Why games are good for you – Board, RPG and War

Without a doubt I love playing games. They grow my skills, they help me evolve as a human and they can even be fun.

“You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Plato

I have broken this blog post into several sections:

  1. What does gaming give you?
  2. Getting started – boardgames for you
  3. Getting started – roleplaying for you
  4. My gaming journey

For the last three decades, I have been playing games. I own over 250 board games and 400 Roleplaying books(RPG). You can see what I own here at boardgamegeek.


“What does gaming give you?

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As a teenager, board games gave me confidence, problem solving skills, pattern recognition and little fear for failure.  Roleplaying Games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons) gave me the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and imagine what they would do, as well as developing my leadership skills.

Board games can teach or improve important social skills to all ages (especially for children and teens), such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns (i.e. patience), and enjoying interaction with other humans. They can also encourage the ability to focus, and increase your attention span. Even simple board games like Snakes (Chutes in the US) and Ladders offer meta-messages and life skills: Your luck can change in an instant — for the better or for the worse. The message inherent in board games is: Never give up, have tenacity. Just when you feel despondent, you might hit the jackpot, if you stay in the game for just a few more moves.

Many people, when they first start playing games, are surprised at the level of brainpower that board games use. Modern games are often highly strategic and tactical, requiring you to constantly make calculated choices, where you to weigh the alternatives. While all board games are different and each one challenges in a different way, I would suggest that, in general, board games are very effective at testing your problem solving abilities, decision making skills, and tactical capabilities. And some that involve more player interaction bringing out the your negotiating, charm or persuasion skills.

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Studies on Games

I am a man of science. So what does science say? Here are a couple studies:

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What do I get from Boardgames?

Boardgames tend to be abstract and there is often no continuation from one gaming session to another.

  1. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  2. Improved problem solving under different environments
  3. A better understanding of people under stress
  4. Learning to gracefully fail/lose
  5. Learning to win, and when not to
  6. Learning to understand the nature of chance/probability
  7. Teaching others simple/complex rulesets and tactics/strategy
  8. Learning different game mechanics and how to maximize them
  9. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from RPGs?

While similar to boardgames, there is continuation from one gaming session to another. Players become heavily invested in their individual characters, and the skills learned tend to be more about humans than mechanics.

  1. A better sense of Good and Evil, and ethics in general
  2. Team Planning
  3. Leadership
  4. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  5. Ability to walk in someone else’s shoes
  6. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  7. Investigation skills
  8. Better understanding of people
  9. Teaching others simple and complex rulesets
  10. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from WarGaming?

In some ways Wargaming is more mature than boardgames, as you tend to view each games as an experience to learn from.

  1. Having a strategy and sticking to it
  2. Paying attention to opportunities and recognizing when they are a trap
  3. Recognizing when you have lost and should retreat
  4. Understanding the importance of logistics
  5. Understanding Combat Strategy and Tactics and the impact of different weapons systems
  6. The importance of morale on the battlefield
  7. Using terrain to your advantage
  8. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  9. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to competitors

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Getting Started – Boardgames for you

So where should you start? It depends on how many will play with you and how adventurous they are.

Most start with the Family games e.g. Monopoly, Clue, and Apples to Apples. Those with a bit more adventure may start with Settlers of Catan, Smallworld or Pandemic (this game is collaborative i.e. you work together). If you are not affected by crossing the lines of political correctness than Cards against Humanity would be a good start for a small group.

If there is just two of you there are many varieties of card games to get you started, such as Settlers of Catan card game, Gloom or Herbaceous. Or if you like word games, Moot or Quiddler are good.

If you want a good database of games, the best is at BoardGameGeek where you will find ratings, photos, reviews, FAQ, pdf manuals etc.

If you want to learn a game without reading the manual checkout Geek and Sundry as they may well have a review of a game, which will get you up and running faster.  Of course there are lot of videos out there, but remember its Internet, quality is mixed.

If you are worried about what to buy, head to your local Gameshop and ask them, the best game shops will let you play a copy of the game, or give you a good breakdown of how it works.

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Finding a Gaming group

If you are alone here are some suggestions of how to find people to play with.

  1. Gaming Shops – That is what google is there for
  2. Meetups – there a lot of gaming groups across the US
  3. Gaming Conventions
  4. Work Colleagues
  5. Friends

Finding the right people for your group can take time, and finding people that reliably come to regular sessions is harder. Be patient.

