Daddy, Don't Win

A blog chronicling the gaming development of my son, born September 2009.

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Thursday Night's Plays

Jerry Hagen
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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Two more plays of the Merchants & Marauders mod discussed in my last post.

Timmy saw the coins in the box and wanted to play with the treasure. So for these plays I seeded the board with (2n-1) coins where n is the number of players. A coin counted the same as a flag for final scoring making a few spaces worth 2 points instead of 1. We played fair this time, no ship advantages for anyone.

He won game 1 10-9. His mom came down for the second game and proceeded to get three of her ships sunk. Timmy and I tied for a 9-9 shared victory.

I'm enjoying watching his thought process unfold. He knows what ship he wants to move and where he wants to go but doesn't always know if the move is possible until later in the move. So occasionally I see him try moves like:

"1..."
(moves one space legally)
"2"
(moves one space legally)
(pause)
"...3!"
(teleports his boat halfway across the board to its destination)

To his credit, he doesn't pout much when I tell him he can't do that.

Timmy's also capable of moves far more advanced than I'd have expected. The M&M board has irregularly shaped sea zones which give a lot of movement options:



On one turn he rolled a 3 and wanted to move a ship from St. Maarten to Curacao. So instead of plowing forward directly he made the move St.Maarten -> Basse-Terre -> Trinidad -> Caracas. I'd made sure to demonstrate a couple lateral moves like the Basse-Terre to Trinidad to Caracas string previously, but this is a kid who only a couple months ago needed help to figure out his next move on a Candy Land-style board. I was really stunned and thrilled to see him use the lateral move.
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Fri Dec 14, 2012 8:22 pm
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Yarr! Two Quick Mods

Jerry Hagen
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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My wife left for a Christmas party around 6:00 tonight, which left Timmy and me an hour to game before we had to get him ready for bed. He declared he wanted to play downstairs.

Downstairs is trouble. For downstairs is where my game collection lives.

We were a little way into The Busytown Board Game and he was getting bored. So he pulled a yellow box off the bottom shelf and said, "we should play this."



My son wants to play a Phil Eklund game. There are the mundane reasons why I love Timmy, and then there's this.

Unfortunately I couldn't figure out any way to make Origins work on the fly. Now that I think about it, there's probably a playable age-appropriate game to be made out of the domestication mechanic. Much of Origins centers around domesticating various animals, plants, and natural resources to build cities and improve one's technology. The mechanic is actually very simple (and the object of no small annoyance to the game's detractors): roll a d6, apply modifiers, consult a chart to see if you succeeded. I can definitely mod this, just need to figure out how.

We compromised on a mod of 10 Days in the USA. I scrounged around for the yellow and orange discs that had originally belonged to Agricola before we got vegimeeples, and explained to Timmy the following mod:

10 Days in the USA variant wrote:

Setup: Each player gets a color of disc. Remove the Alaska and Hawaii cards from the supply.

Players take turns:

1. Draw a card.
2. Place a disc:
a. If the card was a state, then find the state on the map and place your color disc in that state.
b. If the card was a plane, place your color disc in any state matching the color of the plane.
c. If the card was a car, then if it is the first turn place your color disc in any state on the map; otherwise place your color disc in any state next to a state you already have a disc.
You may place a disc in a state where your opponent has already placed (for example, the Wisconsin card played by the first player and an orange plane played by the second player can allow both players to coexist in Wisconsin).
3. Check for victory: if you have discs in four connected states, you win!



I thought it was kind of clever. Mostly random, but with a few decisions to make with the planes and cars. And I'm proud to say that the first time Timmy drew a plane, he adeptly placed his yellow token in Utah, connecting his territories in Arizona and Idaho to make three in a row. This eventually won him the game when he topdecked Washington.

I won the second game with a lucky draw, to his annoyance, though actually he took it much better than I expected he would. Then as I was about to announce bathtime, he found this.



Hmm...

Merchants & Marauders variant wrote:

Setup: Place one banner in each territory space. Take all the ships of one color and place them wherever on the map you like.

Take turns:

1. If you have at least one ship on the board, roll a die.
2. If you rolled a 1-4, then move one of your ships that many spaces. If you stop on a space containing a banner, claim that banner.
3. If you rolled a skull and crossbones -- yarr! One of your ships has been sunk by pirates! Pick a ship of your color and remove it from the board.
4. Check for victory: if you have 10 banners, you win!

When one player has lost all ships, then that player's turn is skipped. Other players may continue taking turns until reaching 10 banners or losing their last ship. If no player reaches 10 before losing all ships, then all players with the most banners win.


I let him give himself a big advantage when he picked brown as his color. Brown is not a player color in Merchants & Marauders, it's the color of the various navies who may be hunting the players. There are 8 brown ships as opposed to 4 in the player colors. But whatever, we can play fair another time.

I was worried Timmy would get mad when he rolled a pirate and had to lose a ship, but I growled an enthusiastic "yarr!" for effect and he laughed as only a child can, then pulled a brown ship off the board.

