Mindfulness and games, part 4 (and final part) Tabletop gaming

Mina and I playing the beautiful game Wingspan by StoneManaier games. Gift from my brother, Thanks Rob! You can tell by my hair that this was close to my recovery from my 2nd brain surgery.
The setup and stuff included in the tabletop game Wingspan. It’s beautifully done and yes that is a bird house at the end of the table
Even Will gets mindfulness time playing Candyland solo at nights before bed, “the Gumball always wins!” You can tell by Will’s hair that he’s starting to really get into the slicked back look.
My brother and I got a chance to play Everdell when I was in Tampa this past June. Another fun, beautiful game! I often find it helpful when someone familiar with a game’s rules and flow can “quarterback” the game play for my first play through. Thanks Rob for quarterbacking this one!

So my last part in the Mindfulness in Gaming series is going to touch on tabletop gaming (AKA Board games). tabletop gaming has come a long way since games like Monopoly and Sorry.

These days tabletop games can be beautiful and complex. Some lasting for a couple hours, some lasting for 30 minutes or so. The price tags have also increased too. I would expect to pay something around $30-60 for a top rated tabletop game. (Wingspan is about $60, as is Everdell).

These games have taken every tiny detail into account and feature incredible artwork. After a game of Wingspan I want to go birdwatching with my camera and add some birds to my Audubon app (Which is great, BTW).



I think mindfulness can be found in multiple ways during the game. Sometimes it’s just during the setup (which for some games can take around a solid hour) but getting those details right, and getting those corners to align perfectly can really take your focus to a good place and away from other stresses and anxieties. This might be tough for some but even debating about the game rules can be an exercise in mindfulness– it certainly requires mindful listening, focus, and respect for what should make the game “fun.” Clean-up and post-game storytelling can also be very mindful (in my experience). Wingspan is the only game I’ve seen that comes with a suggested way to package all of the game contents back into the box so everything fits. Sometimes games are so fun and have so much to offer that it’s a bummer if you lose early and have to miss out on other part of the game but being a mindful spectator is a fun elective choice.

What I like about tabletop games versus digital gaming is the physical interaction with the pieces and the materials themselves. StoneMaier games always offer extremely high quality pieces and even their instruction books are a sort of thick quality paper cardstock that just feels good to touch. Then you have to shift your mind to focus on the game which always seems like you have to observe a few rounds and “flying blind” for a couple of turns (or sometimes a couple of games!) before you know what’s really going on. But I think this is a good lesson in patience, and learning how to put competition into perspective.

I think interacting with people and physical objects as opposed to a screen adds a mindful dimensions as long as you can relax into the game. Even if you lose after a lot of effort you have to remind yourself it’s just a game and you’re playing it with your friends (hopefully). There’s actually something great about a long pause in the middle of a game and prompting someone by saying, “It’s your turn.” As I mentioned above, I personally like the quarterback system when someone knows the game well and can walk everyone through how to play.

There are also a lot of “cooperative”  board games out there. Meaning a team of 3-4 people will work together to achieve a single goal. An example of this is a game like Pandemic (I know, too soon, too soon.) but you play together as a team, each player having a different role of ability in order to a defeat a disease which threatens to infect the world. (Did we win this one in real life?
I hope so). However, here the “quarterback” role can be a drawback because the “quarterback” may end up engineering the entire way the game goes. A strong personality in this role may put some people off and not allow for much “collaborative / cooperative” gaming at all.

Here’s a game I would stay away from (even though this is not a tabletop game since its my last piece I feel compelled to mention it): Pokemon Go. This is a mobile game you download and play on your phone.I even play pokemon Go with my kids. But I get pokemon anxiety. Everywhere I go, sometimes a voice will say,” Is this a pokestop? Is there a rare pokemon here? Should I pull up the app and just see?) Because of this I can’t recommend it as a mindful game. There’s too much FOMO (fear of missing out) and I see it translate to my kids. It’s extremely difficult to settle down, just relax, and play pokemon go). Which really doesn’t offer much as far as a game so much as it is a conquest of collection (gotta catch’em all!)

Honorable mentions (not putting in amazon links here, please support your local tabletop game store)
Pandemic Legacy
Settlers of Catan (of course)
Dominion (card-based game)
Scythe (haven’t played but heard great things and it’s another beautiful StoneMaier game)
Ticket to Ride (This one is Mina’s favorite)
Marvel Champions (collectable card based game)
Gloomhaven
Lord of the Ring the Collectable Card Game
Red Dragon Inn (blogged about previously)
The Cones of Dunshire (it’s all about the cones, this is a joke and a nod to Parks and Rec, if you want more Cones action: here you go, also I may be turning into Ben Wyatt).
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (a great way to test the strength of a relationship, this game. it had me shouting that, “I’ll learn morse code for next time, OKAY!?!”note, this game requires the use of a laptop or PC setup of some sort, best played when someone has printed the “instruction manual” some folks even “age” or fray pages of the manual to make it look like a realistic spy document.)

80 days (mobile-based game about traveling around the world in 80 days, available for $4.99 on apple devices, available on other platforms as well).

Tabletop simulator ($20 on steam) is a digital way to play board games.  A lot of it goes against the benefits I just wrote about above. But the advantage here is that during times like these (COVID) you can still gather with your friends and play board game, albeit, digitally. Most folks play with the app through a program call steam and them have a free-flowing on-line chat through another program called discord. There is an understanding that if you use tabletop simulator to play a board game, that you already own the board game in real life. Because the board games are pre-programmed and free to obtain once you have tabletop simulator. It makes some aspects of tabletop gaming a breeze– like set-up, which can be a great time-saver, or maybe you prefer the tedium of set-up. But a lot of the games offer highly pleasing custom play mats. You’re still doing everything, including prompting your buddies, “Hey, it’s your turn, go.” There isn’t anything automated except maybe some setup options. You’re still clicking to move everything around and depositing it on a virtual “table.” So tabletop gaming in person is still superior but if you’re playing during a pandemic or can’t get a gaming group to meet in person weekly Tabletop simulator offers a nice alternative.

One drawback to tabletop gaming I’ve found is that most games require three players (including settlers of Catan) So if it’s you and your spouse your options are limited unless you’re both into really intense competitive games like Scythe. Many games let you simulate a 3rd player (like the Traders and Barbarians expansion for Settlers of Catan) Although most of the time these modifications just simulate a “robotic” 3rd player. Wingspan even has a solo mode that I’ve heard is pretty good! More and more tabletop games are starting to offer two player options, so that’s good. Or just have kids to round out your tabletop gaming group. It’s working out well for my brother!

Other mindfulness in gaming honorable mention reads:
SuperBetter— I had wanted to do a whole post on this book, I even did the app exercises for a bit and found them useful. But For me, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as Reality Is Broken and would’ve been hard to dedicate an entire post to. I stopped doing the exercises through the app, even though I still have my “Allies” to call upon to keep me accountable if I’m chasing a goal. Solid read, good app, if you’re trying to overcome something– I recommend the book and app, it won’t waste your time. But I think it served its purpose for me.

2 thoughts on “Mindfulness and games, part 4 (and final part) Tabletop gaming”

  1. First: such a beautiful loving family. Next: I never thought the intricate explanation of playing games could be so interesting but what could one not expect with the John Catoe touch!!’

  2. Hi John,
    Even though I have not heard of most of your games, your description definitely makes me want to give them a try, but if
    you think it is difficult to play with less than three, you should have a household of one! I have become a big fan of
    RummiKub and get with a group nearly weekly for an afternoon of playing. Also includes good company and conversation!
    Aunt Nancy

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