Board games for us older people: likes and dislikes

Photo of older man playing chess with a child of about 10. Both look happy
Chess is one of those board games for older people and children alike (Photo: http://www.stannah.co.nz)

Recently, I made a short questionnaire about board games for older adults: what you like and dislike about them. A few messages came through loud and clear.

A valiant 22 people completed it, spending an average time of 4 minutes each. Thank you so much! With such a tiny number we cannot extrapolate any generalised conclusions. I’d like to share a few of your comments and opinions anyway. They are certainly of interest to me. And they have alerted me to certain things that must be borne in mind when making a board game.

Please do comment on the findings! Then maybe we’ll find out which opinions about board games are exceptional and which are widely shared by others.

Q.1. What are the essential features of a good board game?

It’s original4
The box, board, cards etc look good and feel good8
The rules are clear17
Tactics and strategy are needed but there’s an element of luck12
You can play it again and again and it’s always different19
The game is easy to learn but hard to master10
It moves along at a reasonable pace15
  1. “You can play it again and again and it’s always different”: 19 of the valiant 22 agreed that this was essential to a good board game. (Otherwise the game was a waste of money, wasn’t it?)
  2. “The rules are clear”: 17 agreed that this was an essential feature. Interesting, because I know a few families (including mine) who change the rules of certain games at will. But fuzzy rules can be infuriating.
  3. “It moves along at a reasonable pace”: 15 people chose this as an essential feature. Fair enough, ay?

Some comments on essential features of board games

“There is often a story behind a good board game.”

“Not too complicated, but engaging and fun.”

“I like it to be over quite quickly, and or that you can stop at anytime rather than scoring to the first to reach 500 points etc. I really hate when a game drags on.”

“The games I play often involve words, so that’s especially appealing.”

Q.2. What do you enjoy when playing board games?

I like getting intensely involved in one activity5
I like handling the cards, dice, board and other pieces3
I like the social interaction, the mood, and the laughter20
I like solving imaginary problems8
I like the competition9
I like the challenge of making meaningful decisions7
I like imagining myself in a different world or situation or persona5
I like coping with disasters that are not real1
I like to forget about real life for a while9
I love winning3
  1. “I like the social interaction, the mood, and the laughter.” 20 of our 22 respondents selected this as one of their answers. Nothing else came close.
  2. Two different answers got 9 votes: “I like the competition” and “I like to forget about real life for a while.”
  3. Close behind came “I like solving imaginary problems” (8 votes) and “I like the challenge of making meaningful decisions.”

I’m curious that 9 people “like the competition” yet only one confessed to “I like winning.”

Some comments on what’s enjoyable about board games

“Feeling part of a story.”

“Playing against seriously competitive people when you’re not isn’t fun though. I prefer my game opponent to also be having fun and will “cheat” to help them if they’re not; a seriously competitive person won’t, and won’t understand why you might, or why you might have more fun when things are even and you’re not watching someone suffering. In the best games you don’t actually know who’s losing or winning until the end.”

“My sister takes Bananagrams with her when she’s staying with people so they can play a game together and not feel obliged to constantly keep making conversation.”

“I’m not at all competitive, so people who must win hate playing with me. I enjoy the process and strategising.”

“Board games seem to provide a stellar opportunity to connect with others. A certain competitiveness is desired, but not cutthroat competitiveness.”

“Winning is a part of the draw but I like less competition and more of the learning about how to win how others win and maybe new facts along the way.”

Q.3. How old are you?

I was looking for “older” people who play board games and here’s who responded!

49 or younger3
– 50-5914
– 60-699
– 70-794
– 80-892

Q.4. How do you feel when playing board games?

I think I generally feel excited and frivolous when playing board games. Our small survey revealed that feeling relaxed or competitive (or both) was more common. But it’s good to remember that some people will also be feeling shy or annoyed or anxious or cautious. How about you?

intense5
happy5
excited8
relaxed13
competitive10
frivolous6
anxious5
shy3
annoyed3
cautious1

Some comments about feelings

The questions asked for comments about how they felt about board games, but everyone commented on the social side! And playing with family. My deduction, justified or not: the social experience of board games is so important it just kept coming up again and again, even in this tiny survey.

“Like to be entertaining others e.g. grandchildren.”

“I have loved teaching my 5-year-old grandson to play Uno, including the thinking and strategic aspects. We played with open hands and discussed every move. I felt happy. But when keen competitive board game players suggest a game you can be sure they just want to win, so they can feel superior.”

“I love playing games with my adult children. We’ve played board and card games together since they were tiny. We enjoy competitive and cooperative games but the best thing is the togetherness.”

“I play to be social.”

What annoys you about some board games or makes it difficult for you to play?

When the text on cards or rules or board is hard to read11
When things like dice or figurines or tiles are hard to handle3
When the game goes too fast for me2
When people are shouting at the same time10
When colours are hard to distinguish3
When winning depends on remembering stuff8
When art work is too subtle so I don’t pick up clues1
When a game goes on longer than half an hour5
When a game involves hurting or cheating other players16
  1. “When a game involves hurting or cheating other players.” 16 people are annoyed by this.
  2. A whopping 50% agreed that this annoyed them or made it hard to play: “When the text on cards or rules or board is hard to read.” I agree with them: I immediately prefer games with clear, legible text.
  3. Close behind came: “When people are shouting at the same time.”
  4. “When winning depends on remembering stuff.” That annoys or is difficult for 8 of our 22 respondents.

