Board Gaming and My Children (Brandon Kempf)
In the grand scheme of things, I am a young board gamer. Or rather, I am a young hobby gamer in the sense that I just came around to this around 2011/2012. Gaming in one way or another had always been in my life, just usually it was of the solo variety with me staring at a monitor or television, but that's a story for another day, this is about Board Gaming and My Children.
I've always, when asked, attributed our hobby board gaming introduction to my sister, who doesn't really play many board games. She was out before Christmas one year looking for something unique to get for our oldest daughter, Gabby, and she happened upon Valhalla's Gate in Columbia, MO. Valhalla's has been around for years in Columbia, but it was never really a store that I went into for much, and neither did my sister at that time. It had a wonderful downtown location at this point, but we won't lament the move here. But the point of this is, she was wandering around looking for a gift for Gabby and she walked in and found The Magic Labyrinth and bought it on the spot. That was probably 2010/11, I'm not 100% sure, because my descent into the rabbit hole wasn't immediate, it took a little while to sink it's teeth in.
Once we figured out what we were actually supposed to do with that game, we played it quite a bit over that first year. It's such a wonderfully done memory game, with those chunky Magician pieces and the metal balls that magnetically attach to the Magician's underneath the player board and the maze underneath that is created before the game starts. We had fun, and it kind of opened my eyes to how much time I was spending playing games, but not involving my family. So at that point, I dropped my Call of Duty/World of Warcraft obsessions and began obsessing about something else, board games.
Gabby being the only child around at that time that was able to play games with me, was the one who got to join me in my obsession, I picked up games that I thought she would enjoy and we would play all of them. Games like Bazaar, Forbidden Island, Small World, Ticket to Ride, Flash Duel, Can't Stop and so many others. We played and we played and we enjoyed those games a lot. Kerensa wasn't playing with us as much in those days as she is now, but she slowly started to join in the fun and it really became a family thing, we never really called it a Family Game Night, because there seemed to be more Game Nights than normal nights. I always tried to sell it as it being better to do this obsessively, rather than just sit and watch television.
In 2012 I somewhere along the line entered a contest from Litko and I won passes to Gen Con of all places. This seems the perfect place for a new family into board gaming to go, right? Well, that did indeed turn out to be the case. Myself, Kerensa, Gabby and my Brother in Law Brad all piled in and headed to Gen Con for a Saturday and Sunday and had a fantastic time. AB had to stay home, we weren't going to lug her around at that age, she just would have been miserable. It was a fantastic experience for us, Gabby got to see approximately 100s of games and 1000s of dice dealers, of which we visited approximately half of and bought something from about half of those. We spent 1 1/2 full days in the demo hall, meeting designers, publishers, and gamers playing demo after demo after demo and Gabby still wants to go back, Kerensa not so much.
All this time, AnnaBeth is growing up around the table with us, she's playing what she can and just joining us whenever we sit down to play. I've never made any of our games off limits to our children, they've always had free reign, they just have to respect the contents and put everything back where it goes. So AnnaBeth is playing make believe games with us, she's getting the miniatures out of the Dungeons & Dragons board games and having fun battles and of course, even back then, the dragon always won, the heroes were no match, and Gabby is slowly pulling away from the table. Partially because of her sister, and partially just because her interests moved elsewhere, she was doing gymnastics or any other myriad of things and that was pulling her away from gaming with Dad and Mom.
Maybe part of that is because in around November of 2014, I decided another fun hobby for me to take part in was podcasting, about the hobby that I had already immersed myself and my family in. At first it was just me, I didn't want to make Kerensa or Gabby do anything they weren't comfortable with, which talking on a mic about board games seemed to be one of those things. Eventually though, I got bored of talking to myself into a mic and decided I should have them on the show with me. Plus, I thought maybe this would be a good thing for Gabby, something to get her out of her shell a bit and make her more comfortable in the future with speaking in front of people. But it never worked out that way with her, I love having Gabby on the show and talking about games, but she just has no desire to do it anymore unless there is something specific that piques her interest, she'd rather play video games. Kerensa on the other hand, has been a natural on the mic, but once again, we'll save that for another day.
AnnaBeth though has literally grown up with board games surrounding her, she has lived board games without even knowing it. I never tried to rush her into playing games, I bought games like Animal Upon Animal and other games that were more activities than games for us, and she thrived. I did have AnnaBeth on the podcast a bit back in the day with her AnnaBeth's Story Cubes but just like Gabby, this became something that she just wasn't that interested in doing at some point and it went away, only to make occasional rare appearances, but she kept playing games with me and they have over the years increased in complexity. She plays just about anything with me at least once, as long as I don't make it something out of her reach mentally. As a 7 year old, she now has 153 plays of 56 different games, from Toc Toc Woodman, to The Butterfly Garden, to Survive! Escape from Atlantis(which if you ask her, she will say is her favorite game to play). Gabby, being only 6 years older, has right around 825 games logged of 264 different games, and I can kind of see the difference in what I did as a parent here, and even though Gabby was older when she started playing board games, maybe I forced them a bit too much on her.
Now a days, Gabby will sit down and play a game with us, but we rarely have those nights where that's all we do is play games anymore, Gabby wants to talk with her friends, play some Fortnite or Overwatch and call it a night, she's 13, that's what I assume most 13 year olds would want to do anymore. But we do make her disengage and sit down with us, either to play a game, or just sit and talk, most importantly of any of this, we talk. That's what board games are for me really, they are a way for me to spend time with people that I care about without worrying about what's going on around us. Yes, we do check our phones now and then and sometimes have the tv going in the background, but for the most part, we are together, we are being family and friends, and this is important to me and I hope everyone else that I game with.
AnnaBeth on the other hand is starting to slowly come into gaming a bit more, she is actually initiating game play sometimes, she's sitting and reading rule books when she wants something to read and doesn't feel like finding a book that she hasn't read in her room. She's 7, we still have our moments where she gets overly frustrated with something in the game, or she just flat out doesn't want to play anymore, that's fine, that's what 7 year olds do. I've learned patience with this, I don't think I had that with Gabby, I think I tended to force things on her more than I do with AnnaBeth, and in hindsight, I hate that I did that, I kind of think that may be part of what is happening now with Gabby and gaming with us, not all of it, nature takes it's course, not everything is controllable and not everyone is going to want to do the same things forever. But I find it curious how without even thinking about it, I have kind of adapted.
That was all part of my reason for writing this. I see all sorts of board gaming parents out there asking about when should they start playing board games with their kids, what games should they play, et al, but really, I don't think there is just one absolute correct answer for this. Each child is different and does things differently, also, every parent does things differently. Some parents let their kids make up the rules to games if they don't like what's going on, some let their children have an advantage in play, what works for one child is not going to work for every child. For what it's worth, we play by the rules and we don't let our kids win. Never have. We do however show flexibility in play. Survive! is a very confrontational game and AnnaBeth loves it, but she originally didn't like people picking on her, and then she changed and she'd rather you eat one of her own swimmers than one of Mom's, so we've adapted, I've never escaped Atlantis for what it's worth, I don't know what that feels like, but I don't care. But also on the bad side of this, Gabby doesn't like to play Survive with us because of that, she is our by the books, play to win by all means available to her, kid.
I don't pretend to have all the answers, and you don't have all the answers, we all together, still don't have all the answers. All we can do is keep playing, keep parenting and keep on engaging with our children as best we can, love them no matter what and hope that they continue to value the time with us, as much as we value our time with them.