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Subject: Where a five year old crushes the table... rss

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Barak Engel
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Having kids, as any geek-gaming parent will tell you, is fraught with, well, less gaming. At least until they start growing up and soak in the gaming bug. Not that they can avoid it, the poor dears; I mean, how could they?

Well, mine couldn't, considering it's my biggest hobby and my 300 games are all proudly displayed in our living room. There's a process to it, where they start with fondling components, then playing made-up rules, then playing simplified rules, then...

... well, then my 7 year old son proposes we play Formula De. And his 5 year old sister pipes up saying "I want to play Formola too! with the real rules!"

I admit that my initial reaction was not the best; I mean, she doesn't normally have the patience or wherewithal to play games in a "serious" way. But then I remembered that she has been growing up recently - they have a tendency to do that - and has been kicking our collective behinds in Cheeky Monkey playing "by the rules" and even going one better by attempting to get an unauthorized peek at her selections.

Well, why not, let's give it a shot. I pull the game out, then remember I recently acquired the Chicago/Sebring track from the newly editioned Formula D. As my eyes briefly lock onto it, so do my son's as he has already learned to look where I look because when it comes to gaming I seem to look in places where stuff is happening or is going to happen even if no one else seems to notice, the little brat. Sorry, smart little guy.

"Hey dad, is that a new track? let's play the new track!"

I guess we're playing the new track.

Put it on the table, went to the restroom, came back with the shrink off the new track. One thing that really sucks with kids is that at some point, they become afflicted with your own surprisingly contagious tendency to want to pull the shrink off and punch stuff out - and they don't wait for anyone. Grrr. My son even tried smelling boxes but apparently that's one oddity that is not contagious.

He knows the rules, but my daughter did not, so I explain them. She listens. Like, the whole way through. She even asked a couple of clarification questions. I mean, she was like this newly created gamer, for heaven's sake! even my son seemed a bit surprised.

We each got two cars - she got red, of course, I took white, my son chose yellow. He's been choosing yellow ever since he figured it was my favorite playing color. In response, I almost took away all his legos for like, an hour, but instead chose to sulk. Regularly.

We rolled for placement. Little one got first and third, middle one got fourth and last, big hulking menacing scary dad-thing got second and fifth. No one stalled, no one had a flying start, and the race began.

I don't remember much except that somehow by half race, my daughter had both cars in the lead, having careened through corners with absolutely number-perfect cornering - err, die rolls - my son hanging behind her by a thread with a car that was riding on something akin to rubber paste and with smoke billowing through bent brake rotors, and daddy way, way, way behind with two perfect, unblemished, paint-still-shining cars driven by morons. Yes, that's my son called my drivers.

And he had every right to, really.

So daddy upped his game, and started ignoring all safety rules, driving rules, racing rules, and the middle pedal. Slowly but surely, those two white cars closed in on the rest - well, truth be told, we cut the lead of the fourth place car from two corners to one. The first two cars were so far ahead we only heard about them on the pit radio, where my crew were saying things like "hey, moron, looks like tortoise is gonna lose this one!"

Right.

But then - salvation! a yellow car went one too far and spun out. The other yellow car almost crashed into that one, and both white cars nosed ahead of them. The red cars were right up ahead, we could even see their tails. We looked victoriously through our helmets at the yellow car drivers, tears filling their eyes, and felt awfully smug. Well, kinda sorry too, but a race is a race!

Except that we then got a little excited and spun out too. That same yellow car driver was shrieking hysterically at us as he passed by waving. The other one was still trying to recover from his spin, but then spun out again and crashed, but by that time it didn't matter.

Both red cars finished first and second, with a comfortable lead. Yellow was third, but seemed happy enough because whites took fourth and fifth.

And my daughter? the glint in eyes assured me she would be racing again.


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Alex Martinez
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This sounds like a great time. That's something I love about games is that they can be so inclusive. On my regular Monday nights, my friend's 2 1/2 year old is slowly starting his own path toward gaming. Every time I show up, he eagerly sits at the table and watches us play the games. He's really only at the fondling the pieces stage, and he loves my Monsterpocalypse pieces. Even knows the difference between an alien and a fiend now.
 
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Jason Matthew
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That's awesome. I have a three year old daughter and a two year old son. I can't wait until they show an interest in gaming with their Dad. Keep the gaming bug strong!
 
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Barak Engel
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Thiessi wrote:
That's awesome. I have a three year old daughter and a two year old son. I can't wait until they show an interest in gaming with their Dad. Keep the gaming bug strong!


Well, do feel free to encourage it... but it doesn't require much, simply doing it in front of them will pique their interest.

At 3 they can play all sorts of games - check out my son's impromptu version of Ticket to Ride, invented when he was that age:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/73734

There are certainly things that in retrospect, I would have loved to have known in advance rather than figure out, as they would have made life easier on everyone. Alas, that's the way life is, it doesn't come with a manual. In our case:

- take a deep, DEEP breath before starting a game with a young 'un. They can be maddeningly frustrating if you think about the game rather than the experience of spending time with them. I know it's obvious but it took stupid ol' me a while to learn.
- forget the rules. Really. Try to focus on maybe one thing and let the rest be whatever it becomes. Eventually they will ask to play by the rules (as my daughter did above; in the past she has "played" Formula De with us by zoom-zooming her cars on the track with us but not following any rules).
- which leads me to "not everyone playing the game must follow the same procedures". In ticket to ride, my son plays fully by the rules, whereas my daughter plays her own game - all on the same board.
- be super insistent on the careful handling of the games themselves. I had gone off the deep end here, in the sense that I admittedly had gotten extremely upset with and hard on my kids when it comes to taking good care of my games, but at this point I can let my son go and pick out any game off the shelf and play with it knowing full well he would take better care of it than any adult I know. The reasoning behind this is that unlike my gaming friends, my kids have full and unsupervised access to my collection at all times (both because they live in my house but also because I want to encourage a love for gaming) and no real concept of monetary value or what "impossible to get again" means. But they do have a VERY solid concept of what "daddy is real mad at me" means.

As for winning...

- when they are young, you can safely let them win even if you do it blatantly. Then be super-happy about it, high five, and so on, but MAKE SURE that the winning is NOT the main reason! in other words, comments like "great game" and "well done, I really enjoyed it", and "what a fun game, you did really well" are much better than "congratulations for winning". The guiding thought is "winning is great, but the process of playing is what this is about". Kids do not need further encouragement to be competitive in our society. They DO need encouragement to know that just doing stuff without needing to win everything obsessively is OK.
- after you've shown them how it feels to win and shown them a good role model of a loser (I used to make fun of myself), then you win and let them feel it, and keep trading back and forth. It's not the game itself at the younger ages that matters, it's the experience.
- as they grow you can slowly shift your own game playing to being more and more "natural", which will happen anyway as you start adhering to those rules. At this point, my son insists I play well, he's a stickler for rules, and he loves beating me "for real" (which he occasionally does in certain games like Transamerica, Ticket to Ride, and so on). But I still tend to hold back on being highly effective in my plays and rather keep the game close, also be giving out advice (not "this is best" but with an explanation of why; it's shocking how much they can absorb). He's also become quite adept at "catching" me throwing something his way and he has recently taken to gleefully "punishing" me for it (in an obvious way). Thus the student has become the master. With that said, sometimes he simply asks me to let him win, which I might or might not do depending on my mood, but the whole winning thing has become more of a discussion point than a high emotional lever. And there's no gloating.

OK, sorry, there's tons more to say here but it's become a lecture, my sincerest apologies. I should probably scrap this but having just written it I'd rather just let it be.
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The Tak
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And that is what it's all about Cheers.
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