Relationship Practice in a Flat World

Image from Flickr user John Herschell
Image from Flickr user John Herschell

Today’s off-topic topic: Board games!

For almost a year and a half now, my wife and I have been spending more time with board games. We’ve made the leap from the classics (Scrabble, Risk, etc.) to more thematic games like Pandemic and Arkham Horror, and it’s been a great experience.

In particular, I find we spend a lot of our time on cooperative games – including both of the games I’ve mentioned so far – where all of the players are working together toward a common goal. (In both Pandemic and Arkham Horror, that goal is saving the world, albeit from radically different threats.) Of particular interest to me as we’ve done this, both alone and with friends, is how playing cooperative games makes people’s communication and decision-making processes clearer.

One of the standard lines on cooperative games is that it’s easy for one person to dominate the group. They take charge and dispatch orders to others in the group. Sometimes these may be concealed as suggestions, but it’s still the case. I know that I have a certain tendency to do this, so board games become good practice in checking myself.

In a way, cooperative games offer constructed scenarios for problem-solving with your partner(s) with clear ends and results. Often, those endings and results are clearer than many of the more open-ended or longer-term challenges that you face in real life.

We were reintroduced to the delights of board games by a co-worker of mine. Both she and her husband are games enthusiasts, and they invited us over to play two thematic games, Betrayal at the House on the Hill and Arabian Nights. We enjoyed the heck out of the experience and soon picked up Arkham Horror. We’ve since come to realize that’s kind of like jumping straight into the deep end – there are a lot of moving parts, so to speak, in that game – but we’ve had a lot of fun with it.

If you’re looking to get into board games, I might recommend something like Pandemic first. It strikes a good balance of “different from what you’re used to” and “not ridiculously complicated.” Then again, if you and your friend(s)/partner(s) are looking for something Lovecraftian that you can really sink your teeth into, something Arkham Horror is a good choice. Betrayal at the House on the Hill is somewhere in between the two, and also comes highly recommended.

In recent months, my wife and I have fallen back into the pattern of spending most of our evenings watching Netflix. The new year seems like a good time to reintroduce some gaming. I’m looking forward to it!