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20 ideas for raising your child to love gaming (and 20 games to help)
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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I have a five year old son and a three year old daughter that I'm diligently raising to be gamers in the future. My idea is that even if it's not a hobby for them, the critical thinking skills that gaming will give them will help them greatly in the future.

My five year old is already hooked. This morning, he woke me up so we could play checkers, followed by a game of Cartagena. This was followed by his epic destruction of me the night before at Hey, That's My Fish!

How did I get him started? Here are twenty tactics (and twenty games) I used.
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1. Board Game: Go Away Monster! [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:2003]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Start young.

My son received this game from us as a gift at the age of two and we taught his sister to play it when she was still one. The idea of gaming being something that is natural, normal, and accessible is something that you can start with very early when their spoken vocabulary count is still in the two digit range.

Go Away, Monster! is a very good starting game for very young children. It's incredibly simple - you just draw an item out of the bag and see if it's a monster. If it is, yell "Go away, monster!" and throw it in the box. If it's not, you add it to the picture board in front of you. If you already have that piece, you give it to a friend. That's it. It teaches taking turns, simple pattern matching, and even slightly broaches the idea of choosing which other person to help when you share one of your pieces.
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2. Board Game: Candy Land [Average Rating:3.18 Overall Rank:11060]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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Recognize that simple games teach a lot and pave the way for later things.

Candy Land is, to put it simply, a painful game to play - completely luck based, no choices at all, and a "random move" mechanism of occasionally moving your piece to a fairly random spot on the board that causes the game to feel like it will never end.

Yet, I happily play Candy Land with my children, especially my three year old (my five year old has more or less outgrown it). It teaches how to take turns. It teaches how you're represented on the board by a token. It teaches that moving your token along the path moves you closer to victory. It teaches how to deal with setbacks (moving back to the gumdrops) and with losing. In other words, Candy Land sets the foundation for a lot of gaming in the future.

You play a role here as an older gamer by doing all you can to appear enthusiastic about the game. Why? If you're seemingly having fun, they're going to identify gaming as being a fun activity. If you're grumpy, they're going to see gaming as not being fun.
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3. Board Game: Star Wars R2-D2 is in Trouble [Average Rating:4.62 Overall Rank:10488]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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Show them that patience can be a virtue.

Trouble is a luck-based game with such a vicious "setback" mechanism that it can really try the patience of anyone. You might be bored as an adult and the children might find that their attention span is strained.

That's a very good thing, though. Patience is a key attribute when it comes to gaming. Most of the games we love take a very long time to play and often require significant waiting between turns. That requires patience and a healthy attention span, something that's built up over time through activities that build patience.

In other words, if you're playing a luck-based game with horrible setbacks like Chutes and Ladders or Trouble, remember that completing the game is a pretty big reward for your children, as they've seen their patience and focus (which is really a challenge at a young age) pay off.
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4. Board Game: My First Carcassonne [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:936]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Channel their creativity.

I've found that, time and time again, my children are drawn to building things. Tile-laying games are really great for this, and the best one I've found is Kids of Carcassonne.

Both my five year old and my three year old are deeply drawn to building what amounts to a map of a city. They love making long roads, capping them off, and watching the city that we're constructing together grow. In some ways, it scratches the same itch that Legos and Magna-Tiles scratch for them (two excellent toys, by the way).

The idea that it's a game is fun, but their enthusiasm for games like Kids of Carcassonne (which sees frequent play here) is fueled by their creativity.
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5. Board Game: Hey, That's My Fish! [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:467]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Stick to very simple strategies at first.

My five year old received Hey, That's My Fish! for his birthday and seems to request playing it on a daily basis.

The first time or two that we played, he moved almost at random. He then began to realize that the spots that earn three fish are worth moving your penguins to, so he moved onto that simple strategy.

After each game, we talk about how the game went and I explain the moves that I make and why, so he then moved onto just getting whatever the highest fish total token he could get.

Last night, he started to show an understanding of a strategy much deeper than those. At first, it seemed like he was moving at random, but then I saw what he was doing - he was trying to split the board into three pieces with at least one of his penguins on each piece. In fact, he pulled it off pretty well, trapping three of my penguins on one iceberg (with one of his), my other penguin on an iceberg with two of his, and one of his penguins all alone with a third of the board! Needless to say, he mopped up.

By introducing simple strategies at first and talking about them, then slowly introducing other strategy concepts, he's understanding that there's depth to the game and is devising his own strategies. Critical thinking at work - and an opponent who will be very crafty in a few years.
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6. Board Game: Cartagena [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:641]
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Iowa
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Let them play the "grown up" games (with simplified rules, if need be).

After witnessing Cartagena being played at one of our adult game nights and learning that it's a game about pirates, our five year old wanted to try it out. One afternoon, we sat down to learn Cartagena.

He was a young four at the time, so the rules overwhelmed him. Instead, we modified how you go about drawing cards, ditching the "move backwards" mechanism and instead just having a hand of six, playing three cards a turn, and refilling your hand at the end of the turn.

