13 reasons why you should play designer board games: workout your brain

When you discover tabletop games, specifically designer board games, usually you face a challenge: Finding others to play these awesome games with. Most of the time the conversation goes something like this for when we discover this awesome hobby.

-“I have just bought this board game, it is awesome we should get together sometime and play, it will be fun.”

-“Board game? You mean like Monopoly?”

And that’s when you try to explain it is much more than that, there are strategies involved, may be some card play, no dice rolling. That’s when you lose them. The typical response is “that sounds like fun but it seems too complicated, I don’t think I will be good at it, plus it sounds like it may take too long to play one of those games, I don’t have time.”

In this article, I am going to explain what you, your friends and or significant other are missing, and why you should be playing designer board games. If you already are a gamer maybe you can use some of these reasons to convince them to try one at least and then decide if it is for them.

What is a designer board game anyway?

The first major and obvious difference between a designer board game and a mass market game such as Monopoly is, the designer games actually have the name of the designer for that game on the box. It is just like publishing a book, you get the credit along with the publisher as the creator of that game when you design one.

Successful designers are very well known in the world of board gaming. They are very much involved with the community, promoting and explaining their games to gamers, they are super friendly and they love this hobby. They go to conventions, meet and sit down with their fans and play games with them. Some gamers will buy a game just because a certain designer’s name is on the box.

Designer games usually have different types of game mechanisms that provide rich a gaming experience every time you play that game. The initial set up for a good designer game usually is different each time with different cards, player characters, and different objectives etc. This provides a ton of replay value for the game which does not exist in a roll and move game such as Monopoly or Sorry, or even Clue. That is the downfall for most of the mass market games, after a while, they play exactly the same with a lot of luck involved.

With a well-designed board game, you get some much variety from one game to another, not only because of the setup but also because there is usually multiple paths to victory. Every game feels like a different challenge. The players are engaged, having a great time together. It doesn’t feel like an activity just to kill time.

They are not too complicated

They are as complex and as simple as you want them to be. Every year hundreds may be thousands of new games get published. These games vary in complexity, theme, the time it takes to play a full game, size, you name it. If you want to have simple but engaging fast playing game, you can find a ton of those. (Kingdomino comes to mind for example.) If you want a game that challenges you but you don’t want to spend more than an hour playing, well you can play Pandemic, or pick one of the thousands of games that are available. If you want a really epic game and you have time to play, yes there is a ton of those games too. (Star Wars Rebellion, Twilight Imperium III)

They are fun

Because of the massive variety of genres and mechanisms designers board games provide, the fun factor is 100 times better than your typical generic board game. If you like to play a game that simulates escaping a collapsing cave full of gems that you need to collect and you have literally 10 minutes to get out alive as a team of adventurers, you can play that game (Escape the Curse of the Temple). If you want to build your kingdom and make it better than you opponents, then you can play Kingdomino or Kingdom Builder, if you would like to save the world from four deadly diseases and prevent a pandemic as a team that works for Center for Disease Control, Pandemic will let you do that.

From fighting dragons to building suburbs in a city, building Egypt to racing horses, pick a theme you like and you will find a game that is engaging, challenging which will provide you and your friends hours of fun and laughter.

There are even escape room games that give you almost the same experience with 1/5th of the price of a real escape room per player. Escape Room the Game, Exit, Unlock are a few that comes to mind. Yes, a real escape room is different, can accommodate a larger group of people (I definitely recommend them), escape room board games will give you a similar thrill in the comfort of your living room.

Escape room games aren’t the only ones that have a real-time element in them. I mentioned Escape the Curse of the Temple above, but if you love space themed games, Space Alert or Fuse will challenge you to survive a 10-minute thrill ride with your teammates.

Don’t like playing against others, you don’t have to

Image by Asmodee-US

If you don’t like the competitive aspect of playing games, then you can play cooperative games. Games like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Legends of Andor or Time Stories let you play as a team against the game. You can discuss strategies, ask advice and come up with the best way to solve the challenge the game is presenting you every turn together. This type of game is one of my favorites, nothing like coming down to the wire and pulling off a victory on the last turn of the game as a team.

Couples Therapy

Most couples fall into a rut in terms of finding interesting ways to have fun together. Usually, they watch the same TV shows, stare at their phones, or go out and get drunk :). Designer games give you the opportunity to dive into an engaging world of so many different themes and have fun at the same time. They are different than watching TV or playing video games because you are engaged in the game with your partner instead of starting at a screen. You are part of the game, you take actions, makes decisions. You do not just watch or react to something on a screen.

