Autism and Boardgames: Some Observations
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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My son Matthew (MattCsigs) is autistic. His diagnosis is actually PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified). Basically meaning he exhibits symptoms from the autism spectrum but doesn't fit exactly into any one diagnosis. There's a very good description here.

Matt (19) is fortunate to be a fairly high functioning autistic. After spending some years at an excellent special-needs preschool, Matt entered mainstream kindergarten only a year late. He's now a high-school graduate but is getting some further education (extra innings) and is in an excellent job shadow program. He has a job at a local catering facility that he absolutely loves ... and they love him.

Recently Matthew has been attracted to board games. I don't know why I didn't make this connection sooner, but it's an excellent way for him to engage in appropriate social-interaction while following a rigid, structured format. He's taken to not just gaming with family and friends, but has even been attending our monthly game nights. This weekend he'll be attending his first convention!

From gallery of Csigs


This list isn't intended to be anything like a clinical study, just some observations and anecdotes regarding Matthew, autism and board games. I know there are many other parents, family members and educators on Board Game Geek ... so I'd like to think you might find something useful or interesting here. And please add your own anecdotes and observations for the rest of us!
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1. Board Game: Monopoly: The Mega Edition [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:8774]
Board Game: Monopoly: The Mega Edition
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Matt's favorite game thus far is Monopoly, ever since getting the game for his Sega Genesis so many years ago. I'd played with him on the console but I confess I've never played a face-to-face game with him.

He saw the Monopoly - Mega Edition at our game store and I recognized that glassy-eyed stare and drool that I get over so many games, so how could I say no? Matt sets up and plays frequent solo games, plus he's brought the game to his school and shared it there.
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2. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:179] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
From gallery of Csigs
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Ticket to Ride was one of the first games I played with Matthew. That's him playing at one of our Alternate Boardgames events.

At first I had to make several modifications:

- Matt insisted on playing with his hand open. This wasn't a terrible thing at first because I would help Matt plan his route, and he's since taken to keeping his hand secret. He doesn't hide his intentions well, though so he's still vulnerable to blocking.

- Matt mostly insists on building his routes from beginning to end. Again, with repeated play he has started to break this habit.

- Matt will always take a wild card (if available) over two of the regular train cars.
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3. Board Game: Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Dungeon of Dorukan [Average Rating:5.76 Overall Rank:7521]
Board Game: Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Dungeon of Dorukan
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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When Matt saw this game in my collection, it was the first game he specifically asked to play (he's read some of the comics). It also marked the first time he read the rules himself (it helped that they were in comic strip format).

Matt enjoyed most of the game, but ultimately announced that he felt it was too long. He wasn't the only one.
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4. Board Game: Guillotine [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:1204]
Board Game: Guillotine
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Guillotine was another of the first games that I played with Matthew. He took to it immediately. The line of cards helps give structure and predictability to the game, and the action cards don't add enough chaos to set him off. It's become one of his favorite games and he's played it frequently. In fact, I sent a Guillotine Deck to his Case Manager at school and just this week Matt was able to teach the game to his peers.

Matt has a strange approach to Guillotine. Adaptability is difficult for an autistic, so Matt rarely varies from his one strategy in Guillotine: Get the grey (negative) cards and then use "Indifferent Public" to make them positives. Of course he can't always get his hands on that card but he tries ...
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5. Board Game: Zombie Fluxx [Average Rating:5.99 Overall Rank:3604]
Board Game: Zombie Fluxx
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Matt got invited into a game of Zombie Fluxx at one of our game nights, and thinking it certainly was at about the level of Guillotine I thought he would handle it well.

Boy was that a mistake.

In retrospect it should have been obvious: Matt often needs rigid rules and structure, and sitting him at a game where the rules constantly change was just too frustrating for him.
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6. Board Game: Zooloretto [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:779] [Average Rating:6.83 Unranked]
Board Game: Zooloretto
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Zooloretto was another game that Matthew identified from my collection as something he wanted to learn.

Matt is naturally focused on his own play and doesn't often pay attention to others. He also has difficulty projecting out cause-and-effect relationships. As a result, he didn't pay much attention to making sure that his opponents couldn't get a truckload that helped them out too much.

He also fixated on his own goals, and that often didn't mean making the best tactical decisions. For example; Matt made a goal of getting a full enclosure of Pandas and didn't adapt when the game provided him with better opportunities.

Still, Matt found it enjoyable.
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7. Board Game: Tumblin-Dice [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:743]
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Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Matt also really enjoys Tumblin-Dice. With his motor skill delays he's always going to have difficulty with a dexterity game, but I have to imagine that a flicking game like this will be easier than a stacking game like Bausack or Stack Market. I recently picked up Bamboleo. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to that. I have a feeling it will make him too nervous.
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8. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:751]
Board Game: Can't Stop
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Matt's most recent favorite game is Can't Stop. It's funny, he really does have difficulty stopping himself and often sets himself back. At first he would make a decision about what numbers he wanted to roll and then wouldn't make the best decisions with the dice.

But he's adapted quickly. Now his only problem is he probably pushes his luck too far ... but considering he's beaten me twice I may not know what I'm talking about.

And the other funny thing is he enjoys it so much, he'll often voluntarily not stop, even when he's won the game just because he wants to bust so it can keep going.

cool
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9. Board Game: Star Wars: Epic Duels [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1182]
Board Game: Star Wars: Epic Duels
Carol Jones
United States
Maryland
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This is Ben's favorite game. Ben doesn't like to learn new games. He sticks with the old standbys over and over again. Every few months we try to convince him to try a new game, but it is difficult to get him to branch out. Recently, my husband convinced him to learn Clash of the Lightsabers (because Star Wars is his life) and after a little coaxing, the theme won him over. I am sure that this game will see a lot of play as well.

When Ben plays Epic Duels, he is very calculated and always plays the same. The cards come out randomly, so there is some difference there, but every time Ben plays the same card, he plays it the same way, in the same order, in the same circumstance. I can predict what card is in his hand (or not in his hand) by where he moves his pieces. He rarely takes chances and after receiving hit points on a character, he always moves that character out of the line of fire, instead of using him to attack back. He tends to take the heal action a lot, and to horde cards. This is the only game I can think of where he holds his cards in his hand, and understands that they should be secret. He hasn't been able to transfer that strategy to other games that he has played less often.
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10. Board Game: Doodle Dice [Average Rating:5.58 Overall Rank:16529]
Board Game: Doodle Dice
Joe Haus

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Generally, I’m uncomfortable plugging my own designs on the boards, but I recently came across a doodle dice discussion by Parents of Children Living With Autism that I found to be fascinating and wonderful.

Here's the link to the discussion: (http://www.autism-pdd.net/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=25018&PN...)
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11. Board Game: Daytona 500 [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:2006]
Board Game: Daytona 500
stephen stover
United States
lake dallas
Texas
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My 9 year old ADHD and PDD-NOS boy firts learned this game. The rules are ridgid enough and he loves cars. This works very well. The only problem is the auction, I have to help him figure which car would be best for him to shoot for. I remind him he may be pating to much etc.
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12. Board Game: Survive: Escape from Atlantis! [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:287]
Board Game: Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
stephen stover
United States
lake dallas
Texas
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Cameron Age 9 - ADHD - PDD-NOS

he and a cub scout buddy who is a high functioning ADHD plyed this game and they had a lot of fun. Cameron won. The simple rules helps alot.
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13. Board Game: Labyrinth [Average Rating:6.41 Overall Rank:1623]
Board Game: Labyrinth
Mark Salzwedel
United States
New York
New York
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This might be a good one for Matt. It has a quality I try to put in my own game designs: easy rules with levels of strategy. And it doesn't mean that operating on a more inclusive or long-term strategy will necessarily lead to a win, too, so it's great for all those situations when an adult is playing with a child.
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14. Board Game: 4th Corner [Average Rating:4.81 Overall Rank:18872]
Board Game: 4th Corner
Mark Salzwedel
United States
New York
New York
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This is one I designed that is again, very simple, but as you play it more, you are aware of subtler and subtler levels of strategy. I have an animated sample game online now (http://strategic-space.com/4c.html), if you'd like to see how it plays without having to go through the rather brief rules. Every turn you just play a tile and then move your pawn if you can and want to.
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15. Board Game: Dragon Parade [Average Rating:5.78 Overall Rank:7957]
Board Game: Dragon Parade
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Matt took to this game right away and enjoys it very much. He established a pattern immediately, however and hasn't been able to deviate from it. He puts one seller just inside one gate, and then his second seller just inside the other (even when it's obvious that the dragon will be staying on the one side).

He does try to anticipate better with his third seller, but I think their's just too much chaos for him to project further than that.
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16. Board Game: Wits & Wagers [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:641]
Board Game: Wits & Wagers
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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I knew Matt would not be able to handle many of the questions in Wits & Wagers, but I thought he would do a better job of playing the odds. Yet all he did was continually bet on the highest odds, which meant he didn't win very often. That frustrated him.
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17. Board Game: Bobbin' Bumblebee [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:8425]
Board Game: Bobbin' Bumblebee
Greg r
United States
TROY
Michigan
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Just played this tonight for the first time.

