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Why can't WE play that? Hot

                "Why can't WE play that?"

                That was the response my buddy Steve blurted out when I told him what we had played when he was away at Gencon.  He and Chris, the regular host of my Tuesday night gaming session had traveled to Indianapolis and in their absence I had thrown out the question to the usual suspects – “anyone want to head down to my place instead?”  My wife and daughter were due to be out of town, a nice convergence of events.  When only Kyle (Keeper of All Games Ancient) responded I opened discussion on two-player games we could potentially play.  He owns War of the Ring (the first one), he owns Starship Troopers (the first one), and I own about a dozen wargames big and small that never hit the table because our group’s dynamic just doesn’t allow for it to happen.  But when I told him that my 13-year-old son might want to sit in on some of it he responded, “my son was interested in throwing down the hammer with a Heroscape battle if you're interested and can set up a board by then.”  All three of my boys were suddenly in the mix, and a map big enough to cover six place-settings was laid down on the dining room table in short order.  2400 points of Heroscape monsters would spend a short moment staring each other down, then would rush across the field of tiles just purchased at a local flea market, heads down and weapons flailing.     

 You can decide for yourself whether Heroscape is your game.  A lot of you are interested in something with more meaningful decisions, or more self-agency, or more whatever-the-latest-term-is in it, and that’s fine.  But the thing about Heroscape, and the thing about playing it with kids at the table, is that it gives you permission to play the game like you stole it.  You can scream, you can get mad at your dice and fire them, you can storm away from the board as if your kid has cut your throat when all he did was cut your Ice Elemental.  You can threaten to write him out of the will.  You can explain you’ve paid for every meal he’s ever eaten.  You can ground him for life.  But it’s all meaningless because that’s Heroscape’s essence.  The nature of the game gives you permission to just let go, and when you do the game gets even better.  Rather than the crazy spiraling down the fun it spirals it up, increasing with the volume.  My buddy Steve loves this kind of thing, but Heroscape doesn’t get played in our group.  It’s not proper.  So he missed it.

Heroscape small                And this is the part where I explain how I piss people off.  I have a thread that’s been running on BGG since 2007 called “What’s hot with the kids at YOUR house?”  It has about 500 entries in it and it’s really a testament to the large number of truly childish games (in a good way) that are available if you beat the bushes a bit.  Parents of young kids mention Don’t Wake Daddy, or Go Away Monster, but often other games that I haven’t heard of from Haba or other foreign publishers not available in the U.S.  A lot of these games aren’t merely good for kids, they’re good for us big people that occasionally need to unwind, and they do that if we come to them with the right attitude and perhaps a little claret.  Time spent with our kids is healing as well.  Now I understand most of you want a brain burners, but leaving the upper tier of these crazy kid games behind leaves a hole in your collection.  Larger than life games are rewarding, and that's why Steve was disappointed he had missed out on what may have been my single best gaming session of the year.

                So in a thread about gaming with kids I’ll occasionally see someone talking about big euros, and I'll make the point, “they’re only young for a short time, seriously, consider playing kid games with them.”  Five-year-old kids will play Agricola, but they won’t dig Agricola.  They’re playing it because Dad likes it and they want to celebrate his hobby.  They want to spend the time with something that Dad values, they want Dad to be happy when he sits down to the table with them.  This is what kids do.  They want to please you, and they look to you for approval.  Instead of pushing them up the ladder early climb down it.  Bring out Max or Epic Duels or Sleeping Queens and play like a child.  Your kid is giving you the benefit of considering what you want to play, be the bigger person and extend the same courtesy in return.

                That’s where the pissed-off part comes in.  “If my kid has fun playing my games why should I play his?”  I explain that your kid is likely doing what it takes to make you happy and that just pisses them off more.  People get angry when you tell them they're not raising their children right, and even angrier when you tell them they can't have their Agricola.  Well I'll tell you what, so be it.  I've come to the conclusion I don't have to convince anyone, I only need to get them to consider the concept.  That alone is likely to bend behavior a bit and if that's all I get out of it I'll consider it a win.  And BGG is a big place, so you're bound to offend someone.

