Gordon Smith

Study: Board Games Can Help Strengthen Your Relationships. Yes, Really.

I was long under the assumption that board games solely existed to tear unions apart. But according to recent findings, the opposite might be true.


Now, I’m a board game kind of guy. I’m so much a board game kind of guy, that my ongoing biweekly – ideally, weekly – indulgence could probably at this point be considered an almost ritual act. Yet, despite this ever-growing number of hours I spend moving small pieces of plastic atop printed cardboard with friends, I was still very surprised to hear that board games can help in strengthening relationships.

That’s not to say I’m casting judgment on my board game compadres; more to say that I’m a realist and that I understand that board games carry the power to end friendships and that a good game night isn’t over until at least a shouting match begins.

Think Monopoly and all the moments of existential despair you’ve felt as your game hours have entered their double digits. Or think Monopoly and all the times your friends were quite clearly using blocks of Lego for houses, while their cash piles seemed to endlessly – and yet, inexplicably – grow. Or think Monopoly at all, really. Terrible game. Terrible, angry game.

Yet board games bring people together in a way that their video relatives cannot and it is their ability to bring players out of reality and into what Quartz describes as a “controlled state of conflict” that keeps people coming back. A good board game builds in enough of a chance factor that any reasonably skilled player can win, and it is because of this and the “conflict” state of mind that players enter that even losing can still be fun.

This state of mind also allows players to leave behind the “clear, consistent categories” of winners and losers, and the moral logic of who falls into which of the two.

Film and media studies professor Mary Flanagan suggests that board games prompt players to reflect on “turn-taking, and rules and fairness.”

In an era of increasingly long-distance communication, defined by the ability of people to connect to any place at any time, board games also serve as a stark testament to the power of community.


“It turns out being together is very addictive.” That may explain why sales around the world are booming and why, as of 2016, board games remain the single most-funded items on Kickstarter.


Board games by their very nature require groups of people sitting together – the same place, at the same time – and concentrating on a shared experience. This is something that is profoundly different in a world that is always connected, yet somehow separated, as a recent story by The Atlantic on the rise in teen isolation explored.

It could be this necessity of closeness and face-to-face communication that helps make board games such a powerful tool for relationship building, and is certainly a driving force between board gaming conventions like the 50-year-old Gen Con.

Or, as the creator of Penny Arcade Expo puts more simply, “It turns out that being together is very addictive.”

That addiction may also explain why sales of board games around the world are booming and why, as of 2016, board games remain the single most-funded items on Kickstarter.

But it’s not the Parker Brothers who are leading this counter-technology resurgence. German or “Euro games” – games involving a high degree of analytical strategy and which operate on a learning curve – are well ahead of the pack. Games like Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne are among the most well-known “Euro” games.

These strategy-rich games move quickly with each turn requiring multiple players to interact, rather than simply wait for the dice. This leads to a deeply satisfying experience each and every play.

If that doesn’t sell it for you, the primal joy that victory – and all its required gloating – brings should be more than enough reason for you to start your own weekly board game ritual. Provided your coworkers are equally keen as mine are. No one likes an unenthusiastic player.

Just like how no one likes Monopoly.


Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the bigwigs in government to account.

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