He loves playing this because he views it as playing a "grown-up" game, giving him a sense that he, too, is growing up. Not only that, the simplified rules do give at least some room for strategy and tactics, which provides some great moments for teaching (and for the child to surprise the parent).
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7. Board Game: Gulo Gulo [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:629]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Remember that challenges come in different shapes and sizes.

I like Euro games and Ameritrash. I don't like dexterity games all that well, so it's easy for me to overlook them when I'm thinking of games for our child.

However, I have learned that my son and daughter both like the occasional dexterity game - Jenga, a simplified Villa Paletti, and this one, Gulo Gulo.

Games like this scratch a completely different itch than other entries on this list, and they might be the perfect itch for your children to get engaged with gaming. My children like a dexterity game once in a while, just to mix it up, and Gulo Gulo and Jenga are both solid choices. Such games help greatly with their fine motor skills - and can be a lot of fun, too.
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8. Board Game: Chicken Cha Cha Cha [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1043]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Telling stories is half the fun.

Whenever the children finish a game, one of the first things they want to do is tell someone all about the game and what happened. They rush to find Mom (if Dad is playing with them) or seek out Dad (if they played with Mom) to tell them all about the great conquest or the neat thing that happened during the game.

We encourage this. Not only does it get our family talking about games (good!), it also builds their storytelling skills. They have to think a bit about what happened in the game and what was worth retelling about it.

Plus, telling the story of your great come-from-behind victory can be a lot of pure fun!
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9. Board Game: Loopin' Louie [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:423]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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If they're having fun, they're going to have positive feelings about games.

Keep this in mind no matter what the gaming experience: if they're having fun playing games, they'll like playing games.

We're adults. We know that sometimes things can be rewarding even if they're a bit boring sometimes. Children haven't learned that yet - they decide what they like based on what's fun for them. If it's fun, they like it.

Keep that in mind when you choose to play with them. Are they having fun? What I've found is that if I focus on choosing games and experiences that they like, we often all end up having fun.
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10. Board Game: Boggle Jr. [Average Rating:4.38 Overall Rank:10762]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Play games that subtly build skills.

Boggle Jr. is a game my son received for his fourth birthday. It's barely a "game" - mostly, it's just a way to learn how to spell words using cubes.

That doesn't mean, of course, that it can't be fun. Not only did we play the game as-is, we also took the cubes out and tried to use them to spell things we found in our home. This turned into a fun experience in teaching them how to spell.

A game doesn't have to be strictly a game, per se. If it turns into a pure learning experience (hopefully a fun one), go with the flow.
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11. Board Game: Animal Upon Animal [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:576]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Take little opportunities to play.

For several months, the wooden animal pieces of the game Animal Upon Animal sat on our kitchen table in a Ziploc bag. In those five minutes before dinner or other little snatches of time, I'd dump out the bag on the table, my son and daughter and I would grab an alligator, and we'd start building, taking turns putting animals on our building.

Since the game was so short and involved so few components, it was easy to bust out as "kid filler" all the time, so that's what we did. It filled in a lot of gaps in our day.

Of course, it helped that Animal Upon Animal was a lot of fun, too.
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12. Board Game: Marrakesh [Average Rating:6.29 Overall Rank:4342]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Choose games with big, attractive bits.

Kids (and many adults) just love pretty, detailed bits that are big enough to actually handle, not so tiny you're afraid of losing them.

Marrakesh is a good example of this, featuring nice big bits (and a game that my oldest could handle). We own the deluxe version of Hey, That's My Fish! that includes 2" painted penguin pieces.

If nothing else, big, pretty bits give my younger children something to play with in between rounds.
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13. Board Game: Fireball Island [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1900]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Let the "wow" factor take effect.

All of us have some game from our lives where there was just a huge "wow" factor. The components were amazing or massively over the top. The game just gleamed.

For me, that game was Fireball Island, and the memory of it is stuck in my head. It made me think that games were really cool, something that has stuck with me in the ensuing two and a half decades.

Don't be afraid to seek out that "wow" moment for kids. Will it be Fireball Island? Loopin' Louie? Whatever it is, remember that big splashy games will often have a huge impact on kids.
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14. Board Game: Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:192] [Average Rating:7.41 Unranked]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Connect that "wow" factor to your own hobby.

Of course, many of us adults aren't exactly immune to the whole "wow" factor. Some of us have tubs full of Heroscape bits or Warhammer bits or things like that.

Bring them out in front of kids. Get Heroscape all set up and show it to a seven year old. Bust out your box of Warhammer parts and let a nine year old revel in them. Don't make your hobby exclusionary to them.

In my family, the "wow" factor for them seems to be Heroscape (owned by a friend) and Magic: the Gathering, the art of which is loved by my son.
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15. Board Game: Apples to Apples Junior [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:2930]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Make a connection between laughter and happiness and gaming.

Apples to Apples works because it encourages lots of people to laugh and de-stress and feel happy about things. Things that make people laugh and feel happy are things that they'll like in the future.

Apples to Apples Junior has the same exact effect for beginning readers. It shows them that words - and gaming - can be a lot of fun.

