Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Games for Kids - a reponse

On a recent Dice Tower podcast, Tom Vasel had a rant against parents who play 'adult games' with their young children - or to put it another way, people who ignore the 'Suggested Ages' on the box, rather than sticking with games that are designed for kids.

If you've seen my previous posts highlighting my son's favourite games (Part 1 and Part 2) then you will probably realise that I'm one of those parents, and I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to Tom's argument.

Now before I continue, I realise that some people who read this blog may not know anything about the Dice Tower, or Tom Vasel, so let me give you a brief background.
The man himself
Tom Vasel is one of the most prominent members of the board game community, and one of the most respected reviewers. He started out creating written reviews, and now creates video reviews and weekly podcasts (insert links)
The podcasts and video reviews are created under the Dice Tower, and the Dice Tower itself is the flagship product of the Dice Tower network, which brings together lots of board game related podcasts under one banner. The Dice Tower podcast alone has around 330 episodes (at the time of writing) - so it's fairly safe to say that Tom's opinion carries a lot of weight.

So with introductions out of the way, what was his rant about? Well you can listen to it yourself HERE, but in summary I think Tom has three main points:
1) Don't use kids as a bragging right
2) Let kids be kids, they grow up quickly anyway, so let them enjoy the kids game whilst they can
3) Kids are not your gaming partners

I think most people would agree with these points, so why do I routinely ignore the suggested ages and have Benji playing games such as Star Wars X-Wing (14+) , Lords of Waterdeep (10+), Legendary: Marvel (10+), and Krosmaster Arena (14+)?
The guys and gals of Krosmaster Arena

Well, before I answer that question, let me deal with Tom's concerns.

1) Don't use children as a 'bragging right'
Come on, be honest - we all know that there are parents who seem to have children purely to boast about their exploits. Go to any softplay, or coffee shop, or any other place where parents congregate and you will probably hear a conversation that goes a little something like this:
- "Oh, is your son not walking yet? My son could walk at 8 months!"
- "Ahh but he can count to 1,000 and has just started with long division"
- "Oh that's lovely. My Johnny is very advanced at speaking for his age, he's fluent in 7 languages"
I mean seriously, either i happen to live in an area with an abnormally high number of toddler super-geniuses, or these children are all more or less average who happen to do that thing that young children tend to do - advance at different rates.
This, I think, is exactly what Tom is referring to, when he is concerned that people are playing advanced games with their children to be able to brag about that fact:
"My son is 4 and is playing Agricola"
"Well my daughter is 3 and regularly plays TI3"
I hope there's no 3 year old playing this 8 hour game.....
So, what's my response to that accusation? Am I playing these 'grown up games' with Benji in order to brag about it?
I don't think so - firstly, if I mentioned Agricola, TI3, or Lords of Waterdeep to any of my friends, they'd look at me like I was speaking Russian. You see, my social circle isn't made up of gamers, so these references would be lost on them.
Besides, if I wanted to brag, I'd just mention that Benji is fluent in 8 languages, including Latin and Egyptian Hieroglyphics......

2) Let kids be kids, they grow up quickly anyway, so let them enjoy the kids game whilst they can
Again, if you have children, you are probably all too aware of how quickly they grow up - society tends to 'encourage' children to be teenagers before they are ready. Tom's valid point is to refrain from adding to this hastening of the process and just let them enjoy children's games.

In all honesty, I don't really have a counter argument, other than Benji got bored. The issue with children's games, due to their simple mechanics, they tend to not have much variation.
Kids of Carcasonne might be a great game, but Benji hasn't asked to play it for months.
If you're in the UK, you've probably seen Orchard Toys (Greedy Gorilla, Bus Stop and so on), but Benji has long since out grown these.

3) Kids are not your gaming partners

Now, this is an interesting point. You see the problem with board games is that a lot of the time they require other people to play with - and when you have family commitments, organising game nights might be a thing of the past. Some of us are lucky to marry fellow geeks, but if not, then what option do we have? That's right - breed some offspring, wait a few years, and you have a ready made gaming partner.
Well, it worked with Benji at least - not sure I'll be as lucky with Jennifer....

Now out of all of Tom's 'accusations', this one is probably the one I'm most guilty of. I'll admit, it got to a stage when asked for another game of Greedy Gorilla or Crazy Chefs had me desperately trying to find reasons that I couldn't play.
- "Sorry Benji, I need to empty the dishwasher"
- "Sorry Benji, I need to sort the washing out"
- "Sorry Benji, I need to paint the house - with a toothbrush" (ok, this one may be made up).

So, yes your honour, guilty as charged on this one. Playing a game of X-Wing miniatures is much more fun than Crazy Chefs, and if I'm having fun then Benji will have fun too - right?
Admit it - you want to play this
But here's the main reason I like to play these games with Benji - they're a challenge.
As I explained in a previous post board games can develop life long skills in children, and Benji is the type of child that likes to be challenged. It's fantastic watching him develop with these games, getting more and more self sufficient as he understand the rules and mechanics.

So where does that leave us? Tom makes some very valid points in his rant, but I think it's very dependant on your child, and what they enjoy. Some will be happy playing children's games, and some will enjoy the challenge of these more adult games. Whilst I wouldn't suggested starting out children on these more difficult games, don't rule them out entirely once your child has cut their teeth on children's games - you might just be surprised at what they can cope with.


  1. While my kids still like some of the 'kids games,' and I'm happy to play with them (even Candyland, sigh), the love the 'grown up games.' My son started playing Formula D when he was 4. I simplified things for him a bit, and helped him out but as he played more he was able to do more himself.

    Likewise, now he loves For Sale. He plays terribly and spends all his money on the first house, but he'll learn. I realize these games are suggested for ages 8+, which is a lot closer than 14+. But I could see him (now six) totally into X-Wing minis.

    What my kids want to do more than anything are the things their mom and I do. They want to cook our meals, read our books, play our games. Bringing them into these things (in appropriate ways) is letting them be kids. Forcing them into games, books, toys that other people decided were appropriate for their age is not. Thanks for this post.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I completely agree that children are all so different and develop at different rates, that it bugs me when people try and tell you your children are playing "the wrong games".

      To me that's not far off comments like "Oh, so your child isn't reading yet?" or "My child got a 'A' in maths, how about yours?"

      If your children enjoy playing games, allow them to experiment - even if you have to house rule things to make it simpler for them