This afternoon Miss B asked to play dominoes, so we duly pulled out the tiles, spread them out and B announced that this time we would have six tiles each. This is a part of the game for us: we start with anywhere between five and eight tiles, and B enjoys deciding what the rule is each time. On this occasion, she chose to deal for both of us rather than each pulling our own tiles.
So, six tiles it was, she had the only double that either of us had been dealt, so went first. A few minutes later I had won.
The response was great: she high-fived me and said it was OK and we could have another game.
So, another game duly went by and I won again, and was rewarded with being told that it was good that I won again because B usually beat me at games (which, to be fair, is true lately).
A third game and Miss B finally won, resulting in a big cheesy grin and a gracious statement that the overall 2-1 result was fair.
This all seems really promising to me, especially given that Miss B is only four. I think it helps that dominoes is a good, well-understood game where she doesn’t have to worry about the rules, components are easy to handle, and a game only takes a few minutes. Maybe the lack of frustration in the game leads to more sociable results, but I think she’s really getting the hang of the joy being in the game and the winning being a bonus (which is my general philosophy — though in general you do try hard to get that bonus!).
But then again, as a recent xkcd comic had on its mouse-over: “I tell my children ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’ I’m trying to take the edge off their competitive drive to ensure that I can always beat them.” Heh!
At last it’s time to bring out the big guns of one of the all-time classics. Unfortunately we only have the re-released version without the 4-player board and with not quite the same level of stuffage as the original edition, but Ave Caesar is still Ave Caesar and is a standard by which race games can be measured, even 20-odd years after its initial release. You may be starting to infer that I like this game. You’d be right. So how does it measure up when playing with a four-year-old?
The box says this is for ages 12 and up, but the only simplification I made was to play this with only the two of us (and also to just play individual races with no scoring scheme). The rules are really straightforward and Miss B was quite happy (subject to a bit of a barrage of “why?” questions) with the rule about not playing a six when in the lead. Some of the subtleties of planning moves and counting spaces to hit key locations were lost, but I explained the options most turns and reminded Miss B when she needed to visit Caesar, and other than that it all went fine. Even down to holding the cards in hand.
So, we had a ball, with one exception. I won the first game which led to a brief bout of tears. That calmed down quickly with another discussion about winning and losing, plus agreeing for us to have another game — though I did strongly stress that it was entirely possible that I would win again next time. As it turns out, I didn’t win, despite me shutting Miss B out of Emperor’s Alley on the first lap. I’ll get my revenge next time.
In future plays we’d like to include Mummy to add some more excitement, and possibly other people if we can find and persuade them. Somewhere down the line we’ll probably try out the unmanned chariots that the rules suggest for filling out the field. Non-player entities are always a fun way to add some chaos to the proceedings!
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 4½): “I liked it because you winned and then I winned. I didn’t think that I would win but I did.” It’s all about the winning, isn’t it? But she does like everyone having a chance to win. Later conversation gave a little more information: “I really like racing,” and, for the first time, a very high accolade: “Can we take it to nursery?” I’m not letting a treasured game go to nursery, but I’m pleased that she wants to share this with her friends. I said that if some friends came around we could have a go at playing Ave Caesar with them, a judgement which received approval. A little later, Miss B was gushing about the game on the phone to Mummy, who was away for the night, so I think we have a keeper here.
The game: Ave Caesar (Pro Ludo), 2 to 6 players, age 12+.
Another game of varying names, we have Highwayman, which is also known as Stake Your Claim, a name which I think fits the artwork (and gameplay) rather better. You have piles of treasure and other goodies which you try to claim either from the middle or by stealing from other players. Not entirely ethical, but fun for a quick game.
The rules we have suggest two different variant games. The two-player version seems a bit trivial to me, so we went with the standard game, the only tweak being that Miss B had her hand of cards on the table as she found it a bit tricky to hold them.
We’ve played this a couple of times now and it’s gone down well each time. Miss B is sometimes a bit more interested in the pictures on the cards than anything else (“You can have the house, I don’t want it” versus “Give me back my horses! They’re mine!”), but that’s not entirely surprising. We’ll do better when she can hold the cards in her hand, as more stuff spread out on the table confuses things at times. (Although now I come to think of it, a card stand device might be a good little project.)
Incidentally, we have developed a fun way of counting up scores in our games where you see who has collected the most treasures. We discard our treasures together, one at a time, counting as we do so. Eventually one of us runs out of treasure and the other is the winner (having completed the count, of course).
The verdict from Miss B (aged 4¼ and a bit): “I liked it. It was gooder than the others. Because it was good when we took things and then stole them back.” I think we may need to have a discussion about property and theft.
The game: Highwayman (Ravensburger), 2 to 6 players, age 6+.
“Cthulhu wants to watch,” she says. Fair enough. I guess it’s no harder to explain the rules of a game to a plush great old one than to a four year old.
So the game this time is Tot Ten, which is unashamedly an educational game. Make the rows, columns or leading diagonals add up to ten to win points. Miss B is just getting the hang of adding and subtracting with her fingers, so it seemed we may have a chance with this.
I wasn’t really playing the game this time: my role was mostly putting counters on the board to give Miss B options, though where there were obvious rows to complete I did take a few, just to keep things spicy. Each time it came to Miss B’s turn we located all the lines of three numbers and worked out what number was required to complete it. I was very pleased that B worked out a simple method for figuring this out: counting up the existing numbers on her fingers then the number of folded fingers was the number required to complete the line. That was all her own work, figuring that out. I’m very proud!
Verdict from Miss B (aged 4¼): “Yay yay yay! I liked it that we can take them off when they add up to ten.” I wasn’t expecting this to go down with quite such enthusiasm, but then Miss B is really getting into the idea of sums at the moment. We’ll play this again, though I’m not sure Cthulhu will be invited again: he didn’t add much to the conversation.
The game: Tot Ten (Spear’s Games), 2 to 6 players, age 6+.