                But let’s set that aside.  What I find most curious is that the responders often miss the second half of what I said.  This isn’t about sitting down to a game you hate and enduring the pain of playing it with your kid.  I don’t like playing Candyland any more than the rest of you do.  But the alternative isn't limited to breaking out Eclipse with a four-year-old.  This is about finding true common ground, creating it when you have to.  There’s room to be gracious and greedy at the same time as long as you’re willing to do what kids do on a moment’s notice – volunteer to be an idiot.  That's the secret – you need to give yourself permission to stop acting like an adult while standing in front of a wall of games you paid $2500 for.  It's tough!  You need to set your ego aside.  Your copy of Twilight Struggle doesn’t care if you’re flipping rings onto a flamingo’s neck, or picking up magnetic truffles with a rubber pig nose, or fighting over cookie ingredients with suction cup spoons.  Twilight Struggle is perfectly happy sitting this session out.  It’s also very patient.  It knows that that kid in the batman pajamas is going to pull it down off the shelf in about ten years, learn it on his own and then ask you to play.

                Now, I can't take credit for this.  It isn’t some profound new concept.  "Joel, sometimes you’ve just got to say, ‘what the fuck.’  ‘What the fuck’ gives you freedom.”  That's a line from Risky Business and though I can't recommend you starting a brothel in your house I can recommend you applying the principle with kid games that let you reach for the more visceral side of gaming.  The moment you decide that smashing play-doh cars with a big plastic hulk fist won't damage your gamer cred something happens – you discover that . . . wow . . . it’s actually kind of fun and de-stressing to smash things.  In time you picture your boss sitting in that little purple car and move the board to the floor so you can get more leverage on him.  The game becomes cathartic.  And when you get your voice up and start pumping your arms like the Hulk with your kids you start realizing that Lords of Waterdeep though quite cranial has its shortcomings.  That’s the choice – place workers with your five year old or shout “Hulk Angry!” with them.

                So that’s what I say to people.  Let your kids be kids, because quite frankly playing stupid games with them often is more rewarding than you think.  They can teach you the right way to play their games if you let them.

                I have to confess – I still make the mistake.  All the best kid games I own were purchased by my wife (including Heroscape) and if you reread the first paragraph above you'll see that two weeks ago I was sending messages to Kyle trying to figure out what “big person” game we should sit down with.  When I read his response I was almost embarrassed, My son was interested in throwing down the hammer with a Heroscape battle.”  Two Dads, four sons, no girls around.  What the hell was I thinking?  Of course we should be playing a kids game and acting like idiots, even more so since our gaming group never does.  This was a window of opportunity not to be overlooked.

                I’m going to add an epilogue to this article – to some extent I think very young children (ages 1 to 4 more or less) need to play the classic games as they play a role in our culture.  I played Candyland with my kids and Chutes and Ladders and most of the other pulp games available for under $10.  These are not very engaging games.  But sitting on the Turtle Whirl at Dutch Wonderland isn’t either, and I did that too.  One of the jobs of a parent is to provide a broad background of experiences to our kids, especially ones they will reference later in life.  Like it or not Chutes and Candyland (and of course Monopoly at a later age) are heavily referenced in our culture.  Playing them a couple of times each broadens our kid’s horizons; sometimes you play strictly to teach.  If you’re uncomfortable with that concept you likely should look into hiring a nanny, as there’s plenty of tedious work involved in raising a child.  But the number of times you need to sit down with those games is counted on one hand, especially if Incredible Hulk Smash is on the shelf beside them.  Again, your kid will know what to do.

 

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Comments (17)
  • avatarSan Il Defanso

    For my son's third birthday, we bought him Candyland. It's about the only game where he can understand how to play and how to take turns, and it's a very special thing to get to play with him. He likes a lot of daddy's games too, but those are mostly toys.

    Speaking of "toys" I think that's been one of the best uses of my own games. My eldest actively asks to play with a lot of games, just because he likes the pieces. I still have all 3 D&D adventure games entirely because of the toy factor. I like the games well enough, but their best value has come in games of make-believe with my son where the Rage Drake is the baby, and Ashardalon is the daddy. That really works with any game that has plastic dudes, like Conquest of Nerath, Nexus Ops, and even Space Hulk if he's supervised.

