Board Games in TEOTWAWKI, by Gridley

In “Sleeping With the Friendlies, by Heidi C.”, the author mentions some of the problems of group integration and building group cohesion, and the author touches on a point that I would like to expand on– board games. In this article I will discuss how I feel board games have uses in:

  • Finding like-minded people
  • Building group cohesion
  • Maintaining morale in a retreat location or shelter-in-place

I will take these points in reverse order.

Board Games?

Why board games? First, let’s imagine the following scenario. The fall has happened. You’ve reached your retreat location and found with relief that the rest of your group has as well. Stockpiles have been inspected, defenses set up, et cetera. And then that first rush of excitement and adrenalin fades. Routine sets in.

There’s plenty of work to do– patrolling or guard duty, farm or garden work, cooking, cleaning, but there’s also a lot of tension. Is a gang of bandits forming just beyond your patrol radius? Is severe weather coming? What happened to your friends and relatives who aren’t with you?

Maintaining Morale

Keeping up morale is going to be a problem. Keeping everyone busy doing useful work will help, but people need R&R time too.

Board games are a way for a group of people to relax, socialize, and escape from their world for a bit. They do not require a power source (well, most don’t), take up very little space in storage, need little in the way of resources to be used (some light and a table), have an essentially unlimited shelf life, and can be used over and over again. If parts become lost, they can generally be replaced by hand-made tokens or pieces of paper.

Compared To Computer or Video Games

Compare this to computer or video games, which require power, take up far more space, and once a component breaks the entire system is reduced to spare parts for other complex equipment. More importantly most electronic games have a high equipment cost per person, and there is generally a low upper limit on how many people can play at once. Most common board games allow for 4-6 players but require only a single “set” to play. The player limit on electronic games also reduces the group benefit from sharing an activity.

Single Game Will Get Monotonous

Note that a single board game will probably get monotonous and will be quickly set aside. Having several to rotate among is recommended. Allowing people to make choices, even the trivial one of which game to play, in a situation where most of their daily choices have been taken away will help cushion the shock.

Board Game Players Cooperating

People playing a board game are inherently cooperating. Yes, even while they’re trying to beat each other, they’ve agreed to a common set of rules (those of the game) and are engaged in a joint activity— determining the winner (or winners). This factor is enhanced if playing a “cooperative” board game. This type of game isn’t a new concept, but the type has become more popular lately and there are a lot of newer choices.

The essence of the game is not for players to compete to beat each other but to compete against the game mechanics in order to collectively “beat the game”. Examples include Forbidden Island, Pandemic, and Space Alert. (The latter requires electronic support.) Cooperative games at their best teach people to work together, and several require players to use diverse skills and abilities to achieve their goal. Hey, that sounds like a group hunkering down to survive a disaster!

Building Group Cohesion

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m drifting into my second use— building group cohesion. This is the biggest obstacle in my own survival preparedness, and holding regular board game events has helped. Holding board game parties brings people together on a regular basis without a large financial expenditure and there’s a lot of interaction. If the meeting only has people who are “in” the group, it can serve dual-purpose (trying out that new survival food as a snack, holding a quick class, or relaxing after a trip to the range). If you’re highly concerned about OpSec, “I’m going to a friend’s for board games” has no “survival” implications and is, in fact, true.

Space Alert to See How Group Reacts

I mentioned Space Alert above, despite the fact that it requires a CD player to run. The CD has an audio track which “paces” the game, keeping pressure on the players. While nowhere near sufficient, seeing how the group reacts under this pressure can reveal a lot about the internal dynamics of a group. The players pick a leader as part of the game. Do they follow that leader’s directions? Do some people try to browbeat the other players? Who directs action, and who volunteers for action? Yes, it is only a game, and it’s not necessarily a predictor of how people will behave in a real crisis. Still, you can learn a lot for a small expenditure of time and money.

