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Brainy Countdown: Games that Challenge Your Mind

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Depending on what type of entertainment you crave, you probably drift toward games that meet your interests. Sports fans might gravitate toward sports simulations or sports management apps, while those who enjoy competing with friends might gravitate toward a MOBA game like Fortnite or League of Legends.

But did you know that video games can also be used to jog the brain? While most people classify games as entertainment, and rightly so, there are hundreds of titles that will also challenge your mind. Whether puzzles or more hardboiled obstacles, video games can be a great way to get your brain moving.

In certain cases, some games might even teach you something new or help you develop certain types of analytical skills. Let’s explore some of the most mentally challenging (and rewarding) games on the market.

Poker (Multi-platform)

Poker has been around for centuries and remains hugely popular. This is thanks to the game’s multi-faceted nature and the fact that virtual platforms like PokerStars make it easy to learn the ropes and get started playing. Poker challenges players to strategically build a hand while balancing their bet amounts and observing other players. But even elements like learning the basic concepts can take a bit of time, as terms like ‘draw dead’ and ‘smooth call’ take a bit of study to fully understand. Unlike many other games, poker variations like Texas Hold’em also involve bluffs, which adds an element of social deception that many enjoy.

Portal (PC, PlayStation)

Portal is a highly acclaimed puzzle game that recently launched a second installation. Players are taken onto a ship where they’re tasked with using a ‘portal gun’ to help them escape a ruthless AI program. The game balances mental challenges, like visual puzzles, along with timed challenges that force players to think quickly and accurately. As the game advances, the puzzles become much more difficult.

Fire Emblem (Nintendo)

This puzzle game has been around since the early 1990s as a Nintendo release. As such, you can only access this game on a Nintendo device. Still, it’s a fantastic puzzle game that incorporates fantasy settings and superhuman abilities. Players must battle others using grid-based systems, which combine elements of real-time strategy with narrative-heavy RPG games. In other words, if you like a bit of imaginative storytelling with your puzzles, this is a great option.

Civilization (PC)

The Civilization franchise includes six installments which are highly rated by players. We suggest starting with Civilization VI, but any release includes the same premise. Players must take on the role of growing and expanding an ancient civilization which is rooted in real-world research. Unsurprisingly, this setup requires players to analyze, balance, forecast, and measure their growth at every turn. In Civ VI, players can access African empires related to Mali, Ethiopia, Nubia, Zulu, and more.

Mini Metro (Mobile)

This mobile puzzle game is very straightforward. Players must construct a functional metro system using a clean design. Though this premise might sound a little boring, the developers did a wonderful job of scaling up the challenges. As players advance, you’ll need to become even more efficient and build on the metro-mapping skills you’ve improved. New challenges like rush-hour overcrowding are always on the horizon, adding real-world complexities at every turn.

Cuphead (Multi-platform)

When Cuphead first came out, players and critics lauded its kitschy, old-school design and unique setup. This game is a side-scroller, which means players must jump, duck, and otherwise navigate across a fast-moving level. In Cuphead, there’s added emphasis on ‘fast-moving’. As the game advances, players don’t need to think their way through difficult puzzles—instead, they need to keep their brains moving at top speed to keep up with the next level and take on the next boss battle.

The Talos Principle (Multi-platform)

You’ll be delighted with the adventure puzzles in The Talos Principle (including its second installation). This game includes all the puzzle hype of hits like Portal, except there’s a bit more emphasis on its highly philosophical narrative. In this game, players aren’t fleeing from an AI program gone awry. Instead, they’re taking a closer look at the role of AI within the context of human development and potential.