Inspired by the reverse question.

My wife and I play a lot of board games (e.g. 7 Wonders, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride), and some card games (e.g. gin rummy) or video games (e.g. Mario Kart). We both quite enjoy them, though they’re more important to me than she.

For the most part, she refuses to play competitively: she’ll play as well as she’s able, but only up to the limit of what she can do without messing up others. This does not interfere with her enjoyment of the game! She’s happy to play without any serious regard for winning or losing, and is much happier not being competitive.

This seems to be guilt-driven: she feels bad ruining anyone else’s strategy. For examples,

  • In gin, she will be (a little) upset to learn that she had a card another player needed to win, even if she 1. also needed it, and 2. had no way of knowing that in the first place (neither of us is much good at counting cards, and in particular she makes no attempt to do so).

  • She’s very careful with shells in Mario Kart, to make sure she only ever uses them on computer opponents rather than one of the human players. She’ll let a blue shell (which automatically attacks the racer in 1st place) sit unused, blocking her ability to pick up something else, if she knows I’m in 1st. If she accidentally does hit me with a shell, she feels some (moderate) guilt about that.

Neither of these things necessarily ruins the game for her, and she’s certainly not distraught or anything about it, but the negative feelings associated with these things are enough to affect how she chooses to play the game, as evinced by the blue shell thing. She isn’t particularly bothered by this, and enjoys the game even if she loses. She’s certainly much happier losing than she is with the negative feelings associated with attacking another player. As such, she has little motivation to change, and therefore change may be impossible and attempting to change her might well be inappropriate. I know that.

On the other hand, I think she might enjoy the game more if she got a little more competitive. Certainly I don’t think she ought to be experiencing negative emotions over playing a game well and fairly; alleviating those would be a primary goal.

And yes, to be honest, it affects my experience as well: I end up trying to play “nice” both out of a desire to reciprocate and also to try to keep the playing field level, but ultimately there is zero way to know if I won because of better play, or because she “out-niced” me. It would be nice to be able to convince her that I would enjoy the game more if she frustrated my tactics, than if she let me win. I have said as much, but she doesn’t seem to buy it—or, at least, doesn’t buy it enough to feel free to do so and not feel guilty about it. It feels a little silly that her attempts to improve my play experience actually degrade that experience.

The goal here is not to enjoy game time with my wife: I already do that. Therefore, answers focusing on playing something else, like a cooperative game (Pandemic is already one of our favorites) are missing the point and not answering the question. The goal here is also not to enjoy the challenge of stiff competition for its own sake: I already do that, too. Therefore, answers focusing on finding that challenge elsewhere are also missing the point and not answering the question.

The goal here is to alleviate her negative feelings associated with competitive play, hoping to achieve greater satisfaction and enjoyment of game time for both of us. Answers should focus on how to achieve that, if possible, and if an answer wishes to claim it is not possible, which may well be true, that needs evidence to support it. Answers will absolutely be judged on how well they Back It Up! per Stack Exchange principles, and answers that assert facts without backing them up will be downvoted.

  • I wouldn't and did not down vote your question, but I understand the person who did. For some, your question might be "primarily opinion based", "too many possible answers", or "that would require an extremely long answer". And sorry, I don't have an answer for you.
    – rondonctba
    Sep 18, 2018 at 21:09
  • 2
    @rondonctba Well, if someone did that, they are misunderstanding the purpose of their votes: the appropriate response to that, if you believe it, is to vote to close, not downvote. Downvotes are for “does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful,” which I don’t think applies but perhaps someone did. But it is important to understand the distinction between the two privileges and to use them accordingly.
    – KRyan
    Sep 18, 2018 at 21:12
  • 1
    Is there anything your wife is competitive with? If she's simply not a competitive person, we won't be able to tell you how to go against her personality.
    – scohe001
    Sep 18, 2018 at 21:17
  • @scohe001 Not really, and I don’t necessarily expect her to become very competitive (wouldn’t want to be in the linked reverse situation either, for example), but it would be nice if she felt comfortable making plays that benefit her even when they hurt other players, and didn’t feel guilty if she learns after the fact that something she did messed up someone else’s strategy. If that can’t be done (which is more-or-less what I assumed before I decided “eh why not ask?”), it’d also be great if someone can answer with something that backs that up.
    – KRyan
    Sep 18, 2018 at 21:19
  • @JamieClinton She does, but could also happily live without whereas I find them a more important part of how I spend my time.
    – KRyan
    Sep 18, 2018 at 22:05

