Following mental health week, our blogging team have been discussing how board gaming can be a great escape from day to day life. Whether you’re gathering with your gaming group or playing solo. It’s a chance to escape as you focus in on one task for a short while (or a long while).
From a game of Azul to getting away with an Exit game, there really is something for everyone. In today’s group feature, our bloggers are getting a bit more personal. We’re talking about how board games have affected our mental health. We hope to offer you some excellent suggestions!
Board games represent an opportunity to set aside the events of our daily lives and immerse ourselves in an activity performed purely for pleasure. The enjoyment games bring will vary from person to person, however, I believe that there are four loose categories of experience that draw people in
Firstly, relaxation. Colourful, peaceful experiences like travelling the Tokaido road or visiting National Parks. Perhaps taking in a Sunset over Water or stopping by a Cottage Garden. These games represent a chance to play without confrontation.
Whether On Mars, in Clinic or Caledonia, other games move your focus from uncontrollable external events and onto intricately layered, yet solvable, challenges. Once solved these games provide the satisfaction of a job well done.
Everyone loves a good story. Perhaps a heroic quest against the Gloom of Kilforth or a Call to Adventure that tells of a great hero or terrible villain.. Meanwhile, it’s possible to lose yourself for days in Gloomhaven or recreate history in 1066.
Most of the games above can be played solo and are well suited to life in lockdown. However, a huge part of the hobby for many gamers is the social. Socialising is its own challenge in 2020 with most of us isolated from other gamers.
Fortunately, we live in age where socialising at a distance is easily achieved. Websites such as Boardgame Arena enable you to play games online. Some games, such as Welcome to, will even work via video conferencing.
The important thing to remember as 2020 rolls on is that life is to be enjoyed and, even in these difficult times, board games can help you to do that.
In today's day and age, it's so incredibly important to acknowledge mental health and the impact it has on people. Having a healthy mind is a wonderful thing, but not something everyone can claim. Life's complicated, and the last thing anyone needs is extra stress when doing things designed to alleviate anxieties and reduce tension. Board games are my jam, and what I go to when I need to unwind and enjoy something.
Sure, not every game is stress free, but which you choose will naturally determine the reason for play. Personally, I'm a big believer in the power of mindfulness thinking. It's not just colouring or quiet thinking (though those help), it's about being in that moment. Focusing on the task at hand and being free of everything else around you. It's an opportunity to acknowledge our thoughts without getting caught up in them. It's having an awareness of each moment in a safe, relaxing way.
For me, Azul and its Summer Pavilion are excellent choices of mindful activities. I'm not one for colouring, and gardening doesn't appeal, so pattern building with tiles is my go to! They're relaxed in their feel, stress free as far as set up goes, and are engrossing. We fly through games of Azul and end up having several of games of it. What's great about it from that mental health side is that discussion is optional, and you don't have to be crazy competitive with it.
Scoring only matters if you're aiming to dominate and win, otherwise it's about manipulating the factories, and building those patterns. The game can be played in silence, with music, or with a discussion going on. Because your objectives are clearly laid out in front of you, your focus is wholly centred on completing those. And I find that it's in those moments you can best address what's going on in your life.
One is the loneliest number. So sang Three Dog Night, and there have been times during this pandemic when I have been tempted to agree. Being a ‘self co-habitor’, as Gwyneth Paltrow might put it, brings its challenges in terms of mental wellbeing. After a hard day there is no one else to offload on to. Even simple practical things, like sharing the bills or household chores falls on one person’s shoulders. Fine in good times, potentially overwhelming when things get tough.
Add to this the fact I find social interaction and small talk difficult. I just don’t get the social cues. Like many in the hobby, board games provide me with a social etiquette and literal rulebook that makes communication easier. Playing games with people has broadened my social network and made it easier for me to get to know people. I have friends I probably wouldn’t have made without games. There’s the guy I play Journeys in Middle Earth and War of The Ring with, my Betrayal Legacy group, my fellow Mice and Mystics mouse and Histrio squad. Having a game on the table allows me to feel more comfortable in groups.
In lockdown, I have been thankful I have invested in a game collection. Some have been playable over skype or zoom. Some have just served to give me a moments happy memory and the hope of playing again. The solo mode of games like Petrichor, Horrified, Black Angel and solo only games like Coffee Roaster and Onirim have provided a relaxing distraction from anxiety and fears. Games are not the only thing that keep me head-well, but they are a vital part of it and have enabled me to build vital lasting friendships I otherwise might not have had.
