Saturday, November 28, 2009

Playing Classic Board and Card Games With a Six-Year-Old

I've been pulling a few classic games from the closet and playing them with my 6-year old son, Isaac. Turns out they hold up well!

We've played Uno off and on over the past year. It's a pretty good game for a 5 or 6 year old. My son tends to hoard the Wild and Wild Draw Four cards and play them at the very end, I guess due a fear of using a "good" card. Surprisingly, this stragegy works fairly well. In the mid-game, rather than using a Wild to avoid taking a card, he'll take a card for a few turns instead. If he lucks out and gets the card he needs relatively quickly, then the extra cards don't hurt too much, and he's then unbeatable when he gets down to his last few cards that are all Wilds, especially if they are Wild Draw Fours. Uno is also a great game for Isaac to play along with Mom and Dad, because Mom and Dad tend to battle between themselves and let the little guy get rid of all his cards.

Since Uno went well, a few weeks ago I taught him Mille Bornes (actually, a slightly simplified version of the real game where the goal is to get to exactly 1000 kilometers rather than play for points, and we don't use the coup fourré rule). The game requires some math skills when adding up the mileage cards, and also some association skills between remedy, hazard and safety cards. He was able to remember which remedy cards fixed which hazard cards pretty easily, and was very good at adding up all the mileage cards. The only mileage card that usually trips him up is the 75 kilometer card. I remember that one was tough for me to add up as well when I played as a child (and I was older than 6!). He had a harder time remembering which safety card prevents which hazards, probably because the safety cards don't come up often enough. He did know to hold onto remedy cards, and quickly understood that they were more valuable than mileage cards. The real learning and thinking occurs when he has to discard because he can't play anything and he has to choose which card he needs the least.

Earlier in the week we played Sorry! (the Nostalgia Edition) for the first time. We had played Trouble several months ago, so he knew the basic concept of moving your pawns around from a Start to a Home base. I hadn't played Sorry! in a very long time, and in my mind it was equivalent to Trouble, but it actually has involves more strategy due to cards like 4 (move a pawn four spaces backward), 7 (split your move between two pawns), 10 (move 10 spaces forward OR 1 backward), and 11 (move 11 spaces forward or switch one of your pawns with one of your opponents). It is interesting seeing how he chooses which of my pawns to switch with his own when he draws a Sorry! card or an 11 card. He even sometimes used the 4 card (move backwards 4 spaces) strategically after starting a pawn, after watching me do it once and asking about it. I'd recommend starting with Trouble at age 4-5 since the dice are self-contained within the center bubble, and then moving on to Sorry! at age 5-6.

So... earlier today when we were driving around, Isaac said he wanted to "try a game where there's BOMBS". Well, Stratego has bombs, so I decided to give it a try, not knowing if it would be too advanced for him or not (the box says "Age 8+"). I described the rules to him, which are actually fairly simple (goal is to get your opponent's Flag, Bombs and Flags cannot move, lower number pieces beat higher, both pieces lose in a tie, bombs blow up all pieces except Miners (8s), Scouts (9s) can move more than one square if it is open, and Spies (S) beat the Marshal (1) if it attacks first). What surprised me is on his own volition without prompting he set up his pieces so that his Flag was in the back, surrounded by Bombs. He was also good at moving a Miner around to destroy one of my Bombs once he found it. He was only so-so at this age at remembering which of my pieces were what (other than Bombs) after they were revealed, and he also did not take advantage of one of his low-number pieces creating maximum destruction through my pieces once he knew my own low-numbered pieces were gone. Oh, and he thought the Bombs were the bomb! Maybe a few years from now when he's good at Stratego I can spring The Generals on him.

All in all, though, not bad for age 6, I thought.

My hope, of course, is that he learns that board games can be fun to play before his friends influence him to play only video games or computer games, and board games suddenly become "booorring!"

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