Even though I grew up with three siblings it was like pulling teeth to get anyone to play board games with me as a kid. Thankfully, that’s changed now that we’re older and the selection of games to choose from is nearly endless. Card games, cooperative games, free-form story games, we’ve really come a ways since the days of Monopoly and Clue!
There are some games with widely accepted benefits. Chutes and ladders, for example, has been shown to increase a child’s ability to count and understand numbers. But why stop learning just because we’ve grown up? There’s certainly a number of incredibly complex games for adults to play and no shortage of skills people wish they could improve. (Seriously, the self-help and e-education space is incredibly hot right now!)
Most of the childhood games that you’re thinking of probably require less skill and more luck. For instance, a common game mechanic for a traditional board game is to draw a card or roll a die to determine the action of your turn. Candy Land is a great example of this. A sinister sibling can easily stack the entire deck of cards to give themselves Queen Frostine and you Plumpy making it…well, not all that fun or educational. The games of today are very different. They require careful risk calculations, resource management, and persuasion. That’s where the learning comes in!
A game like Pax Pamir has seemingly endless choices for your turn. You can buy cards, move armies, build roads, and even change your alliance! Each has a subtle impact on your ability to win the game and requires a multi-turn strategy — with room for deviation based on the other player’s turns. You’ll truly be challenging yourself to play to your strengths and buffer your weaknesses. For instance, one player may be good at persuading other players, another player may be very good at running quick calculations in their head. Both can be winning strategies and it’s fun either way!
There might be some discourse through this whole process, but that’s just another great skill to practice. After all, playing a game is a very low-stakes way to create and resolve conflict. If someone can’t let go their game-grudge how much fun do you think they’ll be to work with when that project doesn’t go their way?
Now, this begs the question, if we can learn skills, build stronger teams, and have fun playing games…why do companies make team building so boring? The number of spaghetti bridges and towers I’ve built in my life might as well qualify me as an architect. I’ve done so many variations on trust falls, arm pretzels, and ice breaker questions that I have déjà vu when I’m asked to do them. It’s also somewhat funny to me since these types of activities are typically done once a year. Why not make it a habit and do something small but fun once a week or month?
Of course, using games to foster skills in employees isn’t a new concept. Games like Market Share, Diplomacy, and Getting There have been used (and praised publicly) by large corporations for fostering everything from high-level negotiation skills to computer networking. However, playing one game in particular made me realize how critical board games (and in this case, a card game) could be in onboarding new team members to any group, including a company.
The game is called Crew, you’re a group of astronauts preparing for a space mission and, without discussing strategy, you have to all work together to complete each mission. Like real life, if you “get” how to solve the mission you’ll find yourself frustrated with team members that don’t, but you have to help them otherwise you all fail. It also teaches players to constantly think about how others can impact the goal. Nobody can win with their strategy alone, and to that point, you have to be incredibly flexible. If someone else places a card that doesn’t “fit” into your strategy you have to stop and ask “what do they see that I don’t?” before you make your move.
I played through all of the missions with a group of people not too long ago and it left a lasting impression. It brought us closer together and we still talk about of victorious space missions. If you can’t bring board games into your work, then at least I would encourage you to bring them into your personal life. The more complex the ruleset, the more rewarding it will be when you figure out how to play. And if nothing else, it gives your brain a chance to flex those learning muscles!