How Board Games Teach Children Basic Skills

Children learn through play. They learn about the sweetness of life’s lucky turns of fortune and the vast difficulties that rule the space in between. It seems every trial and every triumph of the human condition has its analog in Chutes and Ladders.

At a certain point in time hope is all you have. Unfairly sent back to the starting square soldiering on is the only option. The ascent up the ladder begins with the willingness to fall along preordained lines of force, picking up oneself unassisted at the bottom of the chute. When the dice are the middle of their flight there’s nothing more to do. Whether you’re going to move up or down there’s no interpolation anymore, just prayer. Pray as hard as you can as often as you can.

The game of Life teaches existence is not about the numbers attached to it. There is no reasonable calculus for life. Teachers make less than lawyers who in turn make less than criminals. It doesn’t matter. Play the game to its completion regardless if you’re some world-beater or if you’re just barely making it from square to square. Bravery is not limited to forging ahead in the face of unknowns; it’s best exemplified when you move ahead in the face of dire circumstances that you know and understand. Be bold but most of all be good.

Monopoly makes you thrifty. The property auctions make you cautious. Naked self-regard stands behind every action no matter how honeyed the offer. You can have anything you wanted but you can’t have everything. Every dollar you spend is fraught with a hidden opportunity cost. The winner of the game is the quiet one in the shadows. Put your head down when the impulses take over.  Landing on Boardwalk doesn’t mean you can pay the bill for buying it. Stand and face your financial woes. If you’ve got to pay your last seventy-five dollars for a luxury tax do the right thing. Empty your pockets when it’s called for, don’t rob the bank, and stick to a plan.

If you want to let someone slide for landing on Park Place, maybe, when fortune turns around, they’ll do the same for you. Just don’t expect it. Remember you started with 1,500 dollars like the rest of ’em. Don’t forget the luck that got you from here to there. Don’t forget the little people, even if they’re dogs or hats, that traded everything to make you to come up in the world. Don’t forget that this life, this game of games, is worth playing even if you don’t end up with a financial empire.

Sorry is the first lesson in ethics. It is the first chapter of our understanding of mercy and justice. You don’t punish the middle of the pack with. Equality of opportunity doesn’t enforce equality of outcome. That’s your job. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from offering a little dose of malice or spite. It’s okay to make it personal, but if you step on too many people on your way up you are likely to see them on the way back down.

Stratego makes one crafty. It makes one hard. To stare across that river and betray no vulnerabilities is a necessary prescription in modern life. The grassy battlefield contains many lessons. Put your bombs out front and center, but not around the heart of what you are, your flag. That you keep unguarded and let anyone through when they give their word. Believe in the promise that everything will work out. That is the only plan worth redacting. Neither spies nor scouts will save you from ugliness if you can’t yourself see beauty and love.