This is a clip from The Board Game Family by Ellie Dix.
Your games don’t all need to be hidden away in a cupboard. Out of sight really can be out of mind. You may not want the bulk out on display, but having a few games and puzzles easily accessible and in full view has a number of advantages:
To snatch some extra time with your family.
Leaving Zombie Dice or Age of War on the kitchen work surface might trigger a quick ten-minute battle. If you have a pack of cards on the coffee table, you can deal everyone into a round of Knockout Whist before they’ve worked out what is happening. We can’t always fit in time for full-on game nights. Even in our household, where everyone wants to find time to do this, the rest of life – rugby, swimming, homework, drama – gets in the way. But we can always carve out 15 minutes, particularly if the game is right there in front of us.
Age of War
To normalise game playing.
The visible presence of games helps to make playing games and doing puzzles a routine activity, like eating or getting dressed in the morning. If you have one book of poetry in your house – covered in dust and hidden on a shelf – it would be an abnormal, perhaps even strange, event for someone to pull out the book and start performing poetry in the living room. If there are poetry books all over your house and poems displayed on the wall, this activity would be more normal, expected even. So it goes with games. Leave Takenoko on the table and nobody will think it odd when you shove a hungry panda and an exasperated gardener at a child and ask them to grow some bamboo.
To increase opportunities for collaboration.
Puzzles like Rush Hour and Gravity Maze feature lots of different stages to work through. One person can sit and do these puzzles while others wander in and out, help a bit, give some advice and maybe join in for five minutes. Understanding how to work with others is built up over many small experiences. Puzzles enable teamwork in small, low-risk bursts. Yes, arguments might ensue, but they also might not. Arguments are certainly much less likely if the family is used to helping each other with puzzles.
An escape room game
To promote interesting discussion.
Games and puzzles are the cognitive equivalent of ear worms (those songs that just get in your head that you can’t stop humming). The concentration, logical investigation and decision-making required for solving puzzles and developing game tactics get in your head. You go over game play, find yourself daydreaming about alternative strategies and, crucially, you make this a topic of conversation in and outside the family. I’ve been receiving a monthly murder mystery puzzle box from the US – some clues are in the box, others can be found online. The various clues, periodically flung across the dining table, have been picked up and studied by family and friends, leading to discussion, collaboration and, eventually, successful deductions.
To provide an alternative to digital entertainment.
To compete with the utter convenience and speed of picking up your smartphone and playing a game on an app, we must make games and puzzles as easily accessible. The most valuable commodity is our attention. Companies spend millions on marketing to get a few moments of our attention – they are brilliant at it. It is easy to get distracted online; time just disappears as we inadvertently follow another advert in disguise. Give your attention something to really focus on, without being distracted by push notifications or diverted by in-app adverts.
To get the brain working.
The presence of games and puzzles on display increases the chances that you will pick them up and play with them. In turn, this reduces the amount of time you spend being passive. It is amazing how much of daily life we can sail through without even thinking. Most drivers are used to the experience of arriving at a destination and realising that they can’t really remember the journey. We cook, clean, walk dogs and sometimes even do our jobs on autopilot. Good games and puzzles require active attention and lateral thinking.
To develop strategies for trickier games.
Some games are quick to teach but take a lifetime to master. Chess is one such example. Tactics are developed over time and through many, many plays. You could designate a small coffee table as the Chess table. Its presence encourages regular play, which helps players to form strategies and understand game play.
To reinforce your ‘brand’ as a game-playing family.
Not every family plays board games. Not every family knows how to entertain themselves without screens. Games on display strengthens the message to members of the household that this family is different. This family values time together playing games. There is no better way to broadcast your priorities to visitors and to the wider family than to give games and puzzles prominence around the house. The subliminal messaging is powerful.