As part of Zatu’s focus on mental health month, some of the bloggers have been thinking about games to lose yourself in. It is really important, especially at the current time, to have some way of switching your brain off from everything which is happening. Everyone needs to take the time to make sure they are looking after their own mental health. This will take a different format for each person.
For me, one of the ways I switch off is by playing a board game. When I am immersed in a game, the part of my brain which otherwise worries or overthinks is turned down. All the board games I own have the power to do this, for me, to some degree. But I do find that it is those which are particularly puzzley or with a very engaging narrative that helps me the most. These are the games I turn to when I want to quieten my brain and lose myself in something enjoyable, for a brief time. For others, it may be a small, familiar game. Whatever it is, board games do have the power to make the outside world go away, for a while.
I invited some of my fellow bloggers to share what games they find they can lose themselves in. So read on to find out what our picks are.
Kirsty Hewitt is off on an adventure in Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth
I have been a confirmed bookworm since I was a very young child. This might help to explain why one of my go-to “escapisms” is a narrative board game. When things are getting a bit tough, I can rely on a good narrative to lose myself in. Give me a well-created world and an engaging story and I can quieten my brain for a few hours.
I find the world of Lord of the Rings to be very intriguing. So I was excited to learn about Journeys in Middle Earth. The game is very clever as it mixes the well known with the obscure. You don’t need knowledge of Lord of the Rings to play the game. If you like the idea of a fantasy adventure you will enjoy this. However, if you are a fan, there are characters you will recognise, although they will be in new areas and scenarios.
In particular, I have enjoyed the Adventure Mode of this game. This mode gives you some more time to explore the locations you find yourself in. I find this helps me to be immersed in the game. Yes, I might have to defeat the big boss. But, for me so much of the fun for this game is the opportunity to look into the more obscure areas.
The narrative in Journeys in Middle Earth is very engaging. It draws you in and you become invested in the story and what happens to your characters. I find that I don't want to play only one scenario at a time. I get involved in the story and before I know it three hours and two chapters have passed by. And whilst it doesn’t change the world, it helps me to escape things, even for a little while.
Favourite Foe is creating her dream neighbourhood in Welcome to Your Perfect Home
I have made no secret of the fact that one of the main reasons I fell head-first into our wonderful hobby is anxiety. In fact, my first ever post for Zatu was about this very topic.
At a time when I felt unable to cope, unable to breathe, I found comfort in a board game. And, although I am now a badge-wearing board gaming addict, it is still very much a major part of my anxiety management plan. On loud days, when the real world overwhelms me, a board game gives me permission to pause. A chance to sit down and lose myself in its mechanics and theme. Because I know that, by focussing on that one box in front of me as the world outside spins and rages, I can and I will find myself again.
But sometimes, a big, narrative-heavy board game is just too much. Too many components. Too much pressure. And when that happens, our amazing, versatile hobby swoops in and soothes me yet again. You need games to lose yourself in. My shelf’s siren song draws me in, and a fantastic array of smaller, strategic options await. A double dose of Welcome To Your Dream Home is my prescription and I am a willing patient.
Don’t get me wrong. Welcome To is no easy ride. Whether playing together with others or solo, it is a volley-fire of decision making. Pools, parks, fences, temp agencies……what you build is just as important as what you cast aside.
But the gameplay itself couldn’t be simpler; select a pair of cards out of three. Fill in the number on your board and use the special feature if you can or if you want to. That’s it. But, of course, that’s not it. Not at all. Because, having to allocate a number in increasing order on every turn, and choosing between activating bonuses and validating building contracts, is like deciding between flight and time-travelling superpowers; impossible!
And, whilst a game ripe with analysis paralysis triggering decisions sounds like a nightmare for an anxious gamer, for me, it isn’t. I get to sit with my board, my pen, and three stacks of cards. Also, I get to drown out the noise around me. I get to make choices and commit to a strategy. It might not play out as I had hoped, but that’s ok. Because, unlike the real world, in Welcome To, I know that I get to erase my mistakes and try again.
John Hunt is off on a fantasy epic in Mage Knight
I find it easy to get lost in a game, and while theme certainly helps, it’s the quality of the puzzle that sucks me in. When the two are combined, then that’s me utterly lost.. and if it’s a solo game, with no inferred feeling of pressure to ‘get your turn done’, then the hours can fly by.
Top of the list for games to lose yourself in are big fantasy epics – and for me, the king of these is Mage Knight. It is not the newest or the flashiest. Nor for that matter is it the smartest – most enemies are static and any AI elements are functional rather than elegant.
But the reason it wins out for me is two-fold. First, I love deckbuilding. Starting characters have a deck of 16 cards, all but two of which are common. However, as you level up you visit locations and loot epic artefacts from, particularly nasty monsters all that changes. Advanced actions, spells and artefact cards are added to your deck across the course of the game. These are bounteous in their range. They provide the opportunity for unique builds and will be different every play. Combos abound with cards playing off one another, in conjunction with the skill tokens you also gain as you level. All of this is quite glorious – as is the puzzle of hand management that this changing and developing deck presents.
The other massive draw is the character progression that emerges. Sure, there is little narrative other than the half-page or so of opening flavour text for each of the scenarios. Instead, character progression and self-generated narrative come from starting with a hero that struggles to deal with a lone orc and finishing the game with a nail-biting fight. From besieging a city with half a dozen rock-hard adversaries and winning or losing by the skin of your teeth. Truly epic!
Hannah Blacknell is fighting through the forest in Root
If I am feeling anxious or down, there is something that will usually make me feel better. That something is the instant dopamine hit of buying something pretty, which is of course not a completely sustainable coping mechanism. But I have also found that opening a game and playing with a beautifully made high-quality game will also hit that spot. This is likely why my collection is made up of games with beautiful artwork and high-quality components.
For me, there were lots of those games that I would also consider immersive. Plenty of games to lose yourself in. The games where the theming is strong enough to transport you somewhere else whilst playing them. Games where I am engaged even if it is not actually my turn.
My pick for this feature is Root by Leder Games. This game has cutesy artwork by Kyle Ferrin which is typical of his style and can be quite polarising but I love it. The animeeples are simplistic in their design. But they are the perfect chunky size to feel great in your hand and when moving them around the board. The card quality is excellent. The card actions, although sometimes requiring a bit more reading than your average icon heavy game, are clear with what each card does.
Don’t let that cute artwork fool you though, Root is at its heart a war game. A game of woodland warfare, where only one faction may rule the map. Regardless of which character I play, I am heavily invested in trying to win. Root is asymmetric so playing each character feels very different. The cats start with a lot of pieces on the board and earn points in a linear fashion by building workshops and sawmills.
The bird faction has a programming style of play. They put cards into a decree which determines what movement, build, recruit and battle actions they will perform on their turn. The vagabond is a sneaky so-and-so who can only win by getting players to build things for them to become more powerful. The asymmetry makes the initial learning of Root quite tricky. But I can promise that the learning time is worth it.