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Board games can offer many benefits for families

From learning new skills to spending quality time with family, board games come with many benefits.

CBS News recently reported on a study performed by the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers observed senior citizens over a 20-year period to see if they developed dementia. Throughout the study, they had their participants engage in mental activities such as board games and crossword puzzles.

The study discovered that not only was dementia reduced among those who took part in the mental activities, but also those who engage in mental activities are less likely to develop dementia. One activity once a week reduced the risk of dementia by 7 percent. Risk reduction increased to 63 percent for those who participated more frequently.

Tom Vasel is the president of The Dice Tower, a site containing reviews and podcasts for board and card games. Vasel believes there are very few mental skills that can't be taught through board games.

"It's not a coincidence that the majority of board gamers are teachers, scientists and engineers," Vasel said. "Board games make you think, and thinking is something that increases your level of intelligence."

Vasel listed many benefits of board games for kids, including the importance of learning how to lose.

"Many kids these days expect to be given anything they ask for," Vasel said. "When a kid loses in a board game against multiple players where there can only be one winner, they are able to experience the feeling of losing and how to deal with it."

The opposite of losing is winning, where many other skills come into play.

"Board games have you think logistically and cognitively as well as strategizing," Vasel said. "If you want to win a game, you have to think and plan ahead in order to be the winner in the end. There are also games where players work together as a team, which allows everyone to win through some negotiation and decision-making."

Michael Mindes, founder of Tasty Minstrel Games, shared additional benefits kids can receive when playing board games.

"Board games are great for learning about ideas, interactions and the connectivity of life," Mindes said. "What I mean by connectivity is that one action or choice can affect many other things. For example, the kids that choose to have fun while playing board games will have a greater chance at winning the game."

Kids also develop important learning skills from board games, skills many teachers are taking advantage of. A 2010 article in the Washington Post talks about teachers finding ways to include board games in their lesson plans.

"As a former teacher, I taught many seminars on how to use board games in classrooms because there are so many possibilities for kids to develop necessary skills from board games," Vasel said. "There are board games specifically created to teach skills in math, science and even to learn a new language."

Board games allow families to spend quality time together, which is proving to be more difficult in today's landscape of ubiquitous technology.

"Many families are into technological games played on the Wii or Xbox, but those games really don't bring the family closer together the same way board games are able to," Vasel said. "Their focus is on the screen, whereas in board games, their focus is usually on each other. More communication goes on in board games as well in order to accomplish whatever the objective is."

Added Mindes: "We live in a world with lots of distractions for both parents and children. If there is something family members can do together while being its own distraction in some sense, that can be good. Think about how much more interaction and fun there is while playing a board game as opposed to watching yet another movie."

There are numerous board game options that allow for kids and adults of all ages to play together.

"Because different skill levels from different ages are able to play together, it allows parents to learn more about their kids and kids to learn more about their parents," Vasel said. "The interaction that comes from playing board games allows this to be possible."

Parents can benefit from board games just as much as kids, Mindes said. "In addition to a game being fun, parents can learn along with their kids. This will help parents to improve their relationships with their children."

Certain board games can teach specific skills, such as The Settlers of Catan, which encourages negotiation among the players settling an island. In Pandemic, a disease-fighting game, teamwork is crucial. There are also board games where themes come into play, such as a cop theme in Police Precinct and a firefighter theme in Flash Point: Fire Rescue.

Vasel has a theory why cooperative board games have become so popular.

"Many people don't like competition, so cooperative games allow them to work with others and instead of competing to win, they work together to accomplish a goal," he said.

When it comes to finding the perfect board games for your family, Vasel suggests considering imports and games made by smaller companies. One popular site where smaller companies share their ideas for board games is Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects.

Mindes is a profile user on Kickstarter. Over the past 25 years, he has spent the majority of his free time playing and creating games.

"I publish games not only because I love them, but also to help strengthen families," Mindes said.

Each year, the smaller companies learn how to make better board games for our ever-changing world.

"The classics are always fun, but when it comes to teaching life lessons and skills, today's board games are the way to go," said Vasel.

Kylie Lewis recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho, receiving a bachelor's degree in communications.