6 Answers 6


what about playing games where direct competition is heavily encouraged (think connect four or 2 person blokus), in these sort of games much of the enjoyment comes from out strategizing the other player. To further encourage competitive play in these games you can try suggesting what moves they could make to counter what you did, this can show that you want them to challenge you.

I use this method fairly often when teaching someone a new game I am familiar with since I'm a competitive person as well. I think this method works well to increase the feeling of being challenged against someone who doesn't know the game and even more so for someone who knows the game.

Alternatively would a game like dominion where you don't always know for sure who is winning be helpful? Dominion can be set up using different combinations of cards so if your wife doesn't like playing cards that harm your strategy you could use a different set up that doesn't include any of those cards.

  • Dominion might not work well (frankly, I tend to avoid the attack cards in Dominion because I find many of them suck all the enjoyment out of the game), but you might well be on to something there with ideas like Connect 4. I mean, I’d want a somewhat more involved game than that, but I doubt she’d find anything objectionable about blocking someone in that. I wonder what the difference is... I agree with you that I feel like there is one, anyway, so +1.
    – KRyan
    Sep 18, 2018 at 22:07
  • I still think dominion could work with the right card set up. If you don't enjoy attack cards and your wife probably wouldn't play them don't choose any attack cards, make every card a good card. With that kind of set up it doesn't matter as much what they add to their deck it's still going to help them.
    – BKlassen
    Sep 18, 2018 at 22:13
  • Sure, except then we’re back to just avoiding games where it comes up.
    – KRyan
    Sep 18, 2018 at 22:39

Based on my own experience, you may be out of luck. What it sounds like you are looking for is someone that will provide a competitive edge for you-- but that requires an opponent who is pushing to win (and that generally has the flip side of pushing for other players to lose). That drive is the very thing that she doesn't have and doesn't want, and without that motivation it will be difficult for her to provide the type of play you want.

It's not just a conscious decision to play the game under X approach that makes for a competitive player and an exciting challenge. It's the underlying motivation to claim victory that fuels a competition, with actual play just being an expression of that personality or mindset. Competitive play requires constant engagement with the game, which in turn requires some motivation to engage. People that I know that don't have a desire to win strong enough that they will compete hard tend not to compete.

With board games that tends to mean playing ones that I can hardly stand (Apples to Apples, I'm looking at you) or ending up with sessions where I find games hard to play (a player that doesn't care about winning can change the state of the game in ways that are hard to account for), or games where the less competitive people just don't have much fun.

I've tried and tried to excite people so that they feel the same way that I do about games that I love, but when they are dead set against competing for first place it's been all but impossible to get them to compete for first place (in any meaningful way, at least). It's similar to getting someone that hates broccoli to enthusiastically eat a plate of plain broccoli-- it's not a matter of a small tweak here or there, they fundamentally dislike the core elements of the underlying activity. Every moment of trying to force themselves to play as I would prefer is a chore, and the lack of interest has tended to make for mediocre performance (in terms of acting as a more challenging opponent).

Two ideas which might help at the margins:

1. Pursue a "broker" strategy (not necessarily a competitive one)

This may fall into the category of "play different games", but some games have less-competitive play styles available while still allowing players to be involved with the game and other players. If you can find such strategies in games you already play, suggesting them to her might provide a nice, alternative option to heavy competitiveness.

