Mancala thought to be one of the world’s oldest known strategy-based board games was invented in 7th century East Africa. Played across the continent Mancala soon spread far afield to the Middle East, and Europe, arriving in North America and the Caribbean through enslaved Africans holding onto their culture. Still played today, variants of the game paved the way for the diverse range of modern-day tabletop titles played by millions across the world.
Board games and other tabletop staples like playing cards have been recognised for their ability to boost our health and wellbeing as they serve to entertain us, encourage social interaction and boost cognitive skills in both children and adults alike. Helping to strengthen family and friendship bonds one of the main benefits of group game playing is the stress-relieving feel-good factor laughter and spending time with loved ones can bring. Playing together in-person takes us away from the screen getting us to talk to each other more, reconnecting young and old to share memories and the precious stories that get woven into the fabric of our family lives.
For the Black family, games have also become a valuable resource with which to learn together about their history, culture and values. Calling out harmful stereotypes, and the lack of diversity and inclusion in the mainstream games industry, more Black creators are introducing board games, puzzles, and playing cards specifically created with Black identity in mind. Playing cards such as Black History Flash Cards and Black Card Revoked celebrating Black achievement and contribution to popular culture are helping to reinforce positive messages.
Recognising the freedoms generational wealth-building can bring to families and uplift communities, games such as The Entrepreneur Board Game by African-American inventor, Elliott Eddie, are aimed at fostering a culture of sustainable entrepreneurship within families of all backgrounds. By empowering players to dream of what is possible these types of games impart the skills needed to lay the foundations for bringing those dreams to life.
Mental health issues are known to be high within the Black community and a stigma of not talking about it means people suffer in silence. Games can encourage us to open up and seek professional help. Playing cards like the Ghanaian Adinkra symbol inspired Know Thy Self collection by psychologist Dr Erica Mapule McInnis are being created to help boost the health and mental wellbeing of Black people. These types of games are taking players on a journey of self-discovery and knowledge by using the wisdom of their ancestral history to guide them.
Finding ourselves with more time on our hands as we ride out a global health pandemic, together or apart, in-person or virtually games became one of our ways to stay connected, checking in on loved ones to ensure we were all doing ok. And as technology like 3D printing becomes more affordable it will become possible for families to create their own interactive tabletop games centred around what matters them.
Family Playing Game Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Mancala Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash