Why do people play board games? – Ask The Bellhop

Why? “Why” is perhaps the most important question of all. Why do people play board games? That’s the question I’m going to try to tackle today, based on one of the best Ask The Bellhop questions we’ve ever received.

Mojtaba Zarepour simply asks:

Why do you play boardgames?

Yes, the original question is about me, but this topic applies to everyone

So yes, seeing Mojtaba’s question there, it is directed at me, or maybe at Sean and I. It was sent in through the blog, so it could be either. Sean and I actually chose this topic to talk about on our 100th podcast episode because I thought it was a fantastic topic. It’s the kind of question that lets people get to know us and our gaming tastes. It’s something that fans of the podcast can use to relate to us going forward, knowing what brings us to the table. 

While I do think that it’s worth people knowing why we play, I want to broaden the scope for this article. I want to talk about why people, in general, choose to play board games.  I want to list as many reasons as I can find for people to sit down at a table together and enjoy a game.  Some of these reasons will apply to me and some won’t. 

Now I’m sure there are reasons I’m going to miss and when you notice that has happened, I would love it if you could fire me off an email with the reason for tabletop gaming that I missed and I’ll get it added to the list. 

Finally a note on RPGs. Yes, normally, here at Tabletop Bellhop we’re all about all kinds of tabletop but in this case, I decided to keep the topic specifically focussed on board gaming, based on the original question. That said, most of this is going to apply equally to roleplaying, miniature wargaming and all other forms of tabletop gaming. 

Why do people play board games?

To Be Social – Sitting down with other people and taking part in doing something together is the main draw of the board gaming hobby for me and for many other gamers. Board games are a way to gather people together and have a shared experience. For many gamers, it’s the people at the table that make game night what it is and the game or games being played are secondary. People need to be around other people and gaming can be a great excuse to do so.

To Hang Out With Friends and/or Family – Some people only show up at game night to be with their friends. It doesn’t matter to them what the actual activity is, it could be to play games but they would show up if it was to watch movies or share a meal. Playing games is a great way to spend time with friends as well as getting to know them better. There are even a number of games specifically designed to get to know your friends better and cooperative games work particularly well when played by friends.

A Way To Meet New People – Most of the people I now call friends I met through gaming. One of the great things about board games is that everyone sitting at the table should already have at least one thing in common, a love of playing games. That common ground can often be expanded upon and turn into something more. While not everyone you game with will turn into lifelong friends, many will become people you enjoy meeting with and hanging out with if only to play games. 

Being Part Of A Community – Just being a hobby board gamer makes you part of a community, a worldwide community of board gamers. In addition to that, there are a number of smaller more focused communities you may be part of. This could be an online forum dedicated to your favourite game, a local meet up group, a Facebook page dedicated to a genre of games or any other group that shares a common gaming related interest. This feeling of belonging to something is very important and can be a huge part of why people play games.

It’s Something To Do – For many people board games are just a way to pass time. They are something to do while socializing or a way to kill time between things that, to those people, are more important. A lot of casual gamers feel this way, where board games are on the same level as listening to music or watching TV. This could include people who show up to game night just to hang out as well as people who play digital board games in their spare time. 

As A Distraction – Playing a game can be a great way to take your mind off other things. While focussing on a game you won’t be worrying about work, obligations, or the state of the world. For some gamers, all that matters when playing a game is that game, and that can be a great way to forget about all kinds of problems. 

As An Escape – For some gamers, board games are more than just a distraction, they are an escape. They are a way to forget about serious problems and can be a safe space. In most cases this is a normal healthy thing but, like many things, can be taken too far. I’m no psychologist nor do I pretend to be one, but for many, tabletop games can be a healthy form of escape.

For The Mental Workout – Playing board games can be a great way to use your brain. The brain gets better at what it does and board games can teach a number of skills. These include both soft skills from playing with others as well as hard skills depending on the games you play. Problem-solving, mathematics, risk analysis, logical thinking, planning, tactical thinking and more can be learned and practised through playing games. Playing board games is a good way to keep the mind fresh. 

For the Challenge – It’s important to challenge yourself from time to time and board games can be a great way to do that. This challenge could just be to get out and meet new people or it could be to try to improve your ability to predict what others will do. It could be learning a heavy complex game or trying something you’ve never tried before. Board games are a safe space in which you can push yourself and try new things. 

