Risk. Monopoly. Trivial Pursuit. Chess. Go. You’ve definitely played at least one of these in your life – and probably enjoyed it! Because that’s the thing about board games, they’re fun. But they’re also a wonderful medium for learning: for building or maintaining all sorts of abilities, from cooperation to coordination, from strategy to patience, from logic to the most important skill of all: imagination.
It’s the skill which allows us to see the world as it could be, which helps us solve problems in our everyday lives. When we’re children, it teaches us to synthesise knowledge and develop creativity. As adults, it helps see another’s point of view, building empathy and bridges. And when we’re older, it keeps the mind active, reducing anxieties and preserving cognitive functioning. There is, suggests Andonis Mikhanos, no more important life skill. And he should know…
For several years he’s been teaching and inspiring people of all ages, nationalities and abilities through the medium of imaginative board games. “I remember,” he says, “that board games played a big part in my life when I was a kid. Okay, back then there certainly wasn’t the plethora of games which exist today, but neither did we have mobile phones, the internet, or technology. Back then, meeting with friends and spending several hours playing together was something wonderful: we had fun, laughed, socialised, created memories and, without knowing it, sharpened our minds and built our self-confidence and our skills.”
Drawing on his skills in and knowledge of board gaming, he set up his own company in 2016 “to let people know about board games and all the good things they provide. I started by organising board game events, talking to the Ministry of Education and working with the Youth Board of Cyprus – looking for ways to bring these valuable skills to others.” And then, at a board gaming convention in England, he came across Imagination Gaming…
“Turns out they’d already heard of me,” he laughs. “And, as we were both doing exactly the same thing, a partnership was the automatic next step!” Offering solutions to engagement and learning in educational and social organisations, Imagination Gaming focuses on enjoyment and learning in equal measure – both in the UK and now, thanks to Andonis’ franchise participation, in Cyprus. “We’re a team of people using board games as part of an educational experience,” Andonis continues. “We’re teaching, inspiring and building skills for all ages, as well as changing the way people think and bringing families closer together.”
In the last couple of years, he’s helped hundreds of people across Cyprus. Visiting places such as Falcon School in Nicosia, the Youth Board Cultural Centres in Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos, and various Day Centres for the elderly, as well as participating regularly in the extra-curricular activities at primary schools in Dasoupoli, Acropolis, Apostolos Varnavas and Archangelos, Andonis is spreading imaginative edutainment island-wide.
“I work with kindergartens, primary schools, various organisations, groups of adults and care homes,” he explains. “The main focus is younger children: you walk into a class of rowdy nine-year-olds and, with a simple board game, you create an hour or so of total concentration – that’s fun! It’s learning as play,” he adds. “As the kids forget it’s a lesson and focus on the fun, they become more willing to learn and to receive knowledge. So, by the end of each class, we’ve taught not just maths, literacy, history and general knowledge, but also better focus, cooperation, problem solving, spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination!”
Imagination Gaming’s selection of hundreds of professionally produced board games aren’t just for the kids: all the skills are translatable to adults. “I’ll give you an example,” Andonis enthuses. “At the Strovolos Activity Centre for Adults, I walked into a quiet room of elderly people who were reading, watching television or just sitting and waiting. I put them into groups, introduced them to various memory and skill games, and before long the whole room was animated. And,” he adds, “once a month we arrange for the children in the school next door to come and join in: it teaches the kids respect and they benefit from the patience and wisdom of their elders, while it’s good for the older people to socialise with bright young minds!”
Andonis also uses the games as a medium for cooperation, an idea which comes into its own on a divided island. Every Saturday morning he’s to be found at the Home for Cooperation café, his selection of board games allowing those who may not share a language to enjoy each other’s company and work as teams.
Having started Imagination Gaming Cyprus alone, Andonis now has a small team who helps with his various events: creating workshops and games day programmes, school days (focusing, for example, on maths or literacy), day events which bring families closer together, and island-wide community tournaments.
“With Imagination Gaming you can see,” he concludes, “the benefits from the start. The first and most obvious is the smiles and euphoria: take a board game into any room and watch the faces light up immediately! Then you begin to see the focus, the concentration and the cogs begin to turn as players try to reach their goal.”
In effect, he’s building an island of imagination: a place where spoon-fed education and video game culture are taking a back seat to the wonders of learning through play. “Everyone has an inner child in them. So it’s understandable that whenever you put a board game in front of someone, no matter their age or background, that inner child wakes up and begins to use not just their physical and mental abilities, but also the most important skill of all: imagination!”
For more information on Imagination Gaming, visit https://imaginationgaming.co.uk/cyprus or the Facebook page ‘Imagination Gaming Cyprus’
A few of the board games
Push a Monster: Players in Push a Monster take turns pushing a monster onto an elevated platform without allowing any other monsters to fall. Teaches dexterity and cooperation
The Magic Labyrinth: Magical apprentices must collect missing objects inside a maze before their master notices anything is wrong. Teaches memory and hand-eye coordination
Zeus on The Loose: Add numbers as you climb Mount Olympus, using the strength of Apollo, Poseidon and Hera to grab Zeus as you work your way to the top. Teaches numerical skills and strategic thinking
Top That: Players race to stack their wooden pieces, and turn challenge cards to see who will win the game. Teaches pattern recognition and fine motor skills