Monopoly, Risk, Parcheesi — I love them all. Board games have been an integral part of my life since I was young, and I attribute my childish competitiveness to the number of times I was beaten in these games in my childhood. I know firsthand how board games can facilitate family bonding, or at least break the monotony of a typical evening. And don’t think that I’ve stopped just because I’ve “grown up” — no, my friend, I still play board games with anyone who will put up with me.
A few things I didn’t realize about board games was that they have therapeutic benefits. One study of elderly French board game players found that board game players had significantly decreased depression and less cognitive decline than non-board game players. Another study found that using board games as a means to motivate children to work through life’s adversities helped them to develop positive behavioral changes that would serve them well through the rest of their lives. In short — you get smarter, have fun and learn good coping mechanisms. A perfect activity, I thought, for my next article.
I don’t know if board game cafes exist everywhere, but I am lucky enough to live in the vicinity of Tabletop Board Game Café in Cleveland, Ohio: a library of literally 1000+ board games, snacks, and helpful assistants that will help teach you the rules of board games if you don’t know them. Upon learning of this location, I grabbed a few friends and set out to play what I call “rip-off pioneer Monopoly” Settlers of Catan.
I’d heard a lot about this game as many of my college friends hosted Settlers of Catan game night, but I’d never once played. Fifteen minutes in, my clueless friends and I were about to give up and play Risk, but then one of the assistants came and helped us set up. It was surprisingly easy to understand the rules, and in no time, we began the game, snacks in tow.
Basically, players compete to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game. The way to do this is to build settlements, cities and roads, which allow one to collect resources — wood, grain, brick, sheep or stone. Each resource serves a different purpose; for example, you need three stones for a city and you need one brick for building a road. While there is a fair amount of luck, as much of this is controlled by a dice roll, there is also a fair bit of strategy: for example, I learned to spend my wood and bricks on building roads early on to create new settlements and thus earn more resources.
It was a lot of fun to start, and I particularly enjoyed being able to block other people from getting resources to build. There were also a few times that I may or may not have picked up an extra brick card: I don’t know if that was just our particular board’s set-up, but brick was hard to come by! I definitely felt a little bit shameful when I won as I had never seen my friend so disappointed … but not shameful enough that I admitted what I’d done to win.
I have to say though, I don’t think my cheating really changed how much fun we had. After a stressful week of rotations, getting worked up about something so blissfully unimportant relieved a lot of our stress. It was probably the most any of us had laughed in a week. We ended up playing one more game of Settlers of Catan, and then a quick game of Battleship. We would have played more, but were unceremoniously kicked out at closing time. We made a promise to come back in a month, and my friend also promised he would beat me fair and square next time, though I made no such promise.
I’d highly recommend board game night to everyone, not just medical students. Although it definitely takes more time than other activities (we were there for four and a half hours), I found it to be a great change from my usual Friday evenings, and my friends and I really enjoyed ourselves. If you have a tabletop board game café close to you, I’d recommend going there for the ambiance. But if not, have a board game night at your place! It’s a cheap and fun way to de-stress.
A very important topic is that of mental health in medical practitioners, notably medical students. According to a study in the Student British Medical Journal, 30 percent of medical students report having a mental health condition — with a majority of 80 percent stating the level of available support was poor or only moderately adequate. This column was born from these alarming statistics and aims to stimulate conversation on mental health in medical students, from providing suggestions on how to maintain one’s mental health to discussing the taboo and stigma surrounding conversations on mental health in practitioners and students, and how to eliminate it.