Benefits of board games

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It’s funny how things from my childhood keep making a return: Superman, mechanical watches, even LPs! Now it’s time for board games!

In fact, this trend was noticeable even before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, though repeated lockdowns have only accelerated it.

But why?

The truth is that if you want to meet your mates and aren’t keen on getting drunk, or dancing the night away, it’s a great alternative. You can enjoy a nice evening doing something entertaining that is actually a group activity.

People don’t necessarily play board games for the “benefits”, yet there are many. And understanding them can actually help you take advantage of them

Social Benefits of Playing Board Games

Firstly, it’s a great excuse to meet up with friends. Games can help keep the evening alive when you all get together filling in awkward silences with play!

Not everyone is a pub or nightclub kind of person, and this provides a nice alternative.

If it’s true for friends, it’s even more so for family. What a great opportunity to bring the whole family around the table and do something together. I remember doing this as a child when the TV had four channels and there wasn’t a lot of other choices for entertainment. Now my kids are happy to play board games with me rather than watch their favorite program (on demand). That’s a great feeling.

Spending time with your family, or friends, is irreplaceable. There’s nothing like it, and you won’t regret it, as it:

  • Strengthens the relationships and bonds between you
  • Gives you memories and things to talk about
  • Positively reworks the group dynamic
  • Changes your brain, improving mental abilities

Health Benefits of Board Games

When I started researching this topic, I can’t say that I expected board games to have health benefits. I mean I’m a fan and all, but actual health benefits?

But maybe I should have expected it. I mean everything is linked right? If you are having a good time with your family or friends, you’re having fun, relieving stress, and lowering blood pressure. All good things.

It gets better though! Frequent participation in cognitive activities, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Yes, board games count, well some of them anyway.

You need games where you have to think and strategize. Chess is great, but so is Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, or many others like them.

Mental Health Benefits

Board games are fun, enjoyable, and relaxing, all of which helps mental health.

Learn and lead teamwork and Leadership as an education symbol represented by two human heads frontal and side view shaped with gears as a brain idea made of cogs representing working together as a team in partnership.

Additionally, they can often make you laugh. This is especially for me when I’m playing a mixture of adults and kids.

And Laughter is the best medicine.

In the end, this is a nice way to spend time that makes you feel good, and that’s always a good thing.

Learning From Board Games

I was playing board games, or similar games with my kids since they were about 3 years old. They are amazing for teaching young children colors, dexterity, numbers, and language.

Just throwing a die and moving a count does a lot on its own.

Learning concept human head

Connecting to Real Life

But there’s more to it than that. When I moved away from Junior Monopoly onto a game for older kids (Pokemon Monopoly), my son really struggled with the concept of change. He thought if he didn’t have the exact amount of money he couldn’t buy something or pay for it. 

The funny thing is that he actually understood subtraction and had even done theoretical examples with change as part of his school work.

But when it came to putting it into practice, he didn’t get it–at least to begin with.

Safe to say, he quickly picked it up though. Now he gets to practice his subtraction whenever he plays.

Language and Social Skills

Board games can often provide a framework as to what you need to say and how you need to interact with people. (“The rent is XX”, “I would like to buy Y”, “I landed on Z and this means …”).

Frameworks are fantastic ways of learning. They fill in some of the gaps, and you have to do the rest. What’s impressive is that, with board games, children don’t feel like they are filling out some writing frame. They just do it.

There is another aspect, though. It’s proven that kids learn more when they have to explain themselves.

In my experience, actually, everyone (adults included) learn when trying to explain. I remember several times at University getting stuck on a particularly difficult math problem and going to the lecturer to figure it out myself as I explained why I was stuck!

Academic Focus

Board games help children focus on things as they are motivated. In fact, when playing with them, it’s essential to make sure they stay focused and don’t get distracted. Focus is an important skill to learn, and it’s easier to do this when you’re enjoying yourself.

In my experience, children’s attention span is one of the biggest limiters as to how much they can learn. (Even adults can struggle after around 45 minutes without strong motivation). Anything which helps the brain learn to concentrate for periods of time will help academically in the future.

