Why do board games give me anxiety?

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Board games can be fun and distracting, so for some people the right board game may actually help anxiety. Especially if you find one that you can get really absorbed and enjoy then it could distract you from worrying.

If the source of the distress is social anxiety then strategy games e.g. Catan or Terraforming Mars, could be really helpful as it draws attention to the game and off an individual.

Cooperative games could also be more enjoyable as it is about everyone working to a common goal rather than competitively against each other.

Examples of good cooperative games are games like Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, or Gloomhaven, or 5-Minute Mystery.

However, what triggers someone’s anxiety can be such a unique thing to an individual so I would suggest: think about what kind of game you are playing and with who? If certain types of games lead to distressing anxiety symptoms, don’t play those, there are plenty of different types of games to choose from that may suit you better.

I have experienced situations where playing board games have triggered some anxiety symptoms. So I thought I’d share my thoughts of my experience and the board games I choose to play and avoid accordingly.

Why Do Board Games Give Me Anxiety

Table of Contents

  1. This is supposed to be fun why I am I getting all anxious?
    1. How much thinking time between moves
    2. Who are you playing with
    3. Is it a boring game?
    4. Are the rules to complicated/ hard to understand?
  2. Sources of anxiety?
  3. Conclusion

This is supposed to be fun why I am I getting all anxious?

I was quite puzzled at this so I thought about why it might be causing me distress rather than enjoyment. For me personally, I think it comes down to what game and who I’m playing with.

How much thinking time between moves

In this case if I’m waiting around a long time for my next move and don’t have to pay attention. To the other players moves my mind tends to wander. So if I’m playing to keep my mind off something I’m worrying about a game like this is not going to work.

My example of this is Scrabble, specifically with other players who like to take ages thinking of their next wordy I get most points. My husband does this and it drives me up the wall!

I could clean the whole house and do 2 loads of laundry in the time it takes him to play his turn. I don’t have that kind of patience so I lost every time. Grrrr!

Early on in our courtship we decided it best for our relationship NEVER to play scrabble together EVER again!

Who are you playing with

One of the most extreme cases of anxiety I felt when playing a game was when I was playing a fast thinking game. One is put on the spot and must answer and you have to think of the answer before anyone else.

I was unfortunately playing this with work colleagues, one of whom is extremely competitive, so while the game itself is great fun normally, I ended up so frazzled under the pressure I had palpitations.

This was a definite case of the “who am I playing with” being a source of anxiety. I have enjoyed playing the same game plenty of times with other people.

So now I avoid playing with ultra competitive people.

Is it a boring game?

This is the same reason as 1. If it’s boring – and that can be because it’s too slow or over complicated and I’ve disengaged from it – my mind will wander onto to more negative thoughts.

Are the rules to complicated/ hard to understand?

This is one of my biggest issues with board games, some are so complicated it takes ages to read the rules and set up. I went to a board game cafe once and I think I spend more time reading rules than I actually did playing.

If I know I only have a limited time to play, then I feel rushed and I’m more likely to stress about time than actually enjoy the game.

So I now avoid long complicated games unless I have plenty of time and motivation to properly get set up. If I do invest a long time on a new game I make sure it’s a really good one I’m likely to play repeatedly.

Even better if there are expansion packs to add a fresh element to it. Im thinking of “ticket to ride” now. There are so many versions, it is complicated and moderately long but one of the few strategy games I really enjoy and I feel it was worth my effort learning all the rules.

I think carefully about m current mods when choosing a game. Anything which is timed and competitive I wouldn’t play if I’m already agitated. They can be super fun and great for parties if in a casual settling and I’m starting off relaxed but I find the timed aspect too much if I’m already a bit on edge.

Sources of anxiety?

There are so many and here I have just discussed my experience with board game anxiety. In my case it’s not the games fault but my own underlying anxiety.

Too much ruminating or overthinking usually, so anything that involves distraction work well for me to break that unhelpful thinking. Here is my list of favourite games that do that for me:

  • Ticket to Ride (you really have to pay attention to where everyone else is putting there trains!)
  • Trivial pursuit – or anything with questions.
  • Cluedo
  • Codenames – nice quick one.

I like these because they are not too easy and require my full attention so work nicely to distract me from my worries.

I won’t suggest any specific games to avoid as what one person enjoys and offers excellent distraction could be mind numbingly my boring to another person. So, this is more generally what I avoid when considering what to play:

  • Boring games,
  • Ridiculously complicated games ( unless I can play with some who knows it and can guide through)
  • Playing with people who are not fun to play with.
  • Timed games
  • Very long games if my time to play is limited.

And finally, any I don’t like because well, life’s too short to waste on dull or annoying games when there are so many brilliant ones out there.

Finally something else to consider is playing solitaire. There are now many games that will engage you, keep your mind occupied, and you can play on your own. You can read Phil’s article on Can You Play Board Games By Yourself? and also his 20 Best Solo Board Games for some great ideas for games that will be fun to play.

Once you have mastered some of the games solo you could then try introducing them to your friends and see how you feel about it.


Everyones anxiety is specific and personal to them and so reflecting on your causes will help you identify what will work best for you. I am no expert on the subject and can only share what helps for me.

If anxiety is really causing you an issue in your life then please seek out specialist help. There are people that can help you overcome your anxiety and live a more abundant life. This website

I hope I have given you some ideas and that you will be able to better enjoy this wonderful board gaming hobby as a result.

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