Kid’s Games – my brood’s 5 choices from the year

I should start by saying this isn’t the blog post I intended to write today, but its the one that presented itself to my muse, and I’m going with it.

As a through and through geek of noble striping, I have always held that its my obligation as a parent to expose my children to as much of the full spectrum of life as my own biases will allow me. I try not to stifle or inhibit their exploration, though I’m sure I do. As a geek who is aware of his own culture, that exposure has always had gaming as a fundamental. Even if you don’t game yourself, as a geek you know its role and place in the popular culture. We all laugh at the D20 jokes, or the World of Warcraft comparisons to sports, even when we don’t actively play some of these ourselves.

When I first started down the road of introducing the kids to gaming, I was over ambitious. I tried to introduce full on RPG’s, like D&D and Gurps, but the kids weren’t really ready for it yet. They liked the concept, and using their imaginations, but these kinds of games are too loose and require the player to maintain and keep track of too much on their own. A lofty ideal for some day, but not for the here and now. After a bit of trial and error, here are some of my recommendations for likeminded parents who’s children are interested in playing too. These are listed in order of our exposure.

  1. Castle Ravenloft Board Game 04 Because they really liked the magic and monsters if not the looseness of the gameplay in D&D, we tried what was availble then from Wizards as “board” games. First we had Ravenloft, followed eventually by The Legend of Drizzt. Both of these were great successes, but what should have been one hour games were still taking us 4 to 6 hours (granted, that one hour wasn’t gauged with an 8 and 10 year old). Still, I’d give these a 3-4 stars out of 5 for satisfaction.
  2. Magic: The Gathering card backNext we tried a now classic card game, Magic: The Gathering. M:TG came out while my wife and I were in college, and at its core the game hasn’t changed much since. The cards are prettier, the stakes higher, but the game is the same. The kids will spend as much time building what is in their eyes “the perfect deck” as they do playing, but that’s all right, because they have fun doing it. The best part about M:TG, really, is that not only is the gameplay straightforward enough, but the initial buy in isn’t monumental. Unlike most games of this variety, M:TG can cost a player as little as $10 to build a decent intro deck. Despite it all, M:TG earns a solid 5 stars for us, though if you are so enabled, I would highly recommend locating a smartphone or tablet app to help keep track of counters, time, etc. in a game. We use the free (ad supported) version of “Magic’s Little Helper” on the iPad.
  3. We were on a kick. The kids really liked M:TG, but missed the movement of playing an actual dice and figuring game, so I figured we’d try Summoner’s Wars next. Basically, SW is Magic, but with a map that your cast cards move around on. It seemed like it should be a perfect match for us, but after a few gameplays, we gave up. Its possible we just weren’t ready for it yet, but the game felt overly complicated for what we needed. Two stars.
  4. Picking ourselves up, we changed “genres” (As a complete aside, I realize how funny that must sound to someone outside, calling Science Fiction and Fantasy as such disparate and separate things, but, well, they are :)). I can’t remember now where I first heard about Core Worlds, but wherever it is, it deserves a big thank you. A card game, one of the best parts about CW is that gameplay is very tight. There are only 10 or so rounds. No more, no less. The winner is whoever has the most points at the end of the last round, and for each round, the available stakes and points goes up. Its possible to be the loser for all but the last round – and then to storm the core and end up the winner. Kids love it, and Mom and I love it because it has a definitive end point. Five stars.
  5. We’ve tasted the good stuff now, and the kids were interested in anther Science Fiction game. I’ve looked at Twilight Imperium with much greed and desire over the years, and someday, that will be the game for us. But not yet. Our oldest is ready for it, but as advanced as our middle daughter thinks she is, I don’t think she’s ready yet for the days long campaign of Twilight Imperium. This time, it was Lady Luck that was on my side, as a copy of the Starcraft flavored Risk game fell into my lap. The confines of a board game, but the freedom to move troops around, perfect for my little generalissimos! Given how many weekends have been lost to this little game, I’m going to go ahead and say its a solid 5 stars again.

And that’s it so far this year. I understand a copy of Munchkins might be making an appearance next week, but more on that after the North Pole has had its say. Special thanks to birthday boy Dan who inadvertently inspired this post by letting me lament to him this afternoon.

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