How Games Can Make You a Better Investor

A roll of the dice might help improve your portfolio's performance.

Selena Maranjian
Selena Maranjian
Jan 12, 2010 at 12:00AM

In these tough economic times, board games have become an inexpensive way to stay entertained at home. But these games might serve a greater purpose than mere amusement. If you'd like to come away from the stock market feeling more like a winner, consider rolling the dice on a board game.

Tough choices
Some of the best games, such as Through the Desert, No Thanks, Lost Cities, and Blokus, force players to make agonizing choices. Do you take more territory in one direction, or defend your territory in another? Do you invest in a new expedition, or keep building on the ones you've already started?

In investing as in board games, we have limited resources. While we might want to study dozens of companies in depth, we also have jobs to perform, loved ones to tend to, and many other demands on our time.

Those limits also extend to our brains. If you don't know anything about biotechnology, think twice before investing in Human Genome Sciences (NASDAQ:HGSI) or Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ). If you think a semiconductor is somebody who leads a half-sized orchestra, you have no business buying shares of Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM) or Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT).

And of course, our money is finite. We may find 20 exciting companies we'd love to invest in, but if we only have $5,000, we'll still have to whittle that list down. On the flip side, even if we have $100,000, we shouldn't invest $1,000 in 100 companies, because we'd be diluting the effect of our best ideas with a lot of middling ones.

These kinds of concerns keep superinvestor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B) firmly within his "circle of competence." Buffett maintains a strict focus on companies he understands well, and in whose futures he's reasonably certain, such as Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). And since Buffett doesn't see the value of spreading himself too thin, he always looks for big investments.

Switching focus
In games such as Puerto Rico, Dominion, Agricola, and Race for the Galaxy, you're building up an economy, whether it revolves around colonial agriculture or deep-space exploration. In such games, you often have to switch your focus to different areas at different times. For part of the game, you might be developing farms or factories, and in later phases, you might focus on converting them into cash.

That ability to juggle multiple priorities, and harness different resources as our needs change, can pay off in our financial lives. As we approach retirement, for example, we might want to shift our asset allocation mix away from lucrative but volatile stocks, toward stable but lower-yielding bonds.

Board games can save you money
If you love the thrill of leaping in and out of various investments, you might be better off doing so only in the realm of board games. In real life, frequent trading racks up commission costs and increases the tax you'll pay on short-term capital gains. Games such as Acquire, Medici, Bohnanza, and Money let you experience the thrill of fast-paced trading without punching a hole in your portfolio.

Whether you're sharpening your strategic thinking, making smarter decisions, or more effectively allocating limited resources, the same skills you develop by playing board games can also improve your investing.

If you'd like to learn more about games, drop by our Card and Board Games discussion board.