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What Board Games Bring to the Table

Gen Con Online wrapped up two weeks ago already, and despite all of the wonderful digital offerings and panels, it obviously didn’t capture the same spirit of the in-person convention. It truly is a unique experience, and given the timeframe that the organizers were working with, it actually went better than expected.

However, I found myself craving that tactile feel of gaming in-person. Since I still had days off work, I decided to hold my own personal Gen Con and catch up on my solo gaming! That meant dusting off old titles that I enjoy but haven’t touched in awhile.

Solo gaming isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of the first criteria I look for when checking out a game to potentially purchase. There are a ton of benefits to solo gaming, and reasons why I love it. So, let’s talk about ’em!

Board Games Benefit the Brain

There have been numerous studies that have linked mental-based activities to reduced risk of dementia in the elderly. For example, the New England Journal of Medicine conducted research and found the reduced risk after following up 5 years later.

Additionally, there was a study published in the IEEE Journal of Translation Engineering in Health and Medicine that looked at board games, video games, and virtual reality games. They reached a similar conclusion. The interactive nature of board games, coupled with the puzzly environment, were contributors to the results.

Understanding the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum, board games benefit the mind. Therefore, even if you can’t play games with others, playing solo games is a good alternative. It keeps your wits sharp, as you try to optimize, develop new strategies, or focus hard on beating a harder difficulty.

So I say, start playing those games now! If it’s something you enjoy, board gaming is a hobby that really doesn’t have an age limit.

Board Games Are Stress-Reducers

When we get stressed out from the many demands of life, we often turn towards recreational activities to decompress. Board games are another avenue that we can use to fill that need.

There’s a certain level of comfortability that comes with playing a board game that you know and love. It’s familiar, like seeing an old friend that you can strike up a conversation with like you saw each other just yesterday.

For me, solo gaming allows me to occupy my mind with something other than stress or issues. I can pour all of my focus into the game. That’s another reason why I’m drawn to games that are highly-thematic; they help me get into a different reality than the present.

There’s a certain tension that comes when playing a game with a full table of gamers, especially if you’re playing a game that aims to generate those sorts of feelings. I’m not always in the mood for those kinds of games. It’s the solo-centric games like Wingspan and Tiny Towns that allow me to relax and give my mind a break.

Tiny Towns Board Game

Board Games Are Education

Games can also be used as teaching vessels. Some of the best methods of learning are when people don’t even realize that they’re in the process of learning, but they’re enjoying themselves. It’s a banner day when I have fun AND learn something too!

Dr. Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth, is a well-respected and talented designer, educator, and artist. She wrote a book called Critical Play that explores the ways games can be more than games. In the book, Dr. Flanagan discusses how games can be tools for social change, and educate others on important issues of the world.

By channeling the knowledge of experts and creating games that people want to play, games can serve a dual purpose. Yes, games are meant for entertainment, but what if we can actually learn something from them as well? Think of the breadth of knowledge required of medical professionals? There was a study that investigated the use of games as a way to teach medical education.

My point here is that board games can provoke questions and incite critical thinking. When I’m playing Terraforming Mars, I’m actually learning about the real-world topography of the planet. I already mentioned Wingspan above, but that game has incredible artwork and detail about countless species of birds.

Don’t Sleep on Solo Gaming

Board gaming solo is one of the ways that I can keep enjoying the hobby even if others aren’t around to play games. If the game can replicate the experience of playing with others, that’s even better.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but I implore you to give it a try! To me, it’s in the same boat as playing a single-player video game or practicing a tennis serve. You can tackle your solo game in a multitude of different ways, playing in a way that you find to be the most fun.

So don’t sleep on solo gaming! Hopefully next year we can all crush some games at Gen Con in person. In the meantime, I’ll be pushing cubes and flipping cards.

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