Board games are one of the easiest ways to keep yourself entertained at home. After all, there’s something for everyone, like Apples to Apples and Guess Who for little ones, and strategic games for adults, like Battleship and Catan.
We spoke with avid board game player Matt Calkins, who is the founder and CEO of Appian (headquartered in McLean), about how to make the most out of game night, and what board games can teach you about life. Calkins was originally scheduled to head to the Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania to compete in the World Boardgaming Championships this summer (where he commonly places as a top competitor), but the event has been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did you first get involved with the World Boardgaming Championships?
I’ve been playing games since I was 2 years old. I’ve been designing them since I was a kid too. I’ve always loved games. When I moved to the DC area, it came to my attention that there was a local game convention that seemed like a really good one. If you’re familiar with games, you know a company called Avalon Hill, which was famous for making complicated games, detailed historical simulations, in the ’80s. It went out of business in the ’90s but before it did, it cultivated a local fan base of intense gamers based in Maryland. It used to run a competition called Avalon Con amongst these people. Then when it went out of business, that group of gamers got together to create the World Boardgaming Championships, which now draws people internationally.
Besides fun, what are the benefits of playing board games?
It’s a very emotional experience to lose and I’ve lost lots and lots of times at the tournament, so I really get a sense for the anatomy of a loss: the initial moves that would lead to it and then the risks and what can go wrong. I don’t remember wins for the most part. I don’t learn as many lessons from them as I do from the losses. Those are the ones that are actually the most educational. Games are an optimization experience and they teach you to achieve an objective through multiple means. Playing games opens your mind to alternative ways to seek an end. To enter yourself into an experience where you can’t prevail except for by earning it, I think it makes you stronger and better balanced.
Calkins’ 3 Tips for Game Night
• Three essentials: Friends, good lighting and light snacks
• Recommended games: Azul or Spendor for adults, and The Magic Labyrinth for kids
• Biggest piece of advice: “Try something familiar and something new. Learning new games is part of the fun, and then you can end the evening with a light, high-participation game like Liar’s Dice.”
This post originally appeared in our June/July 2020 print issue. For more at-home entertainment, subscribe to our Things to Do newsletter.