Richard Ham from Rahdo Runs Through talks about how discovering designer board games has made his marriage even better. He talks about how much he and his wife love playing games together, and most importantly once they find a game they really love, how they find themselves discussing that game after they are done playing it. There are other well-known board gaming couples that are game reviewers online, they all say the same thing, “These games have given us a great way to enjoy each other, communicate and have a blast.”

It goes without saying, it is not only for couples, these games are a great way to connect and have a great time with your kids.

A workout for your brain

It is a well-established fact that puzzles or games, in general, are a great way of giving your brain a good workout. There are tons of books and research on this subject. Playing games can reduce the risk of cognitive decline that is associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Keeping your mind engaged means you are exercising it and building it stronger, it is a muscle after all:). A stronger brain has lower risks of losing its power.

While that is all great, not everybody enjoys those brain teaser books or solving complicated puzzles or math puzzles. Designer board games solve this problem. The massive amount of options in terms of theme, difficulty (from really simple games such as Welcome to the Dungeon to complex games such as Alchemists), player interaction, the fun factor is so much higher than a typical brain teaser.

Effective communication skills

Not a lot of people talk about this, but one of the biggest benefits of this great hobby, at least for me, has been teaching these games to new players. I have never been that comfortable explaining rules or talking in front of a crowd. Some of these games that I play and love have fairly complex rules, and I pushed myself to teach them to my playing group. It was uncomfortable at first, but I got over it, and I am getting better and much more comfortable at it with each game.

Another aspect of this is playing cooperative games. You have to communicate while playing a coop game, or you will lose. Well for some people that might be a challenge at first, if you want to overcome it, challenge yourself by playing a well-designed cooperative game.

They might unleash your creativity

I don’t know anybody that is a board game geek that has not wanted to design his or her own game eventually. Playing these games unleashes a side of you that you may not have realized that it was there. From story creating to artwork to actually designing a game, so many people that are actually game designers or artists in board gaming have started as just gamers.

Will teach your kids real life skills

There are so many well-designed games you can play with your kids that will teach them negotiation, communication, goal setting, cooperation, bidding, money management and history. Freedom the Underground Railroad, for example, is a cooperative board game that is about freeing slaves and helping them escape to Canada in the early 1800s. It is based on real life personalities, historical events.

Cheaper than going out

I am not suggesting that you should never go out and spend every free time you have playing board games but admit it, sometimes we go out and spend a ton of money on food, movies, drinks because we just got bored and could not come up with a better solution :). You can spend $40-$50 on a game and get 20 games out of it.  (In case of Pandemic, I think I am over 60 plays 🙂 ), compare that to 20 times you go out and well, you can do the math. And yes, a good designer game will give you at least 20 if not more quality gaming sessions. There are a bunch of designer games that are $30 or less that will give you hours of fun.

Team building

I have already talked about cooperative games at length, so they are the obvious reason why I think you can use designer board games for a team building event. However, even with a competitive game like Blood Rage or Suburbia, you can easily get a group of co-workers to bond even more. A game like Cosmic Encounters encourages negotiation, for example, you can easily see the advantages of playing a game like that for a group of teenagers that are in high school or a group of co-workers.

Image by Asmodee-US

Escape room style games, real-time strategy games can be a great tool for team building.  Captain sonar is a team versus team game, for example, that lets each team control its own submarine trying to find the other teams submarine and do enough damage to it to win the game. Every player has a specific station with unique responsibilities. And if that is not enough, it can all be played in real time.

Here is a gameplay of Captain Sonar with the DiceTower gang.

Escape reality, reduce stress

The very obvious benefits of gaming, whether you are playing board games or just plain playing outside is, it lets us escape reality, role play, laugh, and reduce stress.

Welcoming community

One of the biggest surprises for me when I first discovered designer board games was how big the community of board gaming was. I knew it was big in Europe (although had no idea how BIG), but didn’t know anything about the amount of Youtubers, conventions, here in the U.S. The DiceTower has its own DiceTower cruise for board gamers every year. Gen Con in Indianapolis Indiana is the second largest board gaming convention in the world after Essen.

And the best part is, it is very tight and friendly community. Everybody is super enthusiastic, they help each other. It is a big awesome family.

Last word

I am not advocating you should stop going out, watching movies or TV and simply replace all that with playing board games. However, most of us are not exposed to the great world of designer board games and all the benefits that come with it. It might be because we have never heard of these games of may have preconceptions, thinking that these are games only for “nerds” or “geeks” (I totally consider myself a board game geek and a nerd by the way). I just hope I was able to change your mind enough to give them a try. I did and my life is much richer for it.


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