One of the tricky balancing acts of parenthood – once you get the past the hard stuff like sleeping and eating – is getting the kids into the stuff you like, because you think they’ll like it to. Now, we’ve all heard or experienced the horror stories of kids being dragged into things against their will, but often your kids will see that you’re enjoying something and want to be involved, and it can be immensely rewarding to share that with them. For our boys (5 and 13) more than anything it’s been board gaming, and over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about teaching them how to game. So here, based on my sample size of two, is my advice.
Pick your game carefully
There is a difference between a game that is simple enough for a kid to play and a game that a kid is going to want to play, and vice versa. Our 5 year old loves my collection of Warhammer 40k figures, but he’s a long way from throwing buckets of d6s around a tabletop. But he’s interested because the look and feel of the playing pieces is a big factor which you shouldn’t underestimate. So a game needs to look fun, as well as play fun, and it needs to move around the table quickly to keep up with wandering attention spans. Simple things like throwing dice, or passing cards, can be in themselves when you’re starting out, so look for things like that.
Be prepared to improvise
Not all rulesets are created equally. Younger kids won’t remember them all, for a start, and more complex games will put a lot of pressure on you to be the font of all knowledge. I’ll go back to this point but enjoyment for all is key, so if you need to bend the rules to make the game work more simply, then go ahead. Games with secrets, for example, aren’t great for younger kids but something like Settlers of Catan can happily work with everyone’s cards face up in front of them. Sure, you know how close everyone is to winning, and what they’ve got, but this brings me nicely to….
Know when to throw a game (and when not to)
Winning and losing is a big part of any game experience. Even the fully cooperative games, like Castle Panic or Pandemic, often have rules that allow one player to “win”. And it’s important that kids learn that winning and losing is a part of the game, and how to that gracefully, but always remember that they’re kids, and you should be beating them all them time, and maybe that’s not the most fun outcome for them. So go easy on them, and don’t always ruthlessly exploit their mistakes. Because there will soon come a time when you don’t need to go easy on them, and you’ll just be struggling to keep up.
Watch out for Attention Span and Morale!
If you’re a grown up player, you’ve probably picked up a couple of skills you don’t realise you have. The first is that you’ve got a good attention span and mid-term planning skills, and the second is that if a game goes badly you will keep playing as best you can. Kids don’t have this, and both are something you need to keep an eye on. As I said before, games with quick turns will help with focus, or where actions can involve more than on player at a time. They can also get demoralised at a single bad turn, irrespective of earlier turns, so you need to watch for their heads going down and them “giving up”. Then it’s not fun, it’s a chore.
Remember this is supposed to be fun for everyone (including you)
Games are fun. Thats why we play them. Winning is fun, for sure, but everyone’s definition of winning can be different. Kids can be bad losers, and bad winners – we’ve had more than one teary breakdown because youngest “wanted Mummy to win, not Daddy” or similar. Frustration and tantrums may be rare in adults but to kids anything and everything can become emotionally high stakes and more than a little fraught. So the golden rule is that this is supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun, stop doing it, try a different game, or just take a break. This goes for you too – “grown your own gaming group” has been a rewarding experience for us but it’s not been without it’s speed bumps. You have to enjoy it too, and the kids will follow along with you.
So thats it for now, I’ll be back soon with some recommendations, based off our games shelf at home.
GS Blogger: Matt