I find these answers particularly interesting. They give a hint of some factors that may really be a little different for older people. Or not—who knows?

First, a large proportion of successful board games involve hurting or cheating other players. Do we get kinder and less competitive as we get older? I have no idea. Have you noticed any changes in your own attitude? Maybe the mention of grandchildren is a clue. Playing with friends at any age can bring out my killer instinct. By contrast, young grandchildren must be treated kindly and helped and cunningly enabled to win, at least sometimes. But with adult grandchildren, no mercy.

Second, I’m noticing that items 2, 3 and 4 all put older board-game players at a disadvantage. Speaking for myself at 81, I’ve got problems with eyesight, hearing, and short-term memory. And that’s pretty common. I guess this influences my choice of board game. How about you?

Some comments about what’s annoying or difficult about certain board games

Older board game players had more to say about what they did not like than about any other topic. Strong opinions and plenty of them!

“Games with too complicated rules.”

“Games that take up too much room or are too bulky are harder to travel with.”

“When early on one person is clearly winning, and the losers stop having fun.”

“When there’s too much luck involved.”

“Not unfair in the luck department. For instance when we played Monopoly as kids my dad started dividing up the property at the beginning of the game — still random, and still some were better, but less likely to be totally unfair.”

“Also hate ones that stop you when you’re just starting to have real fun, or ones that require complicated scoring — especially at the end. The best games can mix abilities/ages and everyone can still have fun.”

“Our family regularly changes rules of games to make them more fun. I’m a freelance editor and was once hired to test a new game, and two friends and I spent ages playing the game and not just proofreading the rules but rewriting them. The game was much better when we’d finished!”

“I used to play a lot of cards and was staggered to find so many of the books of rules (pre-internet days) were incomprehensible or didn’t have enough detail.”

“I’d rather talk with another person than admire how his brain works.”

“When there isn’t a comfortable place to sit.”

“When the rules are too complicated or worse still not clear or are open to different interpretations.”

“When there are too many pieces, then I don’t like getting the game out and cleaning it all up afterwards.”

My (purely personal) conclusions about the board game survey

Again, big thank you to the 22 (mainly) older board game players who did this tiny survey! You have got my brain churning nicely. You have, I hope, stimulated other readers to tell us what they like and dislike in a board game.

I’m guessing that for many other older players, the following may be true.

  • You like a game with clear rules that moves along at a reasonable pace, and that you can play again and again.
  • The pleasure of board games arises primarily from the social interaction, the mood and the laughter.
  • Most of you feel happy and relaxed when playing board games.
  • You don’t like games that involve cheating or hurting others.
  • Nearly half of you feel competitive but only three say you love winning.
  • Some of you strongly dislike playing with people who are “cut-throat competitive”.
  • You want games to be accessible and legible. Difficulties with your eyesight, hearing and memory can make a game annoying or difficult.
  • You like playing with family including grandchildren.

What do you like and dislike about board games?

Lots of us will be playing a board game over the holidays. For some, it’s the only time of year it happens. I totally agree that these games are a happy way to be sociable without having to “make conversation”— and that’s never more needed than in once-a-year family gatherings.

Where do you stand? How do you fit? And what did I forget to ask?

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13 thoughts on “Board games for us older people: likes and dislikes

  1. judithhb says:

    Interesting.

  2. Humour in a board game is good. I have a game called The Garden Game which is set out a bit like Monopoly, but your compost heap can spontaneously combust or you can end up in hospital after standing on a rake. You collect seed packets to plant your garden on little wooden boards. I used to play it with my teenage nieces, one of whom would remind us: “A good game is a fast game” if we were slow making a move. She was right.

  3. Cathy Cade says:

    My kids like playing board games at Christmas. I’ve always loved Cluedo, but I’m the only one 🙁 I used to not let on when I knew the answer and try to manipulate guesses so that my youngest could guess whodunnit. (She never did though.)

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Endless permutations! Do games bring out the best or the worst in us? I think it depends on who we are playing with

  4. Cathy Cade says:

    the kids loved Monopoly and something similar called Hotel. It kept them out of my hair for hours!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Good point.

  5. LA says:

    I love board games…my family had game night the other day

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It can be a truly cross-generational play thing

      1. LA says:

        Exactly! We have so much fun

  6. I love this survey Rachel! My family has always been a lover of board games – and quite vocal when they don’t like one. For several years we enjoyed playing the board game Pandemic because teams played against the game to stop the outbreak. But given the real-life dilemma of the past 2 years, we’ve gone off this game – it hits way too close to home!

    James and I want to wish you all the best in the New Year! ~Terri

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hello Terri and James! Happy new year to you too. “Pandemic has grown from curiosity to cathartic release,” NamaJeromi wrote in the New Yorker in June 2020. I’ve never played it but hope to at our family reunion next week. Board games in general are surging in the real pandemic I believe– but to avoid that particular game is totally understandable.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I (69 yr old) just played Battleship and Scrabble with my husband (65). Made my head hurt but I loved it! We try and play games when we go over to my son’s house too. Keep it moving!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m about to leave town for our family reunion and sister-holiday. I have squeezed a pack of Uno cards into my bag.

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