Your Turn Guest: Paul Peterson – Raising a gamer

Posted by Jim {Power Gamer} | 24-Jan-14 | 17 comments

Your Turn - A Discussion

Guest Author – Paul Peterson

Hello! I’m Paul Peterson. You may remember me from such games as Smash Up, Unexploded Cow, and Guillotine. I’m also a dad, which is amazing, but full of unique challenges for a gamer such as myself.

Raising a gamer

The holy grail for any parent who is a gamer is for their children to also fall in love with games. We look at gaming icons such as Tom Vasel and his daughter Melody or Wil Wheaton and his sons Ryan and Nolan (both of whom have appeared on TableTop with him) and we want what they have. We think about how great it would be to have another opponent who not only lives with you, but who’s allowance you control.

I am no different. My oldest daughter is 5, and I’m doing everything in my power to bring her on board. I’m employing a number of strategies, which I thought I’d share with you.

one – Attack on multiple fronts

In our modern world, “gaming” goes far beyond any one definition. There are board games, card games, role playing games, console games, social games, mobile games… the list goes on and on. And while your goal may be to raise someone who loves Napoleonic miniatures as much as you do, it might be a lot easier to get them into a village sim on a tablet. My daughter loves playing games with me on the phone or a console, and the more she gets exposed to them, the more she likes games in general, so when I pull out Candy Land or Don’t Break the Ice she’s excited. Also, she’s learning a lot of the language of gaming, like “taking turns” or “score” that translate across genres.

two – Ease them into it

This one is fairly obvious. Three year olds can’t really handle Eclipse. There are so many good games for kids, though. Memory, Don’t Break the Ice, Catan Junior. Find what’s appropriate for your child’s age and interests and ramp up over time. Also, if they love simple matching or hidden object games on a tablet, you can start introducing more “gamer” fare to them over time. Things with more rules, like simulations or puzzle games like Scribblenauts (which I am convinced gave my daughter her love of reading as much as I did.)

three – Relax the rules

This one is especially important when they are young. Young children do not like to lose and they will often cheat to win. They are also not particularly subtle about it. They’ll dig through a stack of Candy Land cards to find the purple one and then move three purple spaces instead of two. This is normal, and there’s nothing wrong with letting them win and laughing about it. It teaches them that games are fun and that it’s ok to play the game the way that you want to. However, they also have to learn to be a graceful loser, so it’s ok to make some of the sessions (especially with short games) be “by the book.” And you can set a good example by playing by the rules even when they begin to bend them. Playing electronic games will also help them learn about rules because they can’t cheat at them. The game wont let them.

Along with this, you should feel free to strip out rules to make the game more fun and easier for them. I played a game of Rampage with a 5 and a 2 year old. We didn’t track teeth or when meeples left the board. We just dropped monsters and threw trucks and picked up meeples and it was amazing. Easily the most fun we’ve had at a game and the next day they were asking to play again!

four – Show them some context

Take your kids to game stores and to conventions. They wont have a lot of patience for it at first, so you may want to limit how long they are going to be there, but it will help a lot to show them that gaming is not just something that daddy or mommy does, but something that a lot of people do. Point out kids playing games, and pay attention to the games they are playing. If your kids see a game they like, get it!

How about you? What tips do you have to help raise a gamer?

Your turn…

Comments (17)

Gamer Avatar
Grand Master Grader
Movie Lover
Book Lover
I play blue

This was a fine article on a great topic. I have a 10 year old son and 13 year old step son, and I try and involve them in gaming whenever possible. Of course they enjoy video games and tablets, but they will play some of our board games. Castle Panic was a perfect intro to cooperative gaming, and it is family friendly and accessible. I spend a good deal of time thinking of ways to scale the rules of different games to make them easier to play with the children.

I also think that showing kids the variety of titles available is important. It is easy for kids (and many adults) to assume that board games are limited to those found on a few shelves at the local big box store. By exposing children to newer, better game titles, they are more likely to be attracted to the hobby. It is tough to vie for kids’ attention in the digital age. But by sharing fun, engaging games with them, children can become gamers for life.

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Book Lover
Video Game Fan

Great article and nice to see the topic addressed. We are a gamer household and I can safely say I have raised two gamers, 20 and 17 years old, and am raising a third, age 11.

I don’t think we ever thought; hey, how do we raise them to love games? It just happened organically because they were surrounded by games all the time. Our house is full of games, basically, and we have always played/run them and included the kids in them as early as possible. We have a few hundred board games, numerous video games, card games and RPGs.

Scaling down the rules for younger kids is critical. They need to enjoy the games they are exposed to or they can start to have negative associations with games. Much like reading; We read to our kids all the time, books that excited them and grabbed their interest but were way past them, so that books were fun and not work. There are some great kids games out there for littler kids but my kids always wanted to play the super-involved, grown-up games so we just scaled back the rules and added them back in as the kids got older. This also worked well at a board game camp I helped run where we taught kids, as young as 6 and up to 12, various games. We taught the same games to the older and younger kids and relaxing the rules for the little ones really helped with how engaged they were able to stay.

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Platinum Supporter
Thunderstone Fan

Very helpful article and comments.

Easing into it:
A few months ago, I discovered that my kids were starting to get interested in Pokemon, so a couple weeks before Christmas I learned how to play the game, and discovered it was actually kind of cool – a potential gateway to playing more advanced trading card games. So, I jumped on board, convinced Santa to give me some Pokemon cards, and we figured out how to do 4-way battles so that we could all play at the same time (just flip a coin to figure out if you attack the person on your left or right). Now that’s one of my kids’ current favorite games.

Relax the rules:
One day I really felt like playing StarCraft: The Board Game, but my kids were way to young for the real game. So we made up a game called “Aliens Destroy the World” where I was the Blue/Red humans and each of the kids was an alien race of their choosing. The goal was for them to try to take over the world (a cooperative game pitting the kids against me). We played with the humans on a Risk board and the kids each got a planet to put their aliens on. They got to land a few aliens on earth each turn, and we did the battles just like Risk (simple to figure win/loss). Of course, the kids ended up making up new rules for the larger aliens. Also, the aliens got to reproduce on their planets but the humans didn’t, so I was doomed from the start. But the point was that it was fun – a lot more fun than I expected in fact. The kids still remember that game and ask if they can play Aliens Destroy the World.

Relaxing and changing rules can be a lot of fun. It’s creative, and kids enjoy being creative and imaginative.

Attack on multiple fronts
Very good point there as well. It’s hard to know what sport your child is going to like (if any) without letting them try different things. So, too, with board and card games.

It can be frustrating when the kids don’t all like the same game. Unfortunately, there is often one child who decides to do screen time rather than play the game we’ve chosen. But, we try to make sure that each one gets to choose their favorite game now and then, even if it means somebody else might not want to play.

One of the things that makes me smile is to see my kids pulling out a board game to play with their friends.

Gamer Avatar
Miniature Painter
Rosetta Stone
Advanced Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester

My five year old daughter and I have several games we play together. She is my most consistent gaming partner. My 2 1/2 year old wants to get into the action too, so I find ways to allow her to do so.

I let my five year old paint miniatures, which help her get into more meaty games. For instance, she has painted a couple of Warhammer Quest bats, and then plays the game, waiting for her bats to show up. Some of the games we play require a good deal of me suggesting what to do, but she is good with that and happy to be spending time with me.

That is really the crux of it. I want her to enjoy playing games, but, most importantly, I want her to grow up wanting to spend time with dad. If I have to bend the rules, or change them to make the game more approachable, then, I will happily do so to pull her away from the TV.

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The Gold Heart
Plaid Hat Games fan
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan
Bronze Supporter

Great article Paul! And great thoughts from the community!

Right now, my two year old digs Memory and a funny dice-rolling little push your luck game called Fandooble.

For my two year old the act of rolling dice is and getting results is one of the simplest and most rewarding game play mechanics. ( he “helped” me during a recent game of X-wing and Quarriors) Big oversized dice like those in Fandooble work great and a simple reward system – coins however there is one wrinkle… the idea of possession.

Somewhere along the line we all learn that “I can’t take your stuff.” (Well, most of us.) To two-year-olds this is a difficult concept. It’s a little easier with tangibles (Coins, cards etc) but I find that two of the most common attributes of most games are lost to him: Turns, and Points. What does it matter that we get an even amount of turns? Why does the turn change from me doing something to you doing something. Can’t I just do that something all the time? And how about points? In Fandooble you count little coins that you earn by rolling the dice, however, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between his coins, my coins and the pool of coins in the middle table. It’s amazing to be reminded of this when we play and I have to remember that these concepts just are not there for him yet. So if he takes my turn or my coins, well then I guess it’s all good. For now, you never know what our game will be like!

Of course, there is always a positive ending (not necessarily a win) but the fun of playing game, and that is always my focus when playing with my children.

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Belfort Fan
The Bronze Heart

As a professional aunt (no kids) I have taken it upon myself to introduce games to all the friends in my life, regardless of their age. There are some great tips included in all the posts here! I agree that it is important to focus on the fun, and to play the game(s) that the interest those you are trying to encourage- some of the time!