As an example I'll mention Settlers of Catan. You can easily amass resources and play to make deals with others based on some arbitrary criteria (you may want to maximally help all other players, for example). You can do that even without pursuing victory yourself-- the "broker" player essentially becomes another feature of the game, and others can adapt their strategies to take advantage of that feature. That might be less of an option in Carcassone (always help people close out cities, maybe?), but it could be an option in more games than you might think.

2. Express that player strategies depend on interference from other players

Playing the game well isn't about hurting or dominating other players, it's about devising strong strategies and executing them effectively. Opponents aren't playing against me as much as they are playing against the strategy I have devised.

It's nicer, in terms of what I want, for other players to let me test those strategies out and see how they perform than it is to just let me win (winning the game is fun, but often a secondary goal for me). So it's not a matter of helping me to win or lose but instead to help me hone my understanding of the game. She may not go for this at all, but removing the personal element and replacing it with a technical one might help her replace her guiding play style with another (for certain games, at least) without having to change her attitude or feelings about competitive games in the first place.

  • Can you talk a little more about your experiences? It would help me understand better where you’re coming from. Anyway, +1 just because this answer seems to actually be interfacing with the question rather than dodging it.
    – KRyan
    Sep 18, 2018 at 22:04

The problem can be separated in two parts. One is the emotions she goes through when interacting with other player and the other is motivation to try to interact more with other players.

As for the motivation part you can consider "Upping the stakes"

Maybe when you play versus your SO you can make small bets for trivial chores i.e. whoever loses takes the trash out and does the dishes. Any other favors or small things that are part of daily life would do.

This might encourage her to go try harder to win. You might need to go into unfavorable odds for you but lets for a moment consider you managed to get her to play all out and win at all costs.

Afterwards you will have to face the real problem which is that this isn't enjoyable for her. You can try to help her feel better about it by praising her strategy or skill, explaining that you enjoy it more when she challenges you and so on. Though that might help a bit it will still probably not be enjoyable for her.

Which brings me back to basics. The reason we play games is to enjoy ourselves. We are all different and we enjoy different things. It is always nice when your SO enjoys things that you enjoy as well but it is pretty much impossible to overlap in every single way. At the end of the day you are asking her to enjoy an activity less so you can enjoy it more with the reasoning that if you enjoy it more she might enjoy it more. It is flawed logic.


As a gamer myself, on one side I really appreciate your wife's attitude (I despise those that play only to disrupt other's strategies) and on the other side I understand your feelings.

Personally I see different solutions that can help her learn to be more competitive (or you less), that are not mutually exclusive. Plus a frame challenge.

  1. Play co-op games. There are plenty of video and board-games that have co-op modes/rules, find one that both enjoy and she will have to play as competitively as possible to help the team. This can help her learn to be more competitive.

  2. Play games that have bartering mechanics (e.g. Settlers of Catan). She will be in the position of helping others even while competing against them, this should help her feelings in that regard. This can help learn not feeling bad if others can't complete their strategies (e.g. they could ask for help but they did not/was not enough)

  3. Talk directly to her. You say

I think she might enjoy the game more if she got a little more competitive.

but would she? Sure, we are speaking about your wife, so you know better than me what she does/not like, but in my experience, even after years of knowing a person, they might surprise us in unexpected ways. Are you sure she does not prefer avoiding competition and actually enjoys the game more if there is less competition?

  1. If there are other players in addition to you two, play as a team. Example, in Ticket to Ride you could try to play together and by doing so you will learn about each other's decision process. She might be able to lean from your competitiveness (or you might learn from her lack thereof, who knows). I realize that this is easier said than done, as communication is easily "intercepted" by other players severely affecting the balance of the game, a possible workaround is that for a few matches only teams are allowed.

You slowly encourage competitive play through light hearted teasing and humour

I have hosted and attended weekly board-game meet-ups with friends and strangers for a few years now and have encountered just about every level of competitiveness. In my experience, so long as the player is actively interested in the game and willing to put in effort for their own enjoyment or the groups then there are lots of ways to encourage them to be competitive. Your SO is clearly not disinterested in these games, and even better, she wants everyone and especially you to have fun so the solution lies in showing her just how much fun it is for YOU when she (for example) steals a train route out from under your nose in ticket-to-ride.