A Sense of Accomplishment – One of my favourite things about playing board games is the feeling of accomplishment that can happen during play. This doesn’t always have to come from winning, it can be figuring out just the right move, outsmarting an opponent, or having a long term plan fall into place. I find a great feeling of joy when I work hard at a thing and it turns out how I planned and I can often get that feeling from board games.

They Can Ease Anxiety – Board games can be a fantastic outlet for people with various forms of Anxiety.  In a social situation, a game board can act as a buffer between an anxious person and the other people present. The game is something that can be focused on, relieving some of the stress of the situation. In addition board games are scripted play, everyone at the table is following the same rules and everyone faces the same constraints. 

To Establish Social Standing – Many competitive players play board games to assert their skill and seek to hold a position of power in the gaming community. Things like tournaments and organized play events help establish, document, and communicate these rankings. For many gamers, their overall rank, documented or not, is a very important part of who they are. Some gamers will talk about their accomplishments, their bragging rights, and their geek cred. 

Enjoyment of Competition – For some players, it’s all about the competition, with every game being seen as a confrontation. For many of these players winning is the ultimate goal and anything else can be seen as a failure. In this way board games can be seen more as a sport as opposed to a game or pastime. 

A Sense of Control – One of the things that board games offer is a completely controlled environment, at least assuming everyone is playing by the rules of the game. All of the possible outcomes of the game are established at the start. Everyone at the table is in the same sandbox, confined by the same walls. This can be very comforting to some gamers and I have found over the years that this is the reason many gamers prefer board games to RPGs. 

The Thrill – Board games can be filled with thrilling moments. Sometimes this is driven by random elements like dice, where a successful die roll means the difference between winning and losing. Other times though this thrill can come in other forms, like a comeback win at the last moment, a move that surprises all of your opponents, or a risk taken that pays off in the end. The thrill is often what causes gamers to come back to the same game time and time again, hoping to recreate that magic moment again and again.  

A Shared Experience – Board games create shared experiences between the people playing the game. These experiences can be the kind that people remember and talk about for years to come. Games that are heavy in story seem to create the most memories but sometimes even a memorable die roll in a push your luck game can stick with you for a long time. In addition to this, campaign and scenario based games also create shared experiences between different groups of players who have played through the same mission or quest, or who have played with the same characters. Just look at any Gloomhaven discussion on character builds to see this one in effect.

The Story – Many people play board games to discover the story that will be told during that game. This is obviously more prominent in RPG style games, campaign games and legacy games, but even the occasional dry euro game will end up building an epic tale. Great stories get retold for years to come and live long with the players.

To Get Attention – Some people play games in order to get noticed, to be heard and to be seen. Sometimes this can be fine, but often it can lead to bad behaviour that can distract from or ruin a game. Players who purposely make poor in-game choices, mess with the other players, and intentionally act as a force of chaos during a game are often doing it just to get attention. If this does happen during a game it’s often worth calling the problem player out and potentially ending the game. 

To Assert Dominance – Some players like to be in charge and what they enjoy in games is taking that leadership role. Despite how it sounds this isn’t always a bad thing but it can quickly turn into an alpha gamer problem if not monitored. Having a leader at a table can be great for keeping the game on track and keeping things moving, just be sure that the leader is leading and not driving other players’ decisions.

Learning Something New – Playing a game about a topic can be a great way to learn more about a topic. This is the main draw that historical games can have on players, their ability to let players experience a situation that they could not have been part of. There was a time when “educational game” meant bad game and I’m pleased to say this has mostly passed. Board games can be a great way to explore things like chemistry or learn more about the Underground Railroad. 

To Be Someone Else – While this is something generally relegated to Role Playing Games, many board games allow players to take on the role of characters that are different from themselves. This could be getting to be a badass Space Marine or it could just mean getting to play someone of a different gender. Games can allow people to explore different sides of their personalities, as well as potentially seeing things from a different perspective. 

There you have many various reasons that people play board games. What I want to know, is why do YOU play? Is it some of the reasons I mentioned above or something else? If it is something else I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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