Wednesday, August 3, 2011


When most people think of surviving for the long term, they focus on sensible areas, like how to produce food, how to take care of medical problems, self-defense, etc.  However, one area which is often neglected, at least from my experience, is entertainment.  While people are wise to concentrate on the fundamentals of survival, they fail to remember that they are not going to want to work non-stop in the fields or the workshop and might want to find some entertainment to break the monotony. 

There are obviously a number of forms of entertainment available, such as music, sports, art, but gaming is a time-honored way of passing the time.  Games of various sorts go back millenia, to ancient Rome, Babylon, India and Japan, to name a few.  In the modern age, whole websites are devoted to board gaming (such as Board Game Geek) and there is almost an endless variation of those games.  Out of all the games available, the one that still seems to stand out is chess.

Chess, over all other games, has a few advantages:

1. The rules are easy to learn and haven't changed in several hundred years.  There's no "house rules" under most circumstances. 

2. The rules are easy to learn, fitting maybe on one sheet of paper, making it very easy to learn, but taking a lifetime to master.

3. The playing components are simple to make, durable and minimal.  32 pieces and a board can be made out of crude wood, clay, etc.  It's portable and easy to store.  Cards are complicated to make and wear out with regular use.  True-rolling dice are difficult to make.

4. The language of chess is universal, as it's all math and symbols.  Anyone can play a game with anyone else without speaking a common language.

5. There is, for the average person, enough depth in the game that they can never really grasp all the fundamentals of it.

If you've never really played chess before, I encourage you to give it a try.  If you've played a few times and gotten shelled by your opponent, go find a few books which can give you drills and problems designed to help you get a handle on enjoying the game.  Even while we are still living in our modern information-age society, there is a level of enjoyment in playing a game of chess that you won't find in more (superficially) sophisticated forms of entertainment.


  1. This is weird, because I love boardgames but think that Chess is overrated.

    The amount of calculation involved, and the relative lack of randomness, means the game is difficult to solitaire. Its a bit too difficult to teach to the less intellectually inclined people in your household. But its easy for more intellectually inclined people can be turned off by it, it takes a certain type of intelligence (my guess is more mathematic than verbal) to enjoy it.

    Then there is the whole issue of the game having been "solved" in recent decades by computers. I honestly think you are better off with a standard pack of playing cards.

  2. Ed,

    The last I heard, checkers had been solved, but chess has too many permutations to be effectively calculated (I think there around 10^120 positions to be calculated, if I remember correctly).

    As far as games go, I prefer quite a large number of other games to chess, but my thinking on recommending chess was guided in part by questions of cost, simplicity of the physical components, durability, universality, etc. Cards eventually wear out from use, and producing a deck, post-collapse (or even during) would be difficult. I guess the option would be to store up a case of decks, maybe.

    Dice games seem to be another option...can't see plastic dice wearing out all that fast. There have been some interesting ones derived in recent years (I think there's a Settlers of Catan dice game, for example).


  3. Checkers or even a Scrabble set are both fairly simple to fabricate if you have time on your hands.

  4. Sue,

    You are correct that both of those are also easy to assemble. However, checkers has an optimal solution, and Scrabble tends to depend on mutual agreement of the meaning of words, spelling, etc, making it less than ideal for people who have different backgrounds. In this sense, I think chess still is probably the optimal game. One plus for Scrabble, though, is that it can be used to teach vocabulary.

    In truth, my favorite board game is Settlers of Catan, something of which I have an extra copy sitting around, waiting for the day when the playing copy finally wears out. There are so many quality board games on the market that it would take forever to get through even the cream of the crop (see sometime).


  5. Go is also an excellent game, very simple to make and has an elegance chess can lack.