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Let's play a game

    26 March 2021

“I can’t accept your answer, as it’s not precisely what is says on the card”

How many Christmases have been ruined by that apparently innocuous phrase?  How many seemingly kindly grandmas or favourite uncles have become rabid at being cheated out of that last piece of pie (or is it cheese?) with an answer which is almost right but not quite right enough?  I am, of course, talking about everybody’s favourite seasonal game – Trivial Pursuit.  If this has been your experience of board games (or tabletop games if I am going to adopt more modern parlance) then I don’t blame you if you groan each time someone suggests, ‘let’s play a game!”.

All that said, I am, and always have been, a committed tabletop gamer.  As an adolescent nerd I became interested in (my parents would say obsessed with) Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and, later, historical wargaming, through which I have learnt at least as much about history as through my degree.

It has been very encouraging to see an upsurge in interest in tabletop games in recent years, with gaming shops reappearing on high streets, which have not been a common sight since the 80s.  I get a sense that much of this is driven by games designers wanting to move their own entertainment away from screens.  In addition, the sheer variety, range and subject matter covered by tabletop games these days is phenomenal.

I know many households play games together as part of their family ritual but it is evident that there has been a real (and understandable) increase in this over the last year.

So why am I banging on about all this then – because I am convinced that tabletop gaming is beneficial not only to children’s (and adults’) cognitive development and function, but also their resilience, social development, problem solving, creativity, flexibility of thinking and, in many cases, collaborative skills.  All things which will, we are told, continue to be essential skills for our future workforce.  If you have introduced your children to games (even games which are more complex) it will not be long before they are wiping the floor with you – they seem to remember the rules better than we do, they are more creative in their approach, they have clearer minds, flexibility of thought and are less set in their ways in terms of ideas.  They are also utterly ruthless – we have always had a rule in our house which is ‘we’ll never let you win’ and my two have very kindly extended me the same courtesy.   I rely increasingly on experience which is not enough against more agile, younger brains.

There is a wealth of evidence about the benefits of such games (which you can find online) but to summarise a few key points:

  1. It’s sociable – the Deputy Head at my previous school would often lament, what he called, the atomisation of society (what he mainly meant was family members on different screens in different rooms).  Much like a family meal, it’s a lovely way to reconnect the family no matter what pressures there have been in the week.
  2. It slows life down a bit -  time stands still a bit when you play a game – it’s also very mindful as there is a natural inclination to get involved and compete in the moment.  This is also good for us adults as it can help to help us deal with the stresses and strains of the week.
  3. Benefits for younger players – they help children to understand movement, colour, how to use space, in addition to understanding basic rules and taking it in turns.
  4. Older children – strategy games help develop frontal lobes which are apparently responsible for planning, organisation and decision making.
  5. Conversation and communication skills – players often have to remember, recall and pass on detailed information.  I have read with interest about groups, particularly in the US, who have used role-playing games such as D&D to help encourage children with ASD to improve their communication skills with amazing results.
  6. Other apparent benefits amongst many – helps to manage anxiety, develops creativity and concentration, helps focus and attention span, cooperative games (there are lots of these around now and many are superb) help with teamwork, losing with good grace and sportsman/womanship.   

Einstein apparently said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  He should know, but I would humbly add to this ‘play games with them’ and ‘play more games with them’. 

There are, of course, hundreds of games to choose from and, in spite of my opening comments, I have a great deal of time for the more traditional games such as Yahtzee, Pictionary, and Monopoly (the other argument starter!).  There are lots of reviews online for more esoteric games but some of our more unusual family favourites include Perudo (a dice game where kids can lie with impunity), Azul (a beautiful tile laying game where you can really stitch each other up), Dixit (excellent for imagination and creativity), Wingspan (another beautiful, elegant, bird-themed game which you can win with a range of strategies).  Ticket to Ride and Codenames are also great and well-reviewed.  You can play games with children as soon as they are old enough to talk (or even before) and for those of you with younger children I can recommend the Orchard Toys series of games which are fun but invariably have an educational focus (we had Bus Stop, Insey Winsey Spider and Tummy Ache amongst others).  If you want further recommendations for interesting games, the members of our Maths department are an absolute mine of information and ideas – they probably own just about every game ever made between them.
When I was a housemaster, I introduced a regular Sunday games afternoon.  The first session had three or four takers.  After a few weeks, gangs of boys would be knocking on my office door asking me when I would be running a session of Dungeons and Dragons or Risk.  If you at first encounter resistance from your child, do persist as they may not know what they are missing.
At some point in the future I would like to introduce a regular family games night at school – we have the space and tables and it would be a great way for families to connect with each other.  I hope that I will get more than three or four takers.

Have a great weekend.

Kind regards

Mr Duncan Page

Head of Seniors

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