Why we must encourage everyone to play more games – an important article by Roger Martin of Coiledspring Games

I came across a great article in the guide to UK Games Expo. In fact I would say it is an important article and links very well to the PIP Campaign being promoted on the Seizeyour website (see previous post).

Have a read and let me have your thoughts…

Why we must encourage everyone to play more games.

I recently got together with a group of old school friends.  They aren’t ‘traditional’ gamers but I thought it’d be fun to try out the new cooperative game from Matt Leacock –  ‘Forbidden Island’.

As I was reading out the rules, one of the guys, Richard, said ‘you’ve got to be a pretty sad kind of person to make up this kind of game.  Hasn’t he got more exciting things to do with his time?’.  I immediately leapt to Matt Leacock’s and all other games designers defence. An outrageous comment.  After a forthright discussion, we continued the game.

Reflecting later on this event, made me realise the size of the challenge we have to change the perception of games and gaming in the UK.  Richard is a highly intelligent, successful man.  He runs his own language school and is a qualified wind-surfing instructor.  Why does he have such a poor perception of games, gaming and gamers?

And I don’t think he’s alone.  It’s difficult to estimate how many people play which games across the world but one fact is illuminating.  Essenspiel, the German games expo, has almost 200,000 visitors.  France’s ‘Festival des Jeux’ in Cannes attracts 20,000.  UK Games Expo, the nearest we have to Essenspiel, has 2,000.

In pure market share terms,  the board game market, as a total of the toys and games market  was  5 per cent in Great Britain, 13 per cent in Germany and 11.8 per cent in France (all figures NPD Group inc, first half 2009). Europeans buy more games, play more games, enjoy more games than us.

Why the difference and is it important?

Part of the problem is the perception games have in the British psyche.

When I meet new people and tell them I work in the board games industry, the usual reaction is ‘my family love playing games’.  If I ask them which games, then the usual suspects appear: Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit.  Sometimes TV-tie-ins such as ‘Deal Or No Deal’ or ‘Goldenballs’.  If they say they’re really into games they’ll mention RISK (before admitting that they haven’t played it since university).

I’ve a great many friends who live in Germany.  When I ask them which games they enjoy, they tend to be non-specific. They’ll say ‘strategy games’, ‘tile-laying games’ , resource gathering games’, ‘abstract games’.  They’ll then reel off their current favourite Top 10.

The games advertised on British TV are either TV tie-ins or established favourites. In Germany new games are reviewed in newspapers in the same way as console games or new books are over here.

Most people in the UK don’t have any idea of the  exciting variety and range of games that are out there.

We ran a demonstration of Quoridor our amazing maze game at Fenwick of Brent Cross in the month before Christmas.  It’s a simple wooden strategy game. The rules take seconds to explain (move your pawn or place a fence. The winner is the first to the other side).  During the demonstration the most striking thing for me was the fear that adults had of the game.  They would take one look at say ‘it’s too complicated’, ‘I’d have to use my brain to play it’.  The underlying feeling from them was: if I try to play this game and I can’t then I’d be made to look foolish and I don’t want to take the risk’.  Trying out the new game would take them out of their comfort zone.  The adults’ reaction was in stark contrast to the kids’ reaction.  Once challenged ‘I bet you can’t beat me’, 99% of the kids were up for the challenge and gave it a go.

If the opportunity is provided for kids to play, they will rise to the challenge.

Another part of the problem is public perception.  Best-selling games tend to be TV tie ins such as Deal or No Deal, Jasper Carrot’s Goldenballs or licensed characters such as Doctor Who or Bob the Builder. Unfortunately, the game’s manufacturer often has to spend so much money acquiring the license and marketing the game that they haven’t been able to invest in developing a good game.  It’s usually a predictable race around a board, collecting items and rolling dice.  These types of games can colour a players’ perception of playing games. TV tie-ins and licensed games are fine as a little light amusement but not the kind of thing to get ones heart racing and brain working.

But why should we be concerned with widening the involvement and enjoyment of playing games in Britain? Why not keep it a niche hobby? Does it matter that we lag way behind our continental neighbours?  I think it does.

Why playing games is important

Everybody at UK Games Expo will be aware of the enjoyment of playing games (intellectual challenge, healthy competition, sheer fun) but do we campaign strongly enough about the wider social benefits that ‘gaming’ gives?

Children who play games learn important social skills such as taking turns and fair play.  More significantly, they find out that losing is not the end of the world.  Persistence in the face of failure is a key life skill.  What counts is dusting yourself off and having another go.

Nigel Scarfe of Imagination Gaming is one of a group of inspirational people I’ve met since setting up Coiledspring Games.  Nigel has worked with 1000s of children.  He and his team go into schools and work with children from a wide variety of backgrounds evangelising about playing games.

I asked Nigel what the kids get out of his game playing sessions.  The first thing he said was ‘joy’.  ‘They try a new game, enjoy it and want to tell their friends. They have the thrill of a shared experience’.

