Christmas is upon us once again with the wonderful food and the presents but, most importantly, family time because Christmas is when we have more time to be together and it is also when we love to play board games.
I remember spending hours with my sisters and friends playing board games and again with my own children, even though there came a time when technology took over the traditional fun.
I do wonder who buys board games nowadays when people are more inclined to play a game on their PlayStations or on their computers, but I found out that sales of board games have increased substantially during the pandemic lockdowns as families have been ‘forced’ to spend more time together at home.
Ironically, the biggest increase in Google board game searches has been for the game Pandemic where players role play to strive to eliminate diseases from different parts of the world.
Did you know that board games have been around forever, with the first games dating back to ancient civilisations? Game pieces have been found at a 5000-year-old burial site in Turkey and dice first appeared in board games in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. I was amazed to learn that backgammon (which I have never played) descends from the Royal Game of Ur from circa 3000 BC and a version of it was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Playing board games has social, educational and health benefits across all age groups. It encourages us to have fun and laughing leads to the release of endorphins which make us happy, and we certainly laugh a lot when we are playing.
For young children, they learn social skills such as sharing, taking turns, winning and losing. The games promote the development of children’s cognitive functions, problem solving, decision making and reasoning, and improves their attention span. Fine motor skills are enhanced, and very young children can also learn about shapes, patterns, counting, etc.
For the elderly, these games can be a way to promote and strengthen mental health, memory skills and cognitive functions, so important for Alzheimer and dementia sufferers. Equally, board games bring people together, thus allowing for connecting and socialising across generations.
We have lots of games, but they are very old and simple to play. Modern games require more strategic and sometimes complex planning, with players having to problem-solve and work together, thus encouraging unity and eliminating the more competitive streak some players may have.
Newer popular games are more adult-orientated and require players to fight wars, develop new worlds, visit eerie mansions, be a spy … the list is endless. Games are also developed in line with current TV series or films, thus capitalising on the popularity and success of a storyline and, most ironically, can usually also be played digitally online.
I think it great that across the world an increasing number of board game cafés are emerging where people go to play and relax. Groups of adults and families are opting to spend their weekends together getting away from the online interaction, which seems to have become the norm, to instead have fun interacting face to face. Conversations flow and the socialising is on a different level!
My favourite game Monopoly now seems so simple compared to modern complex games, however, it is still exciting to win enough money to buy four houses and to convert these to a hotel! I like the anticipation as a player throws the dice and, with a sinking heart, find themselves landing on my hotel property and then having to pay an exorbitant rent or mortgage some of their own properties to pay me! I am rather competitive when it comes to board games.
There is some debate as to who invented the first ‘property’ game, and for many years Charles Darrow was credited because he was the first to sell the idea to Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) who made the game in 1935. He received lifelong royalties, but historians have since claimed that it was Elizabeth Magie who first thought of the concept and who patented her Landlord’s Game in 1904.
The game reflected her political views over landowners accumulating wealth and the effects on the poorer tenants. In her game, much like Monopoly, you earnt money and paid taxes. There were property deeds and the borrowing of money and if you trespassed on someone’s land, you ended up in jail.
Over the years, deluxe or anniversary versions of Monopoly have been sold and there are hundreds of different types available, but we still play with the original old version and still ‘fight’ over who gets the dog counter.
Another of our family favourites is Cluedo (patented in 1944) which requires investigative skills to unmask the murderer, discover what weapon was used for the deed and in which room it was committed. Everyone wants to be the gorgeous red Miss Scarlett rather than old yellow Colonel Mustard.
Cluedo requires us to use our deduction skills and to keep track over what cards the other players have or don’t have. Again, up-to-date versions and regional variances in the rooms and character names have been made over the years, but we still play the original game given to my sister for Christmas in 1973.
When there are enough of us, we love to play Trivial Pursuit (first launched in 1981), which tests our general trivia knowledge and can be frustrating if you are repeatedly trying to get one of the coloured ‘cheese’ wedges on a subject matter you know nothing about. Playing in teams is always an advantage and I have a book I like to read with questions-and-answers to revise my general knowledge.
Playing board games is a not only a nostalgic experience, but a way for us to pass down to our children our happy childhood memories, spent playing games with our family and friends, and giving them that same joy and experience to hopefully pass on to their future families.
Our games are all very old and, whilst we love them, I have read about many exciting new games and so perhaps it is time to modernise our games trunk. To start with, I am thinking of ordering Pandemic for next year!
So now you know!
By Isobel Costa
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.