A board game can feel a lot like an entire universe resting on your kitchen table. Its rules can extend beyond the natural laws of physics, beget creatures you’ve never even dreamed of, or ask you to play the role of a character completely out of, well, character.
You and me? We could be just pawns on a chessboard. Or we’re decorated kings of an empire, or steady surgeons in an operating room; we might be excavators one turn and flesh-eating ghosts the next. Like in life itself, these universes have a touch of randomness that keep things interesting, challenging, and when really well designed, all-consuming.
Since no board game can be played the exact same way twice, these tabletop universes give us opportunities to encourage creativity, innovation, and resilience each time we unbox the pieces that make up their world. Game play never allows us to approach a problem the same way twice. And it's exactly why Elliot Targum, Head of EXPLO New York, believes that great board games are such great tools for developing a growth mindset.
Besides practicing strategy development, board games also perfectly mirror the way our brains learn best: through collective engagement. Science says that humans are ultra social species and that our brains were actually built to filter experience through a social lens. Brains may be complex but the need for collaboration in order to learn is pretty universal.
There’s nothing like sitting down to play a game of Settlers of Catan and learning a lot more about the person sitting across from you — and in turn a lot more about yourself — than any cup of coffee ever could. It gives us space to get lost in a universe and then pack up the box and return to normal life having stretched our minds just a little more than we had before the game began.
Instead of sharing links, articles, or videos that have inspired us to write this Thursday's Weekly Edventure, we wanted to share eight of Elliot Targum's favorite board games, perfect gifts for the upcoming holiday season:
- Scythe: Set in an alternate-history Europe in the 1920s, it is a time of broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor. Since every part of Scythe is built around resource management, each play represents a fallen leader attempting to restore their honor and lead their faction to power — creating some serious momentum growth throughout the game.
-Betrayal Legacy: Why would people keep exploring a haunted mansion for decade after decade, especially when horrible things happen there? Betrayal Legacy consists of a thirteen-chapter story that takes place over “decades” of dedicative collaborative storytelling. Your actions will tell the murderous origin of the mansion’s construction and uncover its darkest secrets as you and your fellow explorers follow a dizzying path of madness to the very root of evil.
- Settlers of Catan: A perfect choice for players new to strategy games. In Settlers of Catan, each gameplay element is designed around resource management and negotiation tactics as your adventurous settlers seek to tame the remote but rich isle of Catan. This game teaches its players about dice probability and the art of the deal.
- Codenames Duet: This game keeps the basic elements of its predecessor game, Codenames, by giving one-word clues to try to get someone to identify secret agents among those on the table. One big difference: now you're working together as a team. It’s one of Elliot’s favorite two-player games to enjoy together as you and your playing partner learn to work and think as a duo.
- Colt Express: This game is a great option for the whole family, featuring more simplified gameplay than some of the other choices on this list. In Colt Express, you play a bandit robbing a train and your goal is to become the richest outlaw of the Old West. Rounds are broken into two parts, Schemin’ and Stealin’. Players plan ahead and play cards to steal the most loot, shoot their opponents, move around the train, and elude the lawful Marshal Ford.
- Men at Work: This is a relatively new tabletop-game that is all about dexterity. In Men at Work, players compete as workers on a job site who are carefully constructing a tower to avoid accidents and, maybe, earn employee of the month. Think stacking and balancing wooden components like in Jenga, but a fair bit more interesting, a little more strategic, and a lot more beautiful to look at.
- Awkward Guests: In this game, you’re trying to solve a mystery through suspect interrogations, crime scene investigations, clue-searching around the Walton Mansion, and police report consultations. Every play-through is unique thanks to an algorithm that offers over 3,000 game variations. Awkward Guests is like a more interesting version of Clue where you actually feel like you are a detective.
- Ricochet Robot: The central computer has failed and the robots can't reach their destination on their own! In Ricochet Robots, players race to find a suitable route for each robot. Whoever can design a workable route in the smallest number of moves wins a chip. Those with the most chips at the end of the game win. It’s rare to find a game that can be played by up to 16 people — especially one that only gets better as you go.
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Stephanie LaMont + Adam French