Family Fun Night

In our family everyone is pretty busy doing individual activities – work, school, sports, band, church, etc. – and my wife expresses the desire to spend more time together as a family. So I schedule a Family Fun Night in which we roleplay an adventure or play a board game, and our children get very excited because it’s so fun.

The kids tell me that Risk is one of their favorite games, so we played that tonight with four kids and two parents. Then it begins: drifting off to read a book when not on-turn, complaints about dice, dubious rationalizations for re-rolling, arguments over applications of rules, envy over luck, gloating over victories, lashing out in defeat, despair at always losing, general bad sportsmanship, accusations of parental unfairness in the administration of discipline… The kids appear to be having a miserable time, and certainly my wife is – she’d rather be back in the kitchen washing dishes. And then, to top it off, midway through a worldwide rampage that would win the game, I realized that I had neglected to follow one of the rules. It was too late to reverse my misplay, but it would be empty to continue the game, so I just called the game over and informed the kids who the real winner should have been. As my wife said, Daddy tried.

This sort of experience and outcome is pretty routine when our family plays a game, but somehow, when looking back on it, the kids will tell me that it was the BEST TIME EVER. Go figure.

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I keep getting distracted from your point by wondering what rule you failed to follow… lol.

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We are a game-playing family, and I have seven children, ages 12 and under. Wowsers. I get what you’re saying. Thanks for sharing.

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My family is also a game-playing family, but now I have three grown children as well as three at home (17, 16, 12) to play with. So my days of grappling with a large group of little ones is behind me.

However, when I consider the love and camaraderie that my children share, including how much they delight in being with each other, I can say that the effort was truly worth it.

Also, as a game sommelier, I feel the need to suggest something other than Risk for your family nights. Perhaps Carcassonne, if your children are unlikely to bump the board. Or Formula D or Downforce if racing is something they might enjoy. My kids do confrontational multiplayer wargaming now, but that was only after many sessions of fatherly instruction of how to navigate and manage the inevitable politics that emerge from multidimensional conflict. (To be fair, I think those turned out to be good life lessons, but they didn’t make for great family nights in the moment.)

But yes, persevere! Your children will be blessed for it.

Seth Ben-Ezra

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I’d like to hear more about how you taught them to navigate the politics of Risk.

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A player takes an opponent’s Risk cards after defeating him, and if the player then has six or more Risk cards, the player can turn them in for additional armies that would enable continuation of a rampage. As the Rules Parliamentarian of the family, I should have reminded the player to turn in six+ cards for armies. I realized that error when I subsequently defeated the player on my turn and found she had six+ cards from her earlier victories. With all the cards I then had, I would be able to turn them in for enough armies to defeat every other player on the board, but it was an undeserved victory since they should have been turned in earlier to enable the previous player to obtain total victory.

One player in the family always tries to establish a base in Australia and build up strength in relative safety, which, although not an ultimately winning strategy, enables survival through most of the game. A couple other players try to recruit a Grand Coalition in which every other player would immediately attack and destroy Daddy at the beginning of the game to eliminate the greatest threat to world peace. So far, I’ve been able to thwart the Grand Coalition by negotiating a non-aggression pact with a neighboring player that enables both of us to gain territory and build up strength until such time that it is advantageous to betray the other without warning (it used to be that only Daddy did this, but the kids have been learning from experience).

Yep, I am a serious game-player, and it has been a challenge to deal with other players who might bend cards, lose pieces, get the game sticky, fail to maintain focus, and/or be to young to really play but insist on being included (though our youngest (age 7) did a pretty good job in getting along in our full-family game of Clue last night).

What I find striking about playing games with kids is how much complaining and fighting happens. I don’t recall that from my own childhood, though it must have happened. I guess adults have much better ability to control their emotions through the ups and downs of the game, but with kids, it all comes out. My wife finds it difficult to abide the intra-sibling quarreling and nastiness, though, especially when overlaid by my own peremptory commands and attempts to control. Despite all that, the kids view it as a positive experience and want to do it again.

