Board Games: A Good Reason to Gather

Are board games the cure for what ails ya?

According to Quartz writer Annaliese Griffin, they just might be.

She suggests that board games provide a “temporary respite from the problems of 21st-century life.”

By bringing people together — something often lacking from today’s increasingly isolated lifestyles where people interact more through social media than face-to-face engagement — board games become a community builder, a catalyst for socialization.

From the article:

A good board game builds in enough chance so that any reasonably skilled player can win. Even in chess, famously associated with warfare and military strategy, the emphasis is not on who ultimately wins, but on the ingenuity that players display in the process.

In all of these ways, board games release players — however temporarily — from the maxim that life is divided into clear, consistent categories of winners and losers, and that there is a moral logic as to who falls into which category. As film and media studies professor Mary Flanagan tells The Atlantic, board games prompt us to reflect on “turn-taking and rules and fairness.”

[Image courtesy of Catan Shop.]

What’s interesting to me about the article is that she mentions Euro-style games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne — which are two of the industry leaders, no doubt — but still games that pit players against each other.

What’s interesting to me about an article that’s meant to be about how board games can make you “a nicer person with better relationships” is that the author focuses exclusively on competitive games. I am a huge fan of a smaller subsection of board games — cooperative games — which invite the players to team up against the game itself. You collaborate, strategize, and work together to overcome challenges, succeeding or failing as a group.

In cooperative games, the glow of your successes are heightened because you get to share them with your teammates. And the failures don’t sting as much for the same reason.

[Image courtesy of Analog Games.]

Co-op games like SpaceTeam, Castle Panic!, Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail card game, and Pandemic — not to mention many roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons — reinforce the positive, social qualities of all board games. I highly recommend checking them out.

And with the rise of board game cafes like The Uncommons in New York and Snakes and Lattes in Toronto, plus play areas at conventions like Gen Con and events at your Friendly Local Game Shop, there are more opportunities than ever to engage in some dice rolling camaraderie.

You can even make it a regular thing. Every Wednesday, we play a game at lunch time, and it quickly became one of the highlights of the week. (This week, we celebrated winning Forbidden Desert on our Instagram account! I always intend to post something every Game Wednesday, but I often forget because I’m so focused on playing the game.)

Take the time out to enjoy puzzles and games. You won’t regret it.


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100 Games to Know!

PAX East is one of several conventions under the PAX brand, all of which are dedicated to gaming. Created by the folks behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, PAX East has become a premier destination for video games, board game creators, and gaming enthusiasts from all walks of life.

One of the panels this year featured prolific puzzler and game creator Mike Selinker, author of The Maze of Games and creator of numerous popular board games and card games, including Unspeakable Words, Pathfinder, and many others.

He hosted a panel entitled 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play, and over the course of the hour-long event he ran down 100 board games, card games, and video games that he considers to be essential knowledge for every game fan and game designer.

He stressed that this was not a list of the 100 best, the 100 most important, or the 100 most fun games, and that virtually every person’s opinion would vary.

And then he laid out a fantastic list of games in many styles and formats:

  • Tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons, Fiasco)
  • Electronic RPGs (The Legend of Zelda, The Secret of Monkey Island)
  • Deduction Games (Clue, Mafia)
  • Tile Games (Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Settlers of Catan)
  • Tabletop puzzle games (Scrabble, Boggle)
  • Electronic puzzle games (Myst, Bejeweled, Portal, You Don’t Know Jack)
  • Platformers (Super Mario Bros. 3, Katamari Damacy, Limbo, Braid)
  • Simulators (Madden NFL, Starcraft, FarmVille, Minecraft)
  • Traditional card games (Fluxx, Gloom, Uno)
  • Deck-construction games (Magic: The Gathering)
  • Electronic action games (Mario Kart 64, Halo, Plants vs. Zombies)
  • Rhythm games (Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band)
  • Strategy board games (Ticket to Ride, Pandemic)
  • Tabletop war games (Stratego, Axis & Allies)
  • Open world video games (Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft)
  • Creative tabletop games (Cards Against Humanity)

Several favorites of mine made the cut — like Mafia, a brilliantly simple murder mystery card game requiring nothing more than a deck of cards — and he had excellent reasons for including every game and excluding others.

Although plenty of worthy games didn’t get mentioned, I can’t come up with any game styles that Selinker missed, nor can I come up with any particular games that were egregiously excluded. I love Qwirkle, Timeline, and Castellan, for instance, but I feel like each of those gaming styles were well represented.

[He was careful to cover his bases.]

Can you think of any that the keen eye of Selinker missed, my fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

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Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Cash Money

Monopoly is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, no small accomplishment in the world of board games. Available in 43 languages and sold in 111 countries worldwide, the most ubiquitous board game in history is launching a few special promotions to commemorate their eight-decade anniversary.

In the US, they’ve released a special anniversary edition of the game, featuring game tokens representing different decades.

In France, however, the prize is a little bit sweeter.

You see, 80 special sets of the game will be distributed to stores, each with a special bonus: real money mixed in with the Monopoly money.

From an article in The Guardian:

Only one set will land the major jackpot, in which every game note is replaced by real money — for a total windfall of 20,580 euros ($23,268).

In addition, 10 sets will contain five real 20-euro notes, two 50-euro notes and one 100-euro note.

A lesser prize can be scooped in 69 sets, which will have five 10-euro notes and five 20-euro notes.

Evenly distributed among the many variations of the game currently available — junior and electronic editions included — the anniversary sets are out there right now, waiting to be claimed.

This follows in the fine tradition of other specialty Monopoly sets over the years, like the all-chocolate entirely edible version of Monopoly Neiman Marcus sold in the ’70s, or the $100,000 version produced for FAO Schwarz that included emeralds and sapphires embedded into the game board and real U.S. currency.

