Why Some Games Are Better When Old-School


For various reasons, I despise the game Apples to Apples. I can see the appeal though. But after refusing to participate in the last extended family’s 8-person game, I decided to take matters into my own hands. So I bought my 11-year-old cousin Settlers of Catan for Christmas.

I’ve been hooked on the iPhone version of this game, having only played the physical board game once. As I was trying to explain the rules (when I should have just played the video from the game’s website), trying to efficiently dole out resource cards, and trying to keep our game board pieces from shifting, I thought, “I much prefer the digital version of this game.”

But shuttling an iPad back and forth between players isn’t as much fun (though there’s nothing to clean up). When playing with real people, the physical interaction while trading cards is key – and a very deliberately “unplugged” experience. In fact, when first created by German game inventor Klaus Teuber, the game was most popular with “techies” and is now considered a favourite break activity throughout Silicon Valley, according to the Globe and Mail.

“Board” games are also a great way for kids to “unplug”, and while digital apps and electronic hybrid versions are becoming more widespread, there are reasons to stick to the old-school classics.

Other than subtly teaching the hard truths of capitalism, Monopoly has a lot to do with math. Physically interacting with Monopoly money and paper bills is a tactile experience where players can visually add and subtract for payments. When counting bills in stacks, it is easier to learn fractions, multiplication and division, especially when exchanging for larger bills with the bank. While digital versions might be fun for the game play, players lose out on rolling dice, counting spaces, physically adding up individual payments and mentally multiplying rent calculations. And of course, when players lay out their money, it’s easier to see who is winning.

Like Dominoes, Jenga is another tactile experience. Kids can learn the basics of physics, like balance and gravity, and if you really stretch it, stacking things neatly. While the iPad app by NaturalMotion has a good functionality for physics, there aren’t quite the same stakes in having to physically rebuild the tower after knocking it over. However, if you’re looking for a quiet game with limited space, the digital version on mute could be a viable option.

While digital Scrabble might be great for adults, I would argue that kids benefit more from the classic old-school board game, as long as adults are playing with them. Scrabble is a tricky one because kids are developing memory skills and learning to spell, so adults can correct and guide for words spelled with the right context. Digital versions might accept the word in another context, or other kid players might not know better. Scrabble is also tricky because kids have to learn about strategy if they want to win, and for this, Scrabble is great for learning addition and multiplication.

I’m throwing this one in, simply because finger versions have come up, not counting Twister Helper, which is meant to be used as a spinner. When properly played, kids can learn physical endurance, flexibility, problem-solving skills, colour matching, and left/right differentiation, which make it a great choice when playing with smaller children. Kids can also learn about appropriate touch and social etiquette (i.e. farting means that the game is over).

Related activities

Jigsaw Puzzles – While space and mess are certainly considerations for whether or not puzzles are welcome in your house, digital puzzles like this offer too many shortcuts for a full experience like hints, pre-sorting the edges, and solving where pieces go. From jigsaw puzzles in any form, kids can certainly benefit in learning how to sort pieces logically, problem-solve, analyze and sequence. With physical jigsaw puzzles, there is the added bonus of building hand-eye coordination and spatial skills.

LEGO / toy blocks – In a similar fashion, LEGO and toy blocks help to build hand-eye coordination and spatial skills. It’s a bit of a stretch, but one could argue that kids can learn about asset management when running into situations like, “There are no more red blocks of that size” and “No, I will not buy you more.”

Of course, there are some games like Trivial Pursuit, Family Feud, and You Don’t Know Jack (only digital) that are definitely better as digital versions, especially as content can be more easily updated. Treat such games as tools for literacy, reading comprehension, knowledge building and reflex improvement.

For kids, any experience is really a learning experience, so even the simplest games can teach skills like counting spaces, taking turns, and sportsmanship. Game play and enjoyment will correlate with the recommended age, but upgrade accordingly to keep your child (and yourself) challenged.





Image source: Division By Zero