Inspired by an essay that Bez from Stuff by Bez published a few days ago on Board Game Geek, I thought I might also write about what board games mean to me. Unlike her, I’m not a designer. I’m a consumer of board games, often with a critical eye because I’m also a reviewer. So I’m coming at this from a different angle and of course, my experiences with and expectations of board games will be different to Bez‘s. Anyway, I hope you find it interesting and as always, it would be great to hear your thoughts on the topic.
Escapism and Socializing
As I’ve written before, for me, board games are a vehicle to spend a few lovely hours with friends or family and escape from the day-to-day. Other people go to the pub, have fun with some form of sport or are a member of a club and I guess, most hobbies fulfil a similar function for many people as board games do for me. Many of us want to have a safe space where we can interact with other, like-minded people and focus on something other than our day-to-day worries.
You can probably already tell that board games fulfil an important social function for me. I do play solo games from time to time, but usually only when nobody else is available and often only for a relatively short amount of time. I know that for some of you, solo games play a much more important role. For me though, while they certainly address my want for escapism, they don’t address the social aspect, which is hugely important to me.
Saying that, I’m not really very much of a social creature really. I’m very outgoing and happily chat with strangers without much problem. I can be among a large crowd of people without suffering from anxiety or otherwise be put off by it, but it definitely drains me. I much prefer to spend my time in the presence of only a handful of people and ideally, people I know well. In that sense, I’m very much an introvert, even if you might think otherwise when you meet me. So when I talk about the social aspect of games, I mean a small group of friends or family.
Mental Health and Agility
Speaking of social anxiety, let’s address the benefit of board games to mental health. As I already explained, being able to switch off for a while and feeling safe, is very beneficial. Not having to think about your day-to-day worries allows you to refresh and recharge. That is not just hugely important to me, but to everyone else, however much you deal with anxiety, depression or similar challenges in your daily life. Being given a chance to focus on something else for an hour or more is great.
At the same time, being in a safe space with people you trust also allows you to open up and talk about what’s on your mind, if you feel comfortable doing so. Playing board games is an opportunity for you to share your worries, but it’s not a requirement. It’s just an excuse for you to meet up with your friends or family. You’re simply there to play games and there is no pressure on anyone to do anything else, unless they really want to and are ready to. Personally, I’ve not needed to do this myself, but others have shared their problems with me while we were playing board games.
Board games can also help you train your mind and make it more agile. Your mental abilities can affect your general health. Keeping your brain active is important and can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. I certainly feel that when doing my weekly Soduko or solving the crossword with my wife at the weekend. Yet, I also enjoy stretching my brain when playing a heavy game. I can feel how planning my next few turns and trying to gauge what others might be doing really gets my brain cells fired up. I am certain it benefits me a good amount.
As a reviewer, I also often play board games with a critical eye. I really enjoy examining a game with a view to writing a critical analysis. A gut feeling that something doesn’t work or doesn’t feel right requires me to dig deeper and work out what is actually bugging me. A game might just not be for me, but it’s also possible that there’s an actual problem with it. Sometimes it’s obvious, such as a rules mistake, but often it’s not clear-cut. If a game outstays its welcome, it may be down to personal preference or it actually is just too long.
That’s when comparing a game with other games is useful. When another game does something similar, but does it better, then I can be confident about calling it out in my review. I appreciate that “better” in this context can also be a personal preference, but there are some things that are clearly bad design choices rather than intentional ones. When a turn is divided into ten steps when the same result could be achieved in one or two steps, then that’s most likely a bad decision, unless the designer really wanted players to feel like they’re dragging themselves through treacle.
I also like to compare my experience of a game with the other players around the table, as well as with different plays of the same game. The first game is often fraught with rules mistakes, but even then, listening to how others felt about the game is always interesting. I enjoy finding out if a game was for them or not. I want to understand what they liked and what didn’t work for them. It really excites me.
What About You?
So, there you go. That’s what board games mean to me. Now I want to know what they mean to you. What do you get out of playing board games? Or maybe it’s not even playing that excites you. Maybe you’re a collector. Or do you love the art in games? What else is it that board games mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think.
Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.
Music: The Long Travel To Terra Two by KALAK
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/11641-the-long-travel-to-terra-two
Licensed under CC BY 4.0: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article: