Since I’ve started Board Game Duel, I haven’t played games with a ton of kids. Sure, I’ve played plenty of games with students, but that’s mostly 10 years and up, which is very different than playing games with kids 10 and under. Most of my game nights are with analytical people who mostly love Euro style games. In other words, little theme, heavy mechanics, long games, lots of planning. My nieces are visiting this week, and I observed immediately a huge difference in their style of play.
1. Most kids don’t mind randomness
We played Uno Roboto, which is basically Uno but you have this electronic “robot” calling out things such as “switch hands” or “draw 2 cards”. Essentially, it adds even more randomness to Uno. However, my nieces absolutely loved this game and wanted to play multiple times. It was a game that they could beat the adults, which is important to kids. My niece said “I like games where the adults don’t have a big advantage to win over the kids.” Any game with heavier mechanics and less randomness is going to give an experienced gamer adult an advantage over the kids, especially the first few times playing. It’s worth nothing that it is good for kids to learn games with less randomness, but to introduce it slowly, and not all at once.
2. Explanation of game has to be short for kids
Many kids learn by seeing or doing, so launching into a half hour discussion of the rules is just going to confuse and turn the kids off from the game (and some adults too!). Most of the time, it’s good to just explain the game within a couple minutes and start playing. Some kids even just like to watch a game first, then can understand the game. My youngest niece is this way. If she can watch just one game played before she plays, she can grasp most of the mechanics. Especially younger kids (8 and under) may want to partner with an adult first to help understand the game best.
3. Story and theme are very important to most kids.
I showed my nieces the game “Kittens in a Blender” and they thought it was the funniest thing ever. We didn’t get to play the game yet, but they kept asking me about it all night. Games with a story and theme are very important to a lot of kids. It can help break the barrier of a harder mechanic if there is a strong theme. Dixit is another fantastic game, as kids can use their creativity. With Dixit, 3 adults and 3 kids were playing, and the kids beat out the adults soundly! Their fresh perspective and ability to think imaginatively helped think outside the box. Any game where kids can develop a story can be essential to developing and keeping that creativity.
4. Don’t force a game on kids.
Let’s face it, some kids will just play the same game over and over again. While it’s exhausting for the parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents, repetition is really important for learning and kids’ development. Ever wonder why kids want to watch the same show everyday? Or why they want the same book read at night? Kids like routine, repetition, predictability. Because of this, it can be hard to introduce a new game especially for younger children. If the kids are having a grand time playing Nickelodeon Trivial Pursuit, don’t stop them from their good time. Introduce games new games slowly, and don’t bash on the games they love (even if you think it’s a lame game). Games are supposed to be fun, and if the kids are having fun and learning, then why stop them?
These are just a few observations I’ve gathered from a day of gaming with my nieces. I hope to play even more games with them as they visit, and I may gather even more information. I’m also going to start introducing games slowly to my 2 year old, so I’ll have other blog posts on gaming with toddlers as that comes up. If you have a different experience, or advice, let us know on Twitter!