When Boards Meet Games: An Introduction to Board-Gaming

“Playing a board game can also be an intense intellectual exercise that helps to grow your brain and improve your executive functions.”

Who doesn’t love games?!? Football games, basketball games, video games, get-to-know-you games, all serving the essential utility of eradicating boredom. They are an integral part of our society. We create artificial modes of winning and losing in order to give ourselves purpose and fill our days with fun. Our species has evolved a drive for competition and excitement, and we satisfy that drive through playing games. And in the strange, sad times we live in now, it can be very difficult to quench that thirst, with the loss of sports and social gathering. Ivanka Trump says when tragedy hits we have to “find something new.” Find something new we shall indeed, Ivanka. What I hope to introduce to you in this article is a hobby that has been a lifesaver during quarantine — it’s the product of a game and a board, and you guessed it, it’s board games!

At this very moment a smile should be spreading on your face and your heart should start beating faster with anticipation of what is to come — this is not a suggestion. The hobby of board-gaming (and we can include card games in here as well) is one of endless nuance and interest that, assuming you have other people to play with (although there are some single player games), offers a lifetime of rewarding experiences and unfettered fun. During quarantine, of course, it’s best to play with a family member, such as a sibling or parent or cat. But this is a hobby that can easily outlast the dastardly COVID-19. 

In the past, board games simply represented the mind-numbing slog of playing “Monopoly” or “Risk” for hours, until your cousin started crying and had to go home for warm milk and bedtime. Fortunately for those in the future (as we are now), board games have evolved to hold much more depth and intrigue than they used to. Gradually emerging from the geekdom renaissance of the late 1900s, titles such as “Settlers of Catan” or “Pandemic” are becoming more mainstream and noticed as a mode of entertainment. There are thousands of titles classified by board-game fans in categories such as Party, Social Deduction, Heavy Strategy, Dexterity, Cooperative, etc. whatever you want, you can find it — though that may be a slight exaggeration. In my humble opinion, there is a game for every occasion: Three hours of downtime with a good friend? Try the complex WW2-themed “Axis & Allies: 1942.” Hanging out at a park with a couple of folks? Try the humbly sized “Coup” or “Skull.” Abducted by aliens? Try the abstract non-language-based “Carcassonne.” Loitering outside a dairy factory with a bunch of friends for thirty minutes? Try the social-deduction game “Avalon.” Leading a team-bonding activity with a couple of chickens? Try the agricultural-themed “Agricola.” Look, the point is, you’ve got a bunch of options. 

 Perhaps at this point you’re asking, “But surely these are no better than the common video game, which I know and love so well.” To this I say, nay! Board games have several crucial advantages over their video counterparts: Not only the tactile feel of the game itself — there’s a sense of connection as you manipulate the physical components of the world you’re inhabiting — but also the intense social interactions that you experience, regardless of whether you win or lose. Playing a board game can also be an intense intellectual exercise that helps to grow your brain and improve your executive functions. Personally, after I play my favorite games, I spend a long time thinking of how I can approach them differently in the future. Accordingly, my favorites include “Dominion,” “Smash Up,” “Memoir 44,” “Evolution,” and “Avalon.” If your interest is piqued, I recommend you do the following: 1) Look up all the board games mentioned in this article — sans “Monopoly” and “Risk” — on the handy-dandy website BoardGameGeek, and decide which one(s) looks the most interesting to you; 2) Order it online; 3) Find someone else who wants to play and voila! You have a new hobby. Unfortunately, Step 2 can become expensive, but we in Berkeley happen to be blessed with a business on Shattuck called Victory Point Cafe, which charges only $5 to play as many games as you wish from their vast collection at outdoor seating — or, perhaps a better idea these days, rent a game from their website. Do it, do it now.

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