12 Important Life Lessons Learned from Board Games


Playing board games requires all participants to follow a set of rules and race toward a desired outcome.  Some games are cooperative where everyone works together, but most games are of a competitive nature.  Regardless of the games design there are a number of life lessons that can be learned, and taught, while playing board games.  Regardless of your age and stage these lessons can still be discovered and applied.  And most importantly parents and teachers can, and should, use these life lessons to teach younger generations the importance of character, perseverance, teamwork, and more. 

Decisions Have Consequences

The first lesson is that our decisions have consequences.  Almost any strategy game will make this lesson clear.  I think that the game of Life, a less strategic game, also makes this clear to younger kids too.  At the beginning of the game you get to choose how you will approach your life with either a college degree or not.  If you choose to go to college you must also choose to accept a $100,000 loan that will need to be paid off.  Most of the college careers make this a risk worth taking.

This early on decision could make you a doctor which has a $100,000 payday or a teacher who earns a $40,000 payday, but they both have to pay back the same student loan.  Meanwhile the Entertainer workforce career pays $50,000 and doesn’t require a student loan.

In the real world, unlike the game, we can all choose what career we want to pursue.  Nevertheless the lesson that decisions have consequences is readily teachable throughout the entire game. 

All of the college career cards have different payday amounts, as do the workforce career cards.  This leads to the next lesson.

Life Isn’t Fair

Unless you live a truly live blessed life this lesson is relevant to everyone.  As a rule we think of fairness in terms of wealth.  Some people are poor, others are rich, and most people are somewhere in the middle.  Money does seem to make our differences more noticeable because it is obvious by the car you drive, the house you live in, and the clothes you wear.

But the Life Isn’t Fair lesson is true with regard to health, happiness, and love too.  Money cannot buy these things and some of the wealthiest people in the world are unhealthy, depressed, and unlucky at love.  The true lesson here is that comparing ourselves to others will almost always make us feel inadequate.  This is particularly true in a world where Social Media allows everyone to display an almost perfect persona.  It is just best to understand and accept that life isn’t fair and continue moving forward being the best you that you can be.

However, choosing to improve your self is always good and this leads to our next two lessons.

Don’t Give Up

Keep and pursue whatever dreams and ambitions that you have.  On the other hand being content is also an admirable quality.

One evening my wife and I were watching an episode of The Amazing Race.  One couple was floundering around lost and in last place.  Of course there was another couple ahead of them struggling to find their way too, but they didn’t know that.

I can’t remember what the task was, but I do know that they were in a beautiful European city with many sites available to be seen.  The reason I know this is because my wife said that they should just give up and start taking in the sites. 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Give up!  NEVER!  If you get a chance to be on The Amazing Race you can’t give up.  Anything can happen as long as you stay in the game.  We had a spirited conversation for the remainder of the show.  Each of us explaining our personal views until I finally came to the conclusion that my wife could never be my partner on The Amazing Race.

Later I realized that my wife is a person who finds contentment in whatever circumstance, and that is great thing.  But I’m a dreamer.  If you are a dreamer too, then don’t ever give up on your dreams.

The Straight Outta Australia RISK story provides an excellent board game analogy for never giving up.

If at First You Don’t Succeed then Try Again

Our game nights would last until the early morning.  The reason we couldn’t stop playing was because losing just wasn’t acceptable.  Waiting all week for our game night and only playing one game, that four of us lost, would be a terrible experience.

We kept playing because we wanted to win.  It is the essence of “If at first you don’t succeed then try again.” 

What if college didn’t work the first time?  What if you struggle with sobriety?  What if your first marriage ended in divorce?  What if life just isn’t going the way you want it to? 

  1. Don’t Give Up
  2. Regroup and Try Again

Big Brother and Survivor are two other reality TV shows that I enjoy.  Nicole Franzel and Boston Rob Mariano are two respective winners of these shows.  They each have a similar story in that each of them dreamed of an opportunity to play on their chosen reality show AND THEY LOST.  But that is not the end of their stories.  Each of them had an opportunity to play again.  The second time around THEY WON.

These are excellent examples of perseverance and also lead to the next lesson.

Practice Makes Perfect

In the process of never giving up and trying again you are gaining much valuable experience in the form of practice.  This experience teaches you small lessons that will eventually lead to success.

Some games have a rule that penalizes a player for failing to pay attention.  In Sequence if you fail to redraw a card before the next player starts their turn then it’s too late.  The more you play Sequence the less likely you are to make this error.

Let’s take this a step further.  In Settlers of Catan if your number is rolled and you fail to collect your element that you will miss out.  This often happens with beginner players or when you don’t play frequently.  The unique thing about Settlers is that missing just one element could end up costing you the game.  However, the more you play, the better you get, and the more likely you are to eventually play a perfect game of Settlers.

These lessons are particularly relevant to learning Algebra, learning how to drive, and pursuing a hobby in photography.

Many of the lessons to this point comprise our next “Big Lesson.”

