Friday, July 8, 2016

Gaming with kids - keeping it simple

Don't let this dude around your kids. From page5de Facebook group
Many of us here at Fresh Coast Gaming are now dads, so we're learning to share our love of the gaming hobby with our kids. My son is now four years old and my daughter is a little over one. Charlie has been gaming with me doing various board games and wargames for a while now, so I wanted to write up my experiences, both good and bad.

What I look for in a game I can play with my four year old

Everything about the game has to be simple, or I need to be able to simplify it. If the dice mechanics include anything over six dice I have to halve it. There shouldn't be anything more than two or three steps to a turn. The number of models and activations needs to be super low; a four year old has no patience waiting for you to all your stuff, he wants to do all his stuff all the time. If there are add-on cards and things the game needs to be playable without those.

There also has to be something that can help him learn stuff. Usually its math; four dice minus two dice = two dice. Six HP minus four damage = two HP left. etc. I also want him to learn strategy, like what is best to do, etc.

Usually the game has to have cool models. He loves them, thinks they're toys. I don't know how much I could get him into a card game, for instance. It really helps if the models are things he can remember from a show, like Star Wars Rebels.

Keep your kids away from Agonizers at all cost
The game should be somewhat age appropriate - my kid doesn't really know what death is and obviously its not gonna be about chainsawing bodies in half etc. This seems pretty obvious but should be mentioned.

It really helps if the game can be cooperative. Sometimes this can be tacked-on; sometimes we play X-Wing and we're both on the same team and I do an 'AI' for the ships which is basically 'what would be the best thing for them to do'. At some point we'll try Heroes of the Arturi Cluster once he's a bit older with patience.

The games we play

The main game we like to play is X-Wing. Charlie loves the Rebels show so he likes to see the Ghost and B-Wings and X-Wings and TIE Fighters. There is some simplifying that I do with X-Wing - we don't really ever use upgrades, crew, etc. We hardly ever use the special rules on ship cards. Mostly we just move, then Charlie gets to choose from "EYE" or "DODGE" (focus and evade, he pretty much only ever chooses EYE). Then we 'boom' each other using our attack stats and range bonus.

In the case of ships with shields, I just take the shields and add it to the hull and we track damage like that. So four shields + four hull = eight shield tokens. It makes it a lot easier for him. We don't really balance by points so much, whatever he wants to play we just play. We do use the turn order with the pilot skills so he can learn about what is smaller and larger.

I have found the dial upgrades to be really helpful. Most of the time Charlie just wants to go forward as fast as possible, lol, but it helps him to see ALL the dial choices at once instead of having to flip it around. 

Honorable mention for Star Trek, being almost the same system. Charlie likes to use these dudes once in a while because they're more colorful and different. 

We have also played quite a bit of Dungeon Saga. Again the best thing to do is keep it simple and small so your kid doesn't get bored. We don't use any of the cards, we don't do any upgrades or anything. We roll through the dungeon (co-op) using our attack stats vs skeletons defense stats. 

I think Charlie's favorite part is setting out all the furniture, lol. He loves setting up the doors, putting out desks and barrels, bookcases etc. He also likes planning the layout of the dungeon area and putting out the bad guys.

'Dungeon Saga' sounds kinda hardcore but the bad guys really aren't scary or overly gory. They're very much similar to the Heroquest dudes we play against when we were kids. I sometimes have to explain to him what a zombie or a troll is, but we don't generally delve into the demons and things.

One of the more recent games to come out and the newest game we've been playing is TANKS! by Gale Force 9. This is possibly the simplest and easiest game we've played. It comes with dice, movement templates, terrain, and 15mm models (plastic ones from the Flames of War line). At some point we may try it out using BA 1/56 tanks but that is in the future.

The game itself is really easy - there are no ranges, everything moves one or two templates, and there are only four stats. 

As of yet we haven't used the 'special abilities' for each card and we haven't used any crew slots, although once we've played a half dozen times we'll try them out. I love how they made the different stats different colors, because I can say "Alright Charlie, what is your defense - the GREEN number" and he has to identify it. Then he has to total up his dice pool and roll.

The tokens they include make everything really easy. Did you move once or twice? Throw down your token and when it comes time for shooting its really easy to tell what the bonus or deficit is to your dice pool. 

The one game I own that we haven't really done much with yet is Imperial Assault. Our group is currently playing a ton of it cooperatively, and I'd love to do that with Charlie. We've played a few times where we just throw down some stormtroopers and do a dungeon crawl. 

Probably the hardest part is that each die has one-three different symbols on it, which is a bit hard for a four year old. We're using X-Wing dice for it right now to make it easier. 

What games do you play with your kids, at what ages? I know the future is bright for Charlie as he loves these games, and we'll get into more complicated stuff down the line when he's old enough. Leave a comment below!


  1. I see most of this is wargames, but if you want to introduce him to RPGs, check out Hero Kids on Drive Thru RPG. It's a super simple system, and there are quite a few premade adventures you can get, both from the publisher and from other people.