As much as I would rather play the tabletop version over the digital one, sometimes the digital tablet/phone/device is what is appealing to the kid. It can help them understand rules, as the computer is less likely to allow an ‘illegal’ move! And more importantly it is harder for younger siblings to mess up the board! How many of us have stories of a great game spoiled by an accidental table bump, or an earthquake caused by little-sister-zilla!

House rules can also help win over a new player- we played Carcassonne without Farmers until the kids got the hang of all the other features, and Ticket to Ride often had tokens to help non-readers remember their destination goals. Make up multiple choice options for trivia based questions, or play charades with Dixit cards if your opponents can’t read yet. Lots of games that you might think need strong readers actually have great short-hand symbols to guide players (7 Wonders, Dominion and Pandemic are good for learning readers)

Breaks help to keep focus, but so does letting the young players have a not-in-use token pile to play with (if no one plays grey, let them use the grey meeples to build/stack/march around so they don’t want to use the red ones off the board). We’ve also been known to play the real rules for 20 minutes and then making up a new game with all the bits for the next 20!

Soon enough you’ll have players who are keen to play above their age range! Surprising you and their older siblings!

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Intermediate Reviewer
Copper Supporter
Viscount / Viscountess

Great article. We must not forget about personal taste. Let me share my story about this:

I have two sons, one loves to play games since he was 2 years old, I never need to make any effort at all to bring him into gaming. He is 13 now, and he prefers games with puzzles like Ricochet Robots, Ubongo, Galaxy Trucker and sometimes Dungeon Lords.

My other son is 10 years old and never liked games, he always played them the first time but after that never asks to play again. Until I decide to buy a game that I did not like but I had the impression that he would love it: Munchkin. I am glad I did that because now he loves to play Munchkin. He also likes to play For Sale, X Wing Miniatures Game and Yes, Dark Overlord.

Gamer Avatar

Some great tips in here! I’ll be applying them as well!

I remember when I was a developer for Pokemon and we’d go to conventions. I would “play” Pokemon with very young children, but the entire game would be us picking a card and the showing it to each other and deciding which pokemon was better (always the kid’s.) As far as they were concerned, we were playing the game, and I know it was instilling a love for games in them.

You’ve made some great game suggestions that I’ll be following up on. My daughter likes Ren Fair by Atlas Games, but she doesn’t like playing the game as much as she does making cute outfits with the transparent cards, so we’ve made up new games to do that. Do what works for your family!

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Platinum Supporter
Petroglyph Beta 1.0 Tester

This is a great article. I’m lucky that both my boys have really taken to gaming. I think I may have been somewhat influential with my first child. We started off with HiHo Cherrio, moved on to Hisss, then Qwirkle, and finally Carcassonne. My youngest boy has followed in his footsteps… wanting to do the same things his big brother does. This has been a much easier transition, as the youngest will take on the bigger games… because big bro is doing it.

Cooperative games have been fantastic, especially Castle Panic and Forbidden Island. Now, we play Pandemic and its extensions, and the kids really like Zombicide too. Hanabi is a great little cooperative card game that is fairly easy for kids around 7 and older.

Honestly, getting my wife to game is a much steeper climb. She’s getting better though… and she loves the family time with the kids. Whatever gets us to the table… right?

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Rosetta Stone
Football Fan
Explorer - Level 5

I’ve got only one son, who just turned two…and of course, I can’t wait to teach him games. I’ve already tried teaching him a lot of games “above” his age range, like Hisss, but so far it’s been mostly him looking at things. (And trying to prevent him from tearing things up.)

Gamer Avatar
Book Lover
Video Game Fan

My son is not quite four years old, but he already wants to play my games. While that’s generally not feasible even with altered rules, I’ve found that he loves to pick a ship for each of us from my X-wing collection, identify the number of attack and evade dice for each one (hurray for color coding), and just chuck the dice to see who would win. It’s simple and repetitive, but he likes it, and it makes him feel like he’s playing “daddy’s game,” which makes us both happy.

We also got him some games of his own one day when we visited a shop that had a bunch of kids’ games on sale. He chose Snail’s Pace Race, Set Junior, etc (I really wanted to find Kids of Carcassonne, but it’s OOP). He seems to enjoy them and is good at them (though Snail’s Pace Race is just rolling dice and moving pieces, but those are good concepts for him to grasp for his gaming future, so that’s a start too. He also has taken an interest in video games, particularly my NES games, so we’ve got that going too.

