Brain Games: The Benefits and Examples


By S1SW(22) Tao Lon Yin Allen

Welcome to term 2 of the school year! This means more upcoming long holidays, right? But since we’re all stuck in the middle of a pandemic, I’m pretty sure you will spend time scrolling through social media, sleeping, or playing video games.

However, since you guys have nothing to do, why don’t you try to play some mind-sharpening games? According to the Harvard Health Publishing, these games have a lot of benefits for humans, such as stimulating our thinking and sharpening some of our thinking skills like processing speed, planning skills, reaction time, decision making, and short-term memory.

So, to keep your brain working and to prevent you from becoming a pig in these trying times, here’s a list of some brain games for you to play at home during the pandemic with friends and family (with ratings rated according to how fun they are and how much they can train our brain):

  1. Chess (aka international chess)

As one of the most famous board games in the world, you should know the classic western version of chess (also known as international chess to better distinguish it from other versions of chess). It is a 2-player game originating from Southern Europe in the late 15th century. As you know, the player must move their pieces in different ways in order to capture the opponent's king piece on a 8x8 grid.

Each piece has a different method of moving on the grid. For example, rooks can only move in a straight line, while knights can move in a L-shaped way. This provides more strategic and tactical ways to capture the opponent’s pieces, or to prevent the opponent from capturing your piece, such as setting up traps using two or more pieces.

Fun rating: 4/5

Usefulness rating: 4/5

  1. Chinese chess (aka xiangqi)

The Chinese version of chess, Chinese chess (as known as xiangqi) is also very popular among Chinese communities. It’s a 2-player game that has an objective similar to chess: capture the opponent’s general piece, which is the equivalent to the king piece in chess. The moving method of pieces is vastly different from chess. The grid is different and is a bit more complicated than the 8x8 grid in chess, the pieces have to move on the lines, and there’s different ways of moving for different pieces.

Again, each piece has a different method of moving on the grid. This way, you can set up traps and even create different formations and tactics to attack or to defend from your opponent, like flanking and “Linked Horses” (horses that support each other and prevent the two pieces from being captured)

Fun rating: 5/5

Usefulness rating: 4/5

  1. Go

Go is another famous and ancient strategy game that was invented in China more than 2500 years ago. Although it is played by 2 players, like international chess and Chinese chess, it’s vastly different from the two games, as the objective here is to surround more territory than your opponent. The players take turns putting their pieces, called stones, on an intersection of the board. The opponent’s stones can be captured by surrounding them with your stones.

 Compared to international chess and Chinese chess, Go provides even more flexible strategies and tactics for the players to win, such as placing the stones in important points or points that obstruct the opponent, or placing formations that prevent the opponent from capturing your stones or to capture the opponent’s stones.

Fun rating: 4/5

Usefulness rating: 5/5

  1. Blokus

Ah finally, some modern mind-sharpening games! Blokus (one of my favourite games) is a 2-4 player strategy game that is played on a 20x20 board. The game was created by Bernard Tavitian, a French mathematician, and was originally released by board game publisher Sekkoïa in 2000. The game’s objective is quite interesting: try to score more points by occupying most of the board with pieces of their colour. The pieces are very interesting as well, as they come in different shapes (L-shape, stair-shape, and even a single small square) and can be only placed at the corner of another piece and no edge-to-edge contact is allowed (except if the pieces are not in the same color)

Players can make use of the shapes of their pieces for different tactics, such as to “block” the corner of the opponents’ pieces and prevent them from putting another piece there. Since the pieces have different shapes, the game requires the players to think more about how they should put the pieces on the board, while the corner-to-corner contact only rule creates a more unique and interesting gameplay than other similar games.

Fun rating: 5/5

Usefulness rating: 4/5

  1. Mastermind

If you like problem solving and breaking codes, you’ll definitely like Mastermind. It’s a 2-player code-breaking game in which one player sets up a code with colored pegs, while the other tries to guess it through trial and error, as well as the code-setter’s clues. The code-guesser must guess the code with the correct order and colour by putting colored pegs on a board. The game ends when the code-guesser guesses the code correctly, or the board is full. Once the pegs are placed, the code-setter provides feedback by placing from zero to four key pegs in the small holes of the row with the guess. A colored peg is placed when a code peg in the guess is in the correct position and colour, while a white peg is placed when a code peg in the guess has the correct color but in the wrong position.

This game can really sharpen your mind since if you’re the code-setter, you must try to think of a code that is hard to break (not 4 red pegs), while if you’re the code-breaker, you can train your mind by trying to think and infer the pegs that you got right and thus try to guess the code through trial and error.

Fun rating: 3/5

Usefulness rating: 4/5

And that’s the end of this list of mind-sharpening games! I personally think these five games are really great, although Mastermind might be my least favorite since it’s just about putting pegs and some logical thinking, without the excitement that the other games have. I hope you can try some of these games through the holidays. Have fun and keep your mind sharp!