PAX Aust: Raising Your Kids as Tabletop Gamers

Reading Time: 6 minutes
tabletop games for kids
graphic by Evil Genius Mum

If you were at PAX Australia this year, you had the opportunity to see me live on a fantastic panel titled Raising Your Kids as Tabletop Gamers in a Digital World.

If you didn’t make it to PAX Aust 2017 or for some absurd reason missed my panel, then you are in luck. I took notes.

I didn’t notate the entire panel. I’m not that crazy. But I did take note of the awesome games suggested by my fellow panelists. Mainly because, like you, I’m constantly looking for tabletop games to hook my spawnlings on. Believe me when I say: tabletop is cheaper and much better for them than any other temptation they will face over the next 20 years.

We had a fantastic mix of people on the panel. Including myself, representing GeekMom for the first time in Australia, we also had: Jaime Lawrence (Brand Manager at Good Games), Seamus Byrne (Managing Editor at Science Alert), Richard Vickery (Co-Chair at Boardgames Australia), and Adam Sims (Psychologist). Our panel had some really diverse and detailed discussion across the board on all gaming issues. There were also excellent questions from the audience; so good they deserved sharing with all of you! Here are some of the most popular questions from the panel:

What Tabletop Games Would You Recommend For Younger Kids?

Short quick games are the best. There were a few suggested:

 

What is the Best Way to Introduce Young Kids to Tabletop Games?

Do it as a family. Make the games a regular part of your life.

Jamie, one of our panelists, has regular Game Nights. Originally it started out as Game Night with his friends. Then his kids started to show an interest and it gradually became more difficult to bring the two together. So he shares the “Game Night” experience: one week it is with family (and a friend or two drops by); next week it is friends only. His kids have grown up with the regular inclusion of games while he still has the time to play more challenging games with his mates.

I have also found accessibility is a strong factor but it takes an equally strong personality to follow this one through. Make your games accessible to your kids. We have our tabletop games on a bookshelf, with the most child-friendly games on the 2nd-from-the-bottom shelf. Ever since we moved them down there, our kids have gravitated to the games more frequently. Our older boys will choose a game or two every weekend but the most noticeable difference has been in our four-year-old. Zaltu will grab a game box before even thinking about the television. I cannot tell you how many times she has kicked my butt in Kingdomino this week alone! The hardest part of this is teaching her how to pack up afterward.

Kingdomino layout--a tabletop game adjusted for all ages
Blue gets the 2-meadow tile, and then first pick of the three tiles on the right. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

 

How Do You Include the Younger Kids in Your ‘Older’ Games?

Now here is a tougher question. Because, let’s be honest: if you are going to make tabletop games a regular part of your life, then there are only so many “young kids” games you can play before ‘spinning off’ the Wheel of Life.

Instead, look for ways to ‘adjust’ your older favorites to include your younger players. Often, the easiest way to do this is to remove or reduce the point-scoring element for the younger kids. For example, we love playing Qwirkle. It’s an easy game to adjust for really young kids by keeping the focus on colors or shapes.

Another example is Kingdomino: focus on the matching and less on the strategy. This game is simply brilliant and easy to adjust for kids. We picked up a review copy at PAX Aust and now I can’t stop recommending it to every parent I meet. I think our preschool has ordered a copy because it is that easy for younger kids to play.

tabletop games for kids
Qwirkle is great fun… bonus points for breaking the “orderly and neat” members of your family / Photo by EG Mum

Sometimes, you may have a game that is supposed to be for the younger kids but somewhere in the development, someone missed the message. I think it was Seamus who shared a story about Snakes and Ladders. Usually, a great game to play with kids, except this one had a very tough barrier at the end. Eventually, they figured it was easier just to tape over THAT particular snake and change the rules. And that is totally okay. It is more about introducing your kids to a safe and fun environment.

 

But My Kid is a Sore Loser and Makes the Whole Tabletop Experience Miserable

We have all seen that kid. Hell, I think I was that kid for a year or so while I was competing with a new step-sister. You know your kid so you are the best judge on how far to push this, but essentially there are two paths to take here:

  1. This is an important life lesson to learn. Point out to them how it is not about the winner but playing the game. Ensure they understand the random nature of some games. Patiently nurture their behavior over time and encourage their support for others;
  2. Look at co-operative games. Last year, we gifted a copy of Forbidden Island to a family of friends with a known “table-flipper”. I kid you not, this 10-year-old kid would genuinely lift the table when he lost. There was no coercing him to play for a greater good until we addressed his ‘game-plan’ attitude first. Forbidden Island worked a treat because it encouraged him to think about the other players in his game in a positive way. He was no longer looking at their flaws and how to beat them; He was now looking at their strengths and how to nurture them. It is now one of his favorite games and the family loves to play with him. (For much younger kids, I personally recommend Orchard by Haba for co-op play. Very easy to play and team-building enough for older kids to join in for a round or two).
tabletop games for kis
Forbidden Island and Orchard are excellent co-op games. Pandemic is equally as good and perfect for geography lessons / Photo by EG Mum

This was also a great opportunity to consider Dungeons and Dragons. Adam was quick to point out the multi-character opportunities for players to learn what works for their own personality types. His daughter is the planner, the strategy, the “I’m thinking through the scenarios” type of person, while his son is more of an “I’m IN the scenario!!” type. I can only imagine the campaign stories from this family.

Nevertheless, the family plays DID regularly because, over time, they have learned the strengths of each of their team members and learned how to bring them together. His daughter is still able to plan out the campaigns while his son is not afraid of a good battle. BOTH of these players are needed to keep the team moving. Personally, I think THIS life lesson is far more important than teaching our kids how to be graceful losers. I don’t want my kids thinking life is only about winners and losers. I want them to see how to work with others to create the best solutions.

What About Tabletop For the Older Kids?

If you’re looking to hook some older kids into the tabletop community, you’ll be happy to know there is far greater choice for you to consider. If you are trying to break a digital addiction with some tabletop games, your quest may have an increased difficulty level.

Richard had the best advice on this front: Play to THEIR interests. Find what they are interested in and look for games like that. If they are into fantasy, then D&D or Munchkin Quest might appeal to them. If they are all over the strategy dice-rolling, introduce them to the Settlers of Catan. If you are really struggling with a theme that appeals, look for modern elements: eg. Burger Up is all about building the perfect burgers, through a card-building game (review to come).

tabletop games for kids
This game is the bane of my parenting but the kids love it / Photo by EG Mum

The point here is less about the game and more about the shared experience. Find what they are interested in and compromise with that. In the same way, younger kids are attracted to your attention to play with them, older kids are most attracted to your interest to play their game.

Our main goal for this panel was to encourage parents to play tabletop games with their kids. Bonus points for encouraging discussion on the best ways to play games with kids. On this alone, our panel was a success AND a load of fun. We all came away with some new suggestions on both games and parenting strategies.

 

GeekMom and GeekDad regularly participate in conventions and panels all around the world, with a large majority in the USA. All of the GeekMom and GeekDad writers are individuals with unique experiences and insights, however, we all believe in supporting our kids to join in the tabletop experience. If you have the opportunity to attend a panel with GeekMom or GeekDad, I strongly recommend you pull up a seat and enjoy the ride.

GeekDad GeekMom panel PAX Aust
Our panel was pretty well attended, with lots of people in line to ask questions.

If you have any questions about tabletop games with your kids, throw them into the comments below and let’s help each other out.

 

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