Yes, we have Carcassonne, Catan, Dominion, and a substantial number of more obscure games. But games like Risk and Clue are lowest common denominator games that accommodate family members who are younger or prefer games that require little strategy or thinking.

Anything to suggest? I’ve played Memoir '44 and Axis and Allies with my 10-year-old son (his older sisters have little to no interest in wargames), and I am hoping that when he gets older we can play some of my old Avalon Hill wargames (in my view, it’s not a real wargame unless it’s played on hexes with cardboard squares indicating various units).

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We have had good success with having littles be on “teams”, usually with mom or dad, though sometimes with an older sibling who is ready to be magnanimous. Age appropriate things like rolling dice, moving tokens, etc. can be performed by the little one. Often the little one will get bored and run off, but that’s much less disruptive to the game if their teammate can then just take over his duties rather than sorting out how to play with a missing player. The little one can also then click back into the game at will by rejoining the team.

I’m glad yours are able to get over the rancor and remember it fondly. We have mixed success with getting folks to overlook the hard feelings. My oldest (16 y.o.) has a very analytical mind and has a hard time playing the easier games, which also makes family game nights a challenge. Never mind the 3 y.o., he has a hard time meeting the 8 y.o. at his level.

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Every game of Risk I’ve played with the family ends in tears.

The tears of my enemies…

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Well, it wasn’t Risk. I’m not a huge fan of it for reasons. In our house, it was Cosmic Encounter that prompted most of the conversations.

That said, one of my sons (Samuel) is very politically minded. I don’t mean “government” but rather the interactions of people in groups. So he was always trying to get his siblings to take actions that were to his benefit. However, at the time, it was painfully easy to turn those efforts against him. Being “Dad” gives you a status bump in the eyes of your children, after all. So while Samuel would try to use that to rally the table against me, I would be able to undo most of his efforts, both by virtue of the dignity of my office (or something like that) as well as being better able to read the interpersonal dynamics of the table and play accordingly. For example, it turns out that most older siblings don’t really like taking orders from a younger sibling, and that’s the vein that Samuel was tending to operate in. (I’m drawing here, weirdly, on the concept of status games from Keith Johnstone’s book “Impro”.)

As a result, his siblings would rather turn on their “bossy” brother than listen to him…even though his analysis was generally correct. So I started unpacking those dynamics at the table for all of the kids. Yes, the lessons were primarily aimed at Samuel, but I used the occasion to teach all of them. I talked about status games, about persuading using low status instead of high, about understanding the interaction of the board position on the table with the interpersonal situation above the table. I’d remind them of the need for non-zero sum outcomes and to look for what the other person finds valuable in the moment.

And, slowly, the politics at the table improved. Samuel started to reduce his bossiness and learned how to appeal better to his siblings. Then, as the younger kids started aging into the game, I got to teach it all over again, but this time Samuel was the older sibling. So now I’m analyzing his position from that perspective, reminding him that his younger siblings will be gunning for him, because it’s a chance to demonstrate mastery against an older sibling (with higher status!) in an arena where that’s possible. So that becomes another opportunity for negotiation or maneuvering.

All these conversations have become the basis for many talks about real-life politics. Samuel is now working in a quasi-managerial role, and so many of these lessons, learned around the game table, are now applicable in a real-world environment. Like it or not, organizations are highly political, and it is helpful to understand how that works in order to be both a wise leader and a loving Christian. The desired outcomes are different–organizations are a cooperative game, not a competitive one–but the dynamics are still the same. So there’s still the need to understand status, or how to give respect, or how to seek to understand what the other person seeks to gain, in order to be able to cooperate towards a shared goal.

That’s part of what I find exciting about games. It’s not just the strategy or the socializing, though I care about those, too. It’s the opportunities to learn about life in ways that are fictional and therefore safer. If you mess up in a game, you lose very little, so if you can learn there, you can succeed elsewhere, where do-overs are more costly.