[Check out this solid gold edition of Monopoly!]

And you can’t help but wonder if other board games will follow suit for their big anniversaries. Imagine Mouse Trap with a real mouse, or Fireball Island with a real gemstone in the center. Heck, an anniversary edition of Hungry Hungry Hippos that includes a real hippo would certainly make for some great press!

As long as nobody tries to release copies of Pandemic with an actual virus, we should be good.

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Prep for College the Puzzly Way!

It’s summer here in the United States, which means many high-school graduates are already looking forward to starting college. But for those soon-to-be freshmen, as well as high schoolers looking for an edge before university, have you considered puzzles and board games?

Now, it comes as no shock to me, but this article from the U.S. News and World Report website might surprise some, since it lists puzzles and board games as two of its five tools to develop critical thinking skills before college!

Naturally, I’ve been an advocate of puzzles as a learning tool for a long time, so it’s gratifying to see a major publication sharing the same views and ideas.

From the article:

Collections of crossword puzzles, logic problems, riddles, sudoku, word problems and word searches can be found at your local bookstore or library. The puzzles in these books are a wonderful strategy to activate different parts of your brain for a round or two of mental gymnastics, and many collections even discuss what each puzzle is meant to target within the mind.

Allow me to expand on this for a bit. Different puzzles can target different skills, so which puzzles you solve can make a big difference when it comes to critical thinking.

Crosswords encourage deduction (figuring out words from a few common letters) and a facility with wordplay (dealing with crafty clues and alternate definitions), while word searches offer great practice in pattern recognition and quick reaction times.

And the demand that Sudoku puzzles place on active attentiveness and concentration exercises parts of the brain associated with forming new memories, encouraging better memory retention.

[All three of the above pics come from our line of puzzle apps! Perfect for puzzly pre-college practice! Shameless plug now concluded!]

But the article also mentioned that certain board games can be excellent tools for honing valuable mental skills for college.

Choose board games that require more than luck – namely, strategy – for players to win. Any game where players must carefully consider their next move, recognize patterns and remember details will aid in honing critical thinking skills.

The article goes on to suggest some classics, like Chess, Checkers, and Mastermind for learning chain-thinking (planning several steps ahead) as well as Scrabble and Boggle (speedy information analysis, as well as word formation) and Clue and Risk (anticipating and reacting to the gameplay of others).

But I think they’re excluding some prime examples of board games that could benefit younger minds.

  • You could pick a cooperative game like Pandemic or Forbidden Island, which not only encourage strategic thinking, but teamwork and the free exchange of ideas (something that forced group exercises in school never really managed).
  • You could choose a rapid-change game like Fluxx (either the board game or the card game), which forces the players to adapt quickly to constantly changing rules and gameplay (a perfect microcosm of problem-solving in the real world, where things rarely remain static for long).
  • You could select a mixed-play game like The Stars Are Right, which incorporates several forms of gameplay (in this case, pattern-forming, tile-shifting, and a strategic card game akin to Magic: The Gathering or Munchkin) and forces players to exercise different forms of strategy and puzzle-solving all at once.

Just think about it. You could turn Family Game Night or Family Puzzle Time into College Prep Time in a snap. It’s win-win, or perhaps even win-win-win. What could be simpler, or more fun, than that?

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United we solve…

[President Bill Clinton and Brit Hume team up to tackle one of Merl Reagle‘s crosswords.]

A while back, I wrote a post about some of the many puzzle competitions and tournaments that are hosted around the world. But ever since then, I’ve been pondering how odd it is that puzzle competition is so prevalent when puzzles themselves have always been a collaborative effort.

Think about it. Jigsaw puzzles can be solved alone, but aren’t your memories of previous jigsaw puzzles always the ones you solved with others? When you get stuck on a crossword, what’s the first thing you do? You ask someone nearby. I know plenty of couples that solve crosswords and other puzzles together.

[How great is this stock photo I found? It makes me laugh every time I look at it.]

Paradoxically, most group puzzle games are competitive, like Boggle or Bananagrams. Even the games where you build something together, like Words with Friends, Scrabble, Jenga, or Castellan, are all competitive games.

Board games follow the same pattern. The vast majority of them pit players against each other, encouraging adversarial gameplay that leaves a single winner.

[Let the Wookiee win…]

But thankfully, there is a small (but growing!) number of board games that have the same cooperative spirit that pen-and-paper puzzles often do. These cooperative games encourage the players to strategize together and help each other to accomplish tasks and achieve victory as a team. Essentially, instead of playing against each other, they’re playing against the game.

Whether you’re defending your castle from monsters (Justin De Witt’s Castle Panic) or trying to stop a monstrous evil from conquering the world (Arkham Horror), you succeed or fail as a team. It’s a wonderful gameplay experience either way.

One of the top names in cooperative board games is Matt Leacock, creator of Pandemic and Forbidden Island. His games are exceedingly challenging but an immensely good time, even if you fail to stop the viruses or the island sinks before you can gather up all the treasures. It just makes you more determined to play better next time. (This is a wonderful counterpoint to the disillusionment that can crop up when one player trounces another in standard board games.)

There are some cooperative games, like Shadows Over Camelot or Betrayal At House On The Hill that have it both ways, serving as a team game until one player betrays the others, and then it becomes a team vs. spoiler game.

While competitive gameplay certainly does have its advantages, sometimes it’s nice to take some time out and win or lose as a team.

What do you think, PuzzleNationers? Do you prefer games with a winner, or do you enjoy cooperative games? Are there any great cooperative games or puzzles I missed? Let me know!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!