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game pieces sitting on a game board

Board games can provide a break from mental stress, as well as build healthy traits among family members.

Family bonding for the holidays? Board games hit the mark

Popular Sedgwick County program proves value of games for families

Nov. 9, 2020

WiCHITA, Kan. – It seemed like such a simple idea, with a modest beginning.

On May 22, 2010, Liz Brunscheen-Cartagena invited members of the community and their families over to the Sedgwick County extension office to play a few board games.

It was, she thought, a way to strengthen family relationships.

“We had a board game library and volunteers to help teach games to the attendees,” said Brunscheen-Cartagena, the family life and resource management agent for K-State Research and Extension’s office in Sedgwick County.

A couple dozen folks showed up, played games then filled out a survey on their experience. It provided the feedback Brunscheen-Cartagena needed to get her program rolling.

Now entering its second decade, Bonding Thru Board Games has brought thousands of people together to play and laugh. Brunscheen-Cartagena said the event is normally held every other month and typically draws between 20-30 people.

But they’ve also hosted Mega Events during the first 10 years in which up to 300 people show up to play. In past years, Board Games with Santa has drawn about 100 players.

“Among many things, playing board games is a resource for mental health,” Brunscheen-Cartagena said. “It helps people to disconnect from reality for a short period of time, having a break from stressors such as COVID or politics.

“Board games,” she added, “transport you to a renaissance pier bidding for goods, a race via railroad, or maybe even one small step to the moon. It brings people together, staving off loneliness. All generations gathering around a table sharing the same activity…it’s brilliant and magical.”

She noted that when possible for families to get together during the upcoming holiday season, board games can provide valuable bonding time.

“You know, these holidays are going to be unique, but that uniqueness has given us the opportunity to re-set our scope and adjust our lenses to focus on who we have close to us and to connect with them,” Brunscheen-Cartagena said. “We have been busy focusing on things ‘out there’ and missing bonding time with people ‘right here.’ COVID is shifting our attention to what is fundamentally important: people. And board games help to connect or re-connect people in a non-intrusive way.”

Brunscheen-Cartagena cited a research-based publication from the University of Nebraska’s extension service – Family Treasures: Creating Strong Families – that lists six traits of strong families:

  • Carving time for each other.
  • Appreciation.
  • Communication.
  • Shared values.
  • Resiliency in times of crisis.
  • Commitment to each other.

“Playing board games as a family tradition helps to develop those traits in a scaffolding manner,” Brunscheen-Cartagena said. “One trait is the result of the previous one when playing board games. So those key aspects are what I recommend families to focus on.”

Brunscheen-Cartagena added that families should play board games together from beginning to end – with no player elimination rules.

She has written two publications on playing board games, both available for free through the K-State Research and Extension bookstore:

More information also is available online through the Sedgwick County extension office, and on the Bonding Thru Board Games Facebook page.

At a glance

A popular program in Sedgwick County has proven the value of families and friends getting together to play board games.


Bonding Thru Board Games

Notable quote

“Among many things, playing board games is a resource for mental health. It helps people to disconnect from reality for a short period of time, having a break from stressors such as COVID or politics.”

-- Liz Brunscheen-Cartagena, family life and resource management agent, Sedgwick County


Liz Brunscheen-Cartagena

Written by

Pat Melgares

For more information: 

Developing the six traits of strong families

Developing vital soft skills for school and workforce


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu. K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.