August 31, 2011

CFB: The. Manliest. Game. Ever.

Listen closely.  Do you hear that?  Like the crescendo of an orchestral melody as Maureen O'Hara gazes longingly upon Erroll Flynn.  That's right - the sound of the world frolicking in a dreamy field of daisies, as it does every Labor Day Weekend, when D-1 college football kicks off again!  As it does tomorrow night!

Well, apparently Division II has already begun.  With a fury.  Virginia Union hosted St. Augustine (Raleigh, NC) to open the season during a freakin' hurricane!  Irene, to be exact.  Every player, staff, and administrator involved deserves a gold plated lifetime Man Card.  Including the 80+ idiots, er die-hards, that attended the game.  Every man jack of them.  Even the women.

August 30, 2011

Gaming with Kids: "Interaction"

"Why are you going after me?  She's the one in the lead"

"UGH!  Why do you keep playing the Witch?"

"Blocking me in, really?!  You know I was trying to link up with Chicago!"

Oh, the spite factor.  Direct confrontation.  To me, one of the most enjoyable mechanics in gaming.  But from the perspective of children?  Ummm, not so much.

To be fair, as you're probably thinking right now, that's not entirely true.  First off, different kids (just like adults) have varying degrees of working within the parameters of a game's mechanics.  On the one end, some simply accept that confrontation is part of the game and roll with it regardless of results.  Perhaps that's even what they enjoy about the game.  Those at the other extreme avoid these games like a hornet's nest because they can't stand opponents punching them in the kidney and then stomping on their puppy.

Then there are kids that fall in between on this spectrum depending upon which side of the confrontation they sit.  All seems right with the world while they're the shadowy Assassin sinking a dagger into the Merchant's belly in some dark, seedy, tavern's back-alley.  The perspective's a bit different if you're that plump Merchant gurgling your last breath as you lay in a fetid puddle on the cold cobblestone.  Plus you've just lost your stinking turn.  The reaction can often be ugly.  And while this is not unique to gaming with children, it is certainly more common and prominent with kids.  Some adults are still sore losers (personally I don't understand why).  Much of this may be chalked up to natural temperament.  However, generally with age and experience comes a maturity and perspective on life that allows adults to still enjoy games despite any confrontation because, after all, it's just a hobby; and, besides, it can be fun, too.

My kids fall in the middle part of that spectrum, but even with my bias, I'm proud to say more towards the "acceptance" end of it.  After all, we started with Pokemon, a game who's central goal is to "knock out" your opponent.  They do have their moments, though.

So what can you do to alleviate the tears?  Cooperative games are a nice alternative.  While we do not own any of this genre, I do have Forbidden Island on my wishlist.  From all accounts, it is an accessible, intuitive, and fun game, yet still manages to be tense and challenging.  You could also opt for games with little to no interaction.  Dominion offers much that is desirable in a game and you can customize the available kingdom cards to minimize conflict; or even eliminate it altogether in favor of something more or less solitary in game play.

However, I would suggest trying to "ease" children into games that do employ direct and even spiteful confrontation.  From my experience, there are three criteria I look for that are essential to this process.
  •  Brevity.  My kids are more apt to deal maturely with confrontation when the game is short.  Basically they realize that even if they get stomped, ganged up on, or eliminated entirely, the game will be over soon and they can try again.  For this, we enjoy Mag Blast.
  • Lightheartedness.  It's easier to accept back-stabbing and sneak attacks when the game involves humor to lighten the mood.  We enjoy a game that does not take itself too seriously.  One of our most-played games is the nasty, cutthroat gem Lifeboat.  Even in a game where you can actually knock some one out cold for their seat while everyone else steals their stuff as they lay helplessly in a coma, my kids can't wait to see who their secret loves and hates are every time.   Generally it's a giveaway when they love and hate themselves!
  • Restrictor Plate.  In other words, some built-in mechanic that limits the amount of confrontation allowed.  Or perhaps instead the game might give a charity bonus to the one lagging behind.  One of our favorite war games is Dust which utilizes one card every round to determine your turn order, how many times you may attack/move, how many units you may produce, and which special rule-breaking power you may employ.  You get to pick which card to play, and that will limit you to a certain number of attacks.  If you're allowed only 1 or 2 attacks, the card will balance that with a greater benefit in one of the other areas, and vice versa.
If all goes according to plan, you'll have them relishing the opportunity to lock horns in confrontational games without crying every time you wipe them clean out of Australia. Surely by their 18th birthday, right?