There’s also plenty of research that playing board games translates into academic skills. Many of the things I’ve already mentioned help build more formal skills. But board games also teach:

  • Pattern detection
  • Cognitive skills
  • How to learn from experience
  • Forward planning
  • Predicting the outcomes of different moves
  • Memory formation and critical thinking

Winning and Losing

Board games encourage healthy competition and teach children what it’s like to win and lose.

Of course, you have your role to play in this! Don’t let them win all the time, yet also let them win sometimes. It’s OK if they get upset when they lose – don’t feel guilty. It happens, and they need to learn it’s not a big deal.

I do feel some games are better at this than others. For example, Monopoly can be a bit cutthroat so be a little careful. Monopoly Cheaters’ Edition in particular is not something I’d recommend for anyone under 18.

If you are really good at games, you do need to be careful, whether playing with adults or children. Nobody likes the guy who always wins and doesn’t let other people have a chance. It doesn’t help self-esteem to always lose either. If you are good at a board game–give other people a chance. 

One way of doing this is to explain your strategy/tactics, rather than just letting them win. What a great way to build up an opponent who will actually challenge you!

Learning for Adults

We all learn every day, no matter our age. And that’s a good thing.

Board games enhance thinking for everyone. When you strategize, be it over monopoly or chess, you are thinking ahead, anticipating your opponent, and trying to build a plan.

Mind Games Board Psychology Behavior Tricks Psychology Emotion

What’s more, there is strong evidence that games enhance computational thinking. Computational thinking is logic, arithmetic, and processes. (If I do X, then Y that will happen.)

All this leads to enhanced problem-solving skills–useful in all walks of life.

Kinaesthetic Learning

We all learn in different ways:

  • Visually, by seeing things, like reading a textbook and looking at diagrams
  • Aurally, by listening, for example when you listen to a teacher’s explanation
  • Kinaesthetically, by touching, feeling and moving objects

Everyone has a preferred style of learning, kinaesthetic learners, at 40% are the biggest group.

But actually, we benefit from learning in a mixture of ways.  The problem is that learning is often focused on the visual and aural (seeing and hearing) and not enough on the kinaesthetic (touching).

Board games provide a nice counterpoint to this as they normally involve physically holding and moving things, thereby adding kinaesthetic learning to your “education diet”.

Replacing Video Games & TV

Video games and TV are not all bad, and in small amounts can be useful. But experts do recommend hard limits on screen time are recommended for children.

As a parent, I know how hard this can be to enforce. The key is to find an alternative. My kids actually prefer board games to the TV–so it’s an easy sell!

Which Board Game to get

Does this apply to all board games? Some are easier than others, and some are pure luck. Which to get?

Obviously, strategy games are going to be better, but even simple games like snakes and ladders can help teach the number line.

Firstly I would say makes sure it’s enjoyable. Playing board games shouldn’t be a chore–find something you enjoy. If playing with children it’s critical they like it. Sometimes getting a themed board game can help, for example, my daughter loves “Frozen” themed games and my son loves “Pokemon”.

That aside, the key is to go for games where you have genuine choices where possible.

For me, games of pure luck are actually not that enjoyable anyway. I like playing them only because I’m doing something with my children. If playing against other adults I quite like a mixture of luck and strategy.

Some games might be pure strategy, like chess, yet the advantage of adding in a bit of luck is that it increases the possibilities and means that even a good player will struggle sometimes, making it more interesting. Anything can happen! (Whereas we all know what would happen if I played chess with Gary Kasparov!)

So, make sure it’s enjoyable and fun, go for games with genuine choices, and some luck can be a good thing.

Where do I go from here?

If I’ve got you excited about board games, you may be thinking, OK what next? Do I go and buy a game of Monopoly?

Well, you could do, but there may also be other options.

Firstly ask around if anyone in your family has an old board game lying around. How great would it be to play the same board game you played as a child with your family or friends?

Secondly, consider a DIY board game. It could be just as much fun making it as playing it!

Thirdly, some pubs and cafés lend you board games when you eat/drink there. That’s a nice way of spending time with someone!

Finally, there are lots of board games out there at great prices, online and in shops.

Whatever you do, get playing and enjoy yourself!