Friday, November 18, 2005

Boardgamers - The Next Generation

This week's guest blogger is another gaming mom from America's heartland. She has been one of the premier female voices on Boardgamegeek for some time now.

Denise Patterson-Monroe's, aka Denise on BGG, comments are always worth the read. She was an easy choice for me to extend an invitation to write an article for Gone Gaming. Denise is perhaps best known for her article on writing a good game review. Those of you who have ever written a game review on Boardgamegeek may have noticed "Click here for help on writing game reviews" on the review page. Clicking will bring up Denise's timeless advice on writing a game review. I consider the fact that I wrote the first comment on that particular article to be one of my brushes-with-greatness. Of course I have no life.

BTW, I still haven't figured out how to roll the dice so they stay on the table, or to otherwise not cause a calamity with the game pieces, so if you don't want your kids to turn out like me take notes while you read this.


Survey the boardgamers you know and I bet all of them played boardgames as children. Survey all the non-gamers you know and, well, not so much, you'll find a lot more people who never played as kids. (And the people who DID play games as a kid but don't anymore are often good candidates to lure back into the fold with Ticket to Ride, but that's another topic altogether.)

But the kids! If you are interested in keeping boardgaming going for the next generation and not just relegating Settlers to being an obscure fad of the '90s, the kids are where you have to go. Drag 'em away from the X-Box and show them there is A Better Way.

Sounds easy enough - if you are a parent. And I expect most of the non-parents have skipped to the next blog by now anyway. But hang in there, non-parents! Some of you may yet become parents, and others may have nieces or nephews, some of you may be (or know) teachers, Sunday school teachers - even for non-parents, there are lot of ways we can reach out to the Youth of Today. Dare to be the fun grownup at the next inter-generational gathering you attend!!

Now there are lots of articles that list good games to play with kids. That's not where I'm going with this. Kid games come and go, as do regular Euros, so anything I list could be out of print next year. This is a strategy article. I'll list some specific examples, sure, but only for illustration - you can apply these basic principles to a great number of games.

Where to begin? Depends on the age of the child. Once they are seven or eight or so, you really have no problems. Pull out your standard gateway games, get 'em into Carcassonne and you can go from there pretty easily. But honestly, an eight year old who has never played games, or only played roll and move games, may not 'get it'. Hopefully they will, but ideally you want to lay the foundation at an earlier age.

That's right, start 'em young! As soon as they are old enough to not eat the pieces is the right age. For the youngest, look for games that are extremely simple. In fact, don't think of gaming with this age as gaming at all - think of it as introducing basic game mechanics. I've played Snail's Pace Race with kids as young as two (watch them closely to make sure they don't eat the dice!). Keep in mind toddlers have to be taught EVERYTHING, including how to shake and roll the dice, and how to move the pieces one space at a time. This is actually a good opportunity - we've all played with people who can't roll dice without rolling at least one of them off the table, teach them how to roll properly at age two or three and it won't be an issue later.

A couple other things to look for in the very first game you introduce to a very young child. Colorful, high quality bits are good. Not only are they more attractive for the little 'un, (always keeping in mind you don't want the kid to eat the pieces!), but you'll be competing with the video games sooner than you think. Length of game is important too - no more than fifteen minutes for the youngest set when you are first introducing game, and even shorter is better. Candyland is a HORRIBLE game in this regard, goes on WAY too long for what it is.

Non-competitive or less competitive games are good too - yes, we need to teach the budding gamer to be a good sport, but that can come after you show them how FUN games are. Remember, at this age you aren't really teaching them to game, you are teaching them pre-gaming skills. Sportsmanship isn't going to happen at age three. You can (and MUST) demonstrate it yourself, but don't expect it of them yet. If you start demonstrating sportsmanship to a very young child, you are giving them a model that they can draw on later when they are a little more mature. They will need MANY reminders and kindly reinforcements for several years yet - you must be very patient. Don't tolerate outrageous behavior, no tantrums allowed, but you can still be kind about it.

For a slightly older child of four, five, or six, start considering outside factors. Unless you know the child is a precocious reader, all games should have no reading, maybe a few symbols to remember. Although an interested child can rise above this - my daughter at age 4 memorized all the spaces on Monopoly Jr because she loved the game SO much. But when you are first starting, don't assume they will be that interested - if it happens, great, but don't bank on it.

Consider who the child is most likely to get to play with. If you give a game like Coloretto that requires three players to the only child of a single parent, you are setting that child up for a poor experience, as they may never even get to play the game before they forget about it. If the child has multiple siblings that might be enticed to play, look for games that support more players than something from the Kosmos 2-player line. A shy child should get a game that plays well with two so they can be comfortable with the social interaction, and a social butterfly should get a game that allows them to invite all the friends along.

Theme is important to this age group. Unfortunately. There are a lot of crappy games that are marketed to kids this age based on being tied-in with some popular show or movie or character. There are some good themed games too, of course, but mostly they are not so much. At this age, the adult picking the game needs to be responsible for getting past this potential pitfall. Look for good games that are related to things the kid likes without being an actual tie-in. Don't pick that horrible Quidditch game for the Harry Potter fan, get them Frog Juice instead.

If you want to play up the educational value of a game, tell the parents, not the kid. Yes, King's Breakfast uses some multiplication in the scoring, but let's not turn the kid off by making them think they are in school, ok? Tell the parents - they will be impressed, the kid will just be turned off.

Last, and most important, have fun. The BEST way to get a kid excited about a game is have a blast with it. This is the time to pull out your sound effects, tell stories about your meeple, make pyramids with the bits, all that fun stuff. Change the rules if need be - if you insist on getting all hung up on some obscure scoring rule like the farmers in Carcassonne that the kids don't quite get and therefore the kids are just confused at the end, it's not fun. Ditch the farmers and play with the other rules until the kid is ready for it. If the kids are having a good time, then they are much more likely to want to play the next game with you, and then you have them hooked.


1 comment:

Melissa said...

Excellent post, Denise.

We watched Biggie (now 7) play adults at Settlers earlier this year, and 'teach' someone to play Ticket to Ride a couple of weeks ago. She complains if we go for long without playing a game together.

Passing on that love of gaming is a wonderful thing :)