One Hint -> Watch how people play and lose, that will give you deep insight into the their character as a person.

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Not all boardgames are the same

How does a game play? Where is it set? What are your goal? How do you achieve them? These can differ dramatically from game to game. Here’s a list of the different board game categories, or “styles” of play:

Conflict orientated

Some games, like Risk, Dustor X-Wing challenge your tactical skills and invite aggression, pitting you directly against other players. You have to make decisions on who to attack and why. You also have to know how to anticipate losses, as well as how to recover from them.

Detective/Investigation

Some are about finding the clues and solving the “problem”. Clue is an obvious example, and a really good modern one is T.I.M.E. Stories. Murder Mystery dinners are also a lot of fun and easily played with non gamers.

Dungeon Quests

These are often collaborative games, where a group of adventurers (the players) head somewhere dark and try to survive whilst achieving some goal. These are often RPG/Boardgame hybrids, such as Mice and Mystics, Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, or Castle Ravenloft.

Resource Management

Games like Monopoly, Firefly, Civilization, Twilight Imperium and Scythe challenge your resource management skills, as well as your ability to make decisions in the present that can yield exponential gain later. Some games are primarily economic games, and you may even learn about investments i.e Planet Steam or Tesla vs Edison or Startup fever.

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Strategy & Puzzle orientated

DominionCastles of Burgundy and Puerto RicoYou don’t compete much with the other players, instead building up your own area and trying to score points. These games challenge your ability to weigh decisions against each other and calculate opportunity cost.

Collaborative or Team orientated games

For those who do not like conflict there is now a whole range of games that encourage collaboration i.e. Pandemic, Spirit IslandShadows over Camelot, Robinson Crusoe, and Dead of Winter.

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Other types of games:

  • Legacy Games -the board and game evolves after or during play (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy)
  • Political games (Diplomacy, Junta)
  • Search & Gather (Merchants & Marauders, Pirates Cove)
  • Betrayal Games – They start off as collaborative but it turns out during the game someone maybe working against you, in some cases this an optional version of the game in others not e.g. BattleStar Galactica, Shadows over Camelot, Pandemic with the Terrorist. Check with your group that they understand what will happen, also make sure that you have several copies of the rules, so the “Traitor” can understand their rules without letting on who they are.

Summary of things to consider for Boardgames

For reviews check out BoardgameGeek, Geek & Sundry or Starlit Citadel video Reviews.

Here is how I compare and contrast boardgames, when choosing to play or buy.

1. Complexity

How big is the rule book? Is it easy to read? Do the examples make sense? That said some games are great just the instructions suck.

Hints:

    • Look at PDF of the instruction manual online, so multiple people can learn the game at once
  • Watch a YouTube video How-to-play walkthrough Geek & Sundry is a good start

2. Setup time

How many pieces are there? How do you record impact on your “empire”? How many cards or counters need to be setup? Twilight Imperium can take 30-40 mins to setup, where as Dominion may take less than 10 mins.

Hints:

  • Buy extra bags or one of the organizing kits, this will get you up and running faster
  • Put cards in an order that makes sense

3. Competition vs. Collaboration

Some players do not like conflict and others do. Check in with the mood of the group, sometimes you just want to fight the game and other times you are up for a fight with your friends.

Hints:

  • Having a variety of games will help with this, as well as knowing your fellow players.

4. Chance/Random

Some games like Chess are all player choice, there is no randomness. Others, like Snakes and Ladders, is all chance and no choice. Settlers uses a die to determine which resources will be given out each turn, so it’s a combination of both. Combat games use a variety of choice and chance mechanics to determine the outcome.

5. Player Interaction

If you like your friends, and if you want to spend the evening talking (instead of in silent concentration), games that encourage interaction are good. Some games only encourage attacks between players e.g. Scythe and not trading. Others have minimal if any interaction e.g. Puerto Rico.

6. Growth and Snowball effect

Some games have what is called a snowball effect, where the powerful get more powerful and the weak will die off.

So players might be eliminated, e.g. Risk, or end up feeling bored and frustrated, e.g. Settlers of Catan. Other games are kinder and allow players to restart e.g. Pirates Cove, but the chances are you will be so far behind you will never catch up. It’s important to see if anyone gets left behind in the game, and if you have a player who reacts badly to falling behind or being eliminated, it may be best to avoid these games.

