Friday, January 27, 2006

Gaming With a Grandson

One key to happiness – GAMES

“Gather ‘round, and you shall hear
News from a man we all revere.”
{with apologies to Longfellow}

That thought, or something like it, flashed in my mind when I saw I had a GeekMail from COLDFOOT! Okay, maybe that’s just a tiny bit over the top, but when I saw the subject of the message was Gone Gaming, well, I was intrigued, to say the least. For a fraction of a second, my thumb froze on the trackball; “Wonder what this is about?” I thought. A quick click revealed the first line: “Would you like to write an article for the Gone Gaming blog?” Are you kidding? Is it cold in Alaska in the winter? Of course I would! ---- [What Brian didn’t know was that I had toyed with the idea of volunteering an article, someday. Oops, the cat’s out of the bag, now.] Speaking of felines, now that I’ve accepted the offer, I’m about as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, but I’ve always been a sucker for the spotlight. Having learned nothing from the Light Brigade, here goes………

My Oxford American Dictionary defines gaming as “to gamble for money stakes.” Well, now, this definition needs some updating. The term, as used by the game geeks I know, generally has little or nothing to do with money stakes (except considering the cost of the game). Our “gaming” around here is strictly playing boardgames and card games for fun.

Warning to Readers: Grandpa Bragging Time Ahead --- My grandson, Joel, last month became 8 years old. He is a bright, polite, popular, friendly, handsome, talented boy who has a particular knack for mathematics and games. He is definitely on the geek trail. At about age two, he was playing Chutes and Ladders with us. He soon moved up to My First Board Games and Uno, among other games. Then came a breakthrough – our family discovered Euro-games (due to clicking on a link to BoardGameGeek).

We soon were playing Pick Picknic, Vampire, and Frank’s Zoo. By this time, Joel was three, and then four years old. That’s when we realized for the first time that he was progressing well ahead of his age in the area of mathematics (or at least simple arithmetic). During a game of Vampire, he casually mentioned that he had four more points than I did. My wife and I stared at him and at each other for a moment, quite surprised at this statement. From that time on, we quizzed him during games about our relative scores, requiring him to add and subtract digits in his head. His arithmetic skill grew by leaps and bounds, as did his ability in gaming. No, we can’t really take credit for “creating” his skills, but we subtly (or not so subtly) pushed him a bit to expand his abilities. We are firmly convinced that his desire to play games and figure out scores helped him considerably to reach the point where he is today. His second-grade teacher told his parents the other day that she loves being forced to come up with ways to challenge Joel in math at school. She said she was one of two teachers at a recent area meeting who could confidently say they had a student working well above his grade level in math.

Joel’s sister (Natalia, now age 10, who beat us all at 7-player Bohnanza last Saturday) became an excellent reader at an early age. Joel developed his math skills early, but we wondered whether he would concentrate on that, rather than on learning to read. We should have had no concern about that. Joel watched his dad and me play Magic: The Gathering for a while, often sitting on his dad’s lap and asking questions. He soon wanted to play the game, but that required reading and understanding the text on all but the most simple cards. In short order, he was doing just that, primarily so he could play that game. His reading skill has progressed to the point that he is now becoming our “rules lawyer.” He discovered this week that we had not been playing Bohnanza correctly (or at least not according to the rulebook variants) when we played with three players or with seven players. We had played the regular five-player rules in both cases. Ah, yes, a true geek!

He and his dad became very interested in HeroScape when it first came out, purchasing three master sets and all the expansions that have been released. Joel studied all the data cards for the figures, and essentially memorized them. Last summer, Toys R Us stores ran a promotional competition in HeroScape, and Joel and his dad signed up at the local store. Joel, playing against teenagers, won the competition and acquired several figures free. He even caused a bit of a stir by making a move which was questioned by his opponent. Joel practically quoted the rule that allowed his movement, and a check of the rulebook confirmed his accuracy. Definitely a rules lawyer.

Soon after we began playing Carcassonne, we acquired Hunters & Gatherers. Very quickly, Joel was playing that game (and beating us), and it became one of his favorite games. He now enjoys Carcassonne with us, too.

After watching the five adults in our family group playing Settlers of Catan for several months, he (at age 7) asked whether he could play a game of it with us. We all sort of hemmed and hawed, but finally agreed. I don’t believe he won the first time out, but it wasn’t long before he did beat us all at Settlers. He observes our play of a new game carefully, asks questions, and then proceeds to beat the socks off us. About a week ago, he asked whether he could try Ticket to Ride with us, and (as usual) he did very well at it, completing all his tickets in both games he’s played.

