June 29, 2012

Gaming with Kids: Sloppy

So it's traditional, at least in the States, to let your child tear into her own piece of cake on her first birthday.  Perhaps we do it because we're just sick and tired of having bottle and spoon fed her for the last 365 days and need the break?  Probably more so we do it because it's just funny.  Sure, the little toddler may have already fed herself a little.  But that was only Cheerios or dry crackers, unless you're some sick June Cleaver clone that actually loves cleaning up messes.  Because after you give baby her first solo run on a frosted dessert, you'll not only be cleaning her up, but also her clothes, the table, the high chair, the floor, and any pets that might have unfortunately wandered by.

Now, my kids are no longer 1 year old, but whenever they ask if they can pull a game off the shelf to play amongst themselves - as in "without me," because I'm busy - I cringe with that picture of their 1st birthday party dancing in my head.  I imagine pieces of my game strewn all over the place and on pets that might unfortunately wander by (we've already had a dog eat two of our Citadels gold pieces).  Then again, I don't have to wax nostalgic to imagine such fears - all I really need do is take one look at the disaster area we call a "toy room" in the basement.  Children, as may come as no surprise, don't always take the greatest care of their toys.  And when telling them to "pick up," you might as well be speaking in Latin.

When my kids play board games on their own, their playing space/surface often looks like the cat just tore into like catnip.  Card piles are splayed all over the place, instead of neatly stacked.  Tableaus are disheveled and intermixed so that you can't tell where one starts and another ends.  Chits and tokens are randomly scattered or lumped together so that I cannot fathom how they find what they need.  Even pieces specific to locations on the board are sprawled around as if they set it up while playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.  Honestly, I'm not sure how they can even play.  But they must learn sometime, as we all must.  Well, perhaps not all.  So what do I do to impress upon the kiddos to use a little TLC?

In the beginning, the answer was simple: don't let my kids play without me!  As part of teaching them rules, strategies, and gaming basics, I also would stress how to treat the game's components.  Okay, yeah, so these games are not priceless artifacts or irreplaceable heirlooms.  At the same time, though, your game collection is an investment that you don't want damaged through carelessness or mistreatment.  Aside from the monetary value, which will vary widely, a lot of these games are not always easy to pick up if you need to replace one.  Many people have limited access to a game store, which means ordering online.  And if the game is out-of-print, you may be out-of-luck without having to fork over an inflated sum on Ebay or Amazon.  So to cut down on avoidable damage, I'm careful to stress things like don't fiddle unnecessarily with components, keep the pieces organized around the play space, maintain orderly card piles and tableaus, and don't lean on the boards, etc.  And probably most important, after a game is finished, box it up the proper way!  Not to worry though - I rarely break out the compass and protractor...

Eventually, though, they will be flying solo.  Just don't start with the large piece of sugary frosted dessert!  Instead, just have them begin with the "Cheerios," aka those smaller games with few components, easier to handle, and less messy.  I wouldn't be turning over that copy of Puerto Rico or Agricola, yet.  Card games are especially nice.  Even with card games that have components, as in the aforementioned Citadels, it is typically a minimal number.  This means that there are fewer pieces for them to deal with and account for, thus lose or damage.  Of course, cards can bend and wear, but they are generally produced with such use in mind.  Sure, the kiddos can be rough on these (especially in their bizarre and awkward shuffling techniques), which can be problematic as the cards are the game.  But these titles are typically cheaper.  In the worst case scenario in which you may have to replace the game, at least the damage to your budget is less.

In the end, it really boils down to reinforcing the principle of responsibility.  There is a balance to find.  On one side of the scale, I want them to play these games and enjoy them.  After all, that is why I buy them and it is a wonderful alternative to video games and television.  On the other hand, I will stress the importance of taking care of the games properly - without sounding too much like a broken record hopefully.  Observe how they play on their own, point out ways to avoid unnecessary wear and tear, all the while encouraging them to have fun.  Of course still, mixing birthday cake and game playing is right out!

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