Why Programmers Should Play Boardgames
Close the laptop and break out the dice...after you read this post about how board games can help ease your troubled dev mind.
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Inspired by a post on why business folks should play board games and a presentation from Karthik Nagarajan on why product teams should play dungeons & dragons, I decided to write a post on why programmers should do the same. Randomly select a starting player and prepare for the first round. Here we go!
Why Play (Board) Games?
You may already find playing any form of game fun and not need much encouragement here, but for those of you undecided, here are some of the positives that may help convince you.
For simplicity, unless specifically mentioned, from now on, when I mention a "game," I mean a board game or a roleplaying game.
We all spend way too much time in front of a screen, and if you stick to the cardboard or paper variety, you get a good chunk of time not looking at one. Unless you’re a rude player who keeps staring at their phone during other people’s turns, but please don’t do that. Of course, it won’t help with too much sitting down, but one thing at a time.
Get Out of Your Head
Depending on the game and the group you play with, games can help your brain exercise in a myriad of different ways, such as:
- Relaxation: For a couple of hours, you forget about your troubles, deadlines, and problems and focus on something else. Even if you lose the game, that break does wonders and helps you refocus on work at a later date.
- Risk taking and experimentation: Most of us are naturally risk-averse creatures, but in the sandbox of a game, we are free to be different people and try ideas that we would normally never dare to. These experiences might encourage you to try new frameworks, tools or paradigms in your programming work. In a test environment, at least.
- Memory, logic, and problem-solving: Strategies in games generally involve tasks that are taxing to your brain, and concentration to solve them. The modern world is playing havoc with our ability to concentrate and focus, and games are a wonderful way to repair some of that damage. Isn’t programming all about logic and problem-solving? Surely skills worth sharpening with new challenges.
Teamwork and People Skills
Developers (coders, engineers, or whatever you want to call yourself) are somewhat renowned (and stereotyped) for their poor interpersonal skills. Like many stereotypes, there are elements of fact and fiction, and gamers aren’t always any better in the social skills department. Still, especially with cooperative (where you work together against the game) or roleplaying games, the onus is on you to work together as a team to solve problems, expected or unexpected. I would hope that the benefits of learning to work together better are apparent, but, again, sometimes taking you and your workmates out of everyday situations can be the best way to improve skills you use every day.
Cooperative games are generally a challenge, and you lose more than you win, but this is also a valuable skill to learn. The feeling that your team has bonded through a shared experience together is as valuable as success.
Games can help you learn better short and long-term planning, manage resources, and negotiation skills. Though in some games, negotiation skills are more about bluffing, which may or may not be a skill you want to improve.
Karthik had a handful of observations he learned about teams from Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) sessions. They aren’t likely to surprise you, but sometimes it can take an external (or alternative) viewpoint to reaffirm something you already knew. He noted that the character balance (roles) and how they worked together dictated the ideal team, not their size. Karthik noted one game where a large group failed a quest due to their inability to communicate. He mentioned that game planning and product planning shared surprising similarities when it comes to defining what a party (team) needs to achieve (user stories), overly dominant players (team members), and getting the level of rules explanation (team on-boarding) right.
You’re convinced, keen to play some games, and want recommendations on the best to get started with.
For role-playing, the choice is clear: the perennial D&D and it’s latest 5th edition is new, improved, and better than ever. There are certain ethical and moral discussions around themes such as D&D, and why heroes frequently unquestionably assume plunge into killing everything. If this attitude to good and evil bothers you, there are recommendations for non-violent RPG games here and here, but I haven’t tried any of them.
As for board games, well, you may be pleased to know that the gamer community likes to make comparative lists as much as programmers, so recommendations are easy to find. Search for "best gateway games," and you’ll find more than enough to get you started. My personal favorites? Well, I’m glad you asked:
- 7 Wonders: The first game I bought, and I still love it. It introduces concepts repeated in other games, without you having to worry about them unless you want to.
- King of Tokyo: You play action film style monsters kicking each other out of Tokyo. People will hate you, but only for two minutes at a time.
- Pandemic: A classic cooperative game where your team works together to save the World from virus outbreaks.
- Istanbul: Not necessarily the simplest game, but a great example of ‘euro’ style game where you allocate pieces to certain tasks and have to deal with tight resources to get the best score.
- Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition: Somewhere between a role-playing game and a board game, it’s not short, but story-driven, and as an app runs the game, players don’t need to memorize many rules.
- Codenames: A popular party game, pitting two teams against each other to try and match clues one team member gives them.
- Dixit: Another favorite party game that can handle lots of people, you use descriptions to help or hinder players finding your card from a selection of beautifully illustrated cards.
See you at the gaming table!
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