Life Lessons From the Tabletop
Phil Seibel has been writing about games of all kinds since 2011. He tries to play everything he can get his hands on, and fancies himself a jack of all trades when it comes to gaming. He doesn’t win much, but he loves every minute of trying! Today, he discusses the greater role games have played in his life, and how they’ve helped teach some valuable lessons.
Here’s something I don’t need to tell you: Games are fun. That’s probably the first and best reason to gather up your friends and family and sit down to play something. Additionally, I’ve found that, beyond the fact that you can have a great time with your friends, playing a game has ups and downs that mirror familiar rhythms that you find in day-to-day life. Games can end up teaching you a lot about problem solving, planning ahead, and learning from your mistakes.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the ways that playing games can add to your arsenal and help you win at life!
It Pays to Have a Plan
It always pays to think ahead. Leaping headfirst into a situation without any idea of what you’re trying to accomplish does not usually work out in favor of the leaper. Whether you’re looking to win a game, study for an exam, or budget for a new car, you should always have a solid path to success in mind. Keep an eye on the resources you have to work with, and figure out your best path to achieving your goal.
This is very true in regards to games. For instance, a friend of mine loves to play deck-building games by devising strategies that let him cycle through his whole deck in a single hand. In a game like Mythotopia, he might choose to forsake building a lot of defenses and work instead to create a fast-cycling and aggressive deck in an attempt win a quick land war. He makes sure to keep his card count low, remove cards whenever he can, and only pick up new cards when they’re not going to interrupt the momentum that he’s building in order to feed his invading forces and roll over his foes. Focusing on that plan lets him pull off some amazing things.
Outside of gaming, it pays to think ahead. Carefully budgeting my money has allowed me to live in great places all over the country, experiencing big cities and making new friends that I would never have met if I hadn’t planned accordingly for each move. I always find that having an eye on the long game helps me stay calm and focused on the things I needed to accomplish. Invest your time and energy wisely!
Discover Your Strengths!
Not everyone is good at everything, especially not when they’re trying something new. Figure out what works and doesn’t work for you as you go along, and don’t be afraid to play to your strengths as you discover them. If you’re having a good time and you know what works for you, keep at it! It’s always good to learn new skills, but some games will clearly resonate with you a bit more than others. If you find yourself gravitating towards a given style of gameplay, then stick to what you love and keep doing it well.
For me, I can’t stand situations where I have to bluff my way out of a situation. Am I the traitor? Do I have winning cards and I need to keep a straight face so I can bluff? I can’t do it, and I never could! Some people love those games, but I found that I was bad enough at them that I could never fully enjoy the experience. So now I stay away from anything that needs me to maintain a good poker face. I find that on many nights, I like to sit down and play something with a bit less pressure, like Dixit. I love the emphasis on creativity and storytelling that the game inspires, and musing over each friend’s interpretation of a card’s art can start some really great conversations. So don’t sweat it if some games aren’t in your wheelhouse. There are too many great things in the world to waste time with ones that aren’t a good fit for you.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try new things, though! While it’s great to find what you like, don’t box yourself in too much. Figure out what you like by occasionally moving out of your comfort zone to test your limits. Planning to stick with your strengths is a great jumping-off point, but any good plan should leave room for you to adapt and improve. Maybe you set out to win a game of Greed by amassing loads real estate and focusing on Holdings, but as you play, your opponent ends up with the same idea. Maybe then you’ll find that gathering a gang of ruthless Thugs is much more your style. If you find something new that you like and it’s working for you, lean into it!
Luck Runs Both Ways
While a careful plan will guide your decisions, most games have a bit of luck involved. Sometimes the roll of the dice will decide your fate for better or worse, and there just isn’t any way to tell how the chips will fall. I think we’ve all had times when we’ve taken a chance that didn’t play out. The important thing is to not stake too much on those gambles. A good plan manages risk, but understands that it can’t be avoided entirely. Take the occasional chance, and the universe might surprise you. Slow and steady can make for a pretty dull race, though, so play it safe enough that you can take a risk when an opportunity presents itself.
One night, when I was out celebrating with some friends on my birthday, we decided to cut through a park on the way home. A gust of wind kicked up and started swirling dozens of dried leaves all around us. An especially rectangular one of these “leaves” smacked me in the face as I walked, and we all abruptly realized that actual money was flitting amongst the foliage! We had been hit by a literal windfall. Dumb luck like that doesn’t happen every day, and I don’t plan my life around the off-chance that I’ll stumble into a situation like that again. I wouldn’t try to win a race in Formula D by just shifting up into fifth gear, never bothering to downshift, and just assuming that I’ll roll well enough to make every turn safely. There’s always a chance you’ll catch a lucky break, but it’s just as likely that something unexpected could trip you up. Keep your eye on the prize, but don’t forget to live a little!
Lessons from Losing
Most of the time, you’re playing a game to try and win it, right? The victory conditions are pretty nicely spelled out for you, and your goals are clearly ones you can meet. If only life was so straightforward! There’s rarely an easy way to tell if you’ve won, but there are often lots of ways to feel like you’re losing. Whether you’ve screwed up an exam or made a bad career move, life seems to do an exceptional job of letting you know when mistakes have been made. These things can be tough to handle, but playing board games helped teach me a very important lesson: learn from losing!
Sometimes you’ll lose at a game! It’s sad but true. You may a call bluff the wrong way or play a card one turn too early, and the whole game goes down the tubes in an instant. Sometimes no matter how I try, I simply can’t gain any headway in Takenoko. I irrigate poorly, or I just can’t seem to lay tiles in patterns that yield any points, and I wind up with a sad, hungry panda and a mitt full of unplayed cards. If I take a minute to think it over, I can usually trace my bad endgame back to a few poor gambles. Learning to recognize when things take that turn for the worse is an exceptionally valuable skill. Figuring out how you’ll navigate a problem the next time it comes around could be the key to your future success. Analyzing your losses in these scenarios can help bring some perspective to things that haven’t gone your way in life. Sure some things may have gone differently than you might have liked, but there’s always something to be learned from a bad decision or a rough twist of fate. Losing isn’t the end of the world, and you can usually get some great insight on how to win next time.
These are just a few of the broader life lessons that I’ve taken away from playing board games. There are so many great games out there, and each one seems to have something interesting to say about how we interact with each other and the world around us. So pick up something new or revisit an old favorite today. You just might learn something!
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