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!

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