Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Getting Childish with "Fluff Daddy"

By Ward Batty

Mark Jackson may have the earned the moniker "Fluff Daddy" for his love of light and easy games, especially kids games, but he is quite serious about getting kids to play games and making the experience a positive one for everyone involved. This week the Game Table taps the Fluff Daddy Brain Trust for some advice on kids and games.

"The first thing is to have fun yourself," says Jackson, "Most kids thrive off the energy & interest of adults, and that carries right over into playing board games with them. A bored adult will inspire boredom in a child."

"Second, you need to pick games that you can enjoy together. Way too many 'children's games' are barely fun for kids, let alone for adults who get roped into playing them. Luckily, there's a lot of good stuff out there, but you won't typically find it at your average 'big box' store."

Playing games teaches kids lots of valuable lessons, both socially as well as from the decisions required from the game itself. Valuable lessons kids learn are how to win, as well as how to lose. For many kids, a game may only seem to be worthwhile activities of they win. Jackson says, "A helpful analogy might be baseball. A .400 hitter is considered hot stuff - but that means he only gets a hit four out of every ten times at bat. Dialing down your child's expectations about winning - especially if you're playing multi-player games and/or games with lots of luck - can help keep their perspective clear."

"More importantly, you have to separate the joy of winning from the joy of playing. Don't get me wrong - I like to win. But more than that, I love to play. I flat-out enjoy the experience of getting into a game with my son & watching him make a smart move, or help him figure out the best possible play, or just join him in the play-acting/pretending that is so much a part of younger kids & games."

Sometimes it can be difficult to drag the kids from the TV or videogames. Jackson suggests "Choose themes that your kids enjoy - for example, for those kids into sci-fi, there are a number of Star Wars games available. They may or may not be the 'best' games out there, but they are more likely to draw kids away from TV & videogames. It's also helpful to choose games that reward the skills they've developed playing video games - 'speed' and 'dexterity' games both capitalize on the hand/eye coordination that they've been honing with video controllers. Jackson also notes that it can increase the chance of your family playing games together if parents set a limit on TV/video game time.

Here are some of Fluff Daddy's favorite games for kids and adults to enjoy together.

First games:

Cranium Cariboo
Cranium Hullabaloo

Ages 4-6

Akaba (Haba)
Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande)
Gulo Gulo (Rio Grande)
Dish It Up! (Gamewright)
Eureka (Gamewright)
Midnight Party (Ravensburger)
My First Uno (wide variety of licensing tie-ins)

Ages 7-9

For boys:

Heroscape (Hasbro)
Star Wars Attacktix

For boys & girls:

Eiertanz (Haba)
Igloo Pop (Rio Grande)

Ages 10+:

Go with the standard gateway games: Ticket To Ride, Settlers of Catan and Bohnanza.

Thanks to Mark for his advice. A good place to find out more about these games is to visit Boardgamegeek and search for the game by title. You can also visit Mark Jackson's site and his blog.

Many of these games should be available locally at a specialty game shop or educational toy store. Even if the shop doesn't have the game in stock, many are happy to special-order them. Your local store is a great place to learn more about these great games. Online, I'd suggest going to Google, click on Froogle and search for the game by name.

Next week, we'll take a look at some of the more interesting upcoming boardgame releases from the GAMA Trade Show (a trade show for game store retailers, publishers and distributors) in Las Vegas, NV.

Ward Batty is a long-time game-player who has been with the same weekly game group for over twenty years. "I understood there was a pension." is his excuse. He writes a monthly column on the business of board games for Comics & Game Retailer magazine and has written articles and reviews for The Games Journal, Scrye, Knucklebones and Games International.

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