Updated: October 17, 2016
Over the weekend my 6-year old daughter was playing with a pretend wand, doing what every 6-year old is supposed to do to her dad: make him do silly things. She would touch me with the wand and go, “Jump like a frog!” or “Walk around in circles!” And of course, I performed these actions in a crowded park without shame or reservations, because these are the things we do for our kids.
I even added a twist to the game. After performing each action (and once her laughter died down) I would say “Oh, that wand doesn’t work on me, it’s not making me do anything.” Her first few attempts to convince me (“See? You just jumped on one leg!”) failed, so she changed her strategy. She got quiet for a minute, clearly thinking through the problem of how she would get me to admit that she’s making me do stupid things. Then she looked up, touched me with the wand, and said, “Realize that the wand is working on you.” And that was it. How could I continue my ruse without breaking the core internal rules of the game? I relented.
Now, forgive my bias, but that’s a bloody brilliant solution to the problem. It’s a level of meta-thinking that I didn’t think a 6-year old would be capable of. But there she was, foiling my master plan to derive at least some enjoyment from the humiliation she was so gleefully putting me through. I readily admit that in this particular instance I got solidly beaten.
I mention this because there’s something else we’ve been doing a lot of recently, and that’s playing board games together. We started simple (i.e. boring for adults), but very soon moved on to more complicated games, and I think I’m now more excited than she is about our daily play sessions. And I have a feeling it’s changing the way she thinks. I’m pretty sure board games are teaching her how to think ahead, solve problems, and weigh the longer-term consequences of her actions. And maybe—I have to retain some dignity here, ok?—maybe that’s why she was able to beat me so cleverly in the wand game.
So with that pre-amble, I wanted to write down a short list of the games that we’ve enjoyed and play all the time, in case there are any other parents who would like to try this with their kids. We are having so much fun with this, so I highly recommend you give it a shot.
Let’s start simple and move on to the more complicated stuff…
Hisss is the game we play when our 3-year old insists on playing along. It’s a dead simple color and pattern matching game, but still a lot of fun.
Tsuro is a game we found and tried in the game room at the absolutely wonderful Game Masters exhibition at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It’s quick to set up and easy to play, but it lays a good foundation for thinking ahead and considering how actions that affect you might affect others as well.
Taxi Wildlife is fun because it’s a very tactile game. The core gameplay requires you to stick your hand in a bag and feel around for the shapes of different animals. It’s a great way to learn about the importance of different senses.
Lanterns is where things start to get serious (i.e. really fun for adults). It’s a game that combines a simple pattern matching mechanic with building up enough resources to “buy” the points you need to win the game. We’re spending a lot of time with this one at the moment.
Lotus is made by the same studio as Lanterns, and it’s just as fun and beautiful. The artwork really is spectacular on this one. I’m not exaggerating when I say that as you build these flowers, it feels like the table you’re playing on is starting to bloom. The rules are less complicated than Lanterns, and it’s a fairly quick game, so it’s a great way to calm the kids down before dinner…
King of Tokyo is probably our favorite right now. We tried this out at the unbelievable Guardian Games store here in Portland. When we started I was nervous—the game takes a little while to learn. But once you get it, it goes fast and it’s a lot of fun. I think my daughter loves it because of all the decisions that are required. You roll 6 dice on a turn, and then you have to decide which to keep and which to “reroll” (you get 2 rerolls per turn). The game might seem cartoony, but don’t be fooled—this is a serious game that’s somehow still enjoyable by all ages.
Well, I guess no game overview would be complete without Ticket to Ride. My daughter is obsessed with this one. In addition to the fun and tactile gameplay, it also teaches strategy in a simple way (I’ve already been able to use the phrase “play the long game” in multiple parenting situations…). I haven’t gotten any of the expansions yet, but I hear the 1910 expansion in particular is a very good one.
And finally, we get to Splendor. Ah, what to say about Splendor. This game was a gift from Rich Mulholland, who came to stay with us for a couple of days on a trip to Portland a few months back. Rich is an obsessed board game geek, and he could see I was a curious newbie, having never played anything beyond Monopoly. So of course he took me under his wing. He taught my wife and I how to play Splendor, and then I took it around to a bunch of friends and got them addicted as well. For a while my daughter asked me to show her how to play it, but I held back, not wanting her to get frustrated—this is a pretty complicated game that I thought wasn’t really suitable for kids.
Well, what do you know. She got it on the first try, and beat me in the second round. It was very hard for me to not just go lie down and sulk for the rest of the day. Being caught between pride in my daughter and embarrassment in my own skills is not a good look on me.
So those are the games we’ve tried and liked. I wanted to pass them on to you, just as Rich passed his favorites on to us and started what I’m sure will be a life-long connection between my daughters and I. Thank you, Rich. What a wonderful thing, to gift someone with a new passion.