The advantage that Junior has here is that it minimizes the cultural literacy required for the main game, making it accessible to children who haven't been exposed to twenty or thirty years of pop culture.
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16. Board Game: Slap Jack [Average Rating:3.21 Overall Rank:11001]
Trent Hamm
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Huxley
Iowa
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Utilize components from "grown up" games.

While my three year old daughter isn't ready for canasta or contract bridge or 500, she is definitely interested when the adults are playing card games with a deck of playing cards. Because of that, she's always excited when I take that very deck of playing cards and play a simple game with her using the components.

Slap Jack is one such simple game, as is War. They're games using the components that grown-ups use, but have rules simple enough that a three year old grasps them and does very well playing the game.

Yes, Slap Jack is simple and can be boring, but it gets a child used to the regular game components. My daughter now knows what a jack is and how it's different than a queen or a king. Soon, she'll be playing poker.
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17. Board Game: Sorry! Sliders [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:1056]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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Level the playing field when you can.

Any game that puts you at a skill disadvantage that makes things roughly equal with a child is a good game. Sorry! Sliders, which my son received for Christmas a couple years ago, is one such game.

It's a simple dexterity game, but even with my adult dexterity at the table, my son was nearly my equal right at the first play of it. He has smaller fingers (making it easier for him to manipulate the pieces), can get right down there at eye level, and doesn't worry about making the "perfect" shot. Thus, he often wins at this game.

That's a good thing. He gets to feel the thrill of a win (particularly one over Dad) and I don't have to feel bad about trying my absolute hardest to win.

About "crushing" your children at a game... I usually try to give myself some sort of disadvantage when I know I have a big skill advantage. I'll "lose" two checkers when playing checkers against them, for example. This way, I can play my best against them without worrying about humiliating them and making them not want to play the game any more because it's not fun to get badly defeated at a game.
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18. Board Game: Memory [Average Rating:4.71 Overall Rank:11023]
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Iowa
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Help them deal with failure in small doses.

Memory works incredibly well with this, as a small failure is experienced every time the child doesn't make a match. The game doesn't punish it too badly, though, as they'll soon get another turn.

As we go through a game of Memory, a child will meet lots of such "small" failures, but as they see the adult also getting such small failures and they can keep playing and still win, they learn that such small failures are completely fine and sometimes lead the way to winning later on. That's a valuable gaming - and life - lesson.

Memory also succeeds at building short-term memory, which can greatly help with more complex games of all stripes.
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19. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:8.00 Overall Rank:13]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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See this text? It's a gratuitous waste of GeekGold.
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The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
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Involve your young ones in the grown-up games by explanation.

A few days ago, my son was peeking over the edge of the table as the adults were playing Le Havre. Instead of just shooing the child away, I invited him up on my lap and explained bits of the game in simple sentences as we played.

He was enthralled. He watched carefully. He pointed out when someone failed to replenish on their turn. After almost half an hour of watching, he was upset when Mom told him it was time for bed because he wanted to keep watching and learn more about this game.

I gave him a big bedtime hug and promised him that in just a year or two, we'd be playing Le Havre together. That's a promise that I fully intend to keep.
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20. Board Game: Checkers [Average Rating:4.85 Overall Rank:11025]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
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Show them how simple moves make for something more complex.

My son owns a Cars-themed checkers game that he loves to get out and play with his dad (or his mom).

This is a very well-liked game in our family. I played it all the time with my own father as a child, and my wife did the same with her father. It feels good to maintain the tradition.

Why does checkers work, though? It's a perfect example (like Go) of how simple moves build into something more complex. You move your pieces forward diagonally, one step at a time, and can jump opposing pieces. If you get a piece to your opponent's home row, you can "king" it, which allows it to move backwards. That's it.

Yet, my son and I would take turns sitting there staring at the board, seeing how such simple moves built into such complexity. Every once in a while, my son's eyes will light up when something he thought about two or three turns before actually pops up on the game. He's been planning this jump for a while, and when it happens, he's thrilled with his success.

That's a gamer in the making, all right.
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21. Board Game: Forbidden Island [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:402]
Steve Walker
United Kingdom
Liphook
Hampshire
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I have a 10 year old and a 4 year old - this is played by both and the 4 year old taught some of my gaming group how to play last week. The 10 year old has now moved up to Pandemic and is talking about setting up a gaming club at school - I'm so proud even if I will end up loaning my games out to get them started
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22. Board Game: Eureka! [Average Rating:5.46 Overall Rank:9169]
Lewis Goldberg
United States
Arnold
Missouri
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This game is a variation of the Memory game. 64 tiles are laid out, having pictures of rock on the back. Tile faces feature gold nuggets of varying size, which the players have to collect a set of four to win. Other tiles yield results including "Rock" = nothing; "Bear" = go back to start; "Bats" = take another turn; "Lantern" = you get to inspect the adjacent tiles ... and a couple of others. Rather than just flipping tiles at random, the players (up to 4) have a Miner piece that they move via d6 die roll. When you find a gold nugget, you leave it flipped over and "Claim" it with a marker.

Good fun, and my 6, 8, and 10 year old kids love playing with me.
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