Let’s Get Physical

Posted on Sep 23 2012 by pomomojo in Accessories, Backgammon, Board Games, Chess


As a board game enthusiast I was not surprised when I recently read about psychological experiments that showed that tactile sensations affect us. The weight, texture, and hardness of an object in our hands all have psychological effects on us. I say this does not surprise me as someone who plays board games because I’ve long been convinced that one of the pleasures of playing a physical board game was just getting to handle the pieces. I didn’t know that smooth objects seem “friendlier,” but I did know that a polished game piece was more fun to fiddle with than one cut from cheap wood. With this in mind, I’d like to run down some of my favorite gaming components and their contributions to my gaming enjoyment.

I’ve gone ahead and ranked my top ten choices, if only because I’ve always wanted to do a top ten list! In any event I’ve tried to consider the tactile pleasures of each object as well as any mental stimulation they provide.

10) Chess clock – this one seems very specific, but this category could also include hourglasses or even buzzers. The pleasure here comes from that instant that you stop time by pressing the button or, in the case of an hourglass, reverse time by flipping the clock. There are so many cultural associations with this motion – punching the clock at work, buzzers in gameshows, even the last second heroics of sports – that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is so much fun about slamming down on a chess clock. Certainly with a chess clock there is a certain amount of aggression and bravado as you stop your timer and turn the pressure up on your opponent. Then there is the never-ending battle between humans and the passage of time. Even if it’s only a game, there’s surely a little part of us deep down inside that thrills at the idea of mastering time and forcing it to obey us for once.

9) Monopoly tokens – There are very few game pieces more iconic than the mishmash of pewter tokens that comes with a standard version of Monopoly. Anyone who has played the game as a child has probably had at least one argument over who gets what piece. So, other than being somewhat odd, what is pleasurable about a pewter dog or top hat or wheelbarrow? Part of it is the very material they are made out of. Most of us probably owned a beat up version of the game with torn or wrinkled money and cheap plastic houses, all of which only made the heavy and shiny game pieces stand out all the more. When you add in the knowledge that the odd assortment of pieces was chosen as a nod to the fact that the earliest editions of the game had no pieces and players had to supply their own from common household objects, then the pieces go from being fun to touch to genuine symbols of board game history.

8) Game table – Technically, this isn’t part of a game, but it might have the most significant effect on my mood while gaming. I love playing a game on a big wooden table, preferably dark colored. That negative space that surrounds your game is very pleasing in a way I’m sure an artist or photographer could explain. You’ll also spend a great deal of time placing items on the table or brushing against it yourself so the smooth texture is not only practical but also enjoyable. As the blog post mentioned above suggests, heavy objects seem more serious to us and I definitely agree that playing a game on a real wood table feels more serious than playing on a flimsy card table.

7) Game board – One big advantage that physical games have over video games is the space they take up. Of course many would say that this is in fact a disadvantage of physical games, but, for me, spreading out a big board is so much more pleasurable than staring at a screen. Even smaller boards can be pleasurable, though, if made of sturdy materials. A beautiful wood or leather board that sounds solid as you move your pieces around adds visual, aural, and tactile pleasure to the game.

6) Checkers – This category applies to the game of Checkers, obviously, but also to Backgammon or to games that use “stones” such as the ancient classic Go. Basically, any game with smooth, stone-like objects or discs contributes to this form of tactile pleasure. Again, smoothness is an important feature associated with easiness or friendliness. It’s also fun to have a number of these pieces in your hand at once and feel them rolling around in your palm. The heft as they bump against each other and the smooth way the slide over one another sends tingles up your arm. When placed on the board they can reflect light in interesting ways and seem to just glide across the board.

Talking about all these classic gaming components is so much fun, I think I’ll save the top 5 for my next post.

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