Last week, he and his sister spent a weekday night at our house, while their parents were out of town. Joel asked whether I would play a game with him (I virtually NEVER turn him down on that request), so I offered to teach him Cartagena (a game I acquired last month, but hadn’t introduced to the family, although my son-in-law Dan and I had played it online). We played one game with our hands face-up, so Joel could learn it. In the second game, when he won by getting all six of his pirates into the escape boat, I had only one of mine in the boat. Hey, now, I’m not exactly a slouch at this game, I thought – why, I’ve even managed to beat sodaklady once at Cartagena online! Okay, we play two more games the next day; he wins one 6-3, and I win one 6-4. This kid is a natural game-player. You have to understand, and believe me when I say, that I do not “throw” games for Joel, to let him win. He is so sharp and so competitive that he pushes us all at whatever we play.

This past Saturday, our family gathered at our house, as usual, for food and games. As we got out a few games to play, I included Around the World in 80 Days, a game I am fond of these days, but had only played twice. I noticed it accommodates up to six players, so I suggested Joel might want to join us. He had watched us play last time, so he knew the general idea of it. We explained the rules for him, refreshing our own memories, and played the game. Although Joel finished last, he made no mistakes and fully comprehended the game. I expect he will soon be winning it.

Over the past few years, Joel has beaten us (all as a group or in smaller groups or one-on-one) in the following games (these are the ones I can think of, at least): Pick Picknic, Vampire, Frank’s Zoo, Zirkus Flohcati, Fill or Bust, Trumpet, Bohnanza, Royal Turf, Hunters & Gatherers, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Cartagena, HeroScape, and Magic: The Gathering. I believe that is quite an accomplishment for an 8-year-old.

I have come to the conclusion that I own no game that Joel would not be able to learn and to compete well in, given a chance. After playing Cartagena last week, I told Joel that he is an excellent game-player. He responded with, “So are you, Grandpa, and you teach me these games.” Can you possibly imagine how proud of him I am and how pleased I am to think about the gaming fun we have ahead of us? ------ Okay, grandpa bragging is now concluded.

Hope this hasn’t been too boring for you. Whether it was or wasn’t, I’ll just say that I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my good fortune with you, and I wish for you as many happy gaming hours as I’ve had over the past half-century and longer.

Until another time (perhaps), this is one grandpa who is a mile high on gaming.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; aka gamesgrandpa


ekted said...

It's nice to be able to mold a new gamer, eh? My neice is only 4, so until she's old enough to start learning some euro's, I'll settle for molding her mommy and daddy. :)

DWTripp said...

Welcome aboard GG! You're making me envious with all your gaming opportunites. I'm damn near your age and my adult children still haven't sprouted any offshoots. Not that they're gamers anyway...or even live close to me.

Joel sounds like the kind of kid that would tick me off because he wins too many games!

Coldfoot said...

I love the part where Joel makes a questionable move in the Heroscape competition and is proved correct. In his place, I probably would have stuck my tongue out at my opponent! :)

One question, Gerald: where can I get a grandson (or grandaughter) like that? Is there an online store I can go to?

posted by: envious in SD

Fraser said...

I completely understand about not throwing games for Joel, we don't do that for Daughter the Elder either and on occasions she wipes the floor with us.

It is interesting watching strategies and tactics develop in young minds, in Settlers of Catan for example, Daughter the Elder concentrates on Ports and Develelopment cards - although I admit the possibility that I am assumung the strategies are developing because she chooses some that I wouldn't necessarily choose :-)

gamesgrandpa said...

We played lots of games with our kids as they were growing up. Unfortunately, we didn't have these great Euro-games available at that time. We are glad such fun games are available for us to play with our grandchildren (and our grown kids feel the same way -- they enjoy playing them with our grandchildren, too). Family gaming never gets old.

Melissa said...

What a wonderful story, Gerald! Your grandchildren are lucky to have grandparents like you who have the time to play games and spend time with them. I hope one day we will be doing the same with Biggie's and Otto's children.

Ava Jarvis said...

That was very nice. :)

I always smile when reading these kinds of stories... to me, they are the heart of gaming.

Anonymous said...

How is he at bluffing games? That is one area where my 8 and 12 year old both fail miserably. :-)

Other than that, they play with the big kids and hold their own in many games.

Does your grandson get light bulb moments? (After they've been following the rules with some randomness, then all of a sudden a strategy kicks in.) Those are my favorite.

Friendless said...

GG, I had the same theory about my son who is now 9.5. He beat me at Goa, and Domaine, and DVONN, and a number of other games I expected he wouldn't understand. However he has never been very good at San Juan or St Petersburg, and it seems to be because he doesn't understand them well enough to develop and execute a strategy. Sadly, he has now decided that he just can't be bothered playing that sort of game, and I have been getting more typical 9yo games for him, e.g. Chrononauts, and the Goosebumps games. Strangely, playing games hasn't obviously improved his maths, which is still quite average. Anyway, it seems I don't have a child genius on my hands, and my role as a dad now is to find what he is interested in, what he is good at, and to encourage and nurture that.