We love playing games together. Some of our regular ‘us time’ is to just sit down and play games together at least once a month. We have a pretty decent collection. *Turns head 90 degrees* Okay, fine, we have a slightly absurd collection.
But, we also know that communication is key to any relationship. And so, we also take time purely to play games together purely to do just that… communicate! It’s important for us both, but I find it especially valuable. I’ve always struggled at times with both talking to and reading people. The medium of games offers some really unique ways to have a fun evening together while, at the same time, learning to understand Caitlin – and all kinds of social situations – better.
I said it already above, but communication is key to any relationship. Understanding how each other is feeling, how to talk to each other when you (or they) is stressed, how to get information across without being a bore… and how to say things without opening your mouth at all.
There’s a variety of games out there which test – some cooperatively, some more antagonistically – how well you read each other and how you take and give cues. Hanabi, Dixit and Mysterium all come to mind – though only the latter from that group is really engaging for two players rather than a group.
But we have three favourites that are go-to games for us – ones that we really feel work our talky-thinky muscles and help us practice how well we communicate and work together. That trio includes Concept, Codenames, and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.
In brief, Concept is another non-verbal game where one player uses coloured tokens to denote, er, concepts. You have a big board of images – of a colour, a shape, or something else, and using the markers you can build all kinds of association. Anything from using the combination of “green/liquid/solid” to make people think of guacamole to “historical/war/man”, using one colour of markers and “fictional/small” in another colour to make people think of Napoleon – because he wasn’t actually short.
Codenames is a ton of fun, and has a minimum of talking as well – you get a spread of one-word tiles (or whimsical images, in the spin-off Codenames: Pictures), and one person gets to give a single-word hint, and a number – based on how many words/pictures on the table they associated with their hint word. Both players have to be really careful in how they give hints, and how the thought process they use to interpret them – because if you don’t, you can give points to the other team (or effectively taking time off the clock you play against in the two-player version). The player giving the hints sees the map of which word tiles are good, bad, neutral… or really bad in the case of the one tile which immediately loses the game if their partner chooses it!
Both of these games are great for us, since it really gives a window into how your (life) partner’s brain works – what associations they make, how they tie imagery to ideas, and how they thing you will do so. Sometimes we’re on the same wavelength. Others, it’s a chance to learn. I REALLY should have gotten “Mercury” immediately from Caitlin’s hint of “Freddie” – but because we had been watching so many Five Nights at Freddie’s videos recently, my mind got stuck looking for things that related to night guards and eight-foot-tall murderous haunted teddy bears. Point taken… I really need to consider a broader picture!
In contrast, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes relies on verbal communication – a lot.
One player plays the actual game on the computer – playing the part of a bomb-defusal technician – trying to stop a bomb with a ticking timer. Each bomb has multiple puzzles on it – Simon says with flashing lights, wire cutting puzzles with algebra-like rules, and even deciphering Morse code – and this player has to decide what order to tackle them in, identify the puzzle to their partner, and then describe how it looks (and sometimes sounds) to get accurate feedback.
The other player gets a manual (PDF, or dead-tree edition, depending on your preference) with critical information on how to defuse each sub-puzzle on the bomb. You have to exchange information as quickly and effectively as possible – for the bomb tech, that’s visual observations, doled out as quickly but clearly as possible. For the adviser, they have to decrypt that information to match up with their defusal guidelines and pass back the instructions before the timer hits 0:00. Rarely has a game title been so darn accurate!
There’s a lot of communication involved – and it’s not just one-way flow of info. Sometimes the one at the computer just says “it’s the maze and here are the locations you need to know” and then the one with the rules guides them. But then there’s puzzles like the Morse code one, or the one where the computer player describes strange symbols and the rule-player picks the right ones. How quickly can you pass back-and-forth instructions about the strange-looking characters – some of which you can get wrong if you describe the character (or interpret the info you get) badly?
Even though it’s a fake bomb (can you imagine how the EULA would look otherwise?), the stress brings you together and it builds trust as well as working on your team communication. Understanding how far you need to explain, knowing when it’s best for you to speak and listen, and just getting what the other person is saying as quickly as you both can manage are a bunch of skills that can carry through into real life.
Between these three, we can really work on working together – including under stress as the red numbers on the bomb get smaller and smaller – but importantly while having a whole lot of fun together too. And we can attest that you both feel damned accomplished (and more than a bit wired) after a couple bombs have been beat.