Want your life partner to enjoy gaming more? Thirty tips for a great gaming household
Trent Hamm
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My wife enjoys playing games with me, often multiple times a week, even though we have two small children at home. Somehow we find the time, often after the kids are in bed.

There are so many little things she does that makes gaming together wonderful. Here are thirty of them - perhaps you can do some of these with your own spouse.

Each entry on this list references a specific game from our own collection (usually tied to the suggested tip) that we've played and enjoyed (or maybe not...) over the last few years. In some cases, the games themselves are great suggestions for implementing the tip.
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1. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:164]
Trent Hamm
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Be willing to give any game a try.

Like many, our introduction to the wider world of board games came via Settlers of Catan. After watching three games of it at various times, I picked it up of my own accord in about 1999. My wife-to-be took one look at it and was less than impressed, so we stuck it in the closet for a year or so.

One rainy day, my wife-to-be, my apartment roommate at the time, and I drug out Settlers and gave a three player game a shot. We loved it and it became an almost-daily play for almost a year.

Your initial reaction to a game might be negative, but give it a shot. You might be surprised as to how much you enjoy it.
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2. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:6]
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Don't be afraid of long games.

My wife purchased Agricola as a birthday gift for me this year, even after some hesitation because of the game's length. With two young kids at home, it's often hard to find multiple hours to play a game like Agricola.

We tried it anyway and found that (1) it was a lot of fun; (2) it wasn't quite as long as we thought; and (3) there were ways to reduce the time if we were clever. We started planning "Agricola evenings" where one of us would be putting the kids to bed while the other would be setting up Agricola, so that after the kids were asleep, playing could immediately commence.

If you pass up on a game just because of its apparent length, you might be missing out on a real gem. Remember, length of a game is just a guideline - it often doesn't represent the truth when you're at the table.
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3. Board Game: Torres [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:283]
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Be very patient when teaching a new game.

It took us four times going through Torres before we finally understood the game. For some reason, both of us had difficulty understanding all of the mechanics and the scoring and, frankly, we played it wrong at least twice.

However, we could see that there was some real potential with the game, so we exercised our patience. We didn't get frustrated at games where we were playing it wrong - instead, we laughed it off, reset the game, and tried again.

Now, Torres is one of our favorite games: deep and yet fairly quick to play.
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4. Board Game: Twixt [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:1144]
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Allow both partners to have the opportunity to teach occasionally.

Most of the time, when my wife and I are learning a new game, I'm the teacher. I tend to do a better job of reading the rules and learning the game without playing it, at least enough to teach the game.

However, if my wife already understands a game, she's a much better teacher than I am.

This was proven true with Twixt. Her parents had a copy of Twixt in their basement that she had played several times when she was young. When we dug it out one afternoon, she taught me how to play - and it was enjoyable to learn, because our roles were reversed.

Now, we somewhat alternate the teaching. If it's just the two of us and neither of us know how to play, I do the teaching. Otherwise, she does - she teaches to larger groups very well.
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5. Board Game: Catan Card Game [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:531]
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Make an effort to try new games together for the first time.

Quite often, I'll be introduced to a game at the local gaming shop, where I witness people playing it and already have a good grip on how the game is played.

However, we've found that it's very enjoyable for both of us if we pick up a new game that neither one of us knows at all. This gives us an opportunity to explore the components and the rules together for the first time and gives no sense of competitive advantage.

Quite often, my wife will pop out the pieces and affix stickers while I study the rules sheets. This allows her to be more familiar with the components, while I'm more familiar with the rules. In some ways, this allows us to teach the game together - I describe rules and she's already seen the components that match them. It's really fun, actually.
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6. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:33]
Trent Hamm
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Try a wide variety of mechanics.

Try every mechanic under the sun. Tile placement. Worker placement. Auction. Let the BGG advanced game search guide you.

Doing this has led us to discover tons of new game types that we would have never tried before. For a long time, we mostly just played network building games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride without really branching out.

Due to many strong suggestions, though, we tried Tigris and Euphrates. The mechanics almost seemed foreign to us - it was like discovering a whole new type of game - but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and for a few months, T&E was THE game to play.

Now, we try new game mechanics all the time - cooperative games, storytelling games, and so on. The more mechanics you try, the wider the variety of your gaming experience and the more likely you are to discover an amazing game that you never expected to play or enjoy.
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7. Board Game: Cartagena [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:654]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Try a wide variety of themes.

For some types of games, theme adds a lot to the mix. It takes mechanics and makes them much more flavorful, sparking your imagination.

