Manage your life … with help from board games
Can playing board games help you live your life? Now for the phrase I heard most often as a child: “Maybe…it depends.”
The thing about our daily lives is – for many of us – we have many different things happening on varying timelines that require various resources (time, money, attention, presence, etc). School was supposed to teach us all about the world in terms of rules: literature and grammar rules, rules of physics, chemistry and biology, and rules about not beaning a kid in the head when you play dodge-ball (I haven’t forgotten, Joe W. and I won’t forget).
Point being, the structure of school was also supposed to give us a rudimentary idea of how to allocate our resources (at that age, our resources were mostly play time and the peach cobbler from our lunch trays). I can’t speak for anyone else, but the realities of managing bills, playing at least some games, student loan debt, office politics, sibling rivalries and relationships with family, friends and partners (did I mention bills?) adds up to complexity. What school should have focused on a bit more was how to manage our lives with some semblance of resource management. That’s where board games can help. But you have to play the right kind.
When someone says “board games” in America, I get the impression that most people think to themselves “bored games.” As in, you would have to be bored, stuck inside on a rainy day with no power and dead batteries in your mobile devices to be coaxed into playing one. And that’s discounting those who might actually crack open a book (you remember those, right? Low-tech information download packets for your brain pan).
But there is good news on the horizon. Thanks to the Internet and some board game evangels who take to the streets, people are being introduced to the amazing possibilities that board games have to offer.
There is a class of games out there that require a bit more strategy than deciding whether or not to buy “Park Place” or put a hotel on “Boardwalk”.
There exists a group of games (or kingdom, phylum, class, I don’t know exactly) referred to as European-style. They are intricate and rely more on game play than chance. They are broken down further into genus or species by their mechanic: resource management, auction, area control, etc.
Many people have at least a cursory knowledge of “Settlers of Catan” even if they don’t know much more than the name. But “Settlers” can teach a person quite a bit about managing what they have, what they need, and what they are willing to pay to get what they need… so, kinda like real life.
(On a side note, for the Star Trek geek / board game geek hybrids out there, Catan GmbH has combined Catan and Star Trek for a game of what I can only guess is epic awesomeness. Which you can see being played by none other than the king of geekery himself, Wil Wheaton here.)
Back to Settlers of Catan.
The game is easy enough to understand that one needn’t be an expert to pick it up. Every player places two initial settlements on part of the board (the board changes in configuration every time you play it, so the experience always has a bit of freshness to it.) The placement of the second settlement determines each player’s starting resources. During regular play, settlements produce resources based on the numbers rolled on the dice.
Players can then, over the course of the game, trade resources in public negotiation. “I have wood for sheep” is a common enough phrase to hear, since people with an excess of wood, but in need of sheep, will try to trade off what they have for what they need.
But while there is an element of cooperation involved in trading with people, there’s also the overarching goal: to win the game. This means those who appear to be leading might put out a call for a resource, but find others are unwilling to trade with them. All of these factors combine to make a cooperative/competitive resource management game that can teach a person a lot about how to maneuver through their real lives.
Resource management games can get more complex, but not necessarily more complicated. Indeed, a game like “Puerto Rico” by Rio Grande Games can seem rather daunting to those who are unfamiliar with this particular type of board game. But for the adventurers among us, there are some great videos that explain the rules well enough to get started. Don’t let the hemp shirt fool you, the man is a genius… in his own way.
Here’s the takeaway: in Puerto Rico, players must balance cash, goods, buildings and victory points. Goods can be sold for cash used to build buildings, or they can be loaded onto ships for victory points. The fun comes in balancing the cash you need to buy buildings, with the victory points needed to win the game.
These two games are only a small sample of the ingenuity put in to modern-day board gaming. They can easily help you develop a more strategic way of looking at things. And that is something that has really helped me in dealing with the variety of challenges everyday life presents.
Like how to turn my time into money, so that I can turn my money into time-saving goods and services.
Or, in Settlers of Catan parlance: I’ve got time for stuff. Who can give me stuff for time??