Hey everyone! Recently I’ve encountered an increasing number of people who are introducing their friends or family to the world of board gaming, in particular, the younger generation, whom parents seem obsessed with for some reason. One thing they seem to want more than anything is a way to get these mini humans off their screens and staring at some other kind of flat, colourful surface, whether that be a set of cards or a game board. But other than providing a Fortnite-less existence (which in itself should be enough), what other benefits can be found in the hobby? What follows is by no means an exhaustive list of the benefits of board gaming (title drop!) but it does cover a few salient points I feel are worth mentioning.
"Let the good times roll, choo, choo!" I imagine they're saying.
Socialising can be a real drag for many, particularly those loud, boisterous introverts who can’t shut up about how quiet and isolated they are. I know, because I am one. Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not antisocial, we are not the dark to extroverts’ light; it’s a vast spectrum that can vary throughout one’s life, not a coin that’s flipped at birth. You’ve probably heard about extroverts gaining energy from socialising, whilst introverts expend energy to do the same. I tend to find that’s a pretty accurate analogy in most cases, but there are many factors that can alter that. Mood, health, how busy a person has been at work or how much personal space they’ve had recently, that social meter can be a fickle beast. I love hanging out with a few good mates talking, laughing and playing games. But then I quickly have enough of that and I’m good for a week or so. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk to people, I just don’t need to do it all the time and too much of it leaves me feeling frustrated and drained and if you happen to catch me at a point where I’m running on empty, then you could be forgiven for thinking I’m antisocial. But I understand the need for my kids to learn to socialise even if I don’t feel up to it myself. They need to figure out how to conduct themselves around others both adults and kids alike. You see where this is heading... no, not boarding school.
Boarding school teaches resilience.
The social benefits of board gaming are plentiful. Whether it’s a small group of close friends or a larger board game event encompassing dozens or even hundreds of people, forming connections with others who share similar interests can be one of the most rewarding aspects of gaming. Learning to adapt to the vibe of a new group takes some skill. Like Liam Neeson, these are a particular set of skills that are gained over a lifetime. And like any skill, they can get a little rusty if they’re not trotted out for a stretch every now and then. Social deduction and hidden traitor games like Werewolf and Secret Hitler can be a lot of fun and you can learn a lot about reading facial expressions, noting subtle changes in people’s tone of voice, and recognising the subtle ways people communicate with each other. Regular social interaction keeps us happier, healthier and better able to get along with others and social gaming is perfect for this.
Morals and Values
The first image that came to mind when I thought of that title.
Board gaming can be a great way to teach and enhance individual values. Role-playing games are especially good for this as the characters are frequently faced with moral dilemmas that they need to talk their way out of rather than getting into a fight. The first time I introduced my son to Dungeons & Dragons his character was shopping in a market when a group of giant spiders began marching into the village square. Not hesitating, he quickly drew his sword and attacked the first spider. The look on his face when the spider squealed and began speaking, was priceless. The spider informed him the villagers had been attacking them and stealing their silk to make their wares. The arachnids had come to negotiate a peace and find a mutually beneficial solution. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this became an important learning moment for him. So much so, that for every potential enemy he encountered after that he tried talking to them first, attacking only if they gave him no other option. He learned that not everything may be as it sees and that sometimes that which appears monstrous may not necessarily be one’s enemy. He also learned that the finely dressed and friendly merchants and villagers had a dark side of their own. Asking questions and getting both sides of the story was now his first instinct.
My son's previous first instinct.
D&D has even been utilised with great success by inmates in prison systems by allowing them to overcome problem thinking and impulsivity and address racist or violent tendencies to explore peaceful, rewarding solutions. Unlikely friendships have formed as a result. Placing people in situations where they need to make hard choices can help them learn about one another and even themselves. I think that’s really worth something.
Literacy & Numeracy
When I try write the word numeracy.
I suck at maths! There I said it. It’s something I’ve tried to address in the past but I’ve accepted that I simply don’t have a knack for numbers. Yet, I have no trouble figuring out probabilities and statistical likelihoods when it comes to gaming. Reading, on the other hand, is something I greatly enjoy, when I find the time to do it. Games like Tainted Grail and Sleeping Gods can make for great storytelling opportunities depending on your group, and is another way for me to experience a compelling narrative. Younger players can stretch their literacy and numeracy muscles by way of simple tasks like reading the text on a card or adding up their score, which help young learners immensely. They’re engaging both hemispheres of the brain during a game and learning without feeling like they’re being taught.
