Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games. I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill. You can do it, too! And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #5: Have you ever introduced a child to gaming, or played a game with a young person? How is gaming with kids different than gaming with adults?
Katie (age 7) plays Dixit, 7 Wonders, Blokus, Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon, Fluxx, Ascension (paper and digital version), Ticket to Ride, and a host of card games like Uno and Crazy-8s. One of her perennial favorites is Magic Labyrinth. Last weekend she played Forbidden Island. She regularly plays at the table with the adults during board game night. We haven’t tried Settlers of Catan yet but that’s due to my not owning a hard copy. We are planning to try Pandemic.
We have tried straight-up role-playing games. In our experience with multiple attempts, we learned the games designed “for kids” are too simplistic. The dull rules result in bored children after a while. After abandoning the for-kids games, we tried the D&D Red Box Starter Set. That turned out to be too complex even with the simplified ruleset. We have a copy of the beautifully crafted Mouse Guard Box Set — and it is gorgeous (a birthday gift from Rob) — we are itching to try. Reading through Burning Wheel, it holds promise.
We’ve learned a couple of important factoids while teaching Katie how to game:
o Board games and card games are a big win because they’re contained and social. Games need a good beginning, middle and clear ending to keep interest.
o She easily can play any game rated “Ages 8 and Up” and try any game “Ages 10 and Up.”
o Rule sets can be complex (see 7 Wonders) but she’ll keep up fine with adults if the rule sets are clear and concise with clearly stated objectives and winning conditions.
o She is a fiercely competitive card player who likes to shark opponents. (You have been warned!)
o Kids come up with crazy ways to win games you, an old and boring adult, never imagined.
o A typical RPG session of 3-4 hours is too long for a 6-7 year old. A good session is 1-1.5 hours. After that, she loses her attention span and gets fidgety. This is completely normal. It’s the same with board games: if Ravenloft is dragging on, she will leave the table at the one hour mark to go do something else.
o RPGs need streamlined and easy to understand rules with enough flexibility to be fun but simple enough to get playing immediately. A kid needs to understand how to roll the dice to kill d00ds in about five minutes. This is a hard balance to find.
o Stabbing orcs is lots of fun. Getting stabbed is not so fun. Power balance is less important with kids than you think. Also, trying to “role play out” scenes more complex than a dungeon crawl tend to be failures. Condensing games down to their essentials and planning for minimum time yields a maximum result.
o Dungeon crawls/missions/games with clear goals work much better than opened ended games. Kids need goals or boredom sets it quick.
o Kids make awesome playtesters for board and card games. If the kids find the rules boring, the game has structural issues. If the kids play through one game, it’s a pretty good game. If kids play two games, the game is a winner. If you’re making a card or board game, find a kid to beg, borrow or steal and make them play. What you learn about how the game is played and how well the rules work will surprise you.
o Rory Story Cubes fit in a bag or purse and create RPGs on the fly. Buy a set.
And the big one:
No one has yet successfully produced a good kid’s RPG. The rules are either too simplistic or too complicated for kids, both which bore kids in the first few minutes. This opinion may change after we playtest through Mouse Guard but, so far, none we have tried have hit that 1st-3rd grader demographic well.
What shocks me is the lack of a kid’s supers game. No one loves supers the way kids love supers and they get supers. Kids toys, kids comics, kids video games, kids tv shows, kids movies — supers! The ruleset for most Supers games are too complex (even for me). The thought of playing Champions or GURPS Supers or Hero with a 7 year old gives me the Fear. Mutants and Masterminds isn’t too bad but it has that D&D 3rd Ed flavor. Silver Age Sentinels may be slimmed down to a core BESM set but the book, being out of print for ages, is now hard to find. The new Marvel RPG might come close with a simplified Cortex system but I don’t know. Can you make a character in under five minutes? Does it have a spot to draw the hero on the character sheet in crayon and marker? Does one have to know the universe?
A good kids easy-to-play goal-based supers game is the Holy Grail.
I’ll post a lengthy follow-up to this question when we finally play Mouse Guard.