I recently became a new father. While the joy of bringing new life into the world is every bit as rewarding as people told me it would be, the round-the-clock attention an infant requires, combined with the 142 hour sleep deficit I have accumulated, have severely crimped my ability to play Age Of Steam on a regular basis. Worse, my usual opponents have become reluctant to join me for games, possibly owing to the fact that I can no longer talk for more than three minutes before somehow segueing into the topic of breastmilk.
Recently, however, I realized that the solution to my problem was right in front of me: since I was spending all my time with my infant son anyhow (I reasoned), I might as well teach him to play some of my favorites. Alas, it hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped. Having not yet developed color vision, for instance, he can't distinguish between the red and brown cards in Ticket To Ride. Beating him in El Grande is unsatisfying, because, lacking a sense of object permanence, he promptly forgets about the caballeros put in the tower. And I am tired of monitoring his stool for Puerto Rican colonists.
So, in desperation, I purchased a copy of the book Games to Play with Babies by Jackie Silberg. Last night I put my son in his favorite onsie and we sat down to play. Here is my report.
Roll Over, Baby
Synopsis: The baby is lain on his back. The parent holds a small toy over his face, and then slowly moves it to one side. If the baby successfully rolls over, he is given the toy to play with; if he turns on his side and gets stuck, the parent gently pushes him over.
Evaluation: Each time we played I had to intervene and push my child over. This game has a serious kingmaker problem, with one player completely able determine if the other wins or loses. I can't help but wonder if it was thoroughly playtested.
Synopsis: As you feed your child baby food, make airplane noises as you bring the spoon to his mouth.
Evaluation: I like light, luck-based games as much as the next guy, but this felt way too chaotic for my tastes. With the baby waving his arms around and opening / closing his mouth seemingly at random, I found myself having to constantly change my strategies to get the food down his throat. People who like highly tactical exercises might find this enjoyable, but it wasn't my cup of tea.
Synopsis: Place a mirror in front of your baby. He will enjoy looking at himself.
Evaluation: Essentially multiplayer solitaire.
Synopsis: Sit baby in your lap facing you. Place dinner napkin over your head, covering face. Remove napkin and say "peekaboo." Now put the napkin on the baby's head, remove it, and say "peekaboo."
Evaluation: Solid and well-designed, but I've never been a fan of memory games. Trying to remember who is under the napkin just felt like work to me.
Synopsis: Take a variety of objects and lay them on the floor in front of your baby. Point to each and say its name distinctly. Eventually your child will come to associate the word with the object, and look at each thing as you say its name even if you don't point.
Evaluation: Not bad, the the whole "try to convey a word to your partner" thing has been done to death (and much more skillfully) in such games as Taboo and Catchphrase. As a party game, this might have been better if I'd played it with a larger group or had been drinking more heavily.
This Little Piggy
Synopsis: Touch each of your baby's toes, while saying "This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home. This little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none. And this little piggy went wee, wee, wee, all the way home."
Evaluation: Fun once, but replay value drops to zero once you have run though all the toes. Might be improved by an expansion containing more piggies.
Synopsis: Get on your hands and knees in front of your baby. As he crawls toward you, back up. Let him chase you all around the room.
Evaluation: The rules sound great on paper, but, as my son can only lie on his back at this point I was able to easily get away in every game. Clearly suffers from the well-known "runway leader" flaw.
Synopsis: As you are changing your baby's diaper, touch the baby's elbows, knees, feet, etc. and, with each touch, say "Hello _____" (e.g., "Hello shoulder!").
Evaluation: I wish this wasn't played while changing the diaper, as I don't care for games that involve player elimination.
Conclusion: Overall, a disappointing evening. It was an interesting experiment, but next week I think I'm just going to stick with my original plan and teach him Tigris & Euphrates instead.
- Matthew Baldwin