Boardgaming with 'special needs' folk
dave de boer
Canada
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Handicapped or 'special needs' people are, through no decision of my own, an important part of my life. The oldest daughter of my wife and I is severely handicapped (no diagnosis). At eight years old, she cannot talk and is still in diapers. The very first moment when Katie intentionally communicated with us involved a game. At two years old, Katie loved it when I would spin a top for her on the kitchen floor. She would laugh and giggle and watch it until it stopped. Finally, one day, she picked up the top and held it out for me. She was asking me to do it again. From this we developed a game where Katie would have to chase the spinning top and bring it to us. Nowadays, Katie is still not ready for boardgames. Her favourite games involve things like gravel/pine cones/grass clippings on the trampoline or the throwing of hard plastic balls on the ceramic tile in the hallway (very loud and annoying). Nevertheless, despite her limitations she is capable of inventing primitive games with us, which gave me ideas when I later came into contact with a small handicapped community.

When Katie was three I accepted a position as a pastor in a small town church. Part of my work there involves me visiting a home for handicapped persons. There are nine residents. They are all higher functioning (though with a wide range) and they all suffer from a variety of emotional, psychological, mental and physical handicaps. After I had got to know them all quite well I decided to see if I could combine my work with my hobby. I brought along a copy of Pitchcar, which I thought everyone should be able to play. We had a great time, and since then I have with much success tried some other games with my 'special needs' friends. This is a list of the games we have played together.

I would be interested to hear of other experiences of playing boardgames with friends, relatives, siblings or children who are handicapped. In my experience, they love it. They love the attention, they thrive on rivalry, they have a great sense of humour, and they really enjoy beating you!

