Sunk Cost Fallacy and Boardgames

Last Friday, I listened to a short piece on NPR called “How Sunk Cost Fallacy Applies To Love.” In Economics, a sunk cost is one that has already been paid and cannot be recovered.  I think this is where we get the saying “Throwing good money after bad” or “Don’t chase your losses.” In the NPR piece, a woman stayed in a bad relationship because she had already invested a good deal of her time.

It struck me immediately that this can have a similar effect on gamers. You get excited about a new game and you pay your money, but after you play it, you don’t really like it. However, you feel obligated to keep it or play it again because you feel like you haven’t gotten your value. You may find that you prefer a new edition of a game, but you won’t purchase the new edition because you spent money on the old one.

This is an ancient sea creature called a nautilus. It does not give a fig about boardgames.
This is an ancient sea creature called a nautilus. It does not give a fig about boardgames.

How many of you have played a game to completion, even though nobody at the table is having a good time? Someone will say, “Well, we’ve already put a couple of hours into it, so we might as well finish this.” I understand sticking with a game even if you personally aren’t having a good time, but if it’s obvious that nobody is having a good time, then just do something else.

My friend John never falls into this trap. If he doesn’t like a game, he sells it immediately. There have been a couple of occasions where I asked him, “Hey, let’s play Game X! That looked cool. Didn’t you pick that up?” only for him to reply, “Yeah, that game sucked. I already sold it.” He recently sold a copy of XCOM: The Boardgame after owning it for two days. He’s currently attempting an Iron Cheapskate Challenge, where he is limiting the amount of money spent on games in 2015 to the value of the games that he can sell. Go John!

Here are some things to consider:

There are many ways to sell your used games, so don’t think of the cost as being unrecoverable. You have no obligation to a game just because you bought it. Unless the designer is a friend of yours, nobody will get their feelings hurt if you get rid of a game you don’t love.

You can’t recover lost time. Trust me, I watched five episodes of Gotham and I will never get those hours back. If you are playing a game that is no fun and the other players feel the same, then pack it up and play something else. If the other players are having a good time and they would be affected by you leaving, then suck it up and play to the end.

Sometimes, new editions are actually better. If there is a new and improved edition of a game, don’t feel like you can’t buy the new hotness just because you spent money on the old and busted. If you like King of New York better than King of Tokyo, then buy it!

Now pardon me while I go and sell some games.

3 thoughts on “Sunk Cost Fallacy and Boardgames”

  1. So what’s the protocol when you’re not having fun, and you suspect others might not be either? Is it ok to just blurt out “I hate this game. Does anyone ELSE want to quit?”

    I’m asking for a friend.

  2. In my 30+ years of adult board gaming, I can think of barely a handful of times my table of gamers decided to abandon a game. I think this rarity mainly has to do with most of the games I play are relatively short and there is some entertainment value to be had saying how much a game sucks while you’re playing it.

    As for selling games I hate, I usually take the sunk-cost fallacy to an extreme and think “I’ve already wasted time buying and playing this stinker, so why should I waste any more time dealing with selling it.” And so I usually wind up just giving the game away at a time and place when it’s the least inconvenient for me to do so.

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