I wrote a piece on tabletop gaming for WhatchaReading recently, that’s received some great feedback. I thought I’d post the article here, too, especially with a lot of my readers being librarians and parents, and get some more input.
My 11 year-old son, Alex, and I hang out a lot together. I introduced him to Doctor Who, the Batman ’66 TV series, and Batman’s The Killing Joke; he introduced me to tabletop gaming. We’d played Clue, Monopoly, and Trouble until I thought I was going to weep, and even though we learned how to play Magic a few years ago at New York Comic Con, one game could get so bogged down that I kind of shied away from gaming. That changed last Christmas, when my brother-in-law gave Alex Munchkin, the card game where you loot the treasures, kill the monsters, and stab your buddy. He was immediately hooked. Next thing I knew, he was an authority in the making on tabletop gaming. He introduced me to Wil Wheaton’s TableTop web series. He collected different Munchkin games. We went to New York Comic Con together, and he showed me Fluxx, King of New York, and other tabletop games. We went home and played Munchkin with my 15 year-old, and we had a blast. I was hooked.
Many Munchkin games later, we’ve expanded to include Cthulhu Fluxx, Machi Koro, Sushi Go, and We Didn’t Playtest This At All. We go at each other, talking smack and trying to trip each other up, laughing and talking about everything – school, books, crazy members of the family – as we go along. Tabletop gaming has given me a great way to tighten my relationship with my kid as he enters – shudder – puberty; it’s “our thing”: something that’s for us, we have together. Alex is a gamer, not really a talker, but if we’re playing Machi Koro, and something’s on his mind, it’ll come up as we’re stealing one another’s resources to build our city. If his brothers are driving him crazy, I’ll hear about it as he’s attacking a monster during a round of Munchkin. He’s relaxed. I’m relaxed. If we can defeat Cthulhu and find the Necronomicon, dealing with a 2 year-old who’s sticking fruit snacks in your hair is a piece of cake.
Alex’s influence has spread to my library, where I just started a Tabletop Gaming club. Our first session, I had six kids and a parent show up to play another Fluxx game, Oz Fluxx. These kids had a BLAST. It exceeded my wildest hopes, because I haven’t had a lot of geekery catch fire with the kids at the library these days. When I finished the “learning round”, as I called the first game, they immediately asked for another round. I handed off the deck to the dad who sat in, who was more than happy to take over as game leader.
Gaming works. It gets kids thinking strategically, using numbers, words, reasoning. It helps them plan, it helps them understand cause and effect. Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, TiddlyWinks, Break the Ice – start playing with the little ones early. You can start when they’re about 3. But when they’re as young as 5, you can start teaching them Magic – it’s how Alex became more comfortable with numbers as a Kindergartener. I have a 6 year old in my Fluxx group at the library, and she was the kid who won the game. Her proud dad was the dad who joined my group, and he can’t wait until next week, when the group meets again. Gaming brings people together, so why wouldn’t it bring parents and kids together? It’s one of the few times they can oppose you without grief, right?
Now I’m scouring Kickstarter for new games to bring home, and to my library. I’ve got 3 in the hopper now: Gryphon Games’ 12 Days of Christmas and King’s Kilt, and Exploding Kittens, by Ellan Lee, Shane Small, and The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman. Which also happens to be the most-backed Kickstarter EVER. Once I get these, I’ll make sure to report back.
In the meantime, what are YOU guys playing? I’d love to hear about it. Weigh in on Twitter, or in the comments below!
This article appeared on WhatchaReading on 2/21/15.