Take Cartagena, for example. I first played it after reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which features a prison break as a major portion of the plot. As we played Cartagena for the first time, I couldn't help but think back to that great work of literature - and my imagination fired. I utterly loved Cartagena and theme played a big part in it.

Even now, I love pulling out Cartagena for a short, easy-to-understand game. The flavor of it still makes me smile.
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8. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:30] [Average Rating:7.77 Unranked]
Trent Hamm
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Adopt a friendly level of trash talking to give the game a "fun" level of competitiveness.

No one likes a sore loser or a sore winner. However, most games are made better by a bit of "trash talking" during the game, where players gently tease each other about their standing in the game.

Take my most recent game of Dominion. I made the slight mistake of buying Duchies a bit earlier than I should have and my wife knew it. She immediately started teasing me about my Duchy "strategy," asking me if I enjoyed just picking up 3 victory points a turn while she earned 6 by buying provinces.

Soon, though, she began to sweat. I bought the majority of the duchies and according to her count, I was slightly ahead on victory points. I was able to tease back a little, asking her if she was now afraid of the "Duchy strategy."

She ended up winning by 3, only after buying the last Province. However, the game was made a lot more fun by our willingness to tease each other without taking it personally in any way.
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9. Board Game: Clue [Average Rating:5.63 Overall Rank:6632]
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If you develop a new strategy that consistently beats your partner, reveal it to them.

A game loses its luster quickly if you're trounced at it every single time. While many people don't mind a short losing streak, if they play several games in a row and blow the other person out, the game becomes less and less fun.

Our solution is simple: if there's a blowout victory, the winner describes what they did to achieve that victory (if they know). That way, the loser can try the strategy next time - or be aware of it and plan a defense.

This happened with Clue. In a group setting of four players, I was consistently guessing correctly so early that I was being accused of cheating. I won ten games in a row out of the same group of four people.

Finally, I revealed my strategy: when making a guess to the person on my left, I instead looked at one of the people we were playing with. I could tell by her facial reaction whether or not she had one of the cards I mentioned. With some careful note-taking, I could use those faces to quickly eliminate many more options than people who were just using the provided answers.

Naturally, this resulted in a very different situation the next time we played, with the telling player trying to drop fake tells and the other players trying to study her and identify any tells they could see. It made the games much closer, too.
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10. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:329] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
 
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Don't play to kill unless your skill levels are roughly the same - instead, explore new strategies.

Often, though, one partner is just better than the other at a particular game, whether because of lots of practice, a better understanding of the game mechanics, or simply a better strategic sense of how the game works.

If that happens, don't just crush your partner each time. We've also found that "handicaps" don't work, either - they're just kind of insulting to the player with the starting advantage. Instead, what we often do is encourage the better player to explore unknown strategies during the game.

An example: for a short while, I worked for a guy who had achieved a pretty high international chess rating and loved to teach people how to play. I played with him quite a lot and studied chess on my own, improving my own skill quite a bit. I even knew a pretty good stack of openings and how to respond to them.

So, the first time I played my wife-to-be at chess, I was far better than her and beat her rather handily. We didn't play again for a while, so the next time we played, I tried using an opening that I knew nothing at all about and also tried to play defensively (which I'm not good at - I tend to go strongly offensive or nothing). This made the game much closer and we both enjoyed it quite a bit more.

We'll do the same thing with other games. If we're playing Settlers of Catan, for example, I'll work on my trading strategies, for example, instead of focusing on development cards (which I'm better at).
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11. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:108] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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If your partner mentions wanting to play a game, make sure you play it during your next session.

Both my wife and I get itches to play particular games every once in a while. You're almost always better off if you help your partner scratch that itch.

For example, I heard my wife mention wanting to play Carcassonne a few times recently, just offhandedly. So, one evening while she was putting the kids to bed, I went downstairs, found Carcassonne in our gaming closet, shuffled up the tiles, put the starting tile down, set out our meeples, and sat there waiting for her (and reading) until she came down. The smile on her face was quite big as we settled in for a game of Carcassonne.

I'll admit, Carcassonne isn't my favorite game, but when your partner drops hints like that, it's well worth it to follow up on the hints.
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12. Board Game: Ticket to Ride: Europe [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:63]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Be willing to introduce games to your mutual friends and family.

At a recent family event, on a whim, we packed Ticket to Ride in the trunk of our car. We didn't know if anyone would play it, but we figured if we brought it along, it might end up providing an entertaining diversion for a few people.

It wound up being played almost constantly, quite often with five players, and often with more people watching and learning and waiting their turn to play. It pulled in old and young alike and by the time we left people were encouraging us to bring our copy to future family events.

The influence of the game was so impressive that one of the younger folks in the family received TtR: Europe as a graduation gift recently.

