I love board games, particularly games designed in the past 15 years or so, which have a great deal more depth and sophistication than many of the classic board games. To this end, I once envisioned writing a board game blog—even going so far as to write about a dozen posts. The blog never happened, but I wanted to post something board game related this week since Essen Spiel (a massive board gaming convention in Germany where a lot of new board games are announced or released every year) is happening this week, I thought I would publish this post from the board game blog, in a slightly edited form.
As a child, my family owned and played a lot of Ravensburger games. One persistent memory that I have is that these games typically said on the box that they were for ages 5-99, or 8-99, or something along those lines (on a side note, I have always been happy to see my copy of Pitchcar Mini list appropriate ages as “6-106”). As a young child, I was always astounded by this claim, and “Ages 5-99” was actually one of the first ideas for a name for a board game blog that I came up with.
The board gaming world has begun to acknowledge the importance of children’s games—as shown in the creation of the Kinderspiel des Jahres (children’s game of the year)—but are all of those games that the whole family can enjoy? In many instances, I have to say no, as I consider the games of my childhood and games that I have played with children as an adult. However, I think it is possible for a game to appeal to both children and adults. Although I have never played it, Gulo Gulo, designed by Jurgen Grunau, Wolfgang Kramer, and Hans Raggan, seems to be such a game. It is a dexterity game where players have to pull eggs out of a nest without disturbing the mother bird. Due to the nature of pulling eggs out of the nest, people with smaller fingers (ie, children) seem to be better at the game than adults. This results in a very challenging game for adults that naturally results in children winning more frequently—a great bonus considering the difficult question of whether to let children win a game or playing your best knowing that they are likely to lose.
Of course, this topic not only has to do with very young people playing board games, but also the very old—and when it comes right down to it, it is about the basis of this blog: the concept of board game literacy. The study of human development teaches us that children are able to learn things more quickly and more easily than adults, and in general the younger you are, the more likely you will be able to learn new skills and information. This is also true with games. In my experience, someone who has played games their whole life (even if it’s just traditional card games, or even chess or checkers) will learn new games more easily. I have noticed that young people who are gamers learn games more easily too, and I hypothesized that it had to do with familiarity of strategy and tactics, of the lingo and the genres, but now I wonder if it has a neurological basis. Maybe it has more to do with the particular pathways in the brain that game playing uses that other activities do not. To be honest, I don’t know why gamers learn new games more easily than non-gamers, and the answer probably lies somewhere in between the neurological explanation and the acclimation explanation. Returning to the immediate topic of playing games with the elderly, I have found that older people are able to learn simpler games more easily, particularly party games like Apples to Apples. They also seem to thrive on the interpersonal connection that Apples to Apples provides, which is another big part of why I recommend that particular game. Of course, many children’s games other than Gulo Gulo also work well across generations, and particularly well when played by both children and the elderly. I would particularly recommend a simple dice game, like Can’t Stop, designed by Sid Sackson. Can’t Stop is a classic push-your-luck game where players roll four dice every turn and then add two of those dice together to make two numbers, or one number twice. Then, if any of those numbers match the three tracks (out of twelve) they are advancing this turn, they can push their pieces forward in an attempt to lock three tracks before any of the other players. Players can either continue rolling or stop and keep the progress they made, but if they roll and their dice cannot be added up into one of their chosen numbers this turn, they lose all progress made so far on the turn. This is a great game made by Sackson, one of the most innovative American board game designers of the twentieth century, and even though it is over 30 years old, it is still a lot of fun, and the dice rolling and light decision making make it a great choice for anyone. I highly recommend this game for families, and I guarantee it will be a hit when you pull it out.
What do you think? Are there better ways of bridging the gap between players? Do you have a different experience from playing games across the age spectrum? Let me know in the comments below!
Recommended Game(s): Gulo Gulo, designed by Jurgen Grunau, Wolfgang Kramer, and Hans Raggan, published by Rio Grande Games; Can’t Stop, designed by Sid Sackson, published by Gryphon Games