Enjoy.
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1. Board Game: PitchCar [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:314]
dave de boer
Canada
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PitchCar was my first gaming experiment with my handicapped friends. They all crowded around with curiosity while I set it up. I was able to convince five of them to give a try. As with all us 'normal' folk, not every 'special needs' person is comfortable with competing. But even those who didn't want to play definitely wanted to watch. The residents were not all especially coordinated, but this made the game even more fun than usual. Jim, a 49 year old resident, won the first game and was very excited when his blue car crossed the finish line. Derreck, in his mid-thirties and confined to wheel chair, is normally a quiet, though cheerful fellow. He laughed uproariously whenever someone's car would fly off the track. The next time I visited the home (without a game) I was immediately asked where my game was and why I hadn't brought it.
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2. Board Game: Animal Upon Animal [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:726] [Average Rating:6.87 Unranked]
dave de boer
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Pleased with my first gaming experience at the home, I cast my eye around for other games that I thought would work. Tier auf Tier seemed like it had the right stuff, so I ordered it. The residents are insatiably curious. When I showed up and put the game on the table, they had to know what it was. Before long we had five of us sitting around the table stacking our little animals. Several of the residents rotated in and out. My son and I can go a whole game without knocking over the pile once, but the residents lack this coordination, which once again makes for a great game. Fred dropped one of his monkeys into his coffee. Derreck started to talk trash, which surprised me greatly and I gave it right back. Jim became more and more agitated until he finally won in our fourth round. We had a grand ol' time!
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3. Board Game: UNO [Average Rating:5.35 Overall Rank:15215]
dave de boer
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I had been assuming all along that I was opening up a new world of boardgaming to the residents. I should have known better. When I next showed up with Tier auf Tier and PitchCar, the residents knew that I was coming and were already busy getting into the spirit. They had a stack of tattered and much used UNO cards and four of them were deeply engaged in a ferocious game of UNO with one of the staff. Once again I was surprised and amused by the affectionate trash talk flying around. The residents were all boasting of their prowess and cheerfully using reverse and 'pick-up' cards on their opponents. Not once did any of them forget to say UNO, and they all knew the rules inside and out. I joined in the next round and provided my opponents with non-stop hilarity as I constantly 'forgot' to say UNO.
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4. Board Game: Cloud 9 [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:1647]
dave de boer
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This was my third try. This one was less successful than PitchCar and Tier auf Tier. The game is simple enough, and the balloon theme certainly got their interest. But, as I have learned from my daughter Katie, many special needs persons have a deep streak of caution. Thus, our first game took a long time and outlasted their attention span. As with all our other games, it wasn't the game as such but more just the social comraderie and attention that they love. Every time I leave, Derreck promises that he's gonna crush me next time. I love it!
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5. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:366]
dave de boer
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I haven't tried Bohnanza yet. It is definitely a more complicated game. For some of the residents it will be over their head, though the basic concept of set collecting is easy enough. The reason I want to try this one is the theme. They will all find the pictures hilarious, and you can just bet that they will all split a gut when I say (with straight face), 'I've got wax'. For some reason the residents think silly talk is very funny.
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6. Board Game: Tri-Ominos [Average Rating:5.27 Overall Rank:15166]
M Hellyer
United States
Aurora
Illinois
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We have a special needs niece and she enjoys Tri-Ominos.
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7. Board Game: Connect Four [Average Rating:4.84 Overall Rank:15298]
sean johnson
United States
Edinburgh
Indiana
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My wife is a special education teacher in elementary schools for children with moderate to severe disabilities. I have volunteered in her room before, and some of the kids absolutly loved to play this game. They were not usually able to set stuff up or focus on blocking someone else's move (unless prompted), but they understood the concept of getting four in a row and they had a ball playing.
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8. Board Game: Apples to Apples [Average Rating:5.90 Overall Rank:3144] [Average Rating:5.90 Unranked]
Michael Randolph
United States
Strawberry Plains
Tennessee
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Our church has a very active "special friends" ministry and my sister helps a lot. One of their favorite games is Apples to Apples. Although reading is required, it does allow a wide range of functional levels to participate. I think part of the appeal is the fact that there are no right or wrong answers because you have to play a card you were dealt and part of the fun is laughing at some of the outlandish combinations. The "special friends" enjoy the fact that the fully functional folks (I wouldn't call my sister "normal") have as much fun as they do.
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9. Board Game: Sorry! [Average Rating:4.50 Overall Rank:15311]
Matt
United States
Ohio
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As mentioned under the Uno entry, my sister has Down's Syndrome and is profoundly delayed. Sorry! is another one of her favorite games. Watching her delight as she knocks your pieces back to home while yelling 'SOOOOORRRRYYYY' makes it worth playing every time. Uno and Sorry! games have been great games for my sister. They have simple rules and limited strategy and tactics--hence she can follow the rules and win. While Sorry! and Uno are criticized for lacking depth, I'm always happy to play them with her.
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10. Board Game: Viva Topo! [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:1622]
Carl Parsons
United States
Carrollton
Texas
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My son has Spina Bifida which is more of physical handicap than a mental one. He can't play most sports and do a lot of the physical activities that come "normal" to any four-year old but he sure can sit at the table and play games with the rest of us. He loves it. He gets upset every night when we tell him he can't play another game because it's time for bed. It upsets me too.

Edit: Viva Topo! is his favorite game right now.
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11. Board Game: Bingo [Average Rating:2.73 Overall Rank:15324]
sean johnson
United States
Edinburgh
Indiana
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In my wife's life skills class room this is the game they play more than any other. They play bingo with letters, numbers, word sounds, shapes, colors, etc. Basically, if there is something she is trying to teach the kids she has a version of bingo for it.
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12. Board Game: Guess Who? [Average Rating:4.78 Overall Rank:15296]
sean johnson
United States
Edinburgh
Indiana
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This is another popular game in my wife's classroom.
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13. Board Game: Yahtzee Jr. [Average Rating:5.01 Overall Rank:15058]
Shaun
United States
Minneapolis
Minnesota
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I worked in the Special Education department at a high school for three years, and a game that some of the students picked up on was Yahtzee Jr. This might not be the best game for an older demographic, but a similar dice game might work.

Uno was also played a lot
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