Secondly  – a challenge.   Despite what people might say, it is about winning.  Kids don’t mind losing as long as they’ve had a good game.  As long as they feel it’s been fair and they’ve work hard.  One very useful tip for inspiring kids to play games is ‘avoid luck’.  Given that most kids games (snake and ladders, ludo) are pure dice rolling luck games it may seem counter intuitive to knock them, but kids find it difficult to understand the random nature of luck.  It undermines their planning and strategies and isn’t fair.  And fairness is very important to kids.  Skill based or tactical games give them the control of winning or losing.

Nigel also suggests talking through a game while playing, praising good moves and telling them why you’ve made a particular move.  This helps develop understanding.  Unlike adults, they like to learn and won’t feel patronised.

Thirdly, games spark imagination.  Kids aren’t lacking in imagination but TV and console games provide so much imagery that it can limit the child’s opportunity to develop their own.  Inspiring them to use their imagination while playing a game, thinking through future scenarios for some may seem daunting initially but as they get into it you can see them sparkle.  For example playing Dungeon and Dragons can open their eyes to a whole new world.  One that they can control.

Finally, children love the responsibility of saying I’ve got something new can I teach you.  Peer to peer learning and mentoring is quite a buzz in education circles but it really works with games.  They make a bond through helping other kids and teaching them.  This develops their social skills and ability to interact.   Nigel tells a fascinating story about bullies and the bullied.  His team went into a school and ran games session with both bullied and bullies together.  By encouraging them to play together they were laughing, became less defensive, less shy and less aggressive.  There was mutual respect and they were too busy playing the game and trying to win than worry about their image.

University of the third age

The importance of playing games isn’t just at the beginning of life.  We have a game Triolet.  It’s sometimes been called ‘Scrabble(r) with numbers’.  It’s simple to learn, and involves getting the highest score through placing number tiles on a board.  When we first distributed it, we thought it would appeal to parents and grandparents wanting to play it with their kids.  In reality we sold more copies to the over 60s than any other demographic.  We have teams of ‘University of the Third Age’ people playing it.  Helen Mitchell and her husband, both in their late 80’s play 3 times a day because they say ‘it keeps us young’.  Keeping your mind active in older age is especially vital.


Returning to my friend Richard, after being sternly chastised for his narrow focus, we continued the game while he sulked a bit.  As the game progressed, he was forced to interact on his turn.  He gradually thawed and by the end was as enthusiastic as everyone.  My newest convert…

[If you’d like to comment on this article then you can email me roger@coiledspring.co.uk and there’s more about our range of games at www.coiledspring.co.uk.

Nigel Scarfe and Imagination Gaming can be contacted at imagine1@blueyonder.co.uk and you can find out more at them at http://www.imaginationgaming.co.uk/

Top tips for newcomers:

-Start with a game whose rules take no more than 30 seconds to explain

-Preferably, start with games that you can being playing while explaining the rules

-Try to limit games to no more than 30 minutes.  With kids, 10 minutes is usually the maximum

-Don’t be afraid to change or ignore a rule if it makes it over complicated or gets in the way of your explanation.  You can always add it back if afterwards.

-Above all, make it fun!

Roger Martin

Coiledspring Games


8 thoughts on “Why we must encourage everyone to play more games – an important article by Roger Martin of Coiledspring Games”

  1. Fantastic article. I will repost if that’s OK?

    It really is amazing how people can judge board games so quickly. I was lucky and got distracted away from my ZX Spectrum by the TV advert for Hero Quest and BAM! I was hooked.

    Its a real shame that board games don’t get much coverage in the media any more.

    Will have to get Hero Quest out at the local pub! That will pull in a few punters / gamers.


  2. Interesting read. Having pursued a few niche hobbies / pastimes over the last 40-odd years I would observe that many of these groups are keen on evangelising / wondering why lots more people don’t join the hobby. Curiously the discussions are pretty much identical – for example I could subsitute the words “boardgames” and “fancy rats” with no problem at all!

    My other observation is that I’m not completely sold on the idea that the average German expresses an interest in the world of brettspiel. I have a good amount of contact with Germans in the real estate industry and of the 100s I have met only one has ever expressed any interest when I’ve mentioned boardgames while chatting after dinner. The rest think it is as odd as the English do! Maybe this is more of a comment about real estate professionals and investors, who knows!

    I think the playing of games with school kids is great and I have used boardgames where appropriate in our church Sunday School classes for years – the kids have always been entirely receptive.

    Keep up the great reporting Mark!


  3. Nice article, Roger.

    Have you seen the Dice Tower video on playing games with children? It makes similar points, and does it quite humorously at the same time:

    After Attending Nürnberg Toy Fair I made a committed to start playing games in public, to increase awareness. I was even going to call it Play in Public (Before I heard about the PiP campaign. We ultimately settled on calling it The Board Meeting. It will take place in a local cafe that is quiet in the evenings, and welcomes the idea of people playing games at this time. It’s a win-win.

    A big reason for doing it here in Northern Ireland, is two-fold:
    1) Introduce people to games that are not being picked up by local stores. And if they are, it is a specialty shop hidden away upstairs or down a dark laneway!
    2) Provide a social alternative to going to the pub. The Board Meeting will allow people to people can have a night out together, meet new people, and not end up with a hangover afterwards.

    We hope to attract many of the international students and families living in the area.
    We kick off next month, and will have a facebook page to go with it.




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