August 28, 2011

Gaming with Kids: Patience

So I thought I would get Kinderspiel "up and running" with a short series dealing with some characteristics of hobby gaming with children.  Again, I'm not talking about Candyland, Monopoly, Sorry, and Clue.  This is not to suggest that these characteristics are unique to playing with kids, but they certainly impact the gaming experience differently than with adults.  Perhaps you've had similar experiences and I 'd enjoy hearing about them. No doubt different age ranges will have a widely varying impact on the gaming session.

As in working with children in any area of life, patience is beyond a virtue.  The other night I'm trying to clean up supper while helping one kid with homework and then heeding the call of the 3-year old in the bathroom hollering, "Daddy, I just pooped, come wipe my butt."  Forget multi-tasking.  Just take a deep breath.  And elementary teachers do not get paid enough.

To play games with kids, I would argue, takes even a greater amount of patience than playing with an adult prone to "analysis-paralysis" or with Mr. Text-on-the-cell-phone-all-night-while-we-play Guy.  While many Euro games have streamlined and straight-forward rules, on the whole they are still more involved than Candyland and Sorry.  So area number one that requires patience is in explaining the rules.  This all depends on the complexity of the game.  Thankfully, there are a good number of Euro games that serve very well as introductions to the hobby, earning the label "Gateway" games.  Ticket to Ride and Zooloretto are just two such examples that are simple for kids to learn, appeal to them, and still introduce broader concepts of Euro games.

I was not that smart.  No, instead I had the brilliant idea to introduce my 8-year old boys to the joys of board gaming with Axis and Allies!  After all, that's what I cut my teeth on while in Junior High.  Which brings me to area number two that requires patience - teaching them the game again!  Otherwise known as going over the rules numerous times in those more complex games.  This may be a result of less intuitive rules or perhaps infrequent plays.  Either way, it often means a bit more than just a refresher that adults usually require.  Plus you will answer more than one question every game along the lines of, "What does this do again?"  And that adds time to your sessions that you must plan for.

Then there is area number three that requires devoted patience on your part: a child's attention span.  If the kids you play with are anything like mine, it can sometimes be difficult to keep them involved in the game at all times - e.g. when it is not their turn!  The simple solution is to stick with games with very little to no downtime between turns.  But, of course, they don't want to just play those games!  If you have the answer to this, please tell me.  I've tried using threats and rewards to keep them focused.  Neither works.  Instead, it has just now become my reality.  When I see the listed playing time on the game box, I add about a fourth as much for the first kid and then multiply it exponentially for each additional kid after that.

Perhaps it's a "sign of the times."  Like no generations before them, today's youth have so much to occupy their attention that they'll flit from one form of technology to another like Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands.  This is a major reason I like to sit them down to board games.  Slow down.  Think ahead.  Focus.  Socialize with real people across a table.  I pray it makes an impact down the road.  Plus, I take solace in the fact that I'm not my boys' football coach.  Have you ever seen a grown man trying to teach 11 third-grade boys with the attention spans of a caffeinated hummingbird what they're supposed to do on a Pro Left 29 Option Sweep?  He doesn't stand a chance.  Talk about patience!

August 27, 2011


Well, I have little free time these days, it seems.  So, why a blog?  Mainly as a platform to talk about one of my favorite hobbies: boardgames.  Not Monopoly.  Not Sorry.  Not Clue.  Not any you can buy at Target, really.  No, hobby boardgames and war games.

Well, I have even less money to spend on a collection of games that would impress even the newest babe on Board Game Geek.  And numerous other quality gaming blogs already exist in the world (ones that I plan to talk about), so what would another one offer that has little time and resources to commit?

Simply put, I hope to offer a slightly new perspective on the hobby.  One, that of a casual gamer who has just begun to explore the relatively unknown world of hobby gaming.  And two, that of a child's.  Those familiar with the Euro game hobby will recognize my blog's title as an annual German award honoring that country's top children's game.  And my "gaming group" is comprised of just that - kids!  Four of them, exactly; all mine, ages 8, 8, 9, and 10.

Once I get the feel of blogging, I plan to actively bring in their perspectives with their own posts, thoughts, and reviews on boardgames.  I take advantage of any opportunity to engage and interact with my kids, and why should blogging be any different?

Until then, and perhaps even after, I just might offer some thoughts on a few of my other passions like Christianity, college football, classic video gaming, and a bit of history for sophistication-sakes!

I look forward to sharing and hearing...