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9 Benefits of Playing Board Games: For Your Brain & Mental Health

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Are Board Games Good For Your Brain

Board games have dramatically grown in popularity and are quickly becoming a great and fun activity for a wide range of people.  The hobby is filled with exciting and new modern games that share a lot with the likes of their predecessors such as Monopoly and Scrabble, but are on an entirely new level in terms of gameplay, complexity, and mechanics.

So are board games good for your brain and mental health in terms of how you feel and how you function?  We believe the obvious answer here is yes but in reality, there are very few studies to gather a conclusion from.  While there is not much empirical data to prove any benefits, we can discuss some of the potential upsides to playing board games.

Improve Your Memory, Board Games May Possibly Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

One study that has been conducted looked at the effects of playing games in relation to dementia.  This particular research found the following:

“The risk of dementia was 15% lower in board game players than in non-players, and board game players exhibited lesser declines in Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores and less incident depression than did non-players.”

Special series on “effects of board games on health education and promotion” board games as a promising tool for health promotion: a review of recent literature – PMC (nih.gov)

Even though this is one of the few pieces of research that has actually focused on “board games” specifically, it is promising, and although 15% might not be a huge number it’s a positive one.  

There are a few other studies that have produced similar results for crossword puzzles and chess, with the crossword study finding the following:

“Participation in crossword puzzles delayed the onset of accelerated memory decline in subjects who developed dementia by 2.54 years compared to non-puzzlers.”

Association of Crossword Puzzle Participation with Memory Decline in Persons Who Develop Dementia – PMC (nih.gov)
Crossword Puzzles May Delay Dementia

Improve Your Social Skills

Okay, this might not apply to every board gamer, this is after all a two player game site but if you occasionally switch up your board game buddies and player counts, every time you play a game, you’re likely improving your social capabilities, that is unless you’re the type of person to flip tables.

This improvement of social skills can be in various aspects depending on the situation. Even just playing a relaxing game can have you conversing with others who have different mindsets, opinions, and views different from yours, allowing you to diversify your own.

The more technical communication skills that may likely be improved by board games are Teamwork and Persuasion.

Improving Your Ability to Work as a Team (Cooperation)

Cooperative Board Games Help Players Learn Social Skills such as teamwork

Many games won’t be a great exercise in this area of social skills due to their heavy amount of competition, but cooperative games like Pandemic, Horrified or Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective have players working together to solve a problem.  Typically to win or do well in these types of games players will need to work together and communicate effectively.  In other words, cooperative board games are a great exercise to improve your teamwork skills.

Some cooperative games rely on limited communication though such as Hanabi, The Mind, and The Crew, meaning players can’t effectively work together as well.  These games are likely not as effective at increasing your ability to work as a team and instead rely on each player’s intuition and ability to contribute to the group’s efforts without really discussing it.  In a way, these types of games are a test of an individual’s ability to contribute to a group goal, without necessarily working together on it.

Improve Your Persuasion or Negotiation Skills 

Another area of social skills that could be improved by playing board games is the ability to persuade or negotiate.  In games with trading and high player interaction such as Catan, Monopoly or Bohnanza players can work on these skills by trying different tactics to get other players to do what they want, whether that’s through trading resources or convincing them to make temporary partnerships for their own benefit.

Negotiation Board Games

Improve Your Critical Thinking

While this hasn’t been studied to the point of having empirical data to pull from, it is very likely board games can help with a player’s critical thinking skills.  This is the player’s ability to view and analyze all given facts and information and make an informed judgment or decision that takes said information into account.  This is what modern board games are, this is the current situation, and that’s what my opponent or teammate is doing, and as a result, this is the best plan of action or turn that I can currently take.  

People aren’t perfect so their judgments and decisions might not always be optimal but the more a person plays a game the more likely they are to get better at it, or in other words their critical thinking about said game is improving.

There isn’t data to determine whether or not this practice of critical thinking while playing board games flows into other aspects of a person’s life but in our opinion practice is practice, so it’s very possible it does. If you spend more of your time thinking critically, then in theory you should get better at it.