For my young son with Aspergers this is just the ticket for eye hand coordination (motor skills) he loved the game. We changed it to a 15 minute hit the bee game, and we all had a lot of fun. My just turned 7 year old daughter joined us and loved it also.

I see it is going to just be a challenge to get him to hit the bee. But we found that if you hold your honey wand up the bee will roll over your honey disk. This was great and we played it as a group, but I do not know if he was really playing with us or not.

We got it from amazon for under 20 bucks
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18. Board Game: Hisss [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:13256]
Board Game: Hisss
Greg r
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Another one we played tonight.

Got this for my daughter (not autistic) a few years ago and she likes it. Have been trying to get my son to play it for about a year now, tonight we had a successful game. The game helps him with his speech which is delayed as we can work on the color names, it helps with matching as you have to match colors to make the snake. It also help to socialize him to having to follow rules and wait his turn.

Tonight he played with us as a family instead of playing next to us at the same table. He was actively engaged in watching the game, waiting his turn, realizing that OTHERS were playing when it wasn't his turn. Yep a great game for us as a family tonight.

I think this game will have some appeal to the kids with autism because as several others have pointed out they love to line things up so this is good. They like to line things up so much so that I took Joe Gola's (Gola) advice and when I saw Rivers, Roads & Rails, I found a copy and ordered it, I think Phil will love this game also becase it has Railroad Tracks.
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19. Board Game: Nexus Ops [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:475]
Board Game: Nexus Ops
Karen Gomez
United States
Bellevue
Nebraska
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Dylan is 11 and has PDD-NOS with ADHD and this game excites the heck out of him! He finds the fairly simple move rules easy to remember, and he loves the way the pieces will glow in a blacklight. He tends to line up the pieces most of the time and he always wants to use his dragon, but that is easily accepted. The most difficult thing for him in this game is paying attention to the other players' strategies.
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20. Board Game: Diplomacy [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:625]
Board Game: Diplomacy
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Canada
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Nope. Not this one!

I asked a gaming buddy, someone who has introduced me to a number of great games, if he was interested in playing Diplomacy. "Nope", was his answer, "I can't play those kinds of games." It was in the conversation afterwards that I learned he has Aspergers.
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21. Board Game: Isolation [Average Rating:5.73 Overall Rank:13800]
Board Game: Isolation
Thomas Blaine
United States
Fulton
New York
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My son Ian (PDD), just turned 4, always wants to play 'grown up' boardgames, mainly to play with the components, but I've started including him in the games I play with my 6 yr old. Much to my surprise, he beat his brother 2 of 2 games on this one the last time we played. I'm hoping we're onlto something and he'll be an abstract fan like me as he grows up.
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22. Board Game: Scrabble [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:1847] [Average Rating:6.28 Unranked]
Board Game: Scrabble
Keng Ho Pwee
Singapore
Unspecified
Unspecified
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One of the top Scrabble players in Singapore is a young autistic man. He was one of the country's representatives to the 2007 World Scrabble Championships and was one of only three people to beat the eventual world champion in head-to-head matches during the competition. In fact, he beat the champion twice!
He also likes boardgames and is a regular at boardgame meetups.

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23. Board Game: TAMSK [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:2168] [Average Rating:6.78 Unranked]
Board Game: TAMSK
Matthew McNatt
United States
Eugene
Oregon
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I've used this game to help people with autism-spectrum conditions remain aware of the passage of time. Besides, it's often fun! Comments?
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24. Board Game: Diamant [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:728]
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Bob Menzel
United States
Montpelier
Vermont
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Missed it by that much ...
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Found this list after spending a weekend gaming with my nephew who has Aspberger's -- I've had a hard time connecting with him, and its been through gaming that 11 years later its finally starting to happen. So, thanks for the list and some more great ideas.

We played this game a couple of times over the weekend, and he really liked it. He really liked the push your luck atmosphere, and he won the 2nd time we played.

You could also try Incan Gold, which is more available here in the U.S.
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25. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:103]
Board Game: Pandemic
Mark Casiglio
United States
Ansonia
CT
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Falcon 2018 September 28, 29, 30 in Stamford, CT
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UPDATE

In the months since this geek list Matt has tried a number of new games, and none was a bigger success than Pandemic. Matt loves the programmed nature of the game, and is pretty good at figuring out the best course of action most of the time ... although he does become focused on treating cubes more than trying to achieve a cure. His favorite role is the Operations Expert. He loves putting new Research Centers on the board!
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