Welcome to our new column, Family of Gamers, where we will take you on a tour of our favorite family games, share with you each of our family member’s likes and dislikes of the game, and insights on our favorite strategies. Finally, we will give you, the parents, perspective on what we use the game to teach our kids.
Today, we are going to begin the journey by introducing ourselves, describing how we became a Family of Gamers, and also give you some tips on picking games to play with children.
I, Jeff, am an avid tabletop gamer (board games and roleplaying games). I have been enjoying gaming since junior high when the GameMaster series came out. Axis & Allies, Shogun, Fortress America were played weekly at my house. After kids, finding a reliable gaming group has been hard; however, the day that I have been waiting for has finally arrived.
I now have the ultimate 4 person gaming group – my family. It didn’t happen over night though. I had to endure many hours of Candy Land, Sorry, Monopoly, Life, etc. (and sometimes I still do). Now all family members are at the age and experience level that we have advanced to Machi Koro, Splendor, 7 Wonders and the like. In this column, I will introduce you to the games that we started playing as a family and the skills that we built upon to allow my 7 year old to eventually beat us at 7 Wonders.
Before we jump in let me introduce the rest of the family. My wife, Stephanie, is a tolerant gamer. She enjoys playing a game that she can play and still socialize at the same time, meaning light strategy. On the other hand, she also tires of seeing me win all of the time. She plays more often to see the smiles on the kids faces, watch their minds work and solve problems.
Our son, Isaac (9), likes games that have some sort of conflict, battle, or memory. Ask him to play “Chicken, Cha, Cha, Cha”. He will toy with you and then smash everybody in one turn with his memory. Our daughter, Anika (7), likes to build and avoid conflict. She is a strategic mastermind in the making. I laughed in my head at her strategy in 7 Wonders until she beat me by 10 points. We are all very different and have our likes and dislikes in choices of games we play. In the articles that follow, we will play a game as a family and discuss our individual likes, dislikes, and strategies. As the parents we will also discuss what teaching aspect the game brings.
Let’s start at the beginning. About 3 years ago, Isaac was entering kindergarten and Anika was starting preschool. We were playing roll, draw, and move games. Examples of these beginner games are CARS Monopoly, Sorry, Chutes & Ladders, Life, and Candyland. These can be important teaching games. They introduce concepts of taking turns, number recognition, counting, and basic addition with a second die. These games can also introduce the concept that some games give you no choice except what the die tells you to do, which as gamers, we know sucks.
The second type of game we introduced was role and move with choices. Pokemon Trainer and Enchanted Forest are good examples of this type of game. Randomness of the die rolls still rules the game, but it introduces choices of what to do with the die roll. Enchanted Forest has memorization and Pokemon Trainer has conflict and more math, both important aspects as we get into more difficult games. Around the same time, the first non-die rolling game was introduced, 3D Labyrinth. It built upon their ability to make choices in that the choices weren’t clearly defined. The kids were now learning how to make their own choices and how their decision-making skills would determine the outcome of the game.
Once they mastered the ability to derive their own choices we were able to introduce their first strategy game: Blokus. The beauty of Blokus is it can teach strategy without needing any words. The kids love the tactile nature of the blocks and shapes and quickly learn from playing that they need a plan in order to find spaces for their pieces.
So how did we make these choices when selecting games to play with our young gamers? Here are our top 4 deciding factors:
- Little to no words necessary to play the game.
- Length of game play and wait time between turns (downtime). The pace of the game needs to move quickly when you are training your young ones to be gamers. Limit the play time to 30 minutes or less until you’ve established that their attention span and interest can handle more.
- Games that they can naturally win with their current experience and skills. I believe that you should never throw a game. Everyone should be able to play to win and not hold back.
- Try different variety of games. Mix up the game mechanics. Play a memory game, a dice rolling game, a dexterity game, and then try an introductory strategy game, rather than always selecting the same mechanic. Don’t shy away from the type of games that you don’t enjoy. This might be your child’s strong suit and it will give them a chance to see you struggle and build their confidence.
So that’s our story and introduces you to our ultimate 4 person gaming group. Next time we will share with you our playing experience of Catan Junior. We will share our favorite part of the game, our least favorite part, each player’s personal strategy when we were playing the game and the parent perspective on what this game will teach your children and bring to your family gaming experience.
Here’s to making your family a Family of Gamers!