Why you need more games in your office.

May052015

I am well known in the bv02 office for my love of board games. The recent influx of popularity in the hobby has caused many cities to sprout board game cafes where patrons can pay a minimal fee to sit and play for hours. I’ve spoken at length to anyone who will listen about the merits of games as a hobby and an activity. Games are proven to keep the mind sharp and stave off dementia and alzheimer’s in adults and allow a closed environment for children to see the consequences of actions and learn social and cognitive abilities. But how does this relate to an office environment?

Games as a group activity:

In the bv02 office, you will often see a crowd form in our kitchen at any given lunchtime around a game from our office library. Bringing together co-workers from all departments that may not normally interact for long periods with each other on an on-going basis. This gives us all an activity where we can blow off a little steam, keep the momentum of the mind and avoid eating lunch at our desks and waste the time away browsing Facebook and Twitter.

Games as a critical thinking activity:

Games create a ‘magic circle’ as defined by Eric Zimmerman (Prof. NYU Game Center, Author ‘Rules of Play’). The magic circle is the world created around the rules of the game where everyone accepts the limitations artificially placed upon them by the rules. For example, If we were to play a game of chess, I could physically pick up your king and throw it out the window, but within the confines of the magic circle that’s impossible as it’s not allowed within the world we agreed upon when we started this game. This phenomenon of the magic circle pushes players to think and act creatively to accomplish the goal of the game and work within their implied limitations of the game. This can make for an interesting spectator activity because you can learn a lot about a person by how they play a game. Do they take a lot of risks? Are they defensive? Offensive? Do they try different paths or do they stick with what they know? Do they learn from their mistakes?

Games as a strategic exercise

Taking people out of their everyday world and forcing them to make strategic decisions in the abstract can help them make better decisions in their everyday activities. Giving them an abstract situation wherein a decision with (albeit fleeting) consequences must be made can force them to look at a real life problem in a different light or give them a staged situation to test out a strategy that would be too risky to pull off in real life. Following the old rule to ‘think three moves ahead’ when planning your move in a game is a small step away from real world strategic thinking.

Getting games in your office:

More traditional games like Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly offer less interesting decisions for players to make and are usually too monotonous to bring out any of the joy of gaming. I’ve compiled a short list of games I would suggest for office environments to get your people playing.

1. Hnefatafl (prounounced “nef-ah-tah-fel”): A 1,600 year old game played by Vikings comes in countless variations but the premise is always the same. A group of Vikings with their chief in the middle surrounded on all side by Saxons. The Viking player must get his chief to the outermost corners of a chess-like board while the other player must prevent this. All pieces move like rooks in chess (straight line, vertical or horizontal as far as they want until obstructed). Pieces can be captured by being flanked on two sides by opposing pieces.

While this doesn’t seem like much of a game, it teaches a very valuable lesson: Think like your opponent. The only way to accomplish your goal is to avoid playing into what your opponent wants. Thinking like the opposing player gives you insight to where your own failing and chinks in your own armour lie.

2. Cosmic Encounter: This game’s basis is pretty simple. Have at least one of your ships on 5 other planets at once. You can do this by sending ships out on your turn, asking other players to contribute to your cause and playing a numbered card from your hand. Highest sum of cards and ships (attacker vs. defender) wins. What sets Cosmic Encounter apart is the many ways these rules are broken by a player’s alien race. One race makes the winner lose and the loser win, another multiplies the ships and the numbered card rather than add, one race wins if they lose all their ships. How do you play against something so blatantly unbalanced as that? You think outside the box. Cosmic Encounter is a game that looks broken on the outside with wild player powers like the ones mentioned, but the beauty comes from the players working around them. Cosmic Encounter can provide a wealth of problem solving situations and encouragement to get your team members to look at an insurmountable problem differently.

3. Diplomacy: A perfect example of a zero luck game. A map of Europe 1901. Two turns a year. Plays very much like Risk except all pieces are of equal power. To win an attack, you need to have more pieces than your opponent. There are no dice, no cards, nothing but armies and navies. The only thing that varies is how you interact with the other players. Everyone discusses with the table and writes down where they are moving their pieces and reveals these orders simultaneously. Players can help each other by providing support or they can simply say they plan to help, leaving someone in the lurch. Diplomacy is a game of just that: diplomacy. You cannot win this game alone. You have to work with other players to make any kind of gains but there is ultimately only one winner so you will need to turn on your allies eventually.

4. Skull: A very small, quick and simple game described as “all the bluffing of poker boiled down to four cards”. Each player gets 4 cards: one skull and three flowers. Play passes around the table and players play one of their cards down or make a bet. When making a bet, a player bets how many cards they can turn over without revealing a skull card but they must reveal cards from in front of them first, moving on to the cards played down by other players. Lay down a skull and make a bet. If no one else ups the ante, you’re toast. If they do, do they think you’ve only got flowers down because you made a bet or were you bluffing? If you play a few rounds with the same players, you’ll notice patterns. Who is reckless? Who plays is safe? Skull provides a lot of situations where the phrase “You think that I think that YOU think…” comes up quite often. A favourite at the bv02 office.

5. The Resistance: A game of hidden betrayers. Everyone is going to pick some players to complete missions but some of the players are trying to make the group fail. The betrayers know who one another is but the rest of the players have no idea. The missions progressively involve more players and the betrayers have the option to fail the mission or not. They need to be able to keep their identities in question long enough to fail 3 of 5 missions. It takes some real smooth talk to keep your betrayals under wraps. Like Diplomacy, The Resistance relies on the players interactions with each other rather than dice and random card draws.

6. Chinatown: Wrangle up the sales-minded members of your team and watch them work their magic in Chinatown. Subtitled “The art of negotiation”, Chinatown is a game who’s primary mechanic is making verbal deals with other players. Players start the game with a handful of numbered spaces sectioned into groups in city blocks of New York’s Chinatown in the 1970’s. They are also given a set of tiles to form businesses that can expand to a size of 3 to 6 tiles and they’ll get more of these set pieces as the game progresses. If a business has reached it’s maximum size, it grants it’s owner a large bonus at the year end scoring. ‘Incomplete’ businesses (smaller than the size noted on their cards) will still give their owner an income but are not as efficient as they can be. Each year, the table is opened to trading and anything goes. Players can trade properties they own, businesses on the table, business tiles in their hand or even money. Clever negotiation, give and take and greed drives players to undercut deals that don’t involve them just to put other players in tense situations.

Putting a game on the table over the lunch hour is an easy way to get your team together and exercise their minds.

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  • Barbara

    Fantastic blog Thomas! There is great benefit to board games that impacts an individuals perception,
    memory, problem solving and decision making, development, intelligence,
    emotions, motivation, education, and neuroscience, as is evidenced by loads of psychological research. The overall essence of ‘fun’ and ‘laughter’ associated with board games is so important to incorporate into the office environment. Whether one is a player or an observer – it’s great to bring the team together in relaxed participation amidst the blurring pace that surrounds us.