  • avatarOchobee  - re:
    San Il Defanso wrote:
    For my son's third birthday, we bought him Candyland. It's about the only game where he can understand how to play and how to take turns, and it's a very special thing to get to play with him. He likes a lot of daddy's games too, but those are mostly toys.

    Speaking of "toys" I think that's been one of the best uses of my own games. My eldest actively asks to play with a lot of games, just because he likes the pieces. I still have all 3 D&D adventure games entirely because of the toy factor. I like the games well enough, but their best value has come in games of make-believe with my son where the Rage Drake is the baby, and Ashardalon is the daddy. That really works with any game that has plastic dudes, like Conquest of Nerath, Nexus Ops, and even Space Hulk if he's supervised.

    This is also how my 5 year old takes in most of my "big kid" games. He plays with the pieces, or better yet we play with them together, and treat them like toys. Conquest of the Empire and Risk Legacy have great minis for this, as they are tough to break and there are a mess of them. I picked up the D&D adventure games for this same reason.

    We've played through Candyland and Chutes & Ladders and Loopin' Louie using the actual rules, which has been good to teach playing a structured game and how to win and lose, but sometimes it is just fun to lay on the ground with a bunch of plastic dudes and make explosion noises while knocking 'em down.

    Great post, Sag.

  • freudianslip27

    Heroscape!

    I have three kids (8 yr boy, 5 yr boy, 4 yr girl) and we LOVE Heroscape. We had a huge map set out on the floor in the basement for a few weeks. We all worked together to build it, and is it evenly matched? Of course not! But is it awesome? Oh yes!

    I just wish I could find someone at WBC to play a Heroscape match with. I enjoyed reading your article.

    Matt

  • avatarmikecl  - re:

    Good read Sag! Reminds me of playing with my own kids.

    San Il Defanso wrote:
    This is also how my 5 year old takes in most of my "big kid" games. He plays with the pieces, or better yet we play with them together, and treat them like toys.

    That's exactly how I taught my son chess starting when he was three. He used to play with the pieces and we played a naming game. Bisssup was his favorite. Kids absolutely want to be part of your world. Gamewright (makers of Forbidden Desert/Island makes games for kids as young as three.

    Here's one of their new ones:
    http://www.gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?section=games&page=game&show=283

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    There is NOBODY who Heroscape is not for. Period. End of story. If you don't like Heroscape, there's something very wrong with your mind; your SOUL.

    This is indisputable fact, not conjecture.

    ALSO...

    Playing Thunder Road, Epic Duels, Loopin' Louie, Jumanji, Hungry Hippos and even Disney Princess Cupcake Party (hugely underrated, FWIW) is awesome, especially with the kids. The magic of these games is that they level the playing field and allow your kids to play on an even field with you, or in the case of co-ops, share your victory or defeat. It's beautiful to behold. The eyes alight with excitement, the quiet prayers that Louie will do an unexpected flip and take out dad's last chip...it's amazing.

    You just can't get that kind of reaction from playing "dad's games", and you should absolutely have a block of games in your collection that "smarter folk" might frown upon, because those same asshats who refuse to sit down and play "dumb kid's games" are the same kind of people who don't take time off from work to go see their kid play clarinet badly at a recital, instead letting "mom handle it" or whatever.

    You might not say it, but I will: You're probably a fucked up parent, and you need to re-evaluate your priorities. They're only kids once, and they have a lifetime of ACTUAL meaningful decisions to make, so don't rob them of the worthless ones that don't matter when they're kids. The lessons they learn about being a good PERSON, such as sportsmanship and spending quality time with people you love doing "dumb shit" will last them a lifetime.

    It's the same as letting your 6 year old "help" change the oil. YES, their clothes will get ruined. YES, it will take longer because of all the questions they'll ask and the constant "is this the right screwdriver, daddy" questions, but in the end, every experience you get to share with your offspring both is rewarding, and is a "lesson" about life. Some things are worth the extra 20 minutes, and when the kids are involved, it's almost ALWAYS worth it.