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Plaid Hat Games fan
AEG fan
Tasty Minstrel Games Fan

I have a 6 year old and one that’s closing on a year. With my 6 year old I try to steer of games with too much luck involved, since he doesn’t handle to loose very well. Games like Mice & Mystics (with slimmed rules) are working fine now, but the first few tries he lost focus after 10 minutes.
This x-mas he got a few games only one from me and he enjoys them; Guess who, Lego: Harry Potter, a frog game and I bought him a TMNT (turtles) – all games without too much randomness. Coop games and games where you have to remember stuff (lotto or what they are called) seems to work quite good for him. I’ve also let him watch me play a few of my games, play with minis from some of my strategy/war games and let him watch just before he goes to bed when I have people over to play.

You are mentioning Tom and Melody + Wil and his sons – I’m also inspired my Rodney Smith and his son Sam from Watch it Played. Especially after watching Mice & Mystics and Bioshock: Infinite.

Gamer Avatar
I play black

Gamer Bling started the Expansions on “activities” like Candy Land and such. Even though doing so made him want to claw his own eyes out. But it paid off.

We quickly advanced to Scrabble, Sequence, and then Set. You’d be amazed at how quickly kids can pick up Set.

Now the Expansions (aged 11 and 13) challenge us on games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Smash Up. And occasionally win, to Gamer Bling’s shame… and pride.

Gamer Avatar
I play black
Guardian Angel
Platinum Supporter
Marquis / Marchioness

This is awesome! I don’t have anything to contribute, but with a 16-month old I’m very excited to read all of your recommendations. I’m trying to actively build a library of games that will appeal to him sooner than later… I’m eschewing as many adult-themed games as possible (zombies and demons, violence, etc) and focusing on “wholesome” games such as Takenoko, Tokaido and Forbidden Island. But in case those games don’t grab his attention, I keep an eye out for themes or parts he’ll likely love as well (he’s going absolutely nuts for the Krosmaster: Arena characters I’m accidentally leaving all over the place).

Can’t wait to hear your suggestions… my primary reason for getting into board games was to provide a household activity we could (eventually) enjoy together rather than just watching television.

Gamer Avatar
United Kingdom
Advanced Reviewer

I’ve been blogging about playing games with my young daughter for getting on three years now (see TrainingAGamer) and have seen her come on in leaps and bounds. Early on we played kiddy games and simplified versions of adult games. She is still not a strategist, but she can participate pretty well in an awful lot of adult games (it was awesome when she beat me in Eminent Domain — though that is mostly because I suck at it!).

One important tip is to be patient. I find my daughter, Miss B, can be very slow at many games, so while she needs hustling along a little, she needs to have the time to think and not feel that I am trying to tell her what to do.

Related to this, be prepared to take breaks. We often find games take double the time they should, so it is worth planning to take a break and get drinks and snacks half way through.

There is also what is often referred to as “Wil Wheaton’s rule 17b”, which is basically to give the kids a number of “fudge tokens” that they can cash in to reroll a particularly bad dice roll, trade in some terrible cards, get that extra gold needed to buy what they want, or some similar effect to reduce stress. Once they are gone, they are gone, but they provide a great, controllable way to introduce some feeling of agency for the kid. And I find Miss B usually tries to do without them, which is great.

Finally, and most importantly, remember that games are meant to be fun, even if you lose. High fives all around when something cool happens. Congratulate the winner whoever that is. And don’t make the kid play when she would rather be playing with Lego.

Gamer Avatar
Jungle Elves - Summoner Wars Beta 2.0 Tester
Summoner Wars Fan
Unicorn Clan - Legend of the Five Rings

Great article. One mistake I have made (and occasionally still make :)) is trying too hard to push playing games. Earlier on, I would suggest playing a game at every opportunity, and it got to the point where the kids would just roll their eyes and say, “Dad is at it again.” Now I’ve focused on backing off and suggesting a few core games that they really enjoy but doing it less often, and it seems to be doing the trick. Now, my seven year-old daughter will ask to play “the panda game” (Takenoko) more often than I do, but we’re playing more games than we did before.

Gamer Avatar
I Walk the Talk!

That’s a great article Paul! Thanks for your thoughts!

I have 3 kids of my own (one who is 10 and a pair who are 6 – yep, a hand-full at times) and one additional strategy that I would suggest is to be a good cheerleader for them. I find that I have more success with a game when I cheer them on when they’re about to roll a die or we throw out some “high-fives” when a good thing happens on the board. Of course making sure that we deal with the “good tries” is important too…

A couple of our favourite games have been Sleeping Queens (which is excellent for developing early math skills) and The Magic Labyrinth which are two very-different games that play in a short period of time and offer vastly different mechanics. Juggling things up is never a bad thing!

Happy gaming and thanks again!

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