I don’t really remember the first board game I played as a kid, if I’m being honest, but it was probably ‘Snake & Ladders’ followed by one of ‘Monopoly’, ‘Game of Life’ or ‘Connect 4’. But they weren’t games that really grabbed my attention or made any sort of lasting impresssion. They weren’t the formative gaming experiences that started me down this gaming path.
No, the seminal moments that instilled a love of gaming into my young mind came from playing draughts (checkers) with my grandad. We played on a board that was made by one of my Uncles years before. It was nothing fancy, just a plain wooden board with the squares drawn out, sandwiched between two layers of perspex. It was functional and familiar. It was also the arena in which my grandfather taught me the highs and lows of winning and losing, but most importantly, the sheer joy of gaming.
What I love most, thinking back on it now, is that he never once ‘Let’ me win. He’d just adjust things to give me a starting advantage. The better I got, the slimmer the advantage I’d be afforded. So in the beginning he’d use fewer pieces than me, and employ one or two of his discarded pieces to start me off with some ‘Kings’. Of course he beat me every time anyway. Over a couple of weeks, and after maybe a dozen or so games, he’d simply use less pieces but now I’d have to earn any Kings myself.. Again, I’d lose every game. Anytime I made a mistake, he’d just show me what I should have done, but then carry on the game with the move I’d commited to (lessons aren’t learnt if it’s too easy!).
I can’t remember how many games it took before I finally won, having been given a starting advantage. But I do remember the first time I won fair and square in a full game. The reason I recall it so clearly is that his smile at my victory was broader than my own! He took great delight in seeing someone learn to enjoy a game, slowly get better at it and finally win a game against him.
Letting kids discover gaming
I’m now 40 years old, and have a 5 year old son. And to me, it was important to allow him to discover the joy to be had from gaming. Even when he was a 2 or 3 year old, I’d take out components, stack them up and let him knock them down. Then we moved onto rolling dice, just for the fun of it. Then playing simple card games etc. At this stage he’s now an avid young gamer, and any time I get a package delivered through the post his little face lights up with giddy anticipation and the hopeful question “Is it a new game Dad? Is it? Is it?”.
All kids want to ‘win’ every time, and he was no exception (nor was I at that age). Like my grandad before me however, I don’t ‘Let’ him win games. I will sometimes give him clues that there might be a better move, but he has to find it himself. In fairness, he can usually hold his own in most games I play with him anyway. I’ve tried to show him that I’m happier to have played and lost than to not have played at all. And our only rule is that regardless of who wins, we shake hands and say “Well played” with a smile.
Kid friendly games
Often my son will look at my game shelf and ask to play something that’s a bit too tricky, complicated or just plainly not suitable. But there are a lot of games that work really well with younger kids. Some of them Owen mentioned in his post on gateway games like “Kingdomino” and “King of Tokyo”. And Ticket to Ride has a simpler kids version called “Ticket to Ride: First Journey” which is very easy and good fun. But plenty of games work just as well with kids as they do with adults, and dexterity based games are a real highlight here. In our follow up post we’ll go through a selection of some excellent kid friendly games which we’d recommend without hesitation.
In the meantime, you can check us out on our Facebook page or on Twitter (@wicklowmeeples).