    I have friends like this, the ones who won't sit and play games, that don't see the value in losing 50$ to see their kids play in the school band (even if they're terrible and will damage your mind through sounds that only Lovecraft could imagine exist) and their kids always have that weight on them, the weight of knowing that their daddy doesn't REALLY give a fuck, doesn't REALLY want to spend time with them unless its on their own terms. I pity the kids and I not-so-secretly despise their parent for it, or at least that aspect.

    Great article, as always, Sag.

  • avataredulis

    Great article. I have three girls, and used to play a lot of games with the oldest who is now 10. I have been guilt of occansionally pushing her into more challenging games, but we played plenty of hey that's my fish and enchanted forest. Once the other two came along, we lost most of our game time (her current favorite is World of Harry Potter Clue). Now I have the issue that the 5 year wants to play games, but not the one the 10 year will play and the 2 year old is just, well 2.

    I played a revieting game of Sorry Sliders with my 2 and 5 year olds this weekend... not as bad as candyland, but not a game I like at all. But they enjoyed it

  • avatarAncient_of_MuMu
    Quote:
    I’m going to add an epilogue to this article – to some extent I think very young children (ages 1 to 4 more or less) need to play the classic games as they play a role in our culture. I played Candyland with my kids and Chutes and Ladders and most of the other pulp games available for under $10. These are not very engaging games. But sitting on the Turtle Whirl at Dutch Wonderland isn’t either, and I did that too. One of the jobs of a parent is to provide a broad background of experiences to our kids, especially ones they will reference later in life. Like it or not Chutes and Candyland (and of course Monopoly at a later age) are heavily referenced in our culture.

    My wife detests Monopoly and refuses to have a copy in the house, and I have been arguing for years that it is an important cultural reference, and that if our kids play games they have to learn to play Monopoly, because other people will possibly bring it out and expect to play (or whatever), or even to understand why we don't own it.

    The point when I finally won the argument (not that we own a copy yet) was when we were watching the news coverage of a local disaster and the tv coverage cut to a reporter in the evacuation center showing all the temporary refugees. Right behind the reporter were 2 guys playing Monopoly to pass the time, presumably because it was one of only 3 games available. Some times you are going to be at the mercy of others and their tastes, and a game of Monopoly is better than staring at a wall for hours (and a good way to meet people you will be bunking with). I just have visions of a standard BGG user in a school hall filled with beds, searching through a small pile of mass market games for that copy of Puerto Rico or Caylus and chastising the Red Cross volunteers for not having something more appropriate for his tastes.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    If people played Monopoly the way it was designed, without Free Parking bonuses and with inclusion of the non-optional but often ignored auction rule, people might have a different view of it.

  • avatarsgosaric

    Me and my GF are having a "gaming workshop" (i.e. we play games) with kids in municipal youth centre. We got some money for it and the our gaming club contributes its games as well. Thing is - this is not gamer oriented even on the kids level. They are not obliged to participate, they can just stand at the ceiling and scream and run around if they wish. Or maybe they'd hang around in front of a local shop. They are great kids, but they're not here to learn, or explore, or work. Repeating rules 3 times is common.

    What we play: Jungle Speed, Jungle Speed and some more Jungle Speed. I didn't appreciate this game till I played with teenagers, girls in particular. They can get very competitive and you better watch for your hands, girls have claws (did nobody tell you that?). And I usually get more laughs out of this game then my regular gaming sessions. I think I've played this more than any other game this year. Incan Gold was immensely popular as well as we all know that young girls love diamonds and any 10 y.o. can tell you real diamonds are from plastic (probably from China) - instant gratification is the name of the game. King of Tokyo gets a lot of love from teenagers (theme and luck and some clever waiting in the corner till all the younger kids kill each other - points? what points?). Pyramid as well - accessible and obviously grabbing, kids love to steal treasures from ancient civilisations.

    Truth be told we have some pedagogic goals up our sleeves, we want kids getting better (tolerate aggression better, talk to each other, wait for other players to do what they do, mostly trying to have patience and stick with things even if you're not instantly gratified, play a game because that other kids wants it, you'll get your turn). That's what we received money for and it's making the world a better place, maybe 2 square meters of it, once per week. For more causal gaming with kids and general public I also run open one per month saturday event. After a year of this it made me realise I like accessible, easy to get into, interactive games. I can't be bothered with "it will make sense after you grok this spreadsheet" or latest FFG rules disaster.

