There is an unwritten social contract that, when you choose to play a board game, you agree to play it to its conclusion. Everyone around the table expects to finish the game. Everyone wants to have an equal chance of winning. People want to be able to come back from behind and snatch their victory right on their last turn. I think that expectation is perpetuated by how games are designed. So in this article, I want to explore this a bit further.

Pretty much every game I have played is limited in its length in a certain way. It could be a fixed number of rounds or a game could end when someone reaches a certain number of points. Real-time games are limited in the amount of time people have on their turn or as a whole in the game. Even non-real-time games have their expected duration printed on the box. So whatever the mechanisms are that define when a game ends, everyone has a rough idea of what they let themselves in for from the beginning.

There is pressure on everyone to finish the game they started. It’s not really acceptable for anyone to want to stop early, unless they have an extremely good reason to do so. Short of missing their last train home or getting an emergency phone call, everyone is expected to see the game through right until the bitter end.

End Game Scoring

I think one of the reasons is due to how games are designed. There is often an arc or a sort of rhythm to games in the way they score. So unless you play the game to the end, you will miss out on opportunities to win. Even in games where there is no score, timing is often important. If players don’t get the chance to play out until the game’s rules say it is over, they might create imbalances that make gameplay unfair in some way.

I often find this in Tapestry from Stonemaier Games. Factions score in different ways and at different times. One faction might score little to start with, but then score heavily near the end, while another scores evenly throughout. So if you don’t play the game until its official finish, the first faction won’t have had the opportunity to catch up and win.

Many games also include certain catch-up mechanisms. Players who are behind on points get some sort of bonus to allow them to catch up with the others. That mechanism won’t work if you finish a game early. The player at the back will feel treated unfairly.

Even when everyone has the same cadence to scoring during a play, many games have end-game scoring. Players add completed objectives or other bonuses to the points they accumulated during the game to decide the winner. Without that last scoring phase, scores make no sense. For these games, it is vital that you don’t finish early.

So, however you look at it, many games force players to play them from beginning to end. Not doing so doesn’t just go against the rules, but also breaks the game.

a close-up of the Shikoku 1889 logo and the map with a number of tiles on it
18xx games allow players to end the game early

Calling It Early

Yet, there are games where it is perfectly acceptable to finish early. As I was learning the rules for Shikoku 1889, I found out that in the 18xx genre, there will be times when it’s clear that nobody can catch up with the leader. Once you’re more familiar with these games, you will be able to tell when to call the game early and declare a winner before the official end of the game.

In fact, my game group did this during one of our games when get to phase 6 of Shikoku 1889 and the player in the lead was just getting more and more money. We had no shares in their companies and no way of halting their expansion. So we all agreed that we would finish the operating rounds, count up our money and end the game there.

It felt like the right thing to do. It didn’t feel like a bad thing. Even the player in the lead saw that there was no point in carrying on. Sure, they would have wanted to make more and more money, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game.

There is no catch-up mechanism in 18xx games. If anything, these games reward players who do well and that’s not a bad thing. So after playing that game of Shikoku 1889, I wondered why there aren’t more games that allow players to finish early. If someone makes really good decisions from the start, it should be fine for all players to agree to stop the game and either play it again or play something else. There seem to be too many games where players’ scores are artificially kept close together, rather than allow someone to forge ahead, without the opportunity for anyone else to catch up.

Podium Places

I know that people often want to know who comes second or third. Merely declaring a winner isn’t enough. I get that. In my game group, there is one person who is most likely to win. Very often games are a race for second place for me. So knowing who comes second or third matters.

At the same time, pretty much everywhere you look, only winners are mentioned. My BG Stats app highlights the winner and tells me how many games I won. Board Game Arena emails me to say I lost, even when I came second. I might get a few points for second in a BGA tournament, but winning is all that is rewarded. So, we have to admit that we are used to either winning or losing.

I suppose the only time when finishing a game early isn’t the right thing to do, at least in my view, is when two or more players compete for first place, while one or more are so far behind that they have no chance of catching up. The players at the back could potentially influence the game to help one of the players in the lead, but other than that, they would rather the game finished there and then. Of course, that would be unfair to those players fighting for the top slot.

Splotter is known for games where players can make decisions that lose them the game within the first few turns. The rules don’t offer an option to duck out early and in reality, nobody would want to sit on the sidelines while the others carry on at game night, unless there is another game they could join instead. So while some people allow shuttering early, it’s not a great option.

What About You?

I hope I’ve laid out my argument well enough and I wonder what you think. How bad would it be if everyone around the table agreed to finish a game early and declare a winner? Why do you think we always have to play games until the end? What games have you come across that allow players to decide to finish early and make that process easy? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. So please post them in the comments below.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Music: Etude 3 Chessanta by Blue Dot Sessions


These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

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