More importantly, it cemented some familial bonds, bringing me closer to my wife's extended family and thus, by extension, to her.
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13. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:26]
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Iowa
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Don't obsess over the "cult of the new."

We've had a copy of El Grande in our game closet for years and it has been constantly passed over time and time again in favor of newer titles. In fact, we had forgotten that we even owned it.

Recently, I was cleaning out the inner recesses of the closet and came across the game. I inspected the parts, realized that it looked like a lot of fun, and now it's one we're eager to pull out in the near future.

In our rush to play the newest and greatest, we kept overlooking this truly great game. Instead of going out to buy a new game, dig through your game collection and see what's in the back that's only been played a little. You might just find a great afternoon of fresh gaming already on hand.
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14. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.70 Overall Rank:71]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Recognize that some games are lighter and heavier than others and choose a heaviness appropriate for the moment.

I enjoy playing Go, but I find it to be very heavy and subject to a lot of brain-bending and analysis paralysis, perhaps more so than any game I've ever played.

Thus, I'm careful when I bring out Go. I don't bring it out when we're pinched for time, nor when my wife is tired at all. Unfortunately, this means that with two little kids, we rarely have an opportunity to sit down and play this game.

That's okay. It's important to recognize when a particularly deep game is inappropriate and be patient with it, waiting until the time is right.
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15. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:184]
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Iowa
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Know their tastes.

One of my favorite games for a long time was Princes of Florence, which features a nice auction component.

Knowing this, my wife recognized that I might enjoy a game with a strong focus on auctioning and this quickly steered her to Modern Art. She whispered in a birdie's ear and lo and behold, her parents gave me a copy of Modern Art for my birthday that year.

MA turned out to be everything I hoped it could be and now I'm an enormous fan of auction games. I can't wait to try Ra, among others.
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16. Board Game: Battle Cry [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:403]
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Respect their tastes.

I enjoy war games - in fact, a big chunk of my childhood was spent playing Risk and Axis & Allies.

My wife, on the other hand, has never really been interested in war games. The idea of moving troops around on a board and stimulating combat has never really floated her boat.

This means that, sadly, our copy of Battle Cry is scarcely played. She's just not that into war games.

And, since I vastly prefer Memoir '44 (having played it elsewhere), it's very likely that Battle Cry will be traded in the future.
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17. Board Game: Stratego Legends [Average Rating:5.77 Overall Rank:4832]
Trent Hamm
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Shop for games together (except for gifts, of course).

My wife consistently buys me games for gifts. At first, though, she wouldn't shop for them with me. Instead, she'd just look at our game collection, see what I had, and make a guess.

One year, I had several Avalon Hill/Hasbro games in the closet - Acquire, Battle Cry, and a couple others. She noted this and went shopping, coming home with Stratego: Legends.

I'm really not much of a Stratego fan at all and S:L seemed completely unappealing. We played it a time or two, then it disappeared into the dusty recesses of our closet.

Now that we shop together for games, we can easily point out games we might like to each other, as well as games we dislike - all good information to have for later gift-buying. We can also talk together if we're actually purchasing a game together.

Plus, it's a fun way to spend an hour or two together.
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18. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:123]
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Attend gaming events together.

Yes, like many gamers, I had a long Magic: the Gathering phase. My wife was never into it as much as I was, but she was supportive of the hobby. She attended tournaments and prereleases and was actually competitive, making tournament top eights in both constructed and sealed formats.

She's even contemplating spending part of our summer vacation next year at GenCon, just the two of us, with the kids spending a few days with Grandma and Grandpa.

What does this mean for us? It's a great way to explore something we both enjoy in a much broader social context, giving us both opportunities to meet new people and build new friendships. That's nothing but healthy and fun for both of us.
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19. Board Game: Acquire [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:149]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
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Go bargain shopping together.

My wife and I sometimes hit bargain stores, often looking for clothes on the cheap. We'll also wander around, seeing if these thrift stores have any old used games for sale.

Usually, the choices are pretty bad - moth-eaten copies of Monopoly and the like. Every once in a while, we find something interesting, though.

A few years ago, we stumbled across a 3M bookshelf copy of Acquire from the 1960s, complete and in very good shape - I don't think it had ever been played. The price? $1. Even though we owned the Avalon Hill/Hasbro edition, we had to have it. Our enjoyment of the aesthetics of this version made it well worth the dollar.

Since then, we've had a lot of fun browsing through the game section of thrift stores, going through a lot of junk and occasionally finding something really cool. Best of all, we do it together.
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20. Board Game: Axis & Allies [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:992]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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If you have a choice between a "large box" and a "small box" version of a game, get the "small box" version.