In today’s world, more than any other time, it is really important that we look after our mental health. Board games are one way in which we can do this.
To me, one of the pleasures of playing a board game is the escapism. Board games offer a chance to forget our worries for a time and to focus purely on the game. Whether this is by way of trying to make the best engine for the most points, or immersing ourselves in a theme is down to the individual.
Board games also give us the opportunity to communicate and connect with other people. Sometimes people can find communication difficult if they are struggling. Board games can involve communication by their very nature, for example cooperative or party games. However, there is communication linked to all types of games, whether it is discussing how a strategy worked at the end of the game, or reminiscing about a particularly memorable event in a board game. This can actually be very beneficial as board games allow a natural feeling of communication without having to worry about the topic of conversation.
I find Patchwork a very relaxing game to play. It’s low set up - separate out a few pieces and spread the patchwork pieces out around the central board and then you are ready to go. Patchwork is a really colourful game which looks really appealing on the table. There is also something very satisfying about taking all the different coloured, shaped and patterned pieces, and fitting them all together into one complete whole.
When i’m playing Patchwork I can just focus on trying to build the best pattern possible with the fewest spaces, without thinking about anything else. Patchwork feels very positive and productive as you can see an end result (the pattern you have made).
For me, pretty colours with a puzzle element and a fulfilling outcome make Patchwork a perfect game for taking a step back from my worries.
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme was ‘kindness’. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind. Often, it’s the smaller gestures that mean the most, in people’s hour of need.
There’s a lot to take from this, looking at the tabletop community. From my own perspective, I play board games as an escape. An escape from reality, an opportunity to dive into a different world. Regardless of whether that escape is for 30 minutes or three hours, board games help me relax. I could be a gardener tending the Emperor’s bamboo in Japan (Takenoko). I could be a ghost, trying to communicate a murder to mediums (Mysterium). Or I could be a wizard making a funky potion – all while trying not to blow my eyebrows off (Quacks of Quedlinburg).
Sometimes though, the thought of playing a game can be exhausting enough. For some people, that can be mentally taxing. You might want to play something, but not have the energy to arrange a larger game on the table. Instead, why not play a tile-laying game like Carcassonne? There is no board to set up. It starts with one tile. The game is building the board!
I don’t mind setting up bigger board games. Am I weird? I find it satisfying! I go off into my own little happy zone. Most games come with plastic zip-lock baggies for you to store components. But some games come with a bazillion chits and wooden animals. (Yes, Caverna, I’m looking at you!) For some of my games, I’ve got box inserts that assist me. It means set-up and pack-down times are not just halved – they’re quartered. No mess on the table. No stress in trying to fit everything back in the box. No anxiety. No dread of the thought of setting up something monumental. The hard work’s already sorted.
Of course, it also helps when the other players chip in and assist you in packing bits away. Kindness is not leaving anyone out. Kindness is listening to other people. Kindness is considering the good of the group, sometimes before your own needs. It’s good to be kind. But don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s tough at the moment.
Having walked the black dog around the block a few times, I know how important it is to find things that can help you tame the beast and keep your mental health… healthy. Playing board games has been a great help to me for a number of reasons, some of which might be helpful to you. First off, it puts you in contact with other people – I know at the moment this is a bit of a moot point, but these times won’t last forever.
One of the biggest boosts to good mental health is spending time face to face with people and board games are perfect for that – you don’t have to have a deep and meaningful, you can just pick up Coup and bluff the heck out of each other, or put the world to rights in Pandemic – it’s just play, and we adults don’t do enough of it. Secondly, it allows you to lose. Society puts an awful lot of pressure on having to win at everything all the time; that just isn’t possible.
Games allow you to lose, lose in style and realise… it’s not that big a deal. Losing to someone on the turn of a card in Innovation may be frustrating but it’s just a game, not a catastrophe and it helps to defuse those feelings. Finally, playing board games usually takes time – the set up takes time, the turns take time, the scoring takes time. The everyday expects us to do a lot of things NOW, if not yesterday, or gives that impression at least.
Playing a board game makes you slow down, enjoy the feel of the pieces, the roll of the dice, the turn of the cards – you can’t play a game of Sagrada without appreciating how beautiful it looks, and though you will be looking at where your strategy might take you in a couple of turns, you will be very much mindful of the present and how it’s okay to be there. It’s the only place we live; it’s good to get back to it.