You Should Play Board Games, And Here's Why

I love video games. I want to make that clear. But recently, after introducing some of my friends to board games and finding some friendly board game groups, I've noticed that I'm spending way more of my time playing board games than playing video games. I enjoy them so much, I made this short documentary about why some of the people at one of my meetups love playing board games.

Your Turn: A Documentary About Playing Board Games from Clayton Ashley on Vimeo.

There are a lot of reasons I love these 'german style' board games. Some of it is directly inspired by some of the incredible writing on board games over at Shut Up and Sit Down, so I'd highly recommend checking that website out. But here are the reasons I think video game players in particular should play board games.

1. Creativity in board games is less constrained.

Ever had an awesome idea for a video game? Then your exactly where every great video game developer started. But through the process of coding that idea, running it through possibly hundreds of other employees, and eliminating whatever parts of the idea can't be made profitable, you're inevitably left with something that isn't the idea you started with. Now, that's not always a bad thing. A bunch of great minds can add something to an originally great idea and make it even better. But it's not the idea you started with.

But getting back to your awesome idea. Unless you know how to code, there are some huge hurdles you'll have to overcome to take your fantastical idea and make it into a video game. You'll have to explain to an artist what the characters look like in your head, how the player's avatar moves, how the story progresses. But board games are different. If you have a great idea for a board game, you can have a working prototype using a few pieces of paper, a couple coins, and some dice ready in just few hours. You'll probably need to play test it and tweak it, but it will be extremely close to your original idea, made real. Now just the same, this isn't always a good thing; there are plenty of awful board games that manage to get into stores. But you can be guaranteed that their original concept wasn't focus tested into oblivion or the game mechanics misconstrued by one of the programmers. As Quinns of Shut Up And Sit Down said, board games are "a human being’s shrinkwrapped idea".

2. Board games are doing things video games are not.

The Resistance has taken over just about every board game meetup I've been to, and with good reason. The rules are simple, it can be played with up to 10 people, and it's relatively quick. But whats really cool about the game, is what its about: talking. You couldn't play the resistance against a computer or even someone sitting behind one with a web cam and microphone. You have to play the game sitting across from everyone else, because the way you win, is to be the best at talking to other people. The ingenious game mechanics create one of the most tense, dire gaming experiences you'll ever play. And right now, video games aren't doing anything quite like it (though I'll admit, the thrill is similar to playing Spy Party).

There are board games with auction mechanics that poke and prod people into answer how much you really want something (why more video games don't try to use this inherently balanced style of play is somewhat baffling). Bartering and bidding are common human interactions that have rarely, if ever been effectively used in video games but they are a common, constantly iterated feature of board games. There are 'hidden movement' games, where you track down a player whose movements on the board are kept secret from all the other players, leaving behind only clues to there wearabouts. There are games where you build rickety spaceships in a limited amount of time and games based on guessing your friends imagination. Only in the past few years have video games really embraced cooperative gameplay, but board games have been innovating the 'players vs the board' format for decades, with games that cast you and your friends as everything from firefighters trying to save every last person (and pet) in a burning building, to epic heroes embarking on an expansive, multi-afternoon quest. If there's one stereotype about board games that I'd like to shatter, it's that they are staid, unchanging relics of the past. They are in almost every way the opposite.

3. Board games are more social

This is both the best and worst thing about board games: they are inherently a social, interactive experience. Even a mediocre game is fun if played with a group of friends. As video games have moved online, multiplayer gaming has brought us closer together and farther apart at the same time. And I'd argue that many games played on the same couch are still poor facilitators of social interaction, with everyone starting at the screen, sometimes too entranced by the game to interact at all. Board games on the other hand, don't just facilitate social interaction, they enhance it. They create situations where you are encouraged to bluff, misdirect, intimidate, and even out right lie. You get to take on roles way outside your day to day life. Achievements, trophies were created so friends could show each other the awesome things they've done in a game. But whats even better is having a story to share about the incredible play you made, the come from behind win, or your whole tables epic defeat at the hands of the board.

But this reliance on other people creates a problem which I believe is the single biggest reason more people don't play board games, and that's that they have no one to play them with. Board games are still unfortunately looked at as too nerdy to be widely accepted (though board games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket To Ride are starting to break into the mainstream). I can only offer up my own experience that the perhaps the most diverse meetup group I regularly attend are my board game groups (though it probably helps that I live in New York city).

If you are unable to recruit your friends into a game, I'd suggest looking for a local meetup group. I've found more groups than I have time to go to in New York city, and quickly found a great group I look forward to playing with every week. Most big cities should have at least a few board game stores that are bound to host game nights, which also give you the opportunity to try out some of the more expensive games before purchasing them.

If anyone else on here enjoys board games, I'd love to hear some recommendations. (and I'd appreciate any feedback you have on my little documentary).