Next week on DriveThruRPG is Teach Your Kids to Game Week. The idea is outlined on their site as;
What are you doing this weekend? How about planning a new campaign… with your kids?
We’ve collected some of the best RPGs for gaming with kids here and we have even more available in the Family Gaming section!
Much too Young
I would LOVE to set up a new campaign with our boys, but they are too young. Despite the simplicities of HeroQuest 2, it is way too complex for two little boys aged three and five.
I have tried to expose the boys to the “talking game” that I play. We even played a very simple RPG, using some of their toys. I asked a few questions, and then together we told a short story about their adventure. There was even some dice rolled, but it quickly descended into the boys using one toy to hit another.
I have seen game Sessions play out that way, but overall this was too much for the boys at the moment. However, I want to lay the foundations of turning them into gamers of the future. Along with all the social and educational benefits of gaming, I just want to share my hobby with them. If we can share a love of games, then this will be something that we will be able to do together, a way for me to spend quality time with my sons.
The Benefits of Gaming
As to be expected, there are many benefits for children in playing games. These include;
Most games involve some form of maths, typically rolling the dice and counting the squares to move around the board.
- Taking Turns
Of all the social lessons of games, I think that learning to take turns is the most important. Learning to share can be difficult for children, especially sharing with other children. Games are a great vehicle for learning how to share.
- Social Interaction
There are a lot of other social interactions within the framework of a game. It is important to learn to be a gracious winner, and to cope with defeat, both good life lessons, yet this seems to be something that many schools veer away from these days.
Gaming is a group activity, even if it just has two Players, so games help children learn to interact within the rules of the game.
Limitations of Children’s Games
No Snakes & Ladders
For all their general benefits, I also want to find games that will guide the boys towards enjoying games as a hobby. However, not all boardgames are good enough to move the boys along the path towards becoming true gaming geeks.
So many children’s games seem to suffer the same flaws;
- Roll the die, move the meeple
Far too many British family boardgames fall into this category. Essentially, on every turn the Player rolls the dice, moves their meeple that many spaces around the board, then blindly follow the instructions on the square they land upon.
No matter how much the designer pimps the board, or the instruction on the square, this is just so dull. Even the classic Monopoly falls squarely in this camp. This format has been done to death, and destroys any sense of wonder about a new game, when the same, repetitive format is repeated time after time.
- No decisions
The result of the “roll the die, move the meeple” style of game is that there are no decisions to be made. This severely limits the impact of the Player on the course of the game, turning them into little more than spectators. If your only real input is when you roll the dice, then the opportunities for learning are severely limited.
For all the standard benefits of a game, the absence of proper decision making has a huge impact on what the child takes away from the experience.
To look at it another way, just think of all the potential benefits if there were decisions to be made. This teaches planning, usually some degree of resource management and the need to deal with the consequences of previous decisions. These are all highly useful skills, and ones vital to so many of the Euro-style games. As potential gaming geeks, I want the boys to enjoy this style of game as these decisions form the core of the games that I want to play with them in the future. Thus, I would want to play similar games with them as soon as possible.
- Limited/no interaction
Yet another flaw from the boring style of game outlined above is the general absence of interaction between the Players. Once again, there are even more social skills to be learnt through interaction and negotiation between the Players during a game.
Obviously, the age of the boys limits what we can play together. Their familiarity with games allows me to push the age range a little, but they can still only play relatively simple games. I often try to add in some extra elements to a game to move it a little further along towards the Euro-style game that I want them to love.
This is something of a balancing act. I want the boys to enjoy their games, they want to have fun and I hope to guide them towards the type of games that I love. However, I do not want to push them too far and have them abandon a game for being too complex. This balance evolves as the boys develop, and will be different for other children.
One Banana, Two Banana!
Pick of the bunch
For all the various games in our collection, One Banana, Two Banana from Orchard Toys is the best.
The game has the inevitable page on Boardgame Geek with all the details. The manufacturers describe the game as;
1 banana, 2 banana, 3 & 4,
dare you pick up 1 card more?
Turn over banana cards to move your monkey forward. But beware, a swamp card or a banana skin could stop you in your tracks, or even send you back to where you started.
What I love about this game is the process that the Player works through on their turn. Essentially this is a risk-reward game, where you can turn over as many cards as you want, with the more bananas shown on your tiles, the further you move. However, the risk is finding a banana skin tile, which sends you backwards as many bananas as you have already revealed.
For me, this is a classic Euro-style mechanic bundled up in a game that my three-year old can play, and play well. Here is a game where you can choose a strategy. Should you choose just three tiles? Stop when you reach six bananas? Stop at ten?
As with the best Euro games, once it is over there is the sense that it could have played out differently if you had only chosen another strategy.
Playing it with the boys
As you can tell, I love this game. I love it enough to want to keep it as a lightweight game even when the boys have grown up. This is a rare gem that can appeal to children and adult gamers alike. The mechanics do not give the adults an unfair advantage. Indeed, the children are often more reckless than the adults, with the potential for greater rewards.
Likewise, the boys seem to enjoy it too. There are many years to go before I can judge whether this game turned them into gaming geeks, but this has to be a good step in the right direction.
What do you think? Which games should I be playing with my young boys to lead them towards a love of gaming? Let me know in the comments.
Something for the Weekend next week; November RPG Blog Carnival, Treason in the Throne Room