For many of us out there, myself included, board games have always been a large part of our lives. We didn’t do it because it was “good for us”, of course. We play board games because they’re fun!
What if I told you there were a number of surprising benefits to playing board games? Wouldn’t it be great if all those nights laughing, rolling dice, drawing cards, and moving little pieces around on boards was also good for you?
Great news: studies show that it is!
More and more people are flocking to the hobby, and there has never been a better time to dive into the wonderful world of board games than now (it’s more than just Monopoly, folks!).
If you’re on the fence, hopefully this article can show you the place board games can have in our culture and the power they have to educate, entertain, and bring people together.
Let’s get to the list.
1. Developmental Skills for Children
This is the most obvious on the list, and arguably also the most important. Growing up, did you notice that all the “brainy” types also tended to be the ones that were a little too into games? There might just be a good reason for that. Board games have been shown to have significant benefits for the cognitive development of children.
What do I mean by that specifically?
A 2008 study (Scholz et al.) published in the International Journal of Special Education switched out weekly math lessons for chess lessons in a sample group of students with learning disabilities. The result, after a year, was that the students taking the chess lessons outperformed the ones that had been taking the typical math lessons. The study stated that “calculation abilities for simple addition tasks and counting improved significantly more in the chess classes”.
Playing board games when you are young develops much more than math, too. It’s good for developing critical thinking skills, teaching children to learn and follow rules, increasing concentration levels, and much more.
2. Social Practice for All Ages
The benefits don’t stop in childhood. Board games continue to provide a number of mental health benefits at all ages. Topping off that list is social practice.
This is relevant for people in any age group; board games develop and refine social skills by nature, since they involve playing with other people.
When you are younger, board games provide a comfortable space for introverted children to stretch their social muscles. They supply a safe environment governed by rules, and focusing on the game can take the more anxiety-prone mind off the other people at the table.
Reducing the pressure to interact can encourage more reserved children to come out of their shell and start working on the important social skills they will need to succeed in life.
Board games also teach children that you don’t always win and how to lose with grace, which is no doubt an invaluable lesson.
This remains true as you age! The structured nature of board games makes them a bastion of comfort for the introverted individual who is both hungry for and afraid of such group interactions. Board games offer a safe place to overcome those fears and anxieties.
3. Hone Your Logical Thinking and Problem Solving
I’ve already mentioned this in passing, as a benefit for childhood development. We don’t have to stop learning and growing just because we reached an arbitrary age, though, and board games continue to provide a great place to further develop cognitive skills.
When you play board games, you are constantly stretching your logical thinking and problem solving muscles. Most games require you to be able to think moves ahead; not just about what you are doing this turn, but what will result from the actions you take now, how the other players will react, and how you will adjust for those possibilities.
Playing games that force you to think this way will naturally develop those pathways in your brain over time, resulting in better logical thinking skills. I’m not saying playing games will turn you into a super-genius problem solver, but you will see a noticeable improvement in your ability to reason through problems you encounter if you play often.
4. Leisure and Stress-Management
This goes back to one of the simplest, purest reasons we play board games: it’s fun!
Taking time out of your week to enjoy leisure activities, such as playing board games, has a definite impact on your mental and physical health. Being stressed and overworked doesn’t just feel bad in the moment, after all – it has far reaching impacts on your overall health and life expectancy if you don’t manage your stress well.
Playing board games can provide a much needed release of energy; that moment when you can unwind, relax, and not let your mind be consumed by all the worries you carry day to day. Instead, you can let getting the longest road be your biggest problem for the next hour or so. We need that kind of break, especially with today’s frenzied pace of living.
5. Maintain Cognitive Function and Mental Health as you Age
Keeping yourself sharp is a constant battle as you age, both physically and mentally. Just like it’s a good idea to keep a good gym routine to maintain your physical health, maintaining a weekly board game night would be a good step to maintaining your cognitive health. The brain is a muscle, and if you don’t stretch and challenge it that muscle will atrophy.
As an example, a 20-year long study in France (Dartigues et al) showed that individuals who played board games regularly not only had lower rates of dementia at the conclusion of the study (15% lower); they also exhibited lower levels of cognitive decline and less incident depression than non-players.
Playing board games regularly has also been shown to reduce symptoms for a variety of conditions ranging from anxiety disorders to ADHD to Alzheimer’s.
6. Uses in Occupational Therapy Treatment
One of the most telling signs that board games have health benefits is the current use of board games in occupational therapy plans. The same factors that make board games good for early cognitive development in children and cognitive maintenance as we age also make them a great tool for these therapy plans.
Board games check all the boxes for many of these patients. They provide cognitive exercise in the form of the problem solving we’ve already discussed at length. Many games also require moving small pieces around on boards, which can be a good way to re-introduce fine motor skills to patients.
Most importantly, board games provide a more fun and less frustrating way for patients to practice such skills at a time when they almost certainly have enough to be frustrated about as it is.
7. Board Games Bring People Together!
This reason becomes more and more relevant every year. We have so many ways to interact with others in the convenient comfort of our homes, from behind computer screens, that it’s easy to get too caught up in that world and forget that there’s more tangible, real social experiences out there.
Humans are social creatures by nature, and no good can come of shutting yourself off from real human interaction on a regular basis. Even the least social among us (like me!) need to get out of their cave and go fill that socialization meter for the good our mental health.
Fortunately, society is catching up to this fact and more and more hobbies like board gaming are on the rise to give people reasons to come together and actually interact in person.
So what are you waiting for? If you don’t have a board game friendly group, local game stores are almost always hosting events where you can meet like-minded individuals and set such groups up.
Look up your local game store or board game café, call up some friends (or go make some new ones!), and find the time in your week for an evening of gaming.
With all these benefits, you can be sure your body, mind, and soul will be grateful for it!