Category Archives: Gaming

Board Games and the Brain

I recently read a post on Jamey Stegmaier’s personal blog about gaming and learning. I have been teaching through how the brain works in my anatomy and physiology class. Our brain is a fascinating organ and is able to do things that still baffle us. One baffling thing is the associations we make between items and how those associations help us to learn. Gaming is a great way for our brains to make those associations and learn from them. Playing board games will not only add enjoyment to your life, but it may also make you a better learner.

Crossword puzzles are a basic version of this idea. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends them as an important way to prevent that horrible disease. Why? Because the brain has to make several associations there: the word, the boxes, and their relationship to the other boxes. There may be several words that fit in the box, but only the right word fits in the context of the other words. A well-designed crossword even makes the clue itself a baffling first hurdle for the brain. Counting boxes, counting letters in words and relating them to other letters in other words – all very good for the brain.

Convert this idea to board games. Take a simpler game like Ticket to Ride. In Ticket to Ride, the brain has to make associations between the game board, the color of tracks, and the color of cards in hand. Also, there are the high-value tickets you are trying to complete. Next, the opponents rails are in the way and players must work around them. There is a lot going on! First-time gamers will come away from that game thinking, “Wow, I did something.” After long weekends of gaming, I will sleep for 10 hours that Sunday evening. The brain will work you out!

What are some other games that seem simple but are great for the brain? What recommendations would you make?


Gaming with Your Spouse

I have been very fortunate the last 15 years to have a wife who likes to play games. In our pre-children years, we would take turns playing Neverwinter Nights. Later, when we had smaller children running around the house, we started board gaming. Though we have different tastes in games, we have found a common ground. We enjoy many different games together. She is more into the art and design than I am. She scores high in games when she can use her spatial and visual skills. I always appreciate her perspective when it comes to playing and now designing games.

Do you play games with your spouse? Would you like to? I’ve come up with a few helpful tips to help you make the transition from non-gaming spouse to fun game nights.

Pick Light Games

First, pick games that the gaming community considers “light.”  These games have interesting decisions, but those decisions may not be very deep. Find games that have shorter play times and fewer rules. This doesn’t mean you have to get worse games. There are many games that fall into this category. They are some the best ever made. Games like Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne are great games and are easy to learn and play. Start small. It will pay dividends later.

Pick Co-op Games

Games that allow the two of you to be on the same team are also attractive. Some do not like competition, especially when it is direct. Co-op games take this aspect away without taking anything away. The first two that come to mind are Pandemic and Forbidden Island. Both are great places to start and have interesting themes. There are many choices in this category. They range from zombie-survival games like Dead of Winter to a classic tower-defense game in Castle Panic.

Pick Games that She Would Pick

What do I mean by this? Well, my wife would pick games with great art and mechanics. These appeal to her outstanding spatial intelligence. She likes tile-laying games, so we recently picked up Feast for Odin. Even though that is a heavy game, she likes it because of the mechanics. I don’t know what this will be for your spouse. There are more than a few different mechanics to suit your needs.

If you’d like suggestions, drop me a comment or email.


Playing Games Solo

As a young child, I loved playing with action figures. I collected everything from GI Joes to He-Man. In my world of imagination, all figures coexisted in a constant struggle with one another. There was never peace. There was always a story of one faction against another or one figure betraying another. I was Shakespeare and He-man and his fellow figures were my actors. And all this happened in the solitude of my bedroom.
I stopped playing with toys in my early teen years (yeah, I was old). I traded them in for video games, which I still played alone. Though I still play video games, my gaming energy has shifted to board games, which I play with others. I enjoy gaming with others, but there are still times I enjoy playing board games by myself. Many of my games have a “solitaire” mode which allows me to enjoy the game and enjoy the solitude.
One reason I enjoy solo gaming is that it allows me to broaden my collection somewhat. Many games that have a solo mode are more complicated games than my normal group (my family) would enjoy. With these games, I’m able to play the games I enjoy, while not having to worry about finding a group to play with. Because these games have longer play times, I can also leave them set up. This gives me the opportunity to walk away and come back. That’s something you can’t do with a normal game group.
Another reason for solo gaming is that it helps you to sharpen your rules knowledge. Playing the game in solo mode first gives you a good idea of rules and feel of the game. No one wants you to drag them through the first play with limited rules knowledge. I can spend as much time as I like playing the game and learning the nuances of the rules. Then, teaching the game to my friends becomes much easier. After that, I can better apply the rules to situations that will arise. No one like to play a game in which no one knows the rules. Solo gaming eliminates that.
The best reason to play solo games is that it keeps your mind ticking. Many folks use other devices to do this like crossword puzzles, logic problems, and sudoku. Though I like those things, board games bring color and the physical element that can’t be had on a piece of paper. The visual and tactile experiences involved in a board game can keep your mind sharp. I read a recent study that looked at the link between your internal thoughts and the physical world. These associations and connections keep your memory more intact as you grow older
Playing solo games does take some time to get used to, but the investment is worth it.