I owe other people responses, and I’ll be back for those later! Thanks for your patience!

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf

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Sure, I get that. It’s hard to juggle all the requirements to try to make an event fit everyone, not to mention the six-player requirement. Not a lot of games seat six.

A couple of additional possibilities, if you don’t already have these:

King of Tokyo. This is essentially Combat Yahtzee in a king-of-the-hill game. It seats six, can tolerate a breadth of experience or thinking, and actively fights politics. It’s a wonder to behold, honestly. It does feature player elimination, but usually by the time someone gets knocked out, the game is going to be over fairly soon, and then you can all play again.

Dixit. This is in the same family as Apples to Apples, but I think it’s better. Each player has a hand of cards, each with weirdly surreal but charming art. On your turn, you choose a card from your hand and then state a phrase to the table as a clue. Everyone else then also selects a card that could match that clue. They’re all scrambled up, and then everyone except the cluegiver tries to guess which card is the right one. The clever bit: the scoring rewards the clue-giver being successful in providing the clue…but not too successful. So you actually need to figure out a clue that will communicate to someone.

Sushi Go Party. This is an expanded version of Sushi Go that seats up to eight. This is a fairly simple card-drafting game, themed as choosing sushi off a conveyer belt. It’s brisk, easy for even a young child to play, and has very little downtime.

I like all of these games, but I’ll allow that King of Tokyo does tend to bring out the more…aggressive…emotions, which is why I suggested the other two as well. They’re calmer games that are still approachable and enjoyable by a broad range of players.

Anything to suggest? I’ve played Memoir '44 and Axis and Allies with my 10-year-old son (his older sisters have little to no interest in wargames), and I am hoping that when he gets older we can play some of my old Avalon Hill wargames (in my view, it’s not a real wargame unless it’s played on hexes with cardboard squares indicating various units).

Now to wargaming.

I need to state up front that part of my reason for engaging with wargaming is as an opportunity to engage with the history of the conflict, be it real or imagined. So there’s almost an educational bent to my wargaming interests which might not be shared by the average 10-year old. Also, I must confess that it’s been a long time since I’ve played a hex-and-counter game, though I share your love for them. (I grew up playing Anzio and Afrika Korps with my brother on a table in the basement, before Warhammer 40,000 displaced them.)

With that caveat in mind:

GMT Games is one of the leading manufacturers of wargames these days. I’m sure that they have monster hex-and-counter games, but they emerged into the mainstream of gaming on the strength of Twilight Struggle, a game about the Cold War. I love this game because it is driven by an evolving deck of cards, each of which represents a historical event or concept from the period. The rulebook contains a short historical note on each card, which allows for discussion of this relatively recently history. Plus, it’s a game balanced on a knife’s edge, where you’re dancing around a collection of landmines every turn.

On the fictional side of things, if you are partial to Lord of the Rings, then I cannot recommend War of the Ring too highly. The presentation lives in the Axis & Allies space (i.e. lots of nifty plastic figures), but the game does a great job of simulating the geopolitical situation at the end of the Third Age. (Yes, I know that’s a pretentious way of saying it. But it’s true!)

And, honestly, the Command and Colors series (which includes Memoir '44) is a fairly good introductory game. I think it does a particularly good job of abstracting the concepts of friction and fog of war, which a lot of the old hex-and-counter games didn’t care to do.

Finally, I have a soft spot in my heart for my copy of Guns of Gettysburg. This is not a simple game by any stretch of the imagination (the game comes with two copies of the rulebook so you can both have a copy for reference), but it does a fine job of simulating the situation at Gettysburg: to wit, it was an accident that neither side actually wanted. It takes a while to internalize the rules, but once you do, you will find yourself thinking like a battlefield commander. The fact that the board looks like a period map, with red and blue battlelines moving across it, just adds to the joy.

And if you ever want to try to convince your daughters to take up wargaming, Root is a pretty good way to go. It looks cute and adorable, but it’s also a multiplayer slugfest. My younger daughter (age 12) was drawn into the game by the adorable art, but she’s stayed for the stomping. So, it can be done.

