Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Say Hello to:

Gerald McDaniel, aka gamesgrandpa, who lives in Lakewood, Colorado. He retired in 1997 after 32 years working in human resources and automated systems. His current game group consists of his wife of 41 years, his son and daughter, son-in-law, grandson and granddaughter, with whom he plays almost every Saturday.

You've raised your children with games and now you're introducing your grandchildren to games. Did you grow up in a household of gamers?

Gerald: My parents were not really game-players. I had no siblings, and my earliest years were spent on a farm with no nearby neighbors with children. I do recall, however, that the first (and only) game my parents taught me to play was Crazy Eights, with a regular deck of cards, at about age 4 or 5. My next memory of gaming was with my cousins, uncles, and grandmother. Only one cousin was near my age; the others were adults. So, I began gaming (mostly playing cards) with adults. My grandmother taught me to play (and played often with me) checkers and dominoes. My uncles and cousins loved to play Pitch, and that is still my favorite card game. I learned the value of adults playing games with children from first-hand experience.

What games do you recommend for children in their early school years?

Gerald: My recommendations are certainly different today than they would have been about thirty years ago, when we were teaching our children to play games. With our grandchildren, we first went through the usual gamut of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, My First Board Games, and The Wizard of Oz Yellow Brick Road Game, among others. They also learned early to play Uno and a memory game of matching cards turned face-down (Rainbow Fish cards, but not the games listed on BGG under that name).

We suddenly became aware of Euro games about that time, and began playing Frank’s Zoo, Pick Picknic, Trumpet, Vampire, and Zirkus Flohcati. The grandkids learned these games quickly, and we all enjoyed playing them together. I highly recommend these Euro games for pre-school and early school-age children. I also think Uno is a good early-age card game that requires no reading or math knowledge; matching colors and numbers is a good skill to learn very young.

Our seven-year-old grandson consistently wins or scores highly in games with adults, such as Hunters and Gatherers, Settlers of Catan, Mississippi Queen, and Canyon. He also fares very well against his dad when they play their three-set games of HeroScape. These are good games for children. Our nine-year-old granddaughter has not caught the gaming bug to the extent the rest of the family has, but she and her brother recently learned Nertz, and that has become the game she wants to play every weekend (and she is very good at it). Note: Seven-hand Nertz is a wild and chaotic game!

Games may help children with social skills and academic skills such as reading, math and even geography. Do you think the Euro-games are better at this than the typical games we grew up with like Monopoly, Life, Sorry, Clue and Yahtzee?

Gerald: Almost all games teach something worthwhile to children, even if it’s just learning to take turns or the fact that life can and will throw surprises at them. However, I do believe the Euro games are more interesting and challenging, and they help children learn a wider variety of skills and knowledge. Most (or maybe all) Euro games offer more control by the players, in my opinion, and this eliminates a lot of the “run of bad luck” found with primarily random dice-rolling, spinner-flicking, and card-turning games. These newer games require more thinking, more planning, more analysis, and more deduction and induction, and they are more satisfying. Many of them also require extensive social interaction, such as negotiating with other players (example: Settlers of Catan), trying to convince others to do something that will help you as well as them (examples: Hunters & Gatherers and Royal Turf), or learning to play cooperatively (example: Lord of the Rings). [Our grandson enjoys all of those games.] These are important skills for children to learn.

Our grandson is well ahead of his grade level in math. I think it is because of a combination of some innate ability he has and his experiences with games. He has amazed us from about age four with his ability to add and subtract double-digit numbers, usually to add up game scores. We used to quiz him to tell us how many points one player was behind another, and he could do the math in his head (he didn’t know how to write the numbers at that time). Our grandchildren learned to total their scores in Pick Picknic by grouping their cubes into sets of ten points. So, they were combining different-valued colored cubes into mathematical combinations (and counting by five’s and ten’s) before they were being taught math in school.

Both grandchildren are excellent readers, and we know their reading skills have been enhanced by games. Our grandson learned to play Magic: The Gathering before he could read, and he wanted to learn to read the cards himself as soon as possible, which he did. As I said, our granddaughter does not have the strong interest in gaming that we do, but she is an outstanding reader, writer, and illustrator, and I believe her language skills were increased to a great extent by her experiences in reading cards, game boards, and rules.

Many social skills are introduced or developed by playing games. One of the most difficult to deal with is the situation of losing. We taught our kids and grandkids to congratulate the winner of every game, and we still do “high-five’s” when they win and sometimes when we win. We observe other children their ages who just cannot gracefully accept losing in any type of competition, and we are grateful that playing games with the right attitude has helped our grandchildren deal with that situation at an early age. It does not teach them to “be losers,” but it does teach them to properly handle the inevitable competitive losses when they occur.

