Board games don’t have to be boring… hello my name is Camilla, an environmental economist and adjunct faculty at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Today I’ll be discussing one of my favorite pastimes, playing games! Like many of the Craftologists featured, I also love unwinding outdoors, away from the addictive screen of a smartphone, and in my free time, you may find me hiking the trails in Southcentral Alaska. However, the focus of this blog post is on an indoor hobby. Let’s face it indoor hobbies are also vital, especially for those of us who live in Nordic climates. It is important that we have fun indoors activities to get us through the long dark winters and for myself, my husband, and many of our friends playing board games is just the ticket.
When I first started dating my husband, Joe, he invited me to join him and his roommates to play board games. I had limited exposure to board game culture at the time (outside of playing Monopoly and Guess Who) and ignorantly pondered, “Play board games? Isn’t that something for kids?” After only an hour or so, of playing games with him and his humorous and nonjudgmental roommates I was a convert. This is a conversational piece on what I enjoy about playing board games and general advice for those who wish to dabble in this excellent hobby. Content is aimed at those like my former pre-board gaming self that are not deeply embedded in this world. For those of you who are hardcore gamers you are just as welcome…and I know you can appreciate that we incorporated an epic nerdy photo shoot with our board game collection. -Woohoo Spring Break 2018!- I will end with a list of my top five favorite games.
What I like about board games:
Active Critical Thinking – Much of my day job involves economic research, those of you engaged in research understand that a key piece of research is figuring out how systems work. To be a great researcher it is critical to be the type of person who enjoys a good puzzle. You may find yourself trying to gauge if there is a cause and effect relationship in the system you are assessing. With a well-designed board game that has non-redundant outcomes, this can often be attributed to a healthy mixture of both skill and luck. Sometimes strategy can only get you so far and a roll of the dice is game changing. I thoroughly enjoy how games activate our critical thinking abilities. You find yourself weighing your different options through implementing inventive strategies all while you are having fun with friends. Granted, I have played a few games that painfully lack these qualities, for example, playing a 100% luck based game, ahem Candyland, with individuals who will cry if they do not win. An economist to the bone, I appreciate games with commodities, trading, and a dynamic mini-economy. If you are a statistics nerd, a board game may let you geek out in an applied manner without necessarily losing everyone’s attention. Games make you think! Understandably, some elements of games can be frustrating, for example, if your group misunderstands the rules and this makes the strategy you were using obsolete, but at the same time it is this element of dynamism that really gets those synapses firing.
Social in Nature – A fantastic thing about games is that they are composed of the experiences that we share together with others. Rather than silently watching a movie in a theater or trying to talk to each other in a restaurant over loud music, while playing board games you actively interact with each other in a quality manner. Board gaming is a social hobby. You learn a great deal about how your friends think and their personalities through playing a board game. Is someone competitive and must always win at any cost?…maybe kick them out of your board game group (jk). There are certain games where someone who is normally kind and considerate suddenly feels free to let out their inner Machiavelli. Perhaps, while playing Cards Against Humanity, you find out that the person you always thought was so prim and proper has a secret talent for raunchy humor. New friends are just as welcome as old ones and regardless of how long we have known each other we always seem to share laughs and a great time. A board game night together with your friends is often the best medicine when dealing with personal hardship or anxiety. Unlike meeting up at a bar, it is an activity where “sober” friends who do not drink alcohol can join in and not be put in the awful situation where they are being excluded socially for making the healthy choice that is right for them. Board games are an interactive and frugal way to spend quality time together. I enjoy both competitive and cooperative games. I do feel it is important to occasionally play cooperative games, where all players have to work together to meet a common goal. An example is, Pandemic: The Cure, where you are scientists from the CDC working together to eradicate several diseases to save the planet.
One thing we do with our board game collection is keep track of the date and the names of winners on the back of the board, this makes a fun record of the game’s own story. We started with board games, but after one friend always seemed to win card games, we started to keep track of both. It is fun to write a new name on a game as well as look back on all the times we have played in the past. Seeing the names of friends and family members who were visiting or have since moved out of Alaska and remembering the fun we had together always triggers a smile.
Advice for getting started: You have to remain open to try new things, but it is key you find the genre of games you like. I like strategy and party games over serious role playing games. You may prefer different genres and that’s totally ok. The reality is that the world is your oyster and we live in a great time to be a board gamer. With the growth of Indie game production and resources like Kickstarter there are really plethora great games out there. As a young professional you may be strapped for time. I can relate. So find a game you can play in 10-20 minutes instead of six hours! Game suggestions in this category is Exploding Kittens and BANG: The Dice Game. Also, since we play a lot of our games when we host a house party it is important that we have options for large groups of people or multiple small groups. For big groups a great recommendation is Codenames or Munchkin. For small groups Sushi Go!/Sushi Go Party! or Flux, which has a lot of great themed versions. While I mentioned that I consider board games to be a frugal hobby, a night in with chips and salsa is a heck a lot more affordable than a night out on the town. However, very quickly, like any hobby, board games can get expensive. So borrow games and look through reviews before committing to new ones. Games are meant to be played and an unplayed game is just as sad as clothing hanging in a closet with the tags still attached. If you have a group of friends that also enjoy board games, this is ideal, as you all can share games to shake it up without having to buy new games. For my husband and I, Christmas is pretty much the only time of the year we get new games. We have a deal where each year we by the other a new board game. This takes some stress out of the holidays, but since we have an entire year we do a lot of research and find games that we will play and enjoy. One of the most important things is to find others who also enjoy this past time. You may be surprised to find out how many friends you have who also like board games. There are certain games that are better for folks just starting out, especially party games like the heist themed game Ca$h ‘n Guns, that have simple rules but enough action that it captures newbie’s interests without being overwhelming. As we discussed, games are meant to be shared.
Top Board Game Picks: Part of this experience has involved assessing our current board game collection. We currently own about 40 games. I would say there are about 15-20 games we play regularly, so boiling down this list to 5 was hard. I thought about if we could only pick 5 games which ones and why? You might recognize some cult classics on this list. Games are not listed in any particular order, each game is listed along with a short blurb as to why we (myself and my husband Joe) love it.
Camilla’s Top 5-
North to Alaska – A family game that all ages will enjoy. This game is a bit like LIFE, but Alaska Highway themed. There is the possibility of nobody winning the game if all players run out money while traveling through Canada.
Settlers of Catan – A gateway game that has gotten many into the board gaming community. This game has a great mix of strategy and luck. Beware of the robber!
Ticket to Ride – Build train routes across while competing against rival railroad companies. There are several versions including US, Europe, India, and more. Also, a wonderful way to brush up on your geography skills.
Sheriff of Nottingham – The sheriff tries to ensure players do not smuggle in contraband goods. Try your best to fool the sheriff into not searching your bag. Be sure to get into character with your best Harry Potteresque British accent.
King of Tokyo – You play the role of a monster battling other monsters to become the King of Tokyo. Shout out to my favorite monster Gigazaur!