As a kid growing up in Ohio, we played a lot of board and card games. My family didn’t have much money, and games provided a low cost form of entertainment. But they also accomplished something else, too. The right games can improve your critical thinking, judgment, memory and social skills.
Studies have confirmed the benefits of playing games. In one study, for example, the researches found that certain video games may “improve spatial abilities, the ability to create and apply multiple strategies, and may help develop critical analyzing techniques.” And games don’t have to be educational in nature to have a positive benefit. Many games can promote positive communication, teamwork, and risk taking.
So with the benefits of gaming in mind, here are 7 games that can help build important life skills.
Settlers of Catan: This is one of the greatest games never heard of. If you’ve played it, you love it. But so many have no idea what they are missing.
Settlers is a multiplayer board game in which each player builds his or her settlement by acquiring various resources (timber, sheep, grain, etc.). Players get points as they grow their settlements, and the game is won when a player reaches a certain point total.
There are two things that make this game ideal for our purposes. First, no players are ever eliminated from the game, and every roll of the dice can impact each player. This makes the game ideal for social interaction and for family time. Second, decisions that a player makes early in the game can have a lasting effect on the game’s outcome. This requires careful planning and evaluation of your opponents’ moves.
Pente: Based on the Japanese game ninuki-renju, Pente is played on a board with intersecting lines. Each player has colored game pieces, and they alternate placing a single piece on an intersecting line. Capture of an opponent’s pieces is permitted by surrounding pairs of an opponent’s pieces vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. The goal of the game is to either place five pieces in a row or to capture 5 pairs from your opponent.
Pente is a fast game that’s easy to learn and fun to play. It’s similar to Connect 4, but with much more strategy involved. Players have to learn to think ahead, visualize the board as it may look in two or three turns, and defend against captures. It’s a great way to exercise the brain.
Euchre: If I had to pick just one game, this card game would be my choice. If you’re not familiar with Euchre, it’s played with a partial deck of cards (just the nines through aces). There are four players in teams of two that play the game. Much like Bridge, Euchre involves trump and taking “tricks.” With each hand players receive five cards. The goal is for your team to capture at least three tricks for 2 points or all five for 4 points. Part of the fun and challenge of the game is that you don’t know what cards your partner is holding.
Euchre can help develop several important skills. First, you must be able to evaluate your cards and assess the chances of winning a hand in advance. You must remember each of the cards that have been played, particularly any trump cards. You need to calculate the risks of different strategies. And you must work with your partner without communicating what cards you are holding.
Chess: With just 64 squares and 16 pieces per side, chess is both simple and complex at the same time. Playing the game can improve important skills such as planning, judgment, risk-taking, and memory. Speaking of memory, it’s been said that Bobby Fischer could meet someone on the street he’d played in a game of chess a year early and recall the entire game from memory. While most of us will never rise to a world champion caliber player, even playing for fun can improve the above skills.
If you have young children you’d like to introduce to chess, consider playing the “Pawn Game.” Set up the pawns as you normally would, but leave the other pieces off the board. The goal of the game is to get one of your pawns to the other side of the board or to capture all of your opponent’s pieces. Each game moves very quickly, and the strategy is more complex than it may at first appear. My daughter loved playing the pawn game when she was younger.
Yahtzee: For younger children, Yahtzee is a fun game that helps build several important qualities. There is strategy involved in the game that requires players to evaluate risk, take chances, and think ahead. And for children still learning basic math, it’s a fun way to practice as they count their score with each role.
Rummikub: My family and I have just started playing Rummikub again. If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s a lot like the card game Rummy 500, but with two differences. First, it’s played with tiles, not cards. Second, and important for our purposes, tiles that have been played can then be rearranged by players on every turn. Let me explain.
The tiles are numbered from one to 13 in four different colors, plus two wild cards. Like Rummy 500, the goal is to collect three of a kind in different colors (e.g., three 7’s, each in a different color) or to get a straight of at least three all in the same color (e.g., a one, two, and three all in the same color). Once tiles are played, each player can break apart the sets in order to play their own tiles, so long as each set when they are done is either a three of a kind or a run. It’s this aspect of the game that requires visualization, creativity and foresight.
So the next time you’re looking for something to do one evening with the family, bring out the board games or a deck of cards.
What great games have you played that help develop important life skills?
This articles comes from Rob Berger, the founder of the popular personal finance blog, the Dough Roller.