Board games have victory conditions. Competitive games give rise to individual winners or winning teams; whilst in a cooperative game, players work together to try to beat the game. The aim is always to win, but the threat of losing must be every-present for a game to be engaging: it is this jeopardy that we buy into as players. As games progress, the tension builds and the result of each roll of the dice or flip of a card becomes ever-more crucial. We might play to win, but we learn so much from losing.
- We are forced to acknowledge the impact of our own decisions: Some games are entirely dependent on luck, but these usually don’t make the most interesting games. To feel invested in the game, we must be able to make decisions that influence the outcome. It is this element of personal decision-making that makes us as players, at least in part, responsible for our own success or failure in the game. If we win, we feel justified in celebrating our own brilliance. If we lose, we must reflect on how we we have contributed to our own downfall. Sometimes it is possible to see that with the information we had available at the time, we could have made other choices, balanced risks, selected resources, cashed in assets or forged alliances that would have improved our chances of winning. This analysis of the impact of our own decisions makes failure a valuable learning experience and stands us in better stead to win when we next play.
- We learn not to dwell on things that are outside our control: Upon analysis, it may be decided that the player had no active part in his own demise. He may have made perfectly valid and considered decisions, he may even be an experienced player with a good understanding of the complexities of the game: but that doesn’t always guarantee a win. Playing games teaches us to separate events that are inside our control or influence to those that are not.
- We discover the power of our own influence: As players, we may be able to influence an event, without being able to completely control it. In games that have any form of player interaction (almost all games), other player’s decisions are influenced by our own actions. If our own strategy is clear, our opponents may try to thwart us by taking the resources we are obviously collecting, blocking our route or stealing territory or capital. Equally, if we ride roughshod over other players’ strategies, this may come back to haunt us as we later find ourselves in the firing line.
- We improve our ability to take attacks in the spirit of the game: Many games are designed to get the players to attack one another. These attacks are not just limited to fighting and war games. In many games, you have to attack to win. You must steal resources, deal damage to your opponents, claim land, capture workers and lay traps to gain advantage over your adversaries and ultimately triumph. We learn not to take these attacks personally; they are an essential part of the game and attack is inevitable. These failures allow us to demonstrate excellent gamesmanship, taking it bravely on the chin, while we subtly plot our revenge.
- We learn from others’ success: Multiple routes to success are normal in modern board games. Often, you are forced to specialise and commit to a certain strategy because it is impossible to do everything. But whilst we can’t do everything, we can learn from the decisions that other people make as well as our own. The same problem can be approached in vastly different ways by different people. Others may employ a tactic that might never even cross our minds. When we lose a board game, we have the advantage of being able to see why the winner was victorious and use this information to our advantage in the next game.
- We get immediate feedback: Board games offer a complete experience in a small timeframe. The impact of our decisions are not delayed, we can quickly tell whether we’ve made a good choice or not. The choice is immediately linked to the outcome and the subsequent fallout. This helps us to develop links between actions and consequences, which in turn helps us to predict the outcomes of our decisions as we become more experienced.
- The stakes are low: It doesn’t matter if we lose a board game. In fact, in most multi-player games, the odds are that we will lose. It is an experience that we are embarking on for fun. The nature of board gaming allows us to take risks with our gameplay and try things we may not attempt if the stakes were higher. We get used to losing without it having any long-term impact on us. We learn to take failure in our stride. Anyone who plays a game and desperately needs to win, really just needs to have more practice at losing!