The other aspect of the Snowball effect is that if you make mistakes at the beginning, the whole game could suck for some or all players. This can happen if you are deeply unlucky with the die, or if you suck 😉  The reality is you can learn and improve so watch and absorb, you will get there…

7. Number of Players

A lot of modern games limit the number of players to four. Is that a tribe? (I don’t think so). Some delight you with an expansion to extend to five players for a bunch of dollars or pounds.

Again, it’s definitely worth a collection that has a different number of players. You never know how many people will show up for games night!

8. Time per player

The first time you play a game, expect the initial time to double, until you figure out how the game works.

Hints:

  • Read the rules once before you play and if you have time play against yourself or with a friend.
  • Teaching rules all the time can become exhausting, share the load: Get all the players to download the PDF to their phone. Having access to more rulebooks will help the game move faster.

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Getting Started – Roleplaying games for you

If you have no idea where to start, try the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set or Star Wars RPG Beginner Game, unless you find another world you want to really play. Starting with a simple game will get you unfraid and ready to explore other games/universes. Also, starting with a starter set saves on spending a lot of money on books until you are ready.

If you have not run a session before, keep an eye out for my post for first time Dungeon Masters / Game Masters.

Not all RPGs are the same

There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).

Fantasy –

Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.

Present with Twists

These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.

  • Vampire (Simple) – Surprise surprise!… it’s about vampires
  • Werewolf (Simple) – You are guardians of the earth protecting it from Wrym who uses toxins to destroy the planets and humans
  • Dresden Files (Simple) – Detectives with Magic in Chicago
  • Call of Cthulhu (Intermediate) – Run away! anddd… you’re dead. Horror and  investigation
  • Unknown Armies (Intermediate) – You are armed with magic or a gun, slightly insane and you have to stop them.. you know them.. they are real

Science Fiction

Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future

  • Eclipse Phase (Advanced) – Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite.
  • Shadowrun (Intermediate) – Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear
  • Star Wars (Simple) – You should know this
  • Polaris (Simple) – Far future under earth’s oceans
  • Traveller (Intermediate) – At least a 1,000 years
  • Coriolis (Simple) – Space Arabian Nights

Summary of things to consider for RPGs

  1. Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
  2. The size of the Community of the game- the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
  3. If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
  4. How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
  5. The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
  6. The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
  7. Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style

The first game experience really defines whether someone comes back to RPG. So no pressure but… choose the game wisely and make sure everyone gets the opportunity and space to participate.


My Gaming Journey

Family Boardgames

Like most, I played card/board games as a child e.g. MouseTrap, The Game of Life, Super Cluedo Challenge (Clue in the US), Monopoly, Chess, Backgammon, Mah Jong, Casino, etc.  Good games for passing the time with family and friends. As a teenager I played Risk with friends taking a whole day to complete the world conquest games.

WarGaming

I played a couple war-games as a teenager, some counter, some miniature, some rules coming from magazines, mostly based in the Second World War.  Around 1983/4 Warhammer Fantasy Battle was released.  This is a miniature war game in which two armies fight against each other, but fantasy based, Lord of Rings mythology e.g. Elves Dwarves, Orcs, etc.  I played with friends and in tournaments with a Wood Elf army – They favored fast movement and range attacks, but had some specialized Heavy Infantry.

Later I discovered Advanced Squad Leader, a WWII counter tactical-level board war-game. Extremely complex and thorough. It’s interesting redoing tactical situations that actually happened during the second world war.

Space Marine was created by Games Workshop Ltd and consisted of Epic scale (6 mm) miniatures games. Later they were replaced by Warhammer Epic 40,000 which worked at the same scales but had all new mechanics. I built a large Eldar army and played a lot of games again both with friends and in tournaments.

Other war-games I played at this time included Flat Top, Harpoon, Air Superiority, The Hunt for Red October, and Supremacy.

War gaming taught me a lot about military strategy and tactics, the importance of logistics, a lot of history, how to cope with the unexpected i.e. dice rolls, how to predict your competition and their likely moves, and how to learn from failure and success.

Board Games

Finding friends who would play war-games was tough, especially because war-games are such a big investment (i.e. a couple hundred painted miniatures, a BIG table, scenery and a day to play).  This led me to explore boardgames which took less time to setup, learn the rules and play.

