March 09, 2012

Gaming with Kids: Cult of the New

Yeah, I know.  I just wrote about my kids liking the familiar.  But they also like new things.  Besides, the "Cult of the New" could certainly compliment the expansion mindset, since you want the newest add-on to a favorite title.  Then again, it might run counter to it, if instead you desire something completely different.  The envious longing for the latest fad is not a recent phenomenon.  At the least, it has been popular since 1920's consumerism made cloche hats, typewriters, phonographs, and Model T's available in large, affordable quantities to middle America.  Today, that appetite is expressed in the sales of iPads, iPhones, Uggs, 3D televisions, or other trends and innovations.  For my kids, we've modestly run the gamut of products from big to small: iPod Touch, Gogo's Crazy Bones, Wii, Pillow Pets, Silly Bandz, and even Sketchers Turbulence.  You all know the story.  If their friends have it, they want it.  Shoot, if they see it on TV, they want it.  The more the better.  And I don't even want to get started on my teenage daughter!

Obscure, nonagenarian, fashion references aside, what I've discovered is that kids often judge the book by its cover and this is particularly the case with my own children and board games.  If it looks pretty and/or appears to be about something imaginative, then my kids want it - regardless of what else they know about it.  This is only slightly worse than the way many "big kids" approach building a game collection.  It'd be nice to buy whatever; and sample everything.  Actually, that's only a half-truth.  That would still be a wasteful habit, even if I were a Rockefeller.  So with a limited budget to spend on gaming, how does one sail children to practical gaming harbors through the sea of shiny hotness?

First off, you should set a budget.  It doesn't even have to be scientific.  It's also good to teach your kids early about wise spending and/or investing (part of collecting games is an investment, after all).  Shop around online for the best deals and look for opportunities to buy several games at once for free shipping.  Local games stores may have customer loyalty discounts.  And you can always trade away games from your shelf, that haven't hit the mark at your table, for other titles that you think may work better for the family.  You can trade with some online stores, some local stores, and at the infamous BoardGameGeek.  But even with a budget set or a few games in hand to trade away, what next?

While most people reading this probably already frequent BoardGameGeek to great advantage, don't neglect this resource for your own children, too!  My kids don't really plow through all of the written reviews and individual game forums (I won't let them so that they can't learn any strategy tips with which to beat me!).  But they like to watch many of the video reviews.  They especially appreciate the ones that include kids, but their favorite is Board to Death - ever since Steve Nash talked with a Russian accent in their Dust review!  The videos give them a lot more information in a format that they relate to and that holds their attention.  Of course this resource is best for personal research in determining which games are best suited for your kids in interest and ability.  You know them best.

Another way to curb initial enthusiasm and weed out the chaff is to have them play the game first!  If you have an adequate Friendly Local Game Store, then stop in and see if they have a library of open titles you can look at - or it is likely they have an open gaming night during the week or month that you can join.  If taking advantage of such, just make sure to support such an operation with your patronage!  Outside of the FLGS, there might be a local gaming group or club in your community (see BGG, again).  You can also take your kids to a local gaming convention and sample all kinds of new and old hotness.  That can get a little expensive.

The best use of all this research and testing is to gauge what your collection really "needs."  Cody Jones, of the soon-to-be-off-the-air podcast Game On!, has an interesting philosophy, appropriately titled "The Jones Theory."  This postulates that your collection doesn't need more than one game of a certain genre, type, or mechanic.  Even if you don't take it to that extreme, this guideline might help control that impulse for the latest design in a style of game you have plenty of already.  Getting your kids to buy into it might be another matter!

Play a game while your drive?
That's some hotness I can get behind!

Another avenue would be in checking out the video versions of board games.  The most recent trend in this area is in the form of apps for iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.  Prices are relatively inexpensive, the games are ridiculously accessible, and the porting of such analog to video is certainly enough to judge interest in the "real" thing.  But there are free alternatives, too!  If you want to play live opponents online, there are communities such as Yucata, Board Game Arena, and Game Table Online which all have a variety of games.  You can also play single titles like Dominion and Race for the Galaxy at dedicated sites.  And still others are available for download to play on your computer in a Windows or Java version, like Yspahan, Kingsburg, San Juan, and even Settlers of Catan (simply use the power of Google).  This still may only scratch the surface of the innumerable titles out on the market - but it's a place to start!

Finally, something most parents naturally do already, make your kids explore other activities.  One, it makes them well-rounded young people, to begin with, in both body and mind.  Two, they'll appreciate the wonderful variety that life has to offer and realize there's more out there than having to keep up with the Jones' (not Cody).  Call it eclectic, eccentric, or whatever, but a balance in many hobbies provides more versatility than completeness in one.  And third, you and your kids just may discover what they would like in board games from their participation in something else.  Playing sports, reading adventure novels, stargazing, working with pets/animals, even cooking - or any other hobby/activity - can lead to an interest in games of a similar nature.  With so many themes on the board gaming market, it's almost like the hobby can cover two-in-one!

Of course, I also have to limit trendy purchases, impulse buys, and striving for all the new fads.  After all, kids learn a lot by imitation.  Nothing is a guarantee, of course.  You're bound to have a few misses among the hits.  Anyway, it sure beats just buying everything you want.  I mean, that's what they did in the 1920's, right?  And look what happened...

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