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One more thing that I think was a significant turning point for my gaming with my children.

There was a stretch where I was dealing with children being upset that they had lost a game. This manifested in different ways, but I thought it was a problem. So, I started introducing games like this:

“How many people are playing this game?”

They answer. Four or five or however many were playing.

“Okay. How many can win?”

Usually, the answer is one. (That’s not always true, but you get what I mean.)

“Right! So that means that most of us are going to lose this game. We’re all trying to win! But by sitting down to play, you’re agreeing to lose.”

That eventually sunk in, and I think it’s mattered quite a bit.

Anyways, hope some of this was helpful. If nothing else, it’s always a joy to bump into other fathers trying to teach their children to play well. :blush:

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf

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I had picked up Axis and Allies 1942 a couple years ago. I’ve never had time to play through an actual game though. My boys lose interest going over the rules. :frowning:

One interesting trend I’ve noticed in board games is that they’ve moved away from the dynamic of competitive player elimination (e.g. Monopoly, Risk) and toward the type of gameplay where everyone is engaged in every turn, and everyone plays to the end of the game (e.g. Catan).

I’ve often wondered if this isn’t another place where the death of masculinity is manifesting. We don’t teach our men how to be good losers, because we never put them in positions where there’s anything to lose.

I say that, but at the same time, as a father of a brood of 9, it’s pretty hard to play any real competitive game as a family anyway. :slight_smile:

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My initial response to this was to disagree…but then I thought about some of the whiners I’ve seen on Internet game forums. :slight_smile: So I have to allow that there’s an element of truth in this. Sometimes it almost seems like certain players are more interested in the efficiency of their moves than the efficacy of their results in outperforming other players.

That said, most traditional multiplayer games don’t actually include player elimination. That’s because, at the meta level, we’re all playing this game to do something together. Player elimination removes someone from the social gathering, not just from the competition. Fostering the brotherhood is important, too!

So I think that design pattern is a relic of a certain time, not necessarily the result of the loss of masculinity. I’ve played lots of high-conflict games where loss is quite painful without using player elimination.

Also, certainly, when my children were younger, I would have preferred not to have player elimination, unless the game is relatively quick. (See King of Tokyo above.) Again, while there are plenty of life lessons to be learned from game playing, I also want to play games to be with my kids.

And…a thought occurs to me. Modern boardgames owe much of their design ethos to German game designs. (Even classics like Scotland Yard were originally released in Germany.) The German marketplace has a couple of culturally specific influences that make it unique. First, the emphasis in games is on family gaming as opposed to hobby gaming. So the assumed group of players for a game is of mixed age. Second, Germany still has World War II and its divided Cold War past in its living memory, and so its gaming culture tends to steer clear of games about war. (There are exceptions to this, of course.) That kind of culture is going to be quite different than the rough-and-tumble American hobby gaming culture that many of us on this thread grew up with (I’m guessing).

Sorry! Got me monologuing. I’ll sign off now. :slight_smile:

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Yup, I do agree with you. I certainly don’t want to overstate my point about the death of masculinity; I was just noting that the thought occurs to me.

Our boys need to learn how to accept that they’ve lost a game, and be able to shake their opponents’ hands without feeling like they’ve lost their purpose in life. It takes a secure man to lose a board game gracefully. I’m not particularly interested in raising boys who are good at board games, but I do want to raise humble men who find their identity in something more secure than the games they play.

My wife and I played Yahtzee once when we were first married, many moons ago. I was quite the man baby about the dice rolls not going my way. I don’t want the same in my children. Proverbs 16:33 is easy to affirm theologically, but hard to affirm when it makes me a loser.

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Quoted for truth. I agree absolutely.

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Yes, we’ve done this, too, but when they get to be 7, they want to do more, even if it is a game for ages 12+.

Our problem is that the kids bring into the game the rancor they already have with siblings.

Sounds like a fun game, though my wife complains we already have way too many games in the house.

