Hi! My name is Eleanor and I’m one half of @board_runner on Instagram. Me and my partner, Max, are both big fans of board games; since first getting seriously into the hobby at the start of 2021, we have accumulated a collection of over 100 games… 🙈 Both playing board games and posting about them on Instagram have had impacts on my mental health in a variety of ways, some of which I will talk about in this blog.
Over the past year, I have been studying for my Master’s qualification, a hugely stressful undertaking made more difficult by having to work remotely throughout the year. Towards the end of 2020, I had noticed a significant decrease in my mental health; I was spending my whole days at home, doing virtual lectures from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm and then not having the motivation to go out into the cold for any exercise or fresh air in the evenings. Max would come home from work feeling similarly, so we spent our evenings just sitting in bed hardly doing anything - it reached a point where we were hardly spending any quality time together at all, being together but not being present. This was exacerbated when Max started getting into computer gaming, a mostly solo activity that meant we were spending even less time with each other, much to my dismay.
Board gaming helped change that. As we started our collection in January, we suddenly had activities that we were excited about and could do together. We started with games like Love Letter and Forbidden Island, still firm favourites in our collection but both totally different from each other. Max is very much a researcher, so within weeks he had a list as long as his arm of games he wanted to buy because he’d seen YouTube videos about them or read an article somewhere and thought the game seemed cool. Thus our collection started to grow exponentially, adding more and more games at Max’s recommendation over the next few months.
As we played more, we started figuring out what types of games we both enjoy, which helped us make more informed decisions about what we wanted to buy and what games weren’t worth us spending money on. That brings me to a point that I spent a lot of time thinking about around that time - could we really justify spending this much money on board games?
The way I see it is that us buying board games was our way to invest in our wellbeing. After months of uncertainty and unhappiness, we had found something that we cared about and enjoyed and that was deserving of our money. It certainly helped that, being in full lockdown, we didn’t have much else to spend it on, other than necessities, which meant we could afford to plough lots of funds into this hobby. As lockdown has eased and been lifted completely, we no longer have the resources to be able to spend so much on board games, but we are lucky to be in the position that we are content with our collection as it is and don’t feel like we need to add much to it any more. I also consider the price per play when I buy games sometimes - it may sometimes seem expensive at first glance, but when you consider that it might cost the same as a night out with friends but you can experience it again and again, it suddenly seems like much more of a worthwhile investment!
As my degree continued into the spring, with more and more deadlines and stress coming my way, board gaming became a source of comfort. I remember at the start of one lecture, our tutor went around the (virtual) class and asked everyone to share something they were doing to support their wellbeing during lockdown. When it came to me, I told the class that, no matter what the deadline or how much work I had to do, I always made sure I had time to play a board game in the evening. For me, it was something I could look forward to after a hard day and it helped me keep motivated.
Board gaming has also become a kind of way to assess the state of my mental health. I have struggled with depression for a number of years now, something which definitely worsened during lockdown. I’ve found that some days I’ll be desperate to play games, while on other days I just can’t bring myself to play anything. This usually happens on my worst days; I know that if board gaming doesn’t appeal to me, I’m probably having a particularly low day. Of course, this is where the little voice in my head courtesy of anxiety kicks in - can I really call myself a board gamer if I don’t always want to play games?! Having reflected on this a great deal, I can confidently say that yes I can still call myself a board gamer; my mental health doesn’t have any bearing on the validity of my interests, and you certainly don’t have to play games every day to be able to consider yourself a board gamer.
Now that the government have deemed it acceptable to spend time with friends again, our board game collection has become a central part of our friendships. We have friends who message us and ask if they can come to our flat and play board games with us, even arranging game nights from time to time. What’s been even better has been finding board game friends through social media - we are incredibly lucky to be part of a thriving Instagram community of gamers around the UK who we have been able to meet up with and share a love of board games together. Some people who I would consider to be some of our best friends now are people who we met through board gaming. We have thoroughly enjoyed spending days playing board games with friends, whether in big groups or small.
That’s something I love most about this hobby; by its very nature as a social activity, it brings people together. It’s something that has made me value this hobby even more - with lockdown becoming a time where I moved away from all of my own friends and moved to a totally new city, alongside studying remotely, I had found myself in a place where I felt I had no friends of my own and had started to feel very lonely. All the friends we spent time with in Southampton were Max’s originally, and while they had all been very welcoming and friendly, I still found myself feeling that they weren’t really /my/ friends. I’m an extroverted person who loves spending time in social situations, so lockdown was terrible because suddenly I couldn’t spend time with friends, something I missed dearly.
Board gaming allowed Max and I to forge friendships with new people together, making these people feel more like /our/ friends rather than friendships that I had been tagged onto. I can’t express just how thankful I am that, as a result of our Instagram account dedicated to board games, we have been able to make new friendships happen. It certainly helped lift me out of the dark place I was in for a while.
One of our recent favourite games for when we’re socialising with big groups is Muffin Time, from Big Potato Games. It’s light-hearted with very few rules which means everyone can play it and have fun without anyone being left behind. Plus it’s always funny to catch someone out with a silly trap card or annoy your friends by playing cards that stop them from winning!
And our favourite game for playing at home when it's just the two of us is Sagrada. It's pleasantly thinky without being too much on a lazy evening, all fitted into a lovely theme with some fab components!