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The Power of Board Games

Co-authored with Caitilin O'Connor

The O’Connor family has always loved a good board game. During the pandemic, we find ourselves dusting off old favourites and we are not the only ones. Shutdowns and social distancing mean families, friends, and even companies are looking for ways to connect, reduce stress, and just pass the time. Board games accomplish it all! For enterprising families, however, the most significant power of board games may be their capacity to develop a broad range of skills that the rising generation can apply to life.

Losing (and Winning) Graciously

Games offer kids (and adults) a unique, low stakes opportunity to practice and observe the art of losing and winning with grace and dignity. Losing in a game forces player to deal with negative emotions. You must make a conscious choice to keep going or play again- that builds resilience. An important aspect of playing games as a family is the opportunity for parents to guide conversations that help kids process the experience of competition. No one enjoys playing with a sore loser or a condescending winner. Teaching kids during a game to be thoughtful and gracious, win or lose, is going to help them develop better relationships and be better friends, co-workers, and leaders.

Financial Literacy

There are many games out there offering kids and young adults the opportunity to develop skills in savings, responsible spending, and strategic financial management. Playing as a family has the additional benefit of giving parents insight into their children’s relationship with money and provides a wealth of opportunity (pun intended) for discussion about family values that pertain to abundance, the difference between needs and wants, and sharing (philanthropy). The games we enjoy playing include Monopoly (originally designed to demonstrate the evils of capitalism!), Cashflow 101, The Game of Life, and Payday.


Games that emphasize strategy over luck teach critical thinking skills. Players learn the importance of anticipating what they need, developing the steps to get there, and practicing patience to see their strategy through. You improve through repeated failures, analyzing your own strategies and observing the choices of your opponents. Strategy games are an interactive, experiential masterclass in creative problem solving. We love the classic code breaker games Mastermind and Battleship, and the Tetris-style Blokus, all of which can be adapted to be played with very young children. Carcossonne is our favorite “entry level” strategy game. Players use tiles to construct a medieval countryside and claim territory. This game is easy to learn, and we have never tired of playing it. Ticket to Ride is a little more challenging, and equally loved. Players go on a cross-country train adventure playing cards to claim railway routes. Check out this link for more suggestions.


Working together is foundational in any successful family enterprise so including cooperative games in your family’s gaming repertoire makes sense. Research suggests cooperative games encourage generosity and build trust between players. Players discuss decisions and justify reasoning which develops problem solving, communication, and social skills. In truth, the O’Connors prefer competitive games, but we do love the cooperative-based Settlers of Catan. Players trade economic resources to build the most settlements. There is a single winner, but all players participate in the entire game, and must negotiate throughout play. For more suggestions try here.

Connecting When Apart

Although families can’t physically get together right now, there are numerous online ways to play games from the comfort and safety of your own home. Some of these include utilizing Zoom (or another platform) or using an independent website. If you are working like us, and you spend a lot of your day on video conferencing, connecting with family on-line can feel like work. However, using gaming platforms has actually helped us to stay connected, share a laugh, and remember what it feels like to get together. We honestly did not think we would enjoy getting together this way, but we do!

  • Steam is a cloud-based gaming library. You install the Steam app for free on your computer to access thousands of games (some free, some purchased). (Steam offers a sophisticated set of parental controls for families who want to make sure kids aren’t accessing grown up content.) Go to their website to install app and see what is available to play.

  • Jackbox Party Packs can be purchased on Steam. Using your phone as the controller, up to 8 people can play a variety of games (more on a select few). One of our kids purchased a pack, and we play games together through our zoom account. It is huge fun. For a more detailed description of how to access and use Jackbox, go here.

  • Board Game Arena is a website with an easy-to-use interface and more games than you could play in a lifetime, accessed directly from your browser. Each person must set up an account, and while you can play for free, an annual subscription is only $35 and makes play more stable. The player with the subscription can then invite specific people to their games. For details and a review, follow this link.

Whether played virtually or in person, games are powerful. They connect family members of all ages and interests, across the miles. The fact that we are all learning great skills while playing is a bonus. Our families will not be gathering as they normally might this holiday season, but we can still be uplifted and united by playing games.

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