In my house, the siblings have too much rivalry with each other to unite against Daddy.

The kids have learned from me that firm promises of lasting alliance will be quickly broken when there is opportunity for great gain.

Thanks for the tips – so much opportunity – so little time. :pensive:

My oldest is a big LOTR fan, so maybe that would work. And they would probably all like the woods game. It’s straight-up historical military games they have little interest in.

Actually, I think losing is more character-building in a non-eliminationist game because you can’t get on with other things but instead must stick around to the bitter end contemplating your poor luck and/or errors in play. But I think there is also something to be said for collaborative games like the Forbidden Island series in which everyone must work together to win – perhaps it can be viewed as a family team-building exercise.

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I’m glad some have begun discussing the raising of men here.

Rulebooks are almost always completely egalatarian. But these games very much lean towards the masculine, like sports. So watch out for your daughters also.

I participated for a couple of years in another church’s irregular game night for singles.
For many months, I was commonly frustrated internally because two of the women especially weren’t playing by the spirit of the rules. It took me too long to realize what was going on and finally appreciate their femininity. Across a whole spectrum of games, they always avoided any actions which would take away from another’s score or position. They played some adversarial games almost cooperatively. In cooperative games, they very clearly took a back seat, taking little initiative (despite being the organizers and planners of the social events). The differences were less clear in some games. But they stood out, and it was beautiful to those that had open eyes.

That said, I did play to win and even obtained a marriage proposal…from Darcy, securing my top finish in the zombie expansion version of Pride and Prejudice. But in real life, other men were less distracted by the gameplay and got the real prize in the end.

So for all your children, strive to make gameplay add to and not subtract/distract from real life.

In the firearms-for-women thread, @tbbayly brought up purses for men, less than half joking. Is anyone here teaching your daughters to battle like your sons? Do you keep an eye out for gameplay that is inappropriate from a simple sexuality perspective?

Fathers and mothers don’t do handguns the same. They don’t feed the children the same. They have the same goals in mind. But they act differently. I fear gaming can be extremely egalatarian. Equality isn’t the right word though. It’s worse. Both sexes suffer when women join the sports team, the gym, the platoon, the boardroom, …

I’m trying not to overstate it. So I’ll ask, when do you see this tension in family games? What do you do about it? Age difference has already been discussed. And it sounds from the (admittedly one-sided) postings so far that many of the fathers here are more into gaming than their wives.

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Good observations about men and women and games.

Actually, I think a major part of the difference is the goals. Or even if the goals are the same, they are prioritized differently.

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They were playing competitively, as you demonstrate in your last sentence. It was just at a different level than you were playing competitively.

By the way, here’s a story from a nineteen years ago and one day. My then-future wife and I had gotten engaged the day after Christmas, and we were spending New Years Eve with my sister, the extended family of her in-laws, and several of their family friends. To pass the time before midnight, we were playing card games, I think either Hearts or Cancellation Hearts. One time I led with a card that set up Player 3 to take a lot of points (bad in Hearts), fully expecting a Player 2 to support me in the action. When he instead played a card that saved Player 3 and screwed me over, I was shocked, not because I got screwed over (it happens a lot in Hearts), but because in the context of the game it was clearly not to his benefit to save Player 3. Since I had been counting cards and knew that Player 2 was good at the game, I was sure his choice was deliberate. So I indignantly stood up and upbraided him for playing a card like that when the Player 3 was in the lead and needed to be taken down a notch. And that occasion is still remembered in my sister’s house, nineteen years later.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Player 2 had started dating Player 3 a little while before we played that card game. Still, that doesn’t excuse the behavior in my view. Even though I had been engaged for less than a week, I never would have thrown a card game to my future wife out of romantic favoritism, nor would I now. It’s against the spirit of the game.

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It’s a bit legendary the time my new wife threw our house-ruled 22-point double Seafarers Catan game with an intentionally generous trade at 2am. I and our pastor, united in greatly disproportionate annoyance. Good times.

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