An Introduction to Crafting My Board Game Emotion Wheel

Jun 4, 2024 | Articles | 6 comments

Go beyond numerical ratings to understand another way to explore board games with a custom emotion wheel.

For years, I’ve used a custom rating system that’s always worked well for me. It has its flaws, though, so I started to think of how I could overhaul it to improve the numbers. Yet that didn’t get at a core element that doesn’t get a lot of attention… Emotions! Excited over this parallel aspect of the hobby, I dove into creating my board game emotion wheel.

Emotions in Games

Just sitting back and taking a moment to look at a lot of my board games, I realized how prevalent emotions are.

Artwork often conveys a whole spectrum, which might add to the overall enjoyment, or it might not. This was all about those personal connections that aren’t codified.

Rating games on a scale of 1 to 10 is immensely useful, though, and I didn’t set out to replace it. Rather, I wanted to explore the very subjective side of this hobby.

Sometimes, I’ve set emotions aside when I try to give fair and balanced ratings… But emotions are important!

Finding All Sorts of Emotions Depicted in Board Game Artwork to Make a Board Game Emotion Wheel

A Tentative Search for Meaningful Emotions

I didn’t set out to do anything more than find a way to understand my board games some more. In no way is any of this meant as a professional or academic presentation… Just me rambling on again. Ha ha! Yet I wanted to spend a little time sharing my methodology and reasoning in the hopes that it might prove to be useful to others in some small way.

Emotions are complicated things, and categorizing them can be one of the hardest elements. However, I based a lot of these ideas on Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. As with my own rating system, it isn’t perfect, yet it provided enough to get me started in thinking about the different sorts of emotions that board games bring out in me.

Interestingly, finding the most meaningful and relevant words to describe these emotions was quite the exercise! That took a little longer, and would be worth a separate post, if anyone has interest in learning more. In the end, though, I found myself with a custom emotion wheel that made a lot of sense. Right away, it helped me learn more about myself!

Although I don’t think this is a system that should be codified nor shared with everyone, its value is amazing. Not only am I figuring out the ways certain elements of board games bring out emotions, but I can also assess how I’m feeling before choosing a game to play. No longer do I blame indecision: It’s a quick exercise to figure out why I want to play.

You Spin Me Right ‘Round, Baby, Right ‘Round!

If you’d like, feel free to take an initial look at the different color-coded categories I put to use! A much lengthier explanation can be found below to describe what each of these categories means, and how they apply to board games.

Frustration

Had I tied this into Plutchik’s wheel, it would align with anger. However, that doesn’t really describe what I get out of board games. Rather, it’s not simply about being angry.

Instead, I classify this emotion as frustration. Play times that overstay their welcome, minimal decisions, and obvious choices can all bring out this emotion.

However, I’ll note that emotions aren’t simply about being all positive or negative. How does that apply here?

Feeling a mix of frustration and the next emotion, excitement, can make a board game worth it to master!

Examining Feelings of Frustration with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Excitement

Time to get excited! This emotion is very much about that sense of discovery and awe, often associated with new games. However, it’s very much there for older titles!

On the surface, it might sound like excitement would always be present, but it isn’t a requirement for a favorite.

Actually, there is also the whole discussion of the strength of these emotions. I don’t necessarily want to be very excited all the time. Sometimes, it’s about staying calm.

This is an emotion that can be difficult to attribute to a particular game… I’m always excited about the hobby!

Digging Into the Emotions of Excitement with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Delight

Talking about emotions that apply to the hobby in general, delight is one of them! It’s hard not to feel this emotion with most of my games, yet it’s an important piece.

I can often determine a board game that isn’t working for me if I’m not feeling playful or joyful.

To illustrate how complex emotions are, though, there are some games with very serious or somber themes that I don’t derive delight from… Yet they are excellent games.

For the most part, a lot of my favorites will bring out this emotion, but the complex mix is what sets each one apart. 

Feeling Delight and Other Emotions with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Fulfillment

A-ha! Another very fun emotion I find in board games is a sense of fulfillment. This often comes from working through difficult situations and decision spaces.

To be clear, this is not directly tied into winning. I lose a lot, yet I often feel fulfilled or proud when I make a few interesting moves… While still losing. Ha ha!

Emotions change over time, too, so feeling fulfilled might not be something that happens with every play.

Although this is a positive sort of feeling, it doesn’t stand on its own and often mixes with the next emotion, stress.

Finding the Feelings of Fulfillment with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Stress

Uh-oh! This one might literally sound stressful on the surface, yet take a look at some of the words I use here. Cautious or worried might actually be helpful. How?

If I was able to do everything I wanted to during a game without any negative consequences or timing restraints, I would hardly call it a great experience. A little stress is OK.

Also, keep in mind that when coupled with frustration on the opposite side, everything isn’t balanced, but amplified.