A Way to “Vet” Potential Members of Group

Hitting my first point last, those regular or semi-regular gaming days/evenings are also a great way to “vet” potential members of the group. Can they get along with the group? Do they try to cheat? Do they try to take over? Are they able to pick up new information quickly? Do they volunteer to host next time? At first, the person shouldn’t have any idea they’re even being vetted, which will tend to suppress the tendency to act uncharacteristically. Having a breadth of games available (and encouraging the candidate to bring some of their own) is also a way to pick up on common interests. The modern board game industry practices dressing up common game mechanics with the trappings of recognizable cultural elements— a TV show (such as several Firefly themed games) or genre (zombies, the middle ages, et cetera). Of course, there are plenty of gamers out there who ignore the “fluff” in the game and focus on the game mechanics, but if someone has “The Worst Case Scenario” sitting on their shelf, they’re probably not dismissive of prepping.

How and What To Play

I’ve found a good model for a game day to be as follows: Someone with a good “play area” (a solid table large enough to play on and big enough to fit everyone around) hosts. Host duties should rotate if possible. The host will provide some snacks (things that don’t leave residue on fingers are preferred, as such things will inevitably get on the game components), and others will bring snacks or some contribution for a communal meal (eaten at the same table in between games). Each person brings or presents a game they’d like to try. The group selects one to play first. After one round with a familiar game, a new game should be selected. However, if it was the first time playing a game, it often works to try a second round in the same game day. Some people pick up games quickly (especially those who’ve played a lot of different games and recognize the re-use of a game mechanic), but even many regular gamers don’t. Playing a new game again right away gives a chance for those with a longer learning curve to do better.

What Games?

What games should you get and play? Well, you should get and play the games that you like to play. Sorry, tastes vary and without knowing someone I can’t suggest what games they’ll like. I’ll suggest a few that might appeal to preparedness-minded people, though.

The Worst Case Scenario

The Worst Case Scenario deserves a mention (Heidi C. gave it one in her article), mostly because it is an easy way to assess how someone feels about preparedness, and whether they already have some knowledge in that area. I can’t say I (or anyone in my group) really enjoys playing it, however.


Pandemic is also a “disaster” themed game, and a cooperative one as noted above. The players act as a team from the CDC with diverse skill sets trying to halt a set of diseases. Don’t expect a simulation of the spread of an actual pandemic. (The game is actually terrible for this, but it isn’t trying to be a simulation.) Still, this can be an excellent game to assess a candidate. “Just for fun” name each of the in-game diseases after a real infectious disease. If that doesn’t lead to a broader conversation (during or after the game), you didn’t try. This is a regular one for my group.

Last Night on Earth

Last Night on Earth is popular with the Zombie crowd. It is a semi-cooperative game with one player controlling the zombie horde and the rest being the plucky band of survivors. Again, this is certainly not a simulation, but that can be turned into an advantage. “Okay, this is what I’ll do in the game, but in reality I’d…”


Gloom is a prepared card game (as opposed to a card game that uses a standard deck of cards) with each player controlling a character, except with an odd twist. You are trying to inflict as much misery on your own character as possible. The misfortunes are things like “Pursued by Poodles” rather than more probable events.

Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter is another Zombie-theme game. (What can I say? It’s a popular genre in modern culture, which isn’t true of most disasters.) This is a semi-cooperative; the game can “win” (all the players lose) if the players don’t work together, but each player also has their own individual goal, and one of the players might be a traitor.

Disaster-Themed Games Not Best During a Real Disaster

I should note that a cupboard full of disaster-themed games might not be the best choice for your retreat, or for play during a disaster. The games should be an escape rather than a reminder of what you’re going through. If you’re doing a bug-in to avoid the flu, your group probably won’t want to play Pandemic. Like any survival equipment or supplies, you should be familiar with them before disaster strikes, and they should be tailored to your group and your situation.

What Else?

