downsized_1208091528I tend to be a very story driven GM. I have a very laissez-faire attitude towards violations of rules in favor of cool things going on. It works well, but not always. I realize, in the course of running some games, that I often forget to make my enemies utilize their most deadly powers or I forget modifiers to their armor, etc. Usually it isn’t a big deal, but it is something that bugs me.  I’ve been trying to get better about it.

To that end, I came up with an interesting training exercise for myself. I’ve been searching out and playing boardgames and complex card games. I’m not huge into the boardgame scene. I enjoy Tsuro, I knock back a few rounds of Munchkin a month, and I’ve long enjoyed a risk obsession. I’ll play when my friends have something interesting. I’ll play at conventions when I have access to new ones. I’ll play anytime one is available. Unfortunately, most of the people in my group aren’t major boardgamers.

One week passed between the session that I got the boardgame idea from and the next session. During that week I played 3 different boardgames and 1 cardgame. The games were Carcassonne, Arkham Horror, Colossal Arena, and some goblin building machine cardgame. The next week, at game, I was thinking in a different way. I had a  cleaner grasp and forgot mechanical aspects less. I still played with the usual story-driven emphasis, but when the mechanics needed to be front and center, I had a quicker implementation.

Boardgames are mechanical by nature. In few boardgames are there elements of story trumping the rules. Immersing myself solely into that mindset worked to train the areas of my brain that deal with the mechanical elements of a game. So, if you find yourself in need of some training, do 30 reps with a boardgame or a complex cardgame. It will help you reawaken that mechanical aspect of your mind.

When I finished this article, I started to make a list of boardgames and cardgames that would be especially good for training. However, since I’m not a huge boardgame player, I figured I would leave that up to the awesome Gnome Stew commenters. What are some of your favorite boardgames and cardgames? What ones would you suggest for building brainpower?

(Picture was taken at Ahzz’z Arena . It is a nifty FLGS in my area.)

19 replies
  1. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    That was in fact it! I kept thinking infernal machine and other variations on that name. I never came up with infernal contraption though. I must say, I love the art for that one!

  2. michaelkatz
    michaelkatz says:

    Dominion is a good card game for quick gameplay and planning. Memoir ’44 is good for battle strategy. If you want the brain power something like F.I.T.S. or Robo Rally are good.

  3. Razjah
    Razjah says:

    Magic: the Gathering is a great card game. There’s tons of flavor while still being really heavy mechanically.

    Axis and Allies is another good one; you could try Stratego, although it’s only 2 players; Warhammer is always good for a very structured game as is it’s sci-fi counterpart 40k, but it’s a kind of expensive game and it requires you build each unit.

    Settlers of Catan is a great game, it’s not too long, up to 4 people, different board every time while remaining mechanically the same.

  4. borfaxer
    borfaxer says:

    I would recommend Clue. Since people go in a certain order and they have to reveal exonerating evidence if they have it, you can beat other people by mentally tracking logic statements. This takes a lot of mental training to be able to do well, but it’s good practice for figuring out which modifiers and powers to think about when you’re running a game.

    For example, Player A suggests that Professor Plum did it in the Hall with the Candlestick and Player B shows them a card to disprove it. Later, you make the suggestion that Professor Plum did it in the Study with the Candlestick and Player B doesn’t have anything to show. Then you know that Player B previously showed Player A the Hall.

    When I play with family, they hate it when I track the logic statements on a pad, so I have to do it mentally. It’s challenging, but I think it’s good practice.

  5. BryanB
    BryanB says:

    I like games that require you to plan your use of resources ahead of time for achieving the best results. Settlers of Catan is certainly one of those games but Ticket to Ride is probably my favorite.

  6. Lee Hanna
    Lee Hanna says:

    Funny, I can’t get people in my RP groups to play boardgames with me. Likely, that’s because I’m a hex & counter grognard who plays “monster” wargames like Star Fleet Battles, Europa, Squad Leader and so on. Those who have known me longest assume that if I like it, it must be huge and incomprehensible.

    But I do play a few “normal” boardgames at CABS, a rather large local boardgaming club. I do train games (18xx series, Ticket to Ride and RR Tycoon), Carcassone, Memoir ’44, Shadows over Camelot, Battlestar Galactica, Porto Rico, Cuba, Settlers of Catan and a lot more. My older son also likes playing these, and sometime I can get my wife to sit still long enough to play, too.

    I’d like to get someone to play Game of Thrones and Battlelore, but no takers yet. My older son was on a chess team last year, but he quit when it started to get like work, and his ol’ man tried to learn, too.