Mixed emotions and figuring out what those mean is another topic entirely. But sometimes, stress can be fun.

Understanding the Sources of Stress with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Confusion

Poorly described rules, special exceptions, unclear choices, and anything unexpected falls into the realm of confusion. It happens with the many new games I learn!

Note, too, that I didn’t create a wheel of emotions I want to experience: There are some negative ones here.

Understanding why these emotions pop up is a great learning experience, though, as I can narrow down the specifics and try to avoid similar scenarios down the line.

This one might be the most obvious to hear from afar… I will suddenly yell, “What?! What is that?!” Ha ha!

Exploring Feelings of Confusion at the Game Table with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Humiliation

I broke away from the mold quite a bit here, as sadness is often found here in Plutchik’s model. However, I don’t associate board games with sadness. Rather, humiliation.

This is also why I’m presenting this as my own custom emotion wheel, which isn’t going to work for everyone!

Some of these feelings are associated with unclear rules. More often than not, it’s more about missing a great move, relying on luck, or feeling like I wasted my time.

Being humiliated by a solo opponent can be paired with fulfillment, though, especially when I manage a victory!

Exploring an Emotional Theme of Humiliation with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Boredom

Not that any emotion is more or less important, but boredom is probably one of the worst ones for me.

Board games are meant to be a hobby, and if I’m feeling uninvolved, that means I could be playing a better game.

I’ll often discover this popping up when a game sort of plays itself, the mechanics offer nothing to hold my interest, or a wave of disappointment ruins a session.

One important point: Boredom is not the equivalent of feeling relaxed or comfortable! Seemingly boring themes might very well offer up a safe, cozy emotional space.

Discovering the Sources of Emotional Boredom with a Board Game Emotion Wheel

Putting It Together

Voila! This board game emotion wheel works very well for me to understand my collection some more. It’s not just about ratings, but the “Why?” behind those scores.

I have a lot more I could go on and on about here, and I may very well do that! Yet this isn’t an academic sort of tool, or anything more than a way to enjoy board games.

The custom wheel for each game and the different emotions it triggers is hardly constant, too.

But I know more about myself, too. I can look at my current emotions, and quickly know what I want to play.

Putting a Colorful and Helpful Visual to Use with a Custom Board Game Emotion Wheel

A Closer Look at My Board Game Emotion Wheel

Here it is in all its glory! Not every section is lit up for every game, and there’s a super secret opposite side… When emotions are minimal, that’s when I feel calm, cozy, and relaxed. Another discussion topic, which I seem to be spewing left and right. Ha ha! Yet I hope that seeing this offers up another perspective about how to understand board games.

Putting a Colorful and Helpful Visual to Use with a Custom Board Game Emotion Wheel

More Board Game Emotion Wheel

Explore related posts about the Board Game Emotion Wheel!

Continue the Conversation

Have you ever explored the emotions that board games can convey? Would you be interested to learn more about this topic? I’m just over here, having some more fun leaning into the subjective part of this hobby! It’s been an interesting learning process, though, and I’ve found that I can articulate more about why I like or don’t like a game. Awesome!

6 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this article and am motivated to dig deeper. Thank you for that and the Plutchik link, Jessica! First time to learn of this altogether. I completely get the subjective component because i started thinking about contentment, aka the feeling of playing filler games; often not our favorites but frequently played because we can squeeze them in anytime and are easy to play. I also feel enlightened by your comments on stress and humiliation. As just words they seem very heavy but your analysis really opens up the conversation to more than negative outcomes. I love that!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for the kind words! I’m glad this is all very helpful to you. Just digging into it myself for the past few months has been really interesting. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily about the specific emotions, but the strength of those emotions. A lot of cozy games can act as emotional palette cleansers for me when I bring a range of strong emotions to my own table.

      Awesome to see you picked up on how it’s more than just negative when it comes to some emotions! On their own, stress and humiliation sound rough, yet in another lesson, I’ve seen how combining emotions can make those feel good. Almost empowering in some ways, like overcoming obstacles or finding clever solutions. So much fun!

      I’m sure I’ll be back with more to share, as this is a topic that’s led to a lot of positive ideas around my collection. I appreciate you stopping by and reading!

      Reply
  2. That you for sharing – I appreciate the work that has been done and it is an intriguing idea and approach. Would love to see this in acxtion – i.e. how this would look as assigned to a particular game and implemented in a review. Would you select one from each, would you highlight a section overlapping color? Please share!

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, and a great question! I’m planning additional followup topics to talk about this in particular, and will have a few examples to illustrate some interesting things I’ve discovered. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I have some more posts ready. I’m excited to share some more!

      Reply
      • Much obliged and looking forward to it : )

        Reply
        • Thanks! Just lots of busy stuff going on right now, but this is near the top of my list to expand upon and share some more. Most likely looking at sometime this week!

          Reply

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