Playtime may be a golden opportunity for study. Just as reading books you enjoy can boost your writing skills, playing board games with others may give you a better perspective on plot, fuel the drama of your next conflict, or instruct you in the finer points of misdirection. Have you ever played any of the board games listed below?
Betrayal at House on the Hill
This board game could be labelled: Plot Building 101. Designed as a simpler, introductory version of complex RPGs, Betrayal at House on the Hill incorporates features from beloved franchises like D&D without the need for a dedicated dungeon master to spend hours crafting an adventure. Characters come with a handful of individual stats for players to choose from, and the game literally builds itself as you play.
Pay close attention to how the story unfolds and how the game design keeps the tension high throughout. No one knows when the villain will appear, what secrets the next room holds, or if their character is equipped to escape. Part way through the game, everything changes, and although the characters still have the same goal, the stakes get much higher.
It’s all silly, family fun – until someone gets eaten by a cat.
Everyone loves a good mystery. Translating the tension and confusion of a who-done-it to your plot creates its own unique challenges, though. Clue, the classic mystery board game, is as useful for your fellow players’ approaches to problem-solving as it is for the actual layout.
Watch how other players approach the game. Do they take a lot of notes? Do they watch each other’s faces? Maybe they have a tell when they know something the accusing player doesn’t. Pay attention to how expert players discreetly mislead one another, and how a fresh player’s blunt approach to fact-finding can be turned against them.
The board game itself is also a great primer on false leads and staging a mystery. While many true crimes are committed by strangers with weapons and in places entirely unfamiliar to the victim, that isn’t why people read mysteries. They like to try guessing who the killer is, how they did the deed, etc. Clue is all about misdirecting other players so they don’t figure out what you know. This is, essentially, what you do to your readers, so play hard and master your poker face.
This game of kings and their courts has withstood the test of time like nothing else on this list. It takes practice to master the basics, and even after years of playing, there are tricks and strategies you’ve never even heard of. But how does any of this help writing?
It gifts writers two advantages. First, and most importantly, it hones critical thinking. If you ever want to write a convoluted court drama, design a war of wits between your own Sherlock and Moriarty, or simply sharpen your plot design, chess is the perfect mental exercise. Secondly, it opens a wide world of references from which stories, characters, and situations may draw. This may be a discussion of rooks and queens or a cleverly hidden pawn who wins a war.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
This game is listed because it’s the board game equivalent of Werewolf, also called Mafia, which is a game you can enjoy with simple playing cards. If you’ve never played this game, you’re missing out, and you should force everyone you know and love to play it at the next dinner party, game night, or cult session you attend. The game is simple, and from its fertile soil grew video games like Among Us. There are many versions of the game, but the simplest is this: there is a narrator, a murderer/werewolf/mafioso, and a lot of innocent townsfolk. At night, the murder kills. The murderer must lie during the daytime, when everyone has their eyes open and may vote out potential threats. It’s that simple, and that amazing.
If you are ever stuck on character development, don’t know how to create an original character, or don’t know how a true sociopath can lie their way out of a courtroom, just watch your fellow players. They will amaze you. You may even amaze yourself. This game transform people you know and trust into perfect vessels for fictional monsters. And the best writers steal, so feel free to hoard the ensuing drama for your next WIP.
What board games have helped you become a better writer? Have you ever watched a scene unfold you knew belonged in a book? What games do you recommend to other writers?