Never Lose Sight of the Big Picture

Are you a BIG dreamer?  Do you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or President?  Do you want to get an athletic scholarship? 

None of these things just happen.  In order to accomplish these BIG goals you need to make a series of good decisions, never give up, and keep working (or practicing) toward your accomplishment.

The day after you make a choice to pursue your dream it’s easy to be motivated.  The next day it will be a little more difficult.  But big dreams are achieved with hard work, sacrifice, and a long-term focus.

In RISK your ultimate goal is to take over the entire world.  Sometimes you may have to take one step backwards in order to go two step forwards and this is okay.  You can’t expect to never be under attack in a truly competitive game of RISK.  As a matter of fact the better you are the more obstacles you will face, but as long as you don’t lose sight of the Big Picture you will be fine.    

Now that we learned a lesson by totally dominating in RISK let’s do a 180 and learn our next lesson.

It’s Better to Give than Receive

Every year during the holidays this is the lesson we teach to our children.  It a world where it is “easy come, easy go” there never seems to be enough to satisfy.  So the antidote to this greed is generosity.

If you ever find yourself in a game of Settlers of Catan where you just can’t get anything going then remember this lesson and start taking trades that others are offering.

This strategy can certainly jump start your struggling game.  I have even heard some people explain that this is their sole strategy to playing and winning Settlers of Catan.  By freely giving you are letting others dictate the game and you aren’t struggling for anything in particular.  When this happens you give and then you get a road, or a development card, or a settlement.  The next thing you know your game has organically developed through a strategy of generosity.

In life we all have struggles, but it is also true that you get what you give.  The more you smile the more people smile back.  Using words of encouragement rarely leads to arguments and fights.  Be respectful of others and they will respect you.

All of this kindness and generosity transitions to our next life lesson.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Game Night Bros was birthed from a small group Bible Study.  We were able to evaluate the success of small group time, and our game night time, if we accomplished to things.

  1. Have Fun and
  2. Love Jesus

If we were able to leave our time together and determine that these two things happened then we had a good night.  This meant that winning and losing wasn’t the most important thing.  Don’t take the game and yourself so serious that you fail to have fun and care about other people in your life.

The application to this life lesson is to live in the moment.  As you pursue your goals and dreams don’t shut everyone else, who is important in your life, out.  Additionally don’t let every set-back turn your life upside down.  Maintain balance and enjoy whatever journey you’re on.

“Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This”

Did you ever set-up a Settlers game where you had an 8 on wood and a 9 on brick and you couldn’t build a road to save your life?  The 8’s and the 9’s just weren’t getting rolled.  Then as soon as they did get rolled your opponents put the robber on you and stole the one and only wood that you finally collected.

If you play Settlers of Catan long enough you will have this experience, and someday, in life, you’re going to wake up and think you should have just stayed in bed.  These days can be tough to get through, but it easier to get through a tough day if you expect it.  How do you expect it?  Listen to your Mama because she said there would be days like this.

So what do we do with the person who knew we couldn’t get a wood and as soon as we did they stole it and also put the robber on it too?  ANSWER – Nothing.

Never Hold a Grudge

If you hold a grudge during game night then you won’t be willing to barter with someone who could really help your next Settlers of Catan game.  A grudge in RISK would result in you making attacks that don’t benefit your overall game.

The life lesson here is obvious.  The only person who suffers when you hold a grudge…is you.  Don’t deny yourself happiness, peace, and joy because you want to punish someone else and refer back to a previous life lesson that it is better to give then to receive…and in this case give forgiveness.

Be Willing to Take a Chance 

Being cautious is commendable, particularly when it comes to providing safety and security for your family.  But sometimes playing it too safe isn’t good.  Be willing to be adventurous, be spontaneous, and take a risk.

Remember that our decisions do have consequences, but it is okay to take a risk every once in a while.  If things don’t work out you can just regroup and try again.  Why do you want to take a risk? – because they could lead to rewards, BIG REWARDS.

You don’t want to say “I should have taken that class” or “I shouldn’t have been afraid to ask her out” or “I wish I knew then what I know now.”  Life is full of decisions and sometime you just have to be willing to take a chance.

Cheaters May Win – But At What Cost

Remember life isn’t fair and because of that sometimes cheaters do win.  This isn’t the lesson.

The lesson is that losing to a cheater and being a person of character and integrity has greater long-term value then any short-term success.  Remember not to take yourself too seriously.

Cheaters usually take themselves very seriously.  They only care for themselves and are willing to trample on anyone for their own gain.  This is not a personality that would contribute to an enjoyable game night experience.

The cost of cheating is a poor reputation and loneliness.  Generally, these people find themselves uninvited from game nights, as well as other places.  Unfortunately their reputation proceeds them and no one wants to make any significant connection with them.  Their friendships are superficial at best.

Conclusion

There are many lessons that we can learn while playing board games.  These lessons were true yesterday, are true today, and will be true tomorrow.  Take some time and sit down at the kitchen table and find some teaching moments that can positively influence your kids for years to come.

41 thoughts on “12 Important Life Lessons Learned from Board Games

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