What else will you need? Most modern board games come with everything they need in the box. Tokens of some sort (such as a bag of pennies) are often required for games that come in smaller boxes. You’ll need a table (a dining-room table or card table), and some light. I suggest trying to find at least a few games your group enjoys that can be played in a low-light environment (a game with not a lot of text on cards, for example) in order to be more flexible. If you can play the game by the light of a few candles, that’s ideal.

Board Games Won’t Find Water or Keep You Warm

Will board games help you find water, stay warm, or fix broken equipment? Almost certainly not. But they may make life a little more pleasant, and they might even help you meet people to survive with.

Further Study

BoardGameGeek is an excellent place to go if you’re trying to find a good board game. The site has pages for just about every board and card game out there. There are reviews, session reports, errata, and a tremendous amount of links.

Most urban areas still have a game store of some sort. These will usually cater to all kinds of games, but they are often sustained by collectible card games. As such, they may have a limited stock of board games. Sadly CCGs have few of the benefits of board games for preppers. Also, they can become a quite expensive hobby on their own. (Okay, board games can too, but CCGs are simply run off a different business model.)

Happy gaming!

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
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Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
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  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
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Round 75 ends on March 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. Board games are nice, but there are also a couple of other options as well. One would be miniatures games. You can go the traditional wargaming option with Napolean era battles all the way up to science fiction games like Battletech. they can also be used to teach strategy and logistics. Role playing games are also an option. Most people associate RPGs with Dungeons and Dragons but there a wide variety of other games. My particular favorite is Traveller which is an RPG set in the far future. Again, the modern to science fiction games can be used to teach problem solving such as logistics. By setting the game in a modern, technological era, you get away from the swords and sorcery theme that has plagued D&D and get the players thinking about more contemporary themes and issues while still having lots of fun.

    1. Good ideas Jerry! Some of my fondest memories are miniature battles with my father (we favored the American Civil War in 54mm). Just remember minis take up a lot of space. RPGs, of course, need not take up much at all – many can be played without a table (I’ve played in a tent).

  2. I pick up games/entertainment (board games, puzzles, bocce ball, croquet, horseshoes, art and crafts supplies, etc) at garage sales for very cheap prices, along with many other tools and supplies.

  3. Playing board or card games can really reveal a persons nature. Some people are very competitive and want to win at all costs. They could be difficult to live with in a survival situation. Also some lose their temper and blame others for their loss. Another eye opener. I told my kids to be sure and play some games with any future spouse s to learn about their chatacter. ☺

  4. Great article and great ideas to share with others! I enjoyed reading it.

    We love playing games as a family and with friends. Many games are useful at teaching mathematics, logic, and reasoning skills for kiddos.

    1. Thanks The Recovering Feminist. I have friends who taught their children math by playing RPGs – or, perhaps, convinced them of the *importance* of math by playing RPGs. 🙂

  5. If you ever find any games from Animal Town Game Company at a yard sale be sure to grab them for the children. They are cooperative. My children liked to collect the dark and light golden colored beads representing honey in Nectar Collector.
    You can get one of the Animal Town games from but I don’t know about all the other games on the new site. There’s cooperative and then there’s “let’s make everyone the winner”

  6. There are lots of entertaining games, Agricola is a personal favorite. However, even the best of games get tiresome. $10 buys a deck of playing cards and a book of rules for hundreds of card games. When one game gets boring, find and learn a new game.

    1. Cards are a good ‘minimalist’ option for sure. I have a deck in my BOB. You can also find decks with things like knot tying instructions, plant recognition, or other information, thus allowing the cards to do double-duty as reference material.

  7. Don’t forget the tried and true classics checkers,chess,backgammon,chinese checkers etc. These can be found in travel form (multiple games,very compact,place keeping(a bump doesn’t upset the board),storage. They are also almost universal(no language barriers) and ice breakers(a friendly(?) game beats staring at someone to pass time or gain cooperation /resolve tensions).

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