    And then it's that weird gamers attitude patting me on the back for "for turning kids into gamers" as I'm pretty sure we're not doing that. Maybe they'll play some party games and maybe they'll be better socialised or maybe they'll just remember they had some free time after school. Since when are games about gamers and gaming and not just plain old fun?

  • avatarNewsguy

    Damn. Makes me wish you'd raised ME.
    I've got a one-year old girl and am looking forward to being a kid again.
    Nice post.

  • avatarMattLoter  - re:
    freudianslip27 wrote:
    Heroscape!
    I just wish I could find someone at WBC to play a Heroscape match with. I enjoyed reading your article.

    There are quite a few of us awesome folks that would absolutely play the fuck out of some Heroscape at WBC. I just don't bring it cause at this point I think I have more than can reasonably fit in my car, but it's one of my all time favorites.

    I also really love a lot of the HABBA stuff. Tier Auf Tier is amazing.

  • avatarDogmatix

    I've lucked out and found a half-dozen HABA games at thrift stores (along with a variety of Ravensburger, but these are far more commmon) and am seriously looking forward to trying them out with li'l one. She's 2.5 and just starting to get a grasp on "not my turn / not my pieces"; it'll be a while yet 'til she's there enough to enjoy more from the experience than just sitting next to daddy for a half-hour [current favorite for that particular activity is "Little Big Planet Karting" on the PS3. She refers to the game as "LittleDude Racing" and has been insisting I play after her dinner each night. She's utterly fascinated by this 1 game...]

  • avatarStormcow

    Yeah, Animal Upon Animal is great. In general I think gamers underrate games like Jenga, which is still a classic.

    My daughter LOVES dice so we started off with Magical Athelete (no bidding) and Feed the Kitty (which is horrible, but what can you do). Roll and move is really easy for kids to internalize, apparently. She got bored with Talisman though, too long. She's getting really interested in Pokemon these days, although I'm not entirely sure if she can enjoy it at her age.

    I find Heroscape quite blah, and I have no regrets selling off my collection. For the money I got I could buy ten games just as good, or better! What I really want right now is a simple rules system to play with my Skylanders figs... even if I have to make it myself. >_

  • avatarSpace Ghost

    I just bought a complete set of this -- pretty excited to introduce it to the group

  • avatarGary Sax

    I have a nephew who is turning 5 next year. It's a little early, but I've been wondering how much a solid set of heroscape would cost. I don't need a matched set or a perfect box with rare stuff---just a shitload if stuff to fuck around with but has rules and dice. Do lots like that go often? I know it's a collectors item now too so I'm worried I'm missing my chance.

    Great article, btw

  • avatarscissors

    Great read, Sag. THis is where I am now. Our boy turned five this summer and I just bought him UNO (although I secretly hate it) because he has so much fun forcing me to pick up extra cards. It's the Angry Birds set. My son is the reason I can't ever sell Titan, cause he loves sorting the tiles. We play King of Tokyo but he loves buying cards and getting two heads etc more than winning. hersocape is in the wings. He played Agricola with me a couple times on the ipad (his own choice) but he found it pretty boring. His favourite is when a baby boar is born.

    Otherwise, he prefers when we play angry birds, to which I can recommend the Star Wars AT-AT set. Combine it with a Jenga or two and you can build empires. He spends hours building cooler and cooler structures to hide the pigs in, etc, to the point where he begins building a narrative. I help him make up stories (scenarios) ie. R-2 has been kidnapped we have to rescue him, etc. He is starting to make up his own stories too.

  • avatarAarontu

    Yeah, it's so weird to hear gamer parents say they play Agricola or other big Euros with their 5 year old. Then again, my kids are who I play games with the most nowadays. Mostly playing with the pieces, unless the game is simple. Thunder Road and Hungry Hungry Hippos are big hits. My kids like puzzles and we just tried Carcassone (with my own simpler scoring rules) and they liked it. They love playing with the pieces to Epic Duels, Heroscape, and Heroquest.

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