For many years the idea of playing a complex board game was completely off putting. As someone who is neuro-diverse (my specific flavour is dyslexia), I found the idea of trying to comprehend the rules and instructions a real barrier to me enjoying playing games. But the good news is I have discovered many ways to embrace the world of games and I wanted to share with you some of my top tips for neuro-diverse gaming.
Choose Your Own Adventure
My first tip is to embrace a genre that really stimulates your imagination. I love fantasy, Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite book and film series, I was obsessed for a time with Stephen King’s Dark Tower, Redwall, Ursula K. Le Guin, the Rats of NIMH and Neil Gaiman are some of my other favourites, so the obvious place to start was in the world of fantasy. And my entry into this world was hastened by a cold night in Theology College when with a glass of whisky my wife was welcomed into the magical and mysterious worlds of Zombicide and Lords of Waterdeep.
We purchased our own copy of LOWD and from the very first moment we unpackaged it the whole family were hooked. It was beautiful looking, strange and mystical and just so much fun. And we didn’t stop with LOWD, it was just the beginning of our adventure because those Lords and Warriors were a gateway to a whole world of possibilities. We followed up with Catan, Carcassonne, Everdell, ERA and Wingspan, we even had a confusing foray into Dungeons and Dragons, but that is a story for another time, and I am still cleaning up the face paint.
There’s More Than One Way To Learn
I am part of the 15 percent who make up the umbrella term of neuro-diversity. Neuro-diversity encompasses all specific learning differences, many of which co-occur or overlap, so I am talking about ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), Dyspraxia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and Dyslexia. And when it comes to board games my specific challenge is around the instructions. I find the idea of complex instructions completely overwhelming, in fact whether complex or not the very notion of having to read instructions is enough to put me off completely. That’s because, for dyslexic thinkers, like me, my brain literally cannot process or retain lots of information when given either verbally or in complex written form, think work policy documents, contracts, flat pack furniture and yes you’ve guessed it, board game instructions. It is in one ear and out the next quicker than you can say “multi-sided dice.” So for me finding different ways to understand the mechanics of a game is important, and I use all my creative strengths to do this, from listening to others talk about a game, reading forums, and articles, as well as physically touching the game to get visual cues as to how a game might work logically. There is no one way to learn, and there is no right or wrong way to learn, there is only YOUR way of learning.
Find A Board Game Mentor
When I started playing games in earnest, about five years ago, I would not have known my worker placement games from my deckbuilders even if a level 17 wizard had shaken a staff at me, so when I needed help to purchase my son’s first Pokémon deck, I turned to a friend, who made the search more accessible. He gave me some suggestions of where to start, and explained everything to me in the level of detail I needed, his support and more importantly his patience was crucial in me completing my mission. I was an absolute beginner but I never got the sense that any of my questions were beneath his vast knowledge. I had found my very own gaming Gandalf, and it is these kinds of friends and family members that I turn to when I need to find someone who is willing to tackle the instructions first and who can talk me through the game. Having a trial round or two also really helps as you can then talk the instructions aloud and ask questions as you gain more familiarity with the gameplay. The central component for my barrier busting was discovering someone who enjoyed reading instructions (yes these people exist), and who understood what I needed in order to access the game. This instructions guru could then talk me through the game as we played. They were also able to break down the instructions into bite sized steps. I am a big visual learner, so being able to play the game without being distracted by having to read the rules, helps me to memorise the game play, and make things generally seem less overwhelming.
Break It Down
That’s not to say that you cannot engage with the instructions at all, just do it in your own way, based on your own needs, and at a pace that suits you. I like to take my time to look at the instructions myself, highlighting bits I have questions about or highlighting the crucial parts of the game play, because with time and repetition some of it eventually sticks. I also write my own notes, explaining the game play in my terms, using words that will resonate with my way of thinking. And once I have played a game a few times I can then tell any newcomers, in quite complex detail, how the game works and what the rules are. I can even make the game’s instructions sound more straightforward, as I like to come up with some shorthand way of boiling the rules down to its core points, that’s the power of my dyslexic thinking, it’s great. And my outside the box strategies mean I can win a respectable amount of the time too, which is a bonus.
Embrace Creative Thinking
I really celebrate and embrace my strengths as a neuro-diverse person and as I have said already these strengths can be a real advantage in the world of board games. In fact the more I learn about neuro-diversity the more I have started to revaluate some of the things I have always been taught, by society (and mean teachers, shout out to awesome teachers, who are in the majority, thank goodness), and I have started to use terms like dyslexic thinking, because it sounds cool, don’t you think? Well it can be really cool especially when as individuals we can learn to recognise our own unique skills and strengths. I am particularly good at coming up with creative and imaginative solutions, which can come in really handy when you are devising a strategy to win a game. So embrace all the wild ways that you might be able to imagine to win the game, including adapting strategies that are available online in forums and blogs. Also use whatever creative means that help you to focus, I like to have a sketch pad near me to scribble down ideas, or keep track of the game play, this is particularly useful for a game like 221B Baker Street or Scotland Yard.
Look up some of Zatu games great YouTube videos reviewing and unboxing the games. These types of videos can actually be really helpful in establishing how a game works, and whether it is the type of game you are likely to enjoy. These videos are also presented by people who love playing games and this enthusiasm is encouraging. And if you are a visual learner watching the gameplay and hearing someone else explaining it helps to make it seem more accessible.
It’s All In The Art
What does the game look like? Does it have a good play-ability factor, are the pieces shaped like mythical creatures or woodland animals that you can pick up and move about? I think about all these factors and I feel like I can learn a game quicker when my imagination is stimulated by beautiful colours, imaginative storytelling, and brilliantly illustrated game boards and cards, it allows me to inhabit the characters and the universe, and helps me to start telling a story before I have even placed a worker, which just makes for a better gaming experience.
The First Rule Of Board Game Club Is…
Well actually you can talk about it as much as you want as the more people you meet who share your love of playing games the more likely you are to find people with similar experiences to you, so I highly recommend joining a board game club or society, say at a local bookshop or game shop, as you can make new friends, and try out new games in a friendly space, getting a feel for a range of different games. These board gaming communities can be inclusive and welcoming spaces, and if there is not one local to you, why not set one up yourself. There are also a wide range of podcasts focused on board gaming, and if you can find the right one it can be a real positive addition to your gaming toolkit.
For me using these different tips and strategies, board gaming went from seeming a tricky space to navigate to an absolute joy because with a little help from our friends, neuro-diversity need not be a barrier to diving into the expansive and wonderfully rich world of board games. I hope you enjoyed my tips for Neuro Diverse Gaming!