Board and Mind Games

I'm Board Games and Family Fun store
Photo by I'm Board Games and Family Fun

One study after another seems to reach the same conclusion—board and mind games have a rich bounty of benefits, whether you are 5 or 105 years old. Research has shown the cognitive benefits games have on children, adults, and senior citizens. This time-honored form of entertainment also has the rare ability to bring together people from different generations., the website linked to the venerable publisher of children’s educational literature, has laid out a litany of benefits for age-appropriate games geared toward the youngest members of society. The list includes giving children the opportunity to recognize, group, and count shapes.

Additionally, children’s games oftentimes give participants the ability to recognize letters and begin their foray into reading. Other benefits include visual perception and color recognition, and an opportunity to develop hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity.

Madison-based Playthings offers fun and educational activities for enthusiasts of all ages, including youngsters. Kelly Nigel, manager of the 32-year-old store, says she has witnessed a rise in youth-oriented games, particularly from a German-rooted company known as Haba, which has been credited with creating the games under the moniker of My Very First. “They’ve been bringing out games for two-, three-, and four-year-olds, as well as beginners. They have a really great line of kids’ games that have been doing very well. There’s definitely been a demand for them.”

Traditional board and mind games—the tried-and-true format that was popular decades ago—has withstood the forces of technology, though Kelly says there are a number of game options available that expand on the traditional method and incorporate interactive elements with the help of technology.

Photograph provided by I'm Board Games and Family Fun

Lory Aitken, co-owner of Pegasus Games in Madison for 37 years, says mind and board games have long been a great way of giving children an opportunity to learn without the “eat your vegetables” type of stigma that sometimes is attached to the practice.

Dungeons and Dragons, according to Lory, is a longtime staple that slips in such principles as problem solving, calculations, and statistics. “The lessons sort of just sneak right in. [Children] don’t even realize they’re learning.”

Beyond the good old-fashioned educational benefits, Lory says she frequently encourages children to partake in playing board and mind games because they instill important life lessons, including socialization and practicing the act of being a gracious loser when someone else finishes ahead.

For adults, board and mind games can help with cognition and mitigating the ravaging affects of cognitive loss. While memory-related issues oftentimes are associated with the senior-most members of society, organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) ardently point out board and mind games can help all adults maintain mental sharpness. According to the APA, studies have revealed people can begin losing cognitive skills as soon as their 20s.

“Games keep the brain flexible, and they help keep you challenged. It’s a great way to practice critical-thinking skills, and, for that matter, social niceties,” says Lory.

Photograph provided by Pegasus Games

For adults thinking board and mind games are only for children, Bryan Winter, owner of I’m Board, has a message: think again. Bryan’s Middleton-based store literally has thousands of games available under its roof, and he says with confidence there is something to suit every taste imaginable.

“There really is a game out there for everybody,” Bryan says. “There are many, many options out there, and it just keeps growing. Some are silly and social, while others are thinky and strategic.”

While the mainstays—Life, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly, Candy Land, and others—remain in-demand classics, Lory says board and mind games have evolved over time, which becomes vividly apparent within her shop.

“Games now are so much more challenging and interesting—and pretty,” Lory says. “They’re works of art, and they have a layered strategy.”

The local shopkeepers interviewed for this Madison Essentials’ article unanimously agree there has been resurgence in board and mind games, particularly in the past decade. This trend happens to coincide with the skyrocketing rise in technology via smartphones, social media, and other modern trends that were unheard of a generation ago.

“I think family game night has become popular again,” Kelly says. “Part of it, I guess, might be because of all the games that are out there. There have especially been some really good ones the past few years.”

Bryan, who launched I’m Board in 2010 in response to the rising interest in mind and board games, agrees the trend has become more widespread and branched off beyond the hobbyist niche that has long held the pastime in high reverence.

Photograph provided by Playthings

In a true demonstration of how intergenerational mind and board games can be, Lory says she has heard stories in her shop of grandparents playing games with their grandchildren. “It’s a chance to reduce the amount of screen time,” referring to all things electronic—laptops, smart devices, and all other items in between.

While mind and board games are frequently associated with shared experiences between family and friends, many of the area shops offer activity nights within their brick-and-mortar stores. At I’m Board, for instance, enthusiasts can meet with peers to play a particular game or try their hand at something new. Either way, Bryan says the shop’s library of games provides a robust number of options. “We have leagues, we have tournaments, and we have open gaming nights. This is a chance to experience a whole new type of social activity. Better yet, it’s something you can do again and again and again, and it never gets old.”

Whether it entails roll playing, Pokemon, or an occasional tournament, Lory says Pegasus has activities that run the full spectrum. “We tend to be a very busy shop. There’s something going on pretty much every day.”

As she sees it, Lory says she is more than happy to open up her shop to enthusiasts looking to share their experience with others. “I think the whole world would be a better place if children played games. Game playing is an example of what a blast you really can have with other people.”

Dave Fidlin is a freelance writer who has a special affinity for Madison. Dave’s career spans nearly 20 years, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to learn something new each day through his professional pursuits.

I’m Board! Games and Family Fun

6917 University Avenue
Middleton, WI 53562
(608) 831-6631

Pegasus Games

6640 Odana Road
Madison, WI 53719
(608) 833-4263


733 Hilldale Way
(Hilldale Shopping Center)
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 233-2124