A couple of weekends ago my wife was in a class both days, so it was just the kids and me. As soon as I stepped out of my bedroom my daughter, who is four, asked to play a board game. This is usually the first thing she asks me every time she sees me. Normally, this poses no problem, because we play a quick game of something, then move onto the rest of our day. In this case though, I knew I would be encouraged to play board games all day with her. Since my son has decided video games are better than board games, he didn’t want to join us. So how do I, as a parent, keep myself interested in a game that my smaller children are also able to be involved with?

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This topic is something I’ve struggled with often. I have a few games that support younger players, but most of them, after a few plays, don’t hold my interest again. It’s different if the whole family is sitting down for a board game session, because then there is one parent to entertain, and one to help with the active player. My favorite example of a game that works really well as a family game is Outfoxed! This is a deduction game where a team of chicken investigators have to figure out who stole the pot pie from the window sill.  With simple Yahtzee style dice rolling mechanisms, and easy choices, this one holds up to replays with the family.

I have a whole other pool of games that my oldest, at six, is almost old enough to play. When I go over the games with thought to why certain ages are placed on games, I’ve never really caught onto what I now think of as a key element in kids’ games. Until this weekend.

My two daughters, Ripley and Tesla, had just finished up Animals on Board, and were playing Takenoko with me. To be fair, Tesla sat on my knee, while Ripley and I played, but we were all having fun. Ripley would move the panda every turn, chomping bamboo with no regard to the point cards she was trying to complete. About twenty minutes into the game, she started asking if the game was almost over, after every turn. She didn’t want to stop, in fact, got almost offended when I asked if she did. This got me thinking.

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There are times, when I’m writing here, or for Dice Tower News, that my kids play games on the other end of the table. They have a stack of their go-to games. Outfoxed, Jenga, Connect Four, Star Wars Operation, My Little Pony Chutes and Ladders, and others. Watching them play, I’ve noticed that they get the game out, set it up, play the game for eight to ten minutes, play with the components for a few more minutes, then switch games. It’s not the strategy or the mechanisms that keep these gateway games from kids, it’s their attention span.

I spent some time looking for games that would keep their attention and realized that I was looking for the wrong thing. What I needed to look for was games that kept MY attention that they could play, and played in 15 minutes or less. As I was thinking about this, and reading my twitter feed, I saw someone talk about playing a two player game of Ticket to Ride: First Journey six times in an hour.

Hold on. That’s an average of 10 minutes per game. I can effectively teach Ticket to Ride in three minutes, and Ticket to Ride Europe in four. If Alan R Moon has simplified this gateway classic into something that entertains me, my wife and all of my children, without needing to houserule it’s going on the list of must have games, for everyone I know who has a family. Once I actually make it to Target (That’s right, it’s another Target Exclusive game), and pay the full 34.99 retail price, I’ll post detailed thoughts on why you should buy it today. Until then, tell me what games you play with your family, and how you houserule games to keep the little ones attention.

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