Do Board Games Make You Smarter?


We’ve had a lot of friends intimidated to play a few of our board games because they didn’t feel “smart” enough. That led to the question… does playing board games actually make you smarter? Can playing board games impact how “smart” someone is?

Well, just like exercising your body can make you more fit, the same thing happens with board games. Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities that challenge you also increase your mental capability.

So, do board games make you smarter? Board games make you smarter through improving critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They also enable you to become a better learner and have a positive impact on social skills and emotional intelligence.

While that’s the short answer, in this post we’ll look at what it means to be smart, and then we’ll dive into a few of the ways that playing board games can make you smarter.

What Does it Mean to be Smart?

To answer if board games make you smarter, we have to first figure out what it means to be smart. According to dictionary.com, smart (as an adjective) means:

quick or prompt in action; having or showing quick intelligence or ready mental capability; shrewd or sharp

Dictionary.com

And for further context, below are a few synonyms for the word “smart” that I found on Thesaurus.com:

  • brainy
  • bright
  • brilliant
  • resourceful
  • sharp

On the same site, I also found antonyms of smart:

  • clumsy
  • dull
  • lazy
  • foolish

Now that we have a good understanding of what it means to be smart, let’s talk about how and why playing board games can make you smarter.

How Does Playing Board Games Make You Smarter?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some board games that don’t take hardly any brainpower to play other than very simple mathematics like counting pips on a die.

But for the purpose of this post, I’m not addressing or referring to those kinds of board games. I’m talking about board games that challenge you from the very first page of the rule book to the fourth round when you’re strategizing the most efficient next action to take based on probability and the resources that you’re managing.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive into a few of the ways that playing board games makes you smarter.

1. Board Games Improve Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

Board games are both fun and a workout for your brain. My head hurt the first few times I played heavy strategy games (much like a muscle may hurt the first time you seriously exercise it). But, it’s because I was using cognitive functions I wouldn’t normally.

With modern board games, players are faced with many decisions and often times have to make tough choices. This forces players to think ahead and use logical reasoning. Furthermore, in many board games, players are managing resources, analyzing the effectiveness of various strategies, and using math skills.

All of this works to improve mental agility as it strengthens the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which then results in improved cognitive functions, making someone “smarter”.

2. Playing Board Games Makes You a Better Learner

The hobby of board gaming is unique in that you’re constantly learning new board games (if you’re an avid player). And studies show that there’s not a lot that’s better for your brain than learning something new. On top of that, learning board games can make you a better learner across the board. Let’s dive into the science behind it.

Myelin is the white matter of your brain that helps performance on several different tasks. And learning something new increases the density of your myelin. The denser your myelin becomes, the faster impulses can travel across the brain, and you become a quicker learner as a result.

So, there’s actually science behind the fact that playing board games makes you a better learner and smarter overall. This also explains why when first beginning to learn board games, it was difficult and gave me a headache. Now I can quickly learn a new game, most likely due to denser myelin that has been built up over time.

3. Board Games Improve Your Social Skills and Emotional Intelligence

Another way that board games can make you smarter is by helping you to improve your social skills and emotional intelligence. By playing board games, you learn how to engage and interact with others. In cooperative games, you work with others in order to achieve a shared goal, and you have to learn how to listen well along the way. All of this ends up improving the way you communicate and interact with others.

Furthermore, playing board games has a positive impact on emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is defined as:

The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Oxford

There are a lot of emotions that tend to arise during board games, and you have the opportunity to be aware of, control, and express your emotions. In competitive games, you will either lose or win. Navigating the emotions that come as a result of each of those scenarios can sometimes be difficult (especially for young gamers), but exercising this control will ultimately improve one’s emotional intelligence.

The other part of emotional intelligence is handling interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Taking time to understand and share the feelings of another player is key to having fun when playing a cooperative game. You also have the opportunity to exercise good judgment and common sense with fellow board game players.

Exercise Your Brain Through Board Games

I think there are several activities that help us to improve our mental capacity and increase our intelligence, and playing board games is definitely one of those activities.

As I reflect on my journey through board games, I can say that it’s definitely made me feel sharper and more bright (smarter). Playing board games has helped me fight the tendency to just scroll on my phone and consume TV shows—which usually leave me feeling more dull and lazy rather than smarter.

To recap, board games make you smarter through helping you improve your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They enable you to become a better learner and also have a positive impact on social skills and emotional intelligence. So go out and exercise your brain today by playing a board game—you won’t regret it!

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