Improve your Ability to Plan

This ability sort of falls under the umbrella of Critical Thinking but it’s another aspect of board games that is very prominent, especially competitive ones.  To win at board games players typically have to at least plan a little, if not an extreme amount.  Sometimes chess masters are known to be looking 10-15 moves ahead when deciding their next course of action, that’s an insane amount of thinking power.

Ability to Plan

For those of us who aren’t chess grandmasters though, games still require us to think ahead in a more general sense to see which potential paths we can take and theorize about which ones will lead to a better outcome.  Again, this is something that hasn’t been studied but there’s no denying playing board games requires a lot of planning if you want to do well.

Improve Your Decision Making Ability

If you’ve played some of the more complex board games of today you know many of them have a seemingly infinite number of decisions and options players must make.  Classics like Monopoly were much more limited in their decision space requiring less from players, but with more modern games it’s easy to get overwhelmed, leading to what some refer to as analysis paralysis.

This is when players can’t decide which action to take, whether that’s due to the limited information they have, or the near unlimited options available to them.  This isn’t only relevant to board games, it can happen in every aspect of life.

Since it is so common in board games though, it’s a great way to work on your decision making ability. If analysis paralysis is something you are prone to, board games are a great tool to work on this weakness and hopefully over time allow you to make decisions effectively no matter the circumstances.

Improve Your Concentration

In a world with ever-decreasing attention spans, board games are a way to get away from the constant scrolling and work on your ability to focus and concentrate.  Most games, especially modern games require high levels of focus from players.  Most of the time you can’t take your turn, start watching a YouTube video and come back to the game in an hour and know what to do or what’s happened.   

As a result of this, board games are an exercise of focus, especially games that have higher complexities and longer game lengths.

Improve Your Ability to be Mentally Flexible

This is an aspect of thinking that is so underappreciated in our opinion and one that can greatly improve your life.  We know board games require critical thinking, planning, focus, and decision making, but they also require players to be flexible in all those aspects in order to succeed. 

The only constant in life (the game and reality) is change, and as a result, players and people need to be willing to adjust strategies as needed, by looking for better and newer opportunities if they want the best possible outcome. 

You can make the best decision at the time, but down the road, it can become the worst and if you’re not willing to adapt or readjust then you’ll be missing out.  Being mentally flexible can help you do better in board games, but more importantly, help you in real life.  Board games are just a risk free way to work on this skill, without too severe of consequences (unless winning is everything to you).

Stress Relief & Relaxation

Board Games For Stress Relief and Relaxation

This won’t apply to every person, but board games can help people unwind, relax, and just get away from the stresses of life for a little bit.  Board games and their various themes can really pull players into another world and distract them from the troubles of life.  

They can also just be plain fun resulting in a happier and more enjoyable life, that is as long as you are a fan of board games.  

Math Skills

Most board games aren’t going to help with your differential equations or calculus but many do involve a fair bit of basic and mental math.  Some of us may reach for our phone calculators occasionally, but throughout most board games players are constantly evaluating different options and their values, comparing this move that gets them this many points to another move that gets them this many points, making their score now a certain number, compared to their opponents.

So while board games don’t replace a proper mathematics education, they can exercise that type of thinking at least a little bit.


Are There Any Risks to Playing Board Games?

Not that we are aware of except maybe the occasional papercut, or the risks of making the wrong move.

So Do Board Games Help Your Brain?

Even though we have very little scientific data about the effects of board games on the brain and can’t conclusively say they help, there are a lot of potential benefits that could come from playing them.  All the various aspects of thinking above are often used when playing board games, so it’s very likely that exercising and practicing them is a good thing and could lead to improvements or at least maintenance of said skills.

In other words, play more board games and maybe you’ll get a superhuman brain! Okay, that’s probably not likely. There’s no data to prove whether board games make you smarter, but that doesn’t mean they don’t, it just means we don’t know if they do yet! In all seriousness though, there are a lot of potential upsides to playing board games and very few if any downsides, so get to the table and work on that brain power!


Sources and References

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