  7. rwenderlich
    rwenderlich says:

    Pandemic is a neat game I’ve been into lately. It’s a cooperative game where you and three friends band up to save the world from the outbreak of four deadly viruses.

  8. Tyson J. Hayes
    Tyson J. Hayes says:

    I second the Infernal Contraption vote. It’s a great game that I don’t get to play enough of. I actually bought the expansion shortly after it came out and have yet to actually play it, as I don’t want to launch it on someone who has never played the original game before.

    As role playing games are derivative of board games it does make sense that you are able to grasp the mechanics of your role playing game quicker as your thinking about it more often.

  9. callin
    callin says:

    You can also expand this to computer games; anything that requires using all your resources. Civ4 is about planning and keeping track of your resources. Even Dragon Age is a good game; you can pause the game mid combat and look at your abilities, as well as those of the rest of your party, and decide which can best be used in your particular situation. Trust me, if you keep dying on the same encounter in Dragon Age, you’ll start digging for a better solution.

    You seem to be speaking from the point of view of a GM, which makes sense given where we are, but actually playing in a few games will also help. In something like 4E, where your character has many choices, you’ll quickly teach yourself to remember your abilities.

    My blog-

  10. celith
    celith says:

    I also like Ticket to Ride, though from my (limited) experience with the game, I have concerns about how the play will change with very experienced players (who will know all the routes already).

    A game that’s been around forever that I still love to jump into is Illuminati from Steve Jackson Games. With a group of experienced players, you quickly find yourself with a LOT of stuff to keep track of.

  11. Kurt "Telas" Schneider
    Kurt "Telas" Schneider says:

    The converse is also true. If you keep getting bogged down in the rules, and forgetting about story, NPCs, etc, then take an improv theater class or run a ‘story first, rules second’ game for a few sessions.

    Balance is key (says the alleged Libra).

  12. Scott Martin
    Scott Martin says:

    I compartmentalize by habit– it’s good to remember that all of these things can cross pollinate to good effect.

    @celith – The 1911 expansion adds many more routes and you use only a subset of them each game, which helps with the knowing the routes problem. It also ensures that every city has a destination– I believe there are a few cities that are overlooked in the standard deck.

  13. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    So, my internet went out with the massive storms that rolled through yesterday. Like waaay early in the morning, so I’ve been offline, save for panera bread visits and occasional moments when I could get online. There are a lot of great comments and suggestions here!

    @Razjah – Warhammer would be right up the alley for this kind of mental cross training, but I can’t even begin to factor the cost involvement. I’ve got friends who have offered to give me old armies and I’ve refused every time. I know I would get hooked and want to expand.

    @borfaxer – That is definitely taking clue to a whole new level!

    @callin – The problem I find with computer games for mental cross training is that they do the math and some of the complex stuff for you. Every game is going to be a bit different in this approach, but they don’t require as much immersion. I find that playing computer games helps me heighten the storytelling part of my mind. Since the computer is doing much of the math and the to hit modifiers, etc. I can concentrate on weaving side-stories based on what is happening. I’ll interpret dialogue certain ways or imagine what my character’s reaction is like, etc.

    @Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Very true. Very true.

    @unwinder – I would disagree somewhat. Chess is great for building up logic centers and teaching abstract concepts, but I don’t know if it would target the same areas of the brain that boardgames with lots of modifiers would. Chess variations might do better, but they still target the planning and strategizing parts of our brains, as opposed to the sections that deal with implementation of lots of set rules. I can see how it would help with the frameworking of a combat. Visualizing the combat as a chess board and understanding that you need to make the best use of your pieces.

  14. Tabulazero
    Tabulazero says:

    I would strongly recommend that you play A Game of Throne (the boardgame by FFG) if you play a campain where diplomacy & politics are very important.

    This is an amazing game in itself that not only relates very well the atmosphere but gives you a very good experience of what dealing in high politics in a medieval world must have felt like. It is even better if you play with opponents that actually roleplay their characters.

    What makes a Game of Throne such a fantastic game is that you cannot win alone. You need to build alliances for that but of course in the end there can only be one winner… which makes thing very interesting.

    Go and buy it if it is not in your game library by now.

  15. Razjah
    Razjah says:

    @John Arcadian- With Christmas coming up, you could try getting the starter kits for the holidays. The 40k starter is Assault on Black Reach, and the battle forces to start are $90. The costs seem a lot but it think about how much we can drop on D&D or WoD or any other game with a ton of supplements.

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