s) experience a bad move or a mistake so they’ll learn for future games. If you feel the absolute need to speak up, pose it as a question of strategy so you can see what their rationale is for doing ‘x’ over ‘y’.

I had a bad habit of quarterbacking games as I was (and still am) the one who learns and teaches rules for games. I was also a high school football coach for several years so telling people where to go and what to do was sort of my thing.

Due to the learning and teaching of the rules, I would come into games with a higher level of knowledge (from reading the rulebook, watching playthroughs, and reading reviews), which would result in me having a little more understanding of what was going on or what was going to happen and would use that information to dictate plays for other players. It was a bad habit and resulted in games being explained multiple times as I wasn’t letting others play the game, they were just following orders.

In changing the style to learn about their strategy and promote table discussion, the experiences became much more enjoyable and while I was still taking a leading role in creating discussion, I wasn’t forcing moves on players. It’s a hard habit to kick however. I’ve moved most of my quarterbacking to the commentary role when my fianceé is playing Fortnite, which she hates but still puts up with.

Quarterbacking can be a detriment to certain genres of games and hamper an entire game night. As with any conflict that might exist between players, being open and talking about it can help curtail bad habits and make board games what they’re supposed to be, a solid experience for everyone.

If you find yourself to be the culprit, be open with your gaming group and ask them to call you out on it as it might be happening self-consciously.

Author: Two off the Top

Just a guy that wants to talk about board games more than his significant other tolerates.

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