You have traded sheep for wood in Catan. You’ve been betrayed at the house on the hill. You’ve uttered phrases that would shatter the minds of insult comics during  Cards Against Humanity. Board games are absorbing, engaging, hilarious fun.

In addition, new research suggests that your board gaming habit also does wonderful things for your brain! Board games improve logical thinking, make you better learners, and decrease your probability of developing dementia and even Alzheimer’s!

Let’s start with the research that should give you a warm fuzzy every time you sit down to play Risk for the rest of your life: Playing board games has been found to decrease the likelihood that you will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s. The source of this information is not a self-serving anecdote from Bob at the game store about how his grandpa played Monopoly and drank a pint of whiskey and milk every night, lived to 103, and was sharp as a tack at the end. No, our source is the distinguished poindexters over at The New England Journal of Medicine. In 2003, they published a study linking the playing of board games to the decreased incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The study looked at 469 subjects aged 75 years or older, and asked them to identify their leisure activities. Over the next 5.1 years, sadly, 124 of them developed dementia, including 61 with Alzheimer’s. However, the study conclusively showed that subjects that played board games were less likely to develop dementia.

But wait! There’s more.


Hegagonal chess will destroy your mind! Image is in the public domain.

The grandfather of all board games, chess, has been linked to higher math scores on standardized tests.

During the 2008 and 2009 school year, a pair of researchers conducted a study on 31 special needs students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Sixteen of the kids were given the usual math instruction. The other 15 were given math instruction and a 30-week chess training program. At the end of the year, the students who participated in the chess program were found to have higher standardized test scores and math grades than those who didn’t.

This is particularly encouraging given that the participating students had special needs. If playing chess can help kids who have trouble learning do better, imagine what it could do for Joe Average.

Then there’s Clue.

Clue is ubiquitous. In the game, Mr. Boddy has been murdered at his mansion, and it is up to players to figure out who did it, in what room, and with what weapon. The game appears simple, with players moving about the board making guesses as to where, who and what did the killing, and narrowing the list of suspects as they go. It is so straightforward that 8 year-olds can play it without breaking a mental sweat.

Yet for all its apparent simplicity, Clue contains vast depths.

Clue is actually a logic game of staggering complexity. So much so that students at Gettysburg College to practice AI-creation. In, “Clue Deduction: Professor Plum Teaches Logic” a group of professors asked students to create an AI which could solve a game of Clue. The paper includes a summary of the syntax and propositional logic contained within the game of Clue. Syntax and propositional logic apparently looks like this:

Are we going to the moon? Image courtesy Neller, Markov, & Russel.

By the end of the research, student-created programs were actually able to beat the expert-level computer player in Atari’s Clue: Murder at Boddy Mansion.

When you sit down to play Clue, you are not just indulging in a good time by solving a fictional murder. You are also training your brain in logic.

After looking over the literature of games and their benefits, the field seems ripe for further research. Does playing Axis & Allies improve standardized test scores? Does Tsuro make you a safer driver? While research has been done on a game-by-game basis, there is no underlying theory. It would appear to be an area in which research is waiting to be done.

Do you feel smarter thanks to board games? Let us know below!

Feature image courtesy Clue/Parker Brother