Creative thought is in the north and logical thought has gone south.
Gaming helps them view knowledge contextually, rather than as a series of disassociated equations in a text book, they’re applying their knowledge to a situation that makes sense to them. There are a ton of games out there that aid with spelling, reading and mathematics. Bananagrams is great for early learners to get their heads around letter sounds and combinations and pretty much any game that involves adding dice, or scorekeeping can aid with maths skills. Without too much effort, kids will soon find themselves applying these skills without even realising it.
Mindfulness and Self-Care
Me contemplating my finances before buying more games.
When was the last time you put your phone or computer aside and took a moment to just sit and breathe? The fast paced world we live in doesn’t often allow us the luxury of doing nothing, and those rare times that we do, we’re usually made to feel guilty about it. Like we can’t stop for a second and consider life. My favourite aspect of board gaming is that it allows me to focus on a singular task, giving it my full, undivided attention. The ability to clear my head and put my troubles aside is always welcome and to that end, I find games like Viticulture, Wingspan and Tokaido are ideally suited to this. These are games that don’t contain the horror of Cthulhu, the stress of social deduction, or the violence of a zombie horde. I can put on some relaxing tunes, kick back and engage in some gentle winemaking, imagining myself walking among the sun dappled grape vines.
Rumour has it, much has been heard on these.
Or perhaps surrounding myself with the sounds of birdsong as I try to catch sight of a Duckbilled Baterang, I don’t know all the bird names but I’m certain that’s one. The skill of mindfulness, slowing down and taking time to clear your mind, provides a host of mental, physical and emotional health benefits. And, like a typical Mary Sue, this is yet another thing the board game hobby does so well.
You see, this I why I prefer Velcro to laces.
In our technological age, conditions like Repetitive Strain Injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are becoming more common. We love our devices, but they’re not always doing us a lot of good physically. Getting back to a more analog experience can create a variety of movement, allowing our hands and wrists to remain supple and retain a full range of motion. Games like Crokinole, Jenga, and Klask can aid in hand-eye coordination and improve manual dexterity. This doesn’t just help kids, almost anyone can improve their fine motor skills through board gaming. Even something as simple as learning how to shuffle cards or fan them out in your hand can be beneficial.
Problem Solving & Decision Making
This new Ticket to Ride map sucks!
Learning to cope in life can be hard. The world can be a scary, cruel place, but learning how to problem solve and make good decisions can reduce stress and empower a person so they feel more in control of their own lives. But how can games help us to solve problems effectively? My favourite genre of game for practicing decision making is worker placement. Games like Lords of Waterdeep and Architects of the West Kingdom present you with options, each one of those options I view as a step in my problem solving process. My problem being, I need to win the game! Breaking down what feels like an insurmountable problem into a series of smaller achievable steps can make the overall process more manageable. And achieving these smaller goals provides that sense of reward, triggering those little endorphins that make you want to experience success more and more until you become a giant success machine!
Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?
But, good or bad, decisions always have consequences. Often, you may do everything right only to discover things still may not work out. It doesn’t mean you were wrong to try. But it does mean you need to accept the consequences of your decisions, and that can be a bitter pill to swallow. The very first lesson I taught each of my kids when they first started board gaming, was how to win and lose well. No one wants to play with a sore loser. I’ve played games with people in the past who clearly never learned how to win or lose gracefully and as such, those people were not invited to play with us again. Being humble in victory and gracious in defeat can inform others of the quality of your character. Learning to deal with strong emotions and not let one’s temper get the better of them and coping with adversity are important life skills. As such, I tend to subscribe to Wheaton’s Law. Don’t be a dick! It covers a lot of ground.
To be fair, you haven't always made it easy, Wil.
So, those are my inane ramblings, I hope you’ve enjoyed this video. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the benefits of board gaming. I look forward to reading your comments here or you can chat with myself and others over in the Game Kings Gamers Facebook group. In the meantime guys, thanks for joining me and I’ll see you next time.
*This blog is the blog version of the Benefits of Board Games video.
My Game of the Week: Viticulture