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Games & Kids

Don Seagraves

October, 2002

My wife and I "host" a game night (of sorts) every Wednesday at church—actually we play games with the choir members' children while the choir practices. The games that we play with the kids are fun and keep the kids occupied. We play a fairly wide variety of games, from the traditional American fare (Uno, Checkers, Chess, etc.) to the less traditional German-style games (Carcassonne, The Settlers of Catan, etc.)

When it comes to games, kids are pretty great. The kids, who range from about seven years old to twelve, are willing to try just about any game that looks fun. Over the last year or so, I have introduced the kids to many German-style games. Some have been hits, while others have been flops. Here are a few of the games the kids have liked, their reactions, and a few suggestions for those of you who may wish to try these games with kids in your own lives.

Carcassonne

The older kids like this one a lot. The city-building aspect really gets them going—they especially like looking at the end result—there's nothing like the sprawling city that you're left with at the end of a game. The kids caught on to the scoring pretty quickly (with the exception of the farmers, which I'll get to in a moment.) It also didn't take the kids long to catch onto the cutthroat "sneak into somebody else’s city/road/etc." strategy. Learning how the farmers work, though, did create some problems—let's face it, many adults have difficulty with the farmers. To make it easier, you can leave the farmers out of the game—it loses some of the end-game tenseness, but is still quite playable.

Cartagena

This one is a definite winner with kids. The theme—pirates escaping from prison—is perfect. The rules are also fairly straightforward, and games usually last only about 20 or 30 minutes. One thing—our group of kids had the tendency to over-extend themselves by running their pirates ahead as fast as they could with little regard for the number of cards they had left in their hand. This leads to stranded pirates in the rear. If you see a kid erring in this way, it's not a bad idea to nudge them in the "try to move all your pirates ahead as a group" direction.

Mamma Mia!

Kids love pizza, and our kids also love this pizza-making game. It relies fairly heavily on memory, so it might not be ideal for the very young. One suggestion—if you find the kids getting frustrated, try using the entire deck, instead of following the instructions to remove ingredients.

Knights

It's like Yahtzee with cards, right? Our kids love the special effect cards—especially the Castle Guard and the Catapult. This game really brings out the competitiveness of the kids. Plus, the kids love that there is more than one way to win. The theme also works for them. You can almost see them controlling their little fiefdoms.

Kingdoms

Though this game requires a lot of math, our kids love it. The need to balance the "play for yourself" and the "thwart your opponent" strategies make this a good learning game as well. Our kids learned quickly that you couldn't rely too heavily on either strategy. Another plus is playing time—usually between 30 and 40 minutes. Keep in mind that, due to the Knizia-math aspect, this game is not ideal for some younger players.

Tally Ho!

Hunters and Lumberjacks vs. Foxes and Bears—who could ask for more? The rules are simple, and playing time is short (usually no more than 20 minutes per match.) One thing that you may need to remind your younger players—both sides can move the ducks and the pheasants.

Here are some things in general that you'll want to keep in mind if you intend to introduce some younger players to German-style gaming:

  • Keep a few "common" games handy. New things can sometimes be intimidating to children. Besides, after a few hand of Uno, they may be ready for something new...
  • Don't force the kids to play if they don't want to. In fact, sometimes it's not such a bad idea to let them walk away from a game that they aren't enjoying—let good judgment guide you in this.
  • Play the games with the kids—don't just lay the games out and say "go at it!"
  • Put on the kid gloves (no pun intended, really.) Go easy on them, but not too easy.
  • Gently suggest good strategies, but don't play the game for them. A nudge or two in the right direction should do.
  • Encourage good sportsmanship, and display good sportsmanship as well.
  • Set rules of behavior at the beginning, such as "no yelling", "be kind to the game pieces" and such. If the kids know what you expect, everybody involved will have a better time.

I hope this information proves to be useful to you, especially if you have some young "potential gamers" in your life.

- Don Seagraves

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