Are you a board game fan with one or more kids? Do you find your child frequently eyeballing all those wonderful boxes on the shelves? Have you ever caught your child opening up a board game and pretending to play? Do you wish you had a nickel for every time you’ve heard “I wanna play this one?” Kids love to play games — this isn’t any big surprise.
It’s still our job as parents to help filter what games are suitable for our kids based on their age, maturity, and reading abilities, but if you’re looking for some suggestions for introducing board games that have passed your test to a younger audience, here are ten for your consideration.
Play Through The Rulebook
Rulebooks can of ten be int imidating, so put yourself in the shoes of a younger player as you examine the rules. One great way to introduce a new game is to turn the rulebook into a game itself . Star t out by mixing all the components (if possible) and let the young player separate out the parts; this is a great way for young player to become familiar with the types of cards and tokens and how players can be distinguished from one another.
Next , move on to the layout of the game board and/or component locations and let the young player set up the game. If you f ind samples of gameplay in the instructions, set those up and play them out — reading the rules is one thing, but actually playing the sample scenarios has an increased chance of sticking in long-term memory.
Break Things Up Into Mini-Games
Most kids are going to love any chance to play a more advanced game, so give it to them! I f you’ re introducing a new
game, i t ’s best to go slow — and one of the best ways to do this is to break up a larger, more complex game into smaller mini -games. Mini -games will often require a bit more planning on your part, as you’ll want to bypass the initial setup of the game and instead create a scenario that at tempts to teach a few of the rules in one sitting.
Look at a game and try to determine what parts of the gameplay fall into the early to middle portion of the game where players are collecting resources or trying to gain control of key positions. Your mini-game here may consist of pushing for young players to reach objective goals such as a certain number of cards or pieces on the board. Likewise, you could jump to the end game and set up a conclusion scenario based on a previous game you have played; this will, of course, require that you document each player’s inventory and position in the game so you can replicate it easily.
Don’t Forget the Do-Overs
Do_Overs are probably a universal constant when it comes to kids and games. Let’s face it: young players are often overwhelmed the first time they play a new game, and they miss things! The key here isn’t to dwell on the missed opportunities but instead turn them into a learning opportunity. Rollback the clock, so to speak, and let young players replay a particular portion of the game, so they’ll better understand a mistake or missed opportunity and how it affects the remainder of the game.
One way to keep from taking one step forward followed by two steps back is to limit the number of Do-Overs. I give kids three tokens when he’s learning a new game and allow him to cash one in when he wishes to try a different strategy, play a different card, or even roll the dice again. I f you’ re going to allow Do-Overs in your game, come up with a solution that won’t add too much time to the overall length of the game but will offer up chances to learn f rom a mistake.
Stack the Deck
This can be a bit difficult with complex games, but for card games one of the best ways to help young players get a grasp of the game mechanics is to let them choose their deck versus a random distribution.
You can even go one step further and help them pick out the right mix of cards that will give them a good game experience. For board games that rely on property collecting, there’s nothing wrong with providing young players with a leg up by giving them an initial batch of game pieces, money, or cards before the game starts. Also, consider breaking limits if you find they might be f rust rating to a young player.
For instance, for the first few games of Cast le Panic, I allowed my nephew to have a maximum of eight cards (versus six). It disrupted the complexity of our first few games, but i t allowed him to get the hang of mentally stepping through the upcoming turns to see what cards might be useful to trade to other players.
Beat the Game Together
Today’s cooperative games are immensely popular, especially with young gamers. The “We All Win or We All Lose” format of games like Forbidden Island is easier to accept for younger kids who might not have the maturity to handle a loss. But not all games are cooperative. If you’ve got a young gamer who is dead set on playing a more advanced game where there can be only one winner, playing by the basic rules is likely to end with a young gamer viewing a great game as a real stinker and never wanting to play i t again.