Immediately there is an obvious obstacle, you can't show her how much you like something if she never does it. To get past this you will need to provoke small amounts of competitiveness, react positively and slowly build up from there.

Teasing as indirect, playful provocation

Teasing is a great way to provoke people, but it does come with some unwarranted negative connotations as while ideally done with good intentions and clear to everyone as a jest, it can also be a form of bullying. Don't worry, you are not about to bully your SO. As this review shows, the way to identify (and show others) that the teasing is not hostile is in the number and clarity of off record markers used to signal that what is being said was done in jest. In my experience, the best off record markers will be whatever you and your SO find the most funny. Whether thats exaggeration, using metaphors, references to existing jokes, personifying a fictional character... its up to you.

This is where your humour comes in. You should surround the entire interaction with humour. It is both your off record marker and a great way to show that you are having fun. When they get provoked into some minor competitive play you need to show that you enjoyed it. You can go for the direct gleeful sound followed by a comment on how much you enjoyed that move, but there are so many other ways to show that you liked something that you could also do. Use your and their sense of humour, rely on running jokes, do whatever you can to show that you are enjoying being crushingly defeated. Once clearly having fun you can also react by escalating the competitiveness with more teasing and humour. Remember, teasing should be done in jest which means there is a back and forth so don't just encourage them to be competitive, encourage them to tease you back!

This solution is not fool proof. I obviously can't speak for any deeper rooted personal issues, and people that simply couldn't care less about the game or the other people playing are a pet peeve of mine and it can be very difficult to encourage them to do anything. However, your SO does not sound like that at all, in fact it sounds more like they care too much. This is a good thing. Social dynamics have a lot of reciprocation, so they will hopefully reciprocate everyone's enjoyment and find themselves more often than not playing in the way that they think will be the most fun for everyone (competitively!).

If the group dynamic is that most people absolutely hate losing! then encouraging competitiveness in that environment will be quite the battle. I would instead work on establishing a seperate group dynamic in a different context, even if that just means when its only the two of you playing mario cart.


I suspect what you need to find is games that

  • are not co-operative
  • where players can stymie each other
  • where most stymie moves are not obviously so at the time

So if you're playing cards, and hearts are led, and you play the king, and she has the ace, she knows playing it will beat you. And in many games, there's that moment of "if I play here, that person can't get to x." You want to avoid that, and avoid games that only provide that.

We play crayon-drawn train games, for example. There's no point trying to be the third person to build between Liverpool and Edinburgh in British Rails. But when the first person builds, they are not actively stymieing anyone. Even the second person has no idea whether anyone else would ever want to do that. And if they build, the third person will just choose different loads from their load cards. I think there are enough of these strategy games, where you get some frustration and difficulty but it's not "ha! I threw a bomb under you car!" I don't care for that either, so I don't play those kind of games.

I think this will achieve two things. First, it will give you a chance to play a competitive game, and experience some of that frustration you want. Second, your wife will make some choices that later stymie you, and will see that nothing bad comes of that. You might even practice verbalizing your pleasure at having a little puzzle to solve of how you can do X even though someone has already A and B. This will let her experience the positive side of playing more competitively, even though she didn't do so on purpose. Then one of two things will happen. She'll either refuse to play those games, or play them super weirdly to be entirely sure none of her choices could turn out to be a problem later, or (more likely I think) she could start to be ok with making these sorts of blocking moves.

Will she ever want to throw a bomb under your car? Probably not. But she may be able to move a little.

  • This is kind of similar to suggesting to play only cooperative games: changing the games we play is, of course, an option (and of course this behavior already influences what games we buy or play), but the question is about changing the behavior, if that is possible. So unless this answer leads towards changing behavior (in which case it should spell that out because it’s not clear to me), this doesn’t really help me much.
    – KRyan
    Sep 18, 2018 at 21:14

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