Some of my favorites from this time period 80s – 90s are Kings & Things, The fury of Dracula, Block Mania, Talisman, Axis & Allies, Shogun, Twilight Imperium, Dragon Masters, Mighty Empires (this was a strategic version to Warhammer Fantasy Battle). These were all produced by Game Workshop, which I feel was its peak in creativity at this time.

Board gaming for me was mostly a fun and social thing to do with friends and new people. That said I learnt from them in terms of problem solving.

Roleplaying

Through Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Games Workshop I learned about Warhammer Fantasy Role-play. We played The Enemy Within campaign led by Shane Johnson. Later, through a University student (I was still at College i.e. 16 years old) and part-time shop keeper (Gaming shop) Alan, I learned about a new D&D campaign, just starting.  This was redbox D&D and I started with a level 1 Mage through to something double digits level. It was an amazing campaign which relied on a lot of roleplaying. The Dungeon Master (Steve) really opened by mind to acting the character, their motivations and conflicts e.g. Roleplaying rather than just tactical play i.e. surviving and getting Gold.

Later I discovered at Exeter University (UK), a big RPG group. This expanded my playing into new RPG games such as AD&D Second Edition, Mega Traveller, Vampire, Amber, etc. At some point I attended my first RPG Convention, where I played first edition Ars Magica. The way the game dealt with personalities and emotions, it blew my mind. My regular gaming stopped after I left Exeter, UK 1992.

Roleplaying has continuously opened my mind to different possibilities, new worlds, and new ways to solve problems. The people I played with were also important, I learnt a lot about them through how they played and how they reacted to successes and failures. For most it was pure escapism from their lives, for others it was the opportunity to be something better in their minds, and for others it was the opportunity to be something worse than society would allow them to be. For all it was a moment of freedom.

Gaming Again after 16 years

I started Gaming when I moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2008 (from the UK) and I met new gamers. Most of my games that had survived this time period had progressed through several editions/versions.

I met a LOT of boardgames and RPGers in Canada. I wonder if cold prairie nights encourages more people to play games, rather than simply watching TV like in the UK.

My modern boardgames favorites are Risk Legacy, Eve Conquests, Middle Earth Quest, Eclipse, Merchants & Marauders, T.I.M.E. Stories, BattleStar Galactica, Starfarers of Catan, Shadows of Camelot, Terra Mystica, Civilization, Village.

My modern RPGs favorites are Eclipse Phase, D&D 5th Edition, Coriolis, Ars Magica 5th Edition.

My modern Wargame favorites include Warhammer 40,000K, Advanced Squad Leader

Playing with adults is different to playing with teenagers, in part it’s less emotional, except for those adults who never learned how to fail. RPG characters that people play as adults, are generally more complex and games have kept up with this multiple layering of personality.

I think gaming will add a lot to your life, your experiences, your skills, and your friends. And I think it’s a worthy investment. I hope it brings you as much joy, frustration, and laughter as it has brought me. 

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2 Comments

  1. Good post Eric, detailed and engaging. I hope it will convert new players. A few comments from me:
    – Regarding RPG, I think knowing the style of people playing in your group is key. There are people like me who don’t give a **** of rules, there could be no rules and just role play and I would be happy. I like when my GM is telling me a story and when we can truly improvise and act. Other people loves the game play, rolling dice and read all the rule books. The dynamic with this kind of people is completely different and the kind of game you play too. So knowing your audience as a GM is essential to have a good game and have a good time. Otherwise it can be frustrating, both for the GM and the players. It makes finding a good group even harder, for a GM to be confident to master a style he/she likes and players to enjoy playing that style.
    – Regarding board games, I couldn’t more agree with you! It is incredible all the skills that you can develop in playing. Guilhem is better at strategy than I am (especially at Carcassonne with the peasants, cheeky one!) but playing with him for so long definitively improved my strategy skills. It is also very true that you can truly see someone for who they are through playing board games (I won’t name names 😉 ). And the fun you can have is just amazing. I am proud that we converted quite a few Liverpudlians to board gaming and enjoy it all together.
    – What about LARP and murder mystery RPG? I find this aspect of role play games even more fulfilling than table top RPG because the interaction with the people and the immersion are tenfold what you can experience in classic RPG. And the costumes !

    Like

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