When I was growing up (in the 60's), the kids played games together while the adults were in the dining room playing cards. Do you think it's important for kids to play games with adults?

Gerald: I did play a few board games and card games with some neighborhood kids when I was in elementary school (and learned to play chess with a friend in high school), but most of my early gaming experiences were with adults. I believe gaming in mixed-age groups is an excellent way to teach children how to relate to adults; I believe it helps children mature. Of course, this is assuming the adults are “mature” and are good role models. Children can learn much more about interacting with people by playing games with adults than by being “set aside” to play only among themselves. They see how adults handle good fortune and “bad luck,” and how they communicate and negotiate with each other, and those examples can become models for their later lives. The experience gives them a good feeling about themselves -- that they are seen as “people,” not just as children, and that they can interact and compete with adults in a safe and fun environment. Finally, I believe playing games as a family (or with relatives or friend’s families) can instill worthwhile ethics and life values in younger generations.

You used to be a war gamer and still enjoy them but you haven't found a war gamer in your children or grandchildren. Do you think there's something that makes a person a war gamer?

Gerald: I wish I knew what makes one person enjoy wargames and another to have no interest in them at all. I know many wargamers are also interested in history and military history, but many are not. Many people who are fans of the Lord of the Rings books love to play the conflict games based on them, but many certainly do not. Many people who are history buffs have no interest in wargames. I do not see a direct connection there. The few wargame players I have known personally were intelligent and competitive. To be a successful wargamer, a person must have those characteristics, as well as others, such as dedication to learning about the conflicts and/or historical periods modeled by the games, the ability to analyze a significant amount of data and select the best alternative moves from a wide choice, and a lot of stamina. It also helps to have a good income to support the addiction.

I believe the nearest I came to playing wargames with my children was the game Battleship (not exactly the same category). Although I was really into collecting and playing Avalon Hill wargames when my kids were in elementary, middle, and high school, they never developed any interest in them (nor did my wife, who dislikes the idea of attacking other people, even in a game setting). My son-in-law does have some interest in wargames. He and I got out my old Wooden Ships & Iron Men and my Ace of Aces a couple of weeks ago (he learned, and I re-learned, how to play them). We hope to find some time to do so again.

I do not know whether my grandson will become a wargamer, but I do know that he has enjoyed Magic: The Gathering (with a somewhat similar theme), Risk, Dark Tower (which my son-in-law owns), Stratego, and now HeroScape (he has most of the character cards memorized and can recite the attack and defense numbers and the value of each of the characters, and he understands the relationship among those numbers). I believe he is on the road that could lead him to true wargaming.

I know you have to buy games to accommodate 5 or more players, but if that restriction was lifted, what games would you like to try?

Gerald: Oh, wow, how much time and space do you have? Where do I start? I’m a game junkie, and there are very few games that have a decent ranking on BGG that I would not like to try. It may be fortunate (for our bank account) that I have finally been able to force myself to not purchase games for fewer than 5 players (and now, with our grandson becoming such an avid player, I am beginning to look only at games that accommodate 6 players). Here are only a few of the games I can think of that interest me, but that I have not played and probably never will have the opportunity (some may accommodate 5 or 6 players, but for other reasons would not appeal to our family group): Acquire; Amun-Re; Betrayal at House on the Hill; Cosmic Encounter; Euphrat & Tigris; A Game of Thrones; the GIPF series; Icehouse; Power Grid; Puerto Rico; Reef Encounter; Roads and Boats; and RoboRally. Oh, the pain in the thought that I very likely will never experience these games!

Games currently on my “plan (hope) to purchase” list: Around the World in 80 Days; Australia; Boomtown; Cartagena; Drakon; For Sale; Goldland; Hare and Tortoise; Mu; Station Master; and Tongaiki. I am eager to see, and hear more about, Railroad Tycoon: The Boardgame, because I’ve enjoyed very much playing Railroad Tycoon on my PC for a number of years.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Gerald: I believe that for the amount of quality time that is enjoyed, and the quite reasonable cost, playing games with one’s family has got to be considered one of the absolute best activities a person can undertake. It’s not only a current pleasure, but also an important investment in the future, and it creates many wonderful memories for all involved.

I want to thank Gerald for being so wonderful to work with and for answering tough questions so brilliantly that I had to do very little editing.

Until next time, remember:
When you don't know where you're going, every road will take you there.



Peter said...

Great interview. The "will never get to play" list looks a lot more appealing than the "plan to purchase" list!

Jonathan said...

Congratulations to you, gamesgrandpa, for you are definitely a winner!