I’ve wanted a new board game since playing Carcassonne when we stayed with games guru friends a few years ago. I wanted something different to the old favourites such as Monopoly and Scrabble. On the advice of the friends we stayed with I decided on Settlers of Catan. Matt thoughtfully got it for me for my birthday this year, and I now get to spend my evenings getting thoroughly beaten at it by a five year old.
Board games have long been valued as a way of spending quality time together, talking, laughing, even arguing. Playing board games allows children and adults to practice cognitive skills such as problem solving and games are great at improving memory and reasoning. The effect on our brains is so profound that it has been found that adults who regularly play board games have reduced incidence of dementia and depression. When children are relaxed and having fun they are also more likely to learn new things, which is why games can be used so effectively to teach new skills. For example the boys’ Spanish teacher uses a variety of games to teach them, including Twister for colours and her own board game creations for all sorts of vocabulary.
Our new game, Catan, supports several important areas such as basic maths skills. With two dice in play the boys are getting fast at simple additions, and must work out when they are owed resource cards and how many of each resource is coming their way. They must also be able to understand the symbols for different resources and pay the correct number of each to build a settlement or a road. There is some literacy in reading some of the cards, but the game is very image-based so we can all play together despite different reading abilities. The game helps kids to understand and respect turn-taking, but since on each turn there is a chance that every player could collect resources there is not much chance to grow bored waiting. The game is not as long as something like Monopoly, but as with Monopoly we tend to limit it at an hour. This is long enough to foster the important skill of being able to focus and concentrate for a good period of time, but without it overrunning bed time by too much.
Settlers of Catan is a mixture of luck of the dice and strategy, plus the boys favourite bit – trading resources. Toby is amazing at the game, whether by luck or judgement I don’t know for sure, but it is a real confidence boost to him to do so well (without cheating, which he normally indulges in during every other game we attempt). For the rest of us, we get a chance to learn to be gracious in defeat. What are the favourite games in your house? Do please comment below and let me know!