Disadvantaged at the beginning and suffering some poor dice rolling to boot, I was out of the game early. With just one ship left on the board Timmy collected his 10th banner to win 10-3.

He's going to want to play "the pirate game" again. Maybe next time Mommy can play with us.
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Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:14 am
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You Can Mod Anything

Jerry Hagen
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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The three of us were sitting around the dining room table enjoying our Sunday lunch and the subject of trains came up. My son Timothy turned 3 years old in September, so there usually isn't a pretext to talk about topics like trains, dinosaurs, or animals. There doesn't need to be one either.

We were planning an afternoon trip to The Last Square, the nearest FLGS to our house. Though recently the store has focused more on hobby materials and minis, and less on board games, it's been friendly to me in the past and remains a great place to visit with Timmy on a Sunday afternoon. They have no regular Sunday events and thus plenty of table space, and a nice set of Thomas trains available for kids to play with. Also the store closes at 5:00 on Sundays so I have an ironclad reason why we must leave - significant when one is trying to extract a preschooler from someplace fun.

So games were on his mind, and so were trains, and then he asked the fateful question.

"Are there train games?"

I had trouble containing my smile. We own a half-dozen 18xx titles, six Mayfair Crayon Rail Games games, Railways of the World plus the Mexico expansion, and two versions of Ticket to Ride. Yeah kid, there are train games.

So I explained that there are lots of train games, but that most of them were for big kids (wait, you are a big kid! I mean ten-year-olds and twelve-year-olds) and grownups. Then came a wry comment from my wife's side of the table:

"You can mod anything."

I think this is not strictly true. If anyone figures out an 1841 mod appropriate for small children, let me know.

But still this set thoughts in motion - assuming a radical rules redesign, what train game currently in my collection would be appropriate for Timmy?

I decided on Empire Builder. Connecting dots is fun for all ages, right? He's starting to learn geography, and can identify the states of Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois on a US map. He also knows roughly where California, New York, and Texas are. He's very good with numbers up to 30 so counting was not going to be a problem. Here was my idea for a preschooler-appropriate game using the Empire Builder components:

Empire Builder variant wrote:

Setup: Each player gets a crayon and a train card. (The train card doesn't really have a game function, it's just fun to look at.)

Each player has 20 turns. We use a d20 to track which turn it is. On your turn:

1. Roll a d6.
2. Connect a number of dots equal to the number you rolled. Each dot costs one move regardless of whether it is a plains dot, a city, or a solid black mountain triangle and regardless of any rivers in the way.
3. If you connect to a new city and that city has commodity symbols near it, take one of each from the supply and put it on your train. Commodities are component-limited; a player who tries to collect a commodity no longer in the supply does not receive that commodity. A train may hold any number of commodities.

At the end of 20 turns, whoever has the most chips wins.


So when the time came, we packed some snacks, I loaded the trunk with Empire Builder and a couple games actually designed for his age group, and we set off. After a short session at the Thomas table to get in a train game mood, we got started with our Empire Builder mod.

I decided I would go first. Usually I let Timmy go first but I wanted to show him what a turn looked like in this new game. So I rolled a 5 and scanned the board. For the first couple months we played games, he didn't really care about winning and losing, but now he's much more invested in the outcome and really wants to be the winner. I want to set up situations where he will win most of the time, but sometimes he will lose - he needs to learn how to lose gracefully too. So with this in mind I decided I'd start from Dallas and head west, hoping to hold down my point count enough to give him the first win easily before putting a bit more pressure on in future plays.

Timmy chose the blue crayon and rolled 2 for money, so I told him he could connect two dots and because it was the first turn he could start from anywhere on the board. He pointed to New York. He's familiar with New York because his aunt, uncle, and cousin live in Queens. Smart kid, I thought, there are a lot of cities in that region which are very close together.

I got another 5 and drew five more links to about the Texas-New Mexico border, but then made the critical mistake of telling Timmy I was trying to get to California. California is an exotic place in his mind. It's all the way in the west, and that's interesting, and whenever his friends go there they have to take a plane and they're gone for a whole week or even more. Like a fortune-seeker of a bygone era, there was no way my son was going to resist the allure of California.

"I want to go to California too."

"Okay, roll the die."

Timmy rolled a 2. He used his first move to connect to Philadelphia. Then with his second move, he drew a long, winding blue line in the general direction of Florida, being extremely careful not to touch any dots. Then he turned west and eventually stopped his line at a big hexagonal major city on the west coast. Los Angeles.

"I made it to California. And you didn't!"

After the obligatory triple-take, I decided not to bother strictly enforcing dot-to-dot connectivity rules for this game. We'll try that again some other time. We kept taking turns and at the end he ended up having collected 16 chips to my 11. Was it an actual game? Not exactly. But he wants to play more train games, so a big success from that perspective.

Some day a dozen years from now, he may totally wreck my position in a game of 1830. After I finish cursing I will remember that first "train game," and if I'm not careful I just might let a tear escape from my eye.
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3 Comments
Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:23 pm
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