Many board games require an element of timed rounds. Each player has a set amount of time to complete a certain task to try and gain points for themselves or their team. This has been an element of board games for quite some time, although over the ages these board games have used different means to produce this effect. In today's electronic age, most games come with some form of battery operated timer, one that will work much like an egg timer. You twist a knob and it ticks the time down until it reaches the deadline, where it will beep or ring, alerting players that the time frame is over. However, in the past, these electronic timers weren't as common and most board games provided a sand timer for timekeeping purposes.
These sand timers were shaped like miniature hourglasses and contained enough sand to count down anywhere in between thirty seconds to three or five minutes. It all depended on how long the game would give players to complete the task at hand. These timers would generally work by having all players ready themselves for the task and then one player would flip the timer over to begin the round. The responsibility of watching the timer often fell upon either one player or the entire group, for when the sand had run out, it was the responsibility of the player to announce to the group that time was up and the round was over.
Games where everyone participated, such as Boggle or Scattergories, would require the entire group to keep track of the timer as everyone was working during that time period to score as many points as possible. One player would generally flip the timer as another player uncovered the list of words or game play space that players would need to consult to play the game. Then, as the timer would slowly run out, players would need to periodically check the timer.
Other games that used sand timers, however, were often team games and the team which was not trying to score points at the moment was normally put in charge of the timer. One player would handle the sand timer, watching it carefully to ensure that not an extra second was granted to the other team while another player would monitor the team itself carefully, ensuring that no cheating was inadvertently taking place.
Sand timers had both great benefits and drawbacks. They were almost always supplied with the board game and, since it did not run on batteries, didn't cost anything to maintain. Additionally, they were tested so that they were always accurate. If one broke, however, one would need to buy a replacement sand timer. One of the drawbacks is that, during a game where everyone was trying to participate, one might not notice that the sand timer had run out and extra time might have been granted to players. An electronic timer would always loudly alert that the time was over, although most of these timers would make ticking noises while counting down, which could greatly distract. While sand timers have almost completely faded out of board games during these contemporary times, they still are a nostalgic bit of board game fans.