So my oldest son is currently obsessed with board games. And not the little kid ones like Candy Land that I’ve let the kids tear up for years. No, he’s facinated by our “grown-up” board games, with the millions of cards and figurines. And why wouldn’t he be? They’re colorful, have lots of small, interesting pieces, and have exciting themes like trains and conquering the world. How can lame games featuring candy and slides stand up to that? Georgie is always begging to play Ticket To Ride or Dominion. The one thing he asked Santa for this year was Monopoly.
The problem is that he’s five. Georgie might, on a good day, be able to handle the mechanics of Monopoly but the strategy of it is beyond him. And clearly letting anyone under the age of 13 touch Dominion would result in disaster.
Or would it? As a result of enormous five-year-old pressure, I’ve embarked on a quest of adapting some of our exciting, grown-up games for little kid playability. And granted, I wouldn’t hand over these games to a kid who is still in love with chewing cards or playing 52 card pick-up. But I’ve picked up a few strategies along the way that have actually made things fun.
- Reduce options - Many adult board games, like Ticket To Ride and Alhambra, rely on allowing you to draw either one of the five face up cards or from the draw pile. Cut the number down to reduce the time it takes your child to pick his/her cards. Similarly, in games where you are working towards multiple goals, like the four diseases in Pandemic or the four treasures in Tobago, try cutting the number down by half. Your kids will be able to focus better and be more strategic if there are fewer things to compare.
- Remove elements - The fun part of many modern board games is trying to track multiple strategic elements at once. For example, in 7 Wonders, there are at least 7 different ways to earn points to win the game. You might try to remove some options until your child gets the hang of a few. For example, getting rid of the blue and green cards in 7 Wonders doesn’t change game play too much, and greatly simplifies the goals. When playing Alhambra, you might choose to ignore the different colors of money or the requirement that your city be walkable until your child gets a hang of the scoring system. Similarly, you could ignore missions in Ticket To Ride and just go for straight points and the longest route.
- Play “open-face” – In games with lots of cards, tokens, and other collectables, it’s difficult for your child to even hold all their cards, much less understand what they are all doing. In this case, it can be helpful to have everyone play at least one game with their cards “open” on the table. Playing with cards visible allows your child to observe the choices you make, see card organization in action, and understand your strategy. Playmats can also be helpful for this purpose. We love to use this one when we play Bohnanza. You can find playmats for other card games by searching on BoardGameGeek.
- Make it co-operative – When a game is truly too challenging for a kid to understand, get together and play as a team. Make up a co-operative goal: for Ticket To Ride, you could pick a mission card and work together to get there. The great thing is, kids don’t care if there isn’t a failure condition. Just pick a short goal in the game and achieve it! My boys also like to play against a “computer” or “bad guy,” especially in games like BANG where the theme lends well to it. Regular co-op games like Pandemic also lend well to you just telling the kids what to do.
- Add a time limit – Because, frankly, you can only Ticket To Ride with a five-year-old so many times before you go nuts. Before you start, let your child know the limits: “This time, whoever gets the most points in 15 minutes wins!” This might be helped by skipping ahead slightly in gameplay by dealing out more starting cards (Ticket To Ride) or starting at a higher scoring level (Alhambra).
What are your family’s favorite board games? Does your child ever want to play games above their skill level and what do you do about it?