One of the best ways to handle a complex “one winner” game is to turn it into a cooperative game. For a victory condition game, allow the young player to combine forces with another player to reach that condition. Create “resurrection” rules that allow a player to bring back an eliminated player to the game. My nephew is also allowed to use his Do-Over tokens to ask for advice, so he’ll frequently us e them to get a look at my cards and his and get my best suggestion for how to beat me!
Skip the Timer
I like games that have built – in deadlines, be it Elder Sign or Dungeon Roll. But my nephew absolutely hates them. HATES them. In my experience, I find that younger game player s are often overwhelmed at certain points in a game where multiple decisions must be made. Add a countdown timer to the mix that they need to pay at tent ion to, and you may wind up with young players who just freeze up and can’t make a decision (or decisions) when they are most critical to surviving or winning a game.
Take one of our favorite games to play together: Escape! The Curse of the Temple. This game can use a sand timer, but we use an MP3 audio file I play from my phone. At various points in the game, the drums beat faster and a gong is heard, meaning the players are supposed to race back to the starting point for safety. My nephew simply wants to grab all the gems and get out of the temple without the pressure of a time limit. For the first five or six games, that’s exactly how we played, too. After he had a solid grasp of the dice mechanics for the game and didn’t have to focus solely on his rolls, he began to see that the game was a bi t more fun with the time limit tossed in and the occasional rescue of Dad who had lost all his dice to bad rolls
Switch Sides for the Win
I absolutely hate this one, but my nephew sure does love it. If he hasn’t used any of his three Do-Over tokens, I will allow him to cash them all in and trade positions with me. By offering him this opportunity, I’ve observed that not only does he focus on his own hand or position in a game but he’s also doing the math on my position and trying to figure out if it’s worth saving his tokens instead of asking for a Do-Over.
The ability to change sides can be frustrating to you (or another experienced player) when you’ve carefully navigated a game to put yourself into a winning position only to have it yanked away. Again, I come back to the goal of this article and that is to help your young gamer acclimate to a new game and to become a better gamer. Switching sides al lows the young gamer a short – term victory, but the long- term effect is a young player gaining a more sol id understanding of victory conditions or the value of certain cards, properties, or other key game factors.
Toss Complex Rules or Cards
This one’s a no-brainer to most parents — if a child isn’t ready for the big-boy rules, you play the game anyway you can to maximize fun, including and up to making up new rules and tossing out the entire rulebook, if necessary. You must be careful to explain to young gamer s that the rules change as they get older, or else you face the unpleasant job of having to try and change a rule that’s been cemented by too many years and too many wins.
Change the Win Conditions
Changing victory conditions can be done before the game starts (just make certain al l players know about the rules change) or on the fly. If you find a game is getting a bi t long, there’s nothing wrong with coming up with an impromptu victory condition towards which to race. (It’s up to you to decide whether to lean the victory condition closer to the young gamer’s current position.) Likewise, creating a simple elimination condition can help wrap up a game quickly.
For very young players, you’re going to find that most of them simply do not have the patience for a game that lasts an hour or more. It’s best to prepare early for an “out” to the game. And don’t forget: for kids, a tie is better than a loss. There’s nothing wrong with changing a win condition to be mutually beneficial to all players. I ’m continually surprised at how bad my nephew feels when he wins and I lose — kids want everyone to win!
Don’t Forget the Post-Game Discussion
When my nephew finishes a game, he tends to want to run off to his next activity, and I ’m often fine with that. But when I ’m teaching him a new game, I try to hold his attention a bit longer by asking him some questions about the game he just played. What was your favorite part of the game? What didn’t you like? What did you find confusing?
While it’s great to focus on the fun parts of the game, don’t ignore the bumps in the road. I f your young player encountered difficulties, this is a great time to try and identify those areas of confusion or frustration (or both) so you can better help him or her the next time you play. Even better, you can try to identify similar games that might provide your young player with more practice or at least reduce the risk of them disliking a game that you are playing too often.