Several years ago, I picked up a copy of the old Axis and Allies at a thrift store. I've wanted a copy of my own for years, as the game brings back a ton of childhood memories for me.

The box was enormous and, frankly, it was fairly empty on the inside. I was disappointed to later find that there were a few pieces missing from the game and I've still not been able to complete it.

Recently, while shopping, we both noticed the new "small box" Axis and Allies. "Isn't that the game we already have that's missing some parts?" she asked me. I told her "Yeah." She then told me that she'd way rather have this version simply because the box is half the size.

A similar statement is true for Torres - we have the older version with a box that's half the size of the newer one. The smaller the box, the more games we can keep in our gaming closet in a reasonable amount of space.
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21. Board Game: Backgammon [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:916]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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Get travel copies of the games you like the most.

For about a year (actually, right after the debut of Lost), my wife and I played a lot of backgammon. Our copy is nice and small and self-contained in a convenient travel case, which means that it's easy to toss in a bag for a road trip to visit family. That way, we're able to bust out backgammon if the opportunity presents itself without carrying along a big game.

This idea is true for any game both of you enjoy a lot. Ingenious, Blokus, Chess, Scrabble, and many other games have great small travel versions that are just as playable as the full ones but make it easy to take the game along with you.

Just be sure you actually like the game first. With the exception of backgammon, we've never bothered with a travel version of a game that didn't start off with a lot of plays of the full-sized version of the game.
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22. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.14 Overall Rank:5]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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Play what they want more often than what you want.

I'm a huge fan of Puerto Rico - it might be my favorite among all of the games we own.

My wife doesn't like it quite as much. She prefers Carcassonne and Dominion - a bit shorter games where the players are responsible for creating the game, in essence, by laying tiles and building decks.

One key thing I realized a long time ago is that I love playing games with my wife more than I love playing any specific game. So, quite often, I'll indulge her tastes. We'll bust out Dominion and shuffle up quite often and leave PR in the cupboard.

The end result of this is that she's very happy to play games she's less than thrilled with on occasion. Whenever we do get out Puerto Rico, she's ready to move some colonists around and become the governor.

And it's a lot more enjoyable for me because I'm playing with her.
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23. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:62]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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Use a "randomizing" method to choose which game to play sometimes.

Quite often, when we're in the mood to play a game, we use a "randomizing" method to determine what game to play.

My favorite is the "two dice" method. One of us gets to choose six games, the other gets to choose five. We then assign these games to numbers. The person who chose six games gets to assign those six games to the six even numbers between 2 and 12. The other person gets to assign his/her five games to the odd numbers between 3 and 11. Then the two dice are rolled and whichever number comes up is the game that's played.

This works well because the person with five choices gets the number seven, which is the most likely to be rolled. Yet, fairly often, numbers like 11 and 2 are rolled.

It's a great way to choose what game to play without having one person or the other always make the decision. However, it does help to keep in mind that the games your partner really doesn't like should be avoided anyway (they should probably be traded away, to be honest).
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24. Board Game: Apples to Apples [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:1840] [Average Rating:6.09 Unranked]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
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Make "boring" party games fun.

Sometimes, we all end up playing "party games" - games that are designed mostly for large groups to play together. Frankly, most of these are awful, particularly when you've been exposed to much better games.

Our solution is to usually have a party game along that we both like to play - or can at least make entertaining. Apples to Apples is our choice.

How do we play it to make it fun? Usually, we make it our goal to make others laugh - but particularly to make each other laugh. We look for opportunities for inside jokes and the like and use it as a good chance to tell stories.

This changes the game some and actually makes it more strategic for us in a way, as I'll make an effort to hold on to some noun cards for the future opportunity to make a good joke or tell a good story. This greatly adds to the enjoyment of the game for me and is usually entertaining to everyone else.
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25. Board Game: My First Carcassonne [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:943]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
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Play with kids - and enjoy their raw enthusiasm.

As our son grows older (he's now three), it's becoming more and more fun to play games with him. He approaches them from such a fresh perspective, innocent and willing to think outside the box.

His current favorite is Kids of Carcassone, which is just a simplified version of Carcassonne in which you just place people on roads, no fields or anything like that. Our son plays with abundant amusement, shouting out that there are three "red guys" on this path. He also loves placing the tiles and making bigger and bigger roads, not worrying too much about whether it helps him to win or not.

After all, for him the "big win" is creating an enormous road, particularly with lots of his color on it, and then capping it just in time.

Playing with kids gives you a completely different perspective on gaming and how to relate to people - and to each other.
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