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Subject: A session of Saboteur with my two young sons rss

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James Webb
United Kingdom
Canterbury
Kent
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Being a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided that it might be good to try and play a game with my sons. Neither of them are the sort of gaming savant children that some Geeks seem to have, so it would have to be something pretty simple - especially for the younger boy.

Unfortunately, most of my games are not suitable for children. However, I decided that Saboteur might provide some enjoyment for them so thought I'd give that a go.

Because my children are not yet gamers, I thought I'd create a variant which really dumbed down the game. To this end I removed the Dwarf/Saboteur cards and all of the action cards so only the tunnel cards remained. I then dealt each of us four cards. This created a simple path-laying game where the only goal was to build a tunnel from the entrance to the gold. Whoever found the gold got one nugget card. I thought this would be complicated and fun enough for them, and it was.

Calvin is six years old. He and I have played Monopoly and Buccaneer before. The biggest problem playing games with Calvin is, as you may expect from a six-year-old, that he struggles with losing. He's quite a sensitive child, but he's also got a strong sense of justice. He can get upset when he loses, but at other times he takes a very phlegmatic attitude towards it if he perceives it in terms of "I won last time, so it's dad's turn to win this time."

At the moment he's very keen on playing games with me, but I think it's because he wants to spend time with his dad doing the things that his dad likes doing rather than because he's turning into a hard-core gamer. I have no doubt that, when he's a bit older, he'll be more than willing to humour his old man and sit down for a game or two, but I can imagine that he'll more likely be off with his friends playing something outside.

Reid is four years old. He has also played games with Calvin and me, but the problem with Reid is that he lacks the concentration required so gets bored easily. He'll usually start off really keen to play, but his zeal will waver over time and he'll quit after twenty minutes. Combine this with a four year old's grasp of rules and it becomes a very interesting experience - one that Calvin usually finds frustrating.

On the other hand, Reid has excellent language skills and a superb imagination. He's clearly inherited my love of fantasy and gaming, having already picked out the Warhammer army he's going to collect when he's older. I'm positive that, as Reid grows up, our father/son bonding is going to happen mostly over a game board. I'm looking forward to it.

The boys picked up the game very quickly - which is to be expected, as the variant I had created was very simple. Reid needed constant reminding to play the card horizontally rather than vertically, and they both needed to be prompted to take a new card after having played one, but other than that they were playing well straight away - all without me needing to play sub-optimally to 'give them a chance'.

Calvin in particular quickly worked out that, although it was good to build a path to the hidden gold cards as quickly as possible, it was not good to play a card which allowed the player going next to find the gold. As a result he would occasionally build away from the gold to prevent another player being able to flip the card before him. That's my boy.

Reid had a hilarious method of playing. He would have his four cards face down in front of him, and when it was his turn he would choose one of his cards at random and play that one regardless of whether or not it was the best card in his hand. If he drew a dead-end he'd look to play it in the position to cause Calvin and I the most trouble and then gloat about blocking off a path. Who needs a Saboteur with Reid around! As a consequence, Calvin and I would often spend time carefully building a path and get one space within a gold card, and then Reid would play a dead-end and force us to go the long way around. It cracked me up every time he did it, especially as he was clearly taking such pleasure in it. Calvin got a little frustrated at first, but once I explained that it was important to let Reid make his own choices - even if they made the game harder for all of us - then he was fine.

The boys both loved the artwork on the cards. They were really excited about being able to play a card which had a frying pan or a boot in the tunnel. Reid, in particular, loved to tell us that the hedgehog on the card that he had played was actually 'a trap', or spin us a story about how that skeleton had actually ended up in the tunnel.

I suggested that we finish after three rounds, with the winner being the player with the most gold nuggets at that time. Both boys wanted the game to go on after round three, so we ended up playing eight rounds. I was really pleased that both boys were able to win games (though Reid sometimes needed to be reminded to play cards that let him find the gold rather than just led the tunnels all over the place). As it was, Calvin suggested we finish after the eighth round when he'd counted that we all had five nuggets of gold. That way, there was no loser!

The boys had a great time, as did I, and I can foresee adding rules as they get more confident with the game. Once we throw in the action cards, Reid's going to delight in breaking our equipment. I don't know how Calvin will handle the direct conflict, but I'll be interested to find out.

I asked the boys what they thought of the game that we had played...

Calvin "Yeah, it was good."
Reid "It was awesome. We can play it again tomorrow."

So all in all, this was a very successful session, and so far this has been the only game in my collection that allows both boys to play without getting bored or feeling like they're not making any progress. A good result all round.
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Mr Husso
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Heh, really nice session report. Looks like all of you really enjoyed playing it :)
 
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Simon Woodward
New Zealand
Hamilton
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Thanks for this report, really interesting...

I've been playing this with my daughter (6) and son (5) over the last few days. We started off using all the rules, which they can follow easily enough. However, they are not getting the metagame very well. And I realise that Saboteur is a lot about the metagame, i.e. deceit!

Also, after a few games they began to get really grumpy about the broken equipment cards so we have now removed those from the deck. The rules are fine, but it has more screwage than other games we play and they get upset, so maybe your approach is a good idea. Thanks again!
 
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