Score Keeping in Board Games: How Do You Deal with Independent Scoring?

We play a lot of games that require independent score keeping, such as Azul and Bunny Kingdom. These are basically honor system games, more so than general victory point games. Since the scoring is complex and completed round by round, there's no way of knowing whether the score is being calculated correctly for each person -- and, often, it just isn't. Over time, I've noticed that the same people tend to win these games, even if they aren't generally good at that type of game. 

They aren't cheating.

They're confused

Some Of Us Are Bad at Math

And I mean, bad at mathAll math. Anything to do with numbers. Scoring up a victory point game at the end is just straight addition, and even then some of us can get confused and add things together twice, or forget to add together entire groups. I know that this isn't malicious, because I've seen the same people just completely forget to score a huge number of things, thinking they had lost catastrophically. 

The only reason they tend to win more frequently in independent score keeping games is because there is a habit of rounding up when you're doing math. Say you're doing a long calculation of "2 x 8 + 3 x 1 + 4 x 5," and by the end you feel uncertain: was that 36 or 37? Some people will blow past the entire premise and round up to 40 without thinking about it, because that's generally what they've been taught to do. 

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

So why don't players ask for help? They don't realize they need it. They blow by "2 x 4 is 10..." and never realize they've made a mistake unless someone walks through it step by step with them. In games like Azul, it's impossible to go over everyone's scoring together, unless you want every round to take forever. 

The problem was actually revealed when we played a simpler game: Ancestree. In Ancestree, the ideal is that everyone does self-scoring, but because it was simple enough to do so, we walked through everyone's score together. We found a ton of little errors that were producing vastly different results, from simply reading the board wrong (and thinking some things were adjacent when they weren't), to doing really basic mathematic comparisons incorrectly (4 is more than 5). You might think this is just "stupid people," but it's really not: it's that people become careless when they're playing a game, especially when they're overwhelmed with learning a new game. 

It's Not a Big Deal Unless You Make It One

There's no real answer to this. Teaching them how to score over and over doesn't help, because they're just making a lot of casual mistakes. If you've ever corrected exams, you know: people make really small, silly mistakes all the time, which has a dramatic impact on the result that they get. 

Unfortunately, it can leave you slightly adrift because you aren't sure whether you're losing strategically or if you're just losing because of the numbers. But there are some things you can do to mitigate this, such as by having everyone use pen and paper, or offering up a calculator. If people have access to some kind of tool, they're more likely to do their work correctly. Working through a score out loud can also help. 

Of course, our group doesn't have anyone who would ever intentionally cheat. If your group does, it's an entirely different ball park. Independent scoring games are just not feasible for those situations, because there are a thousand ways someone can discretely fudge the numbers. By the end of a game of Bunny Kingdom, there's no way to back track and determine how many points someone truly got, such as in a game of Lords of Waterdeep. Thus, it's worth thinking about when selecting games to play.