We all love games. Since we were small children, we all loved to play games. As we grow older, the passion for beating the opposition never goes away. It could be that we prefer physical games where our physical strength and mastery of technique win through or, perhaps, we may prefer games that make us think. Like all things, it’s going to be horses for courses.
If we all had great hand-eye coordination then we’d probably play golf or tennis; a big punch? Boxing. But we don’t all have that. For lots of people, thinking games are what get them excited. Outwitting an opponent using guile and skill and brainpower is good for us because it keeps our brains active – ‘adults who frequently engage in mentally stimulating activities are 62% less likely to develop dementia than those that rarely don such activities.’ This is the conclusion from a New England Journal of Medicine study.
So what games are out there that work to get us to exercise our brains properly? What games not only stimulate the little grey cells but also give us the excitement of beating our opponents? These days, of course, we have the choice of online and offline games. Let’s start with the offline games. Chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, all make us think, don’t they?
- Chess is probably the ultimate game of skill that, if you’re unlucky enough to be playing someone who is better than you, will mean that you will almost never beat them. There is no element of chance whatsoever. The better player will win. This doesn’t take away from the game, but if you’re a newbie then be prepared to be disappointed for quite a while.
- Scrabble – one of the most famous board games, which combines both skill and a small element of luck. Yes, great word power is a real plus, but if the letters you draw don’t add up to anything, then there is not much you can do. Get a seven-letter word on the first turn, and you have a good chance of winning the game. Over a series of games, however, the better player will win. The more you play, the better you will get – it just won’t take as much brainpower as Chess!
- Monopoly – surely everyone has played this at Christmas and been beaten by someone who seemed to have all the luck? Sadly, the winner at Monopoly is very often someone who has played many times before and has ‘worked it out’. Once you’ve worked the game out, you’re then up against the player who gets the roll of the dice better than you do. But who knows when that is going to happen? The traditional form of Monopoly is the perfect game to play with the family at any level.
Online is a different story. There are plenty of games that rely on how quickly you can shoot an assailant or steal a car, but they don’t really make you think, do they? They don’t generally require you to use your brain cognitively. There are a couple, however, that stand out.
- This War of Mine. Yes, it is a war game, but one with a difference. Instead of being the aggressor that has to shoot everyone that crosses your path, you’re tasked with leading a group of survivors by looking for items that might be of help, building heaters and the like to help your group to survive. War is always unpredictable and, likewise, This War is Mine, will throw up the realities of war in brutal fashion. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, a curved ball will wipe you all out. Just like real war, it’s not only the good people that survive. It will make you think in another way.
- Poker. Be honest, did you ever think, in those first few hands you played, that skill had anything to do with it? Did you ever realise that it would take quite a few thousand hands before you start to learn what the game was all about? Online? Yes, poker is one of the biggest online games there is, there are a whole range of different versions of the game that you can play in an instant on any platform. Like a lot of the games mentioned above, poker requires a huge element of skill. The players that have played enough hands will not only know all the rules but will have worked out what the relative chances they have with every hand they are dealt. To stand any chance you’ll have to spend a lot of time learning how to play poker, and practicing in real scenarios.
There are two great quotes from observers and players that sum up this question of luck versus skill. Phil Hellmuth, who is an eleven times World Series of Poker (WSOP) winner once said, ‘If it weren’t for luck, I’d win every time‘. Thereby suggesting that as a top player, he is only beaten by lesser players when they were lucky. Likewise, David Slansky, the poker writer and commentator said the following, which reinforces Hellmuth’s comment. He said that the top poker players are ‘at war with luck. They use their skills to minimize luck as much as possible.’
We always like to think that we won the game because we out-thought our opponent. In physical games at the highest level, we see this happen time and time again, The team that exploits an opponents weaknesses and their own strengths can often outwit the better team. The same can happen in a game where we have to think about every move. The trick is to make sure your opposition is in your league rather than two or three above. Chess might be the ultimate game of skill, but against a Grand Master, we will never win a game. Online poker allows the opportunity to practice the game over and over again at very small cost as we begin to understand how it works. Remember poker player Phil Hellmuth’s words and apply it to your next game of Scrabble; ‘If it weren’t for luck, I’d win every time.’ If you’re the better player, you’ll win the series.