How often have you read or searched for game recommendations by age? Board game rules in particular may be less important for younger children in some instances - at least, that has been my experience.
A game is more than just the rules
The rules of a game are not the game itself. Rules are a form of the game that best represents the designer’s intentions, but what if someone else’s intentions overrule them? If you aren’t a parent this will probably sound crazy. I’m ok with that, fun matters more than the designer’s intentions, and I say this as a designer myself!
Children love to play games and are excited to play what their parents like. I’ll grant that not all games can or should be scaled for children, but I’ll advocate for at least some consideration as long as you’re there to supervise (and of course keep the really tiny bits and playing cards separate until they’re old enough in your judgement).
Really, as a dad who loves games and my kids, I’m just happy they’re excited to play games with me, and want to play the games I already have!
Here are a few stories of games I’ve played with my twin boys at various ages where I have scaled the rules to their age or played by rules that they insisted were the actual rules. In all instances I had to improvise – you don’t get much time between hearing “Daddy let’s play that game” and when it comes down from the shelf.
They played Catan like it was Monopoly
You probably knew this one was coming, and dread yet another comparison of Settlers of Catan to Monopoly.
They really insisted on matching all the like-terrain tiles, making what is probably the absolute worst possible map for the standard rules (which I’d love to try now that I think about it, as a sort of challenge)! Still, on our next playthough I fully expect to team them to gather resources based on the die roles and am sure they’ll get it.
The trading aspect will probably have to wait, as 4-year-olds now they are pretty good at sharing most of the time – but the rest of the time, well, let’s just say that kids this young are prone to table flipping. Still – I know every situation is unique, so I’d love to hear whether you’ve attempted a limited version of Catan with your kids and at what age. What worked for you and what didn’t?
A dexterity- and strength- based combat system for Magic: Arena of the Planeswalkers
I bought this one as an oldschool player of Magic: the Gathering, intrigued at what Wizards of the Coast was up to with a board game version of their flagship card game.
While it would likely cause injury among us, it comes natural to toddlers and pre-schooolers and the miniature figures are durable enough for it!
As an aside they also love to spell out the characters’ names – and as you can see in the picture, they were definitely excited to play Arena of the Planeswalkers (which they call “the superhero game”).
Trading monster body parts in Chaos of Cthulhu
In this game that was previously on Kickstarter by fellow independent designer Travis Watkins, the dice are used to assemble monsters on a 3x3 grid. I’ve played this with my sons since they were 2 thanks to the sturdy dice and cardboard components.
Turn-taking was random and haphazard instead of alternating, perhaps enough to drive me crazy until I realized that insanity was thematically appropriate and just let it be, especially given the name of the game is Chaos of Cthulhu!
A Pretty roll-and move: Goodnight Construction Site
I can’t remember where we found this one but it’s brilliant – although here my kids fight against the rules since they don’t want to go to bed!
This game even has a cardboard dice tower, although it got ripped pretty easily and needed repair. Still, as a wind-down activity with a great theme for young kids, I’m really happy we have this one. If there’s something to choose and actually teach the rules to toddlers or preschoolers, this one is as simple as it gets but with a very pretty style of art that makes it a pleasure to take out.
Hunting for treasured resources in Stratos
When my kids found out I had made a game, they were especially excited. They literally danced around the room, making it very difficult to say no.
They would take turns, sort of, traveling to different lands and flipping the tiles to find out how many treasures they’d find (although in this case, the treasures were the coloured resource tokens). Every time they got more treasures they would re-count them and get more excited the more they had, and also by having the different colours of treasures.
I always knew that exploration and discovery were some of the most exciting parts of a game, and in this case, exploration and discovery was the game!
How else will the game rules change?
As my boys grow and learn, I expect to teach more of the rules in each game according to their ability, and really intend this article as a guide and encouragement to get started. If you keep safety in mind, I believe kids can start playing board games as young as 3, and will be excited to share in the dad’s and mom’s hobby.
Kids are naturally passionate gamers, and will learn a lot in the process. While you may want to keep extra-small bits and cards separate based on age and other factors, I’m glad I took the plunge and let me kids play games in my collection from a young age. There is such variety in this hobby - not just in theme, but among games for families, couples, and solo play too.
Have you ever tried this with your games?
I’ve love to hear from you about your experiences adjusting rules. Please do leave a comment or even write to me about your experiences playing games with your kids, adjusting the rules as needed or even adjusting yourself to their rules, if that also happened to you!
Thanks for reading. :)
Lead Designer, Stratos
If you enjoyed this article, join our mailing list. I write about games I like and my life as a game designer, entrepreneur, and all around geek. As a subscriber you'll also be entered into our Stratos Goodies giveaways.
With free stuff and absolutely no spam, you can't lose.
PS - you may also want to check out Engaged Family Gaming - a site dedicated to gaming as a family with a very passionate set of editors and an active, positive Facebook group.
That particular feature made it a more immersive experience compared to every MMORPG that came before it. I’m sure there were great qualities to these games, but the combat just didn't connect with me. Being a big fan of games like Tekken 3, I just couldn’t get into games where collision detection was way off.
Over time, however, the hooks of Azeroth were simply not enough to overcome the laughter and chaos that accompanied nearly every match of Catan, a now legendary board game that appeared among us around the same time. While I definitely still respect the old classics, it was a revelation to play a board game that had the design maturity of video games with respect to balance, pacing, and strategy – while also being a more truly social experience than anything online. This new way of engaging in role-playing-like scenarios with friends was truly a life-changer.
Seeing the power of games like Catan to bring people together and keep players interested right to the end was a real inspiration for us. When co-designer David Gundrum and I first dreamed up Stratos, our goal was to make something accessible and social like Catan and other Euro games, but with a rich and beautiful RPG-like world and combat. Our inspirations there definitely stretch back much further. How many of you 90s gamers still love Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics, to name only two?
Thanks for reading - I hope to hear from you, too, about games that have had a major impact on your life.
Jacob Chodoriwsky is the lead designer of Stratos and CEO/Co-Founder of Board and Tale Games Inc. He lives in Hamilton, ON with his wife Rebecca and twin sons Zechariah and Elijah.