21 Aug 2020
In the story of the Tower of Babel, we see people condemned to talk past each other, confuse each other and ultimately walk away from each other. Throughout the Bible, we see God slowly including people in his kingdom, with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost bringing a new spirit of open communication.
Our day-to-day lives often seem like we’re living around Babel. Everyone’s doing their own thing and talking past each other. That’s why we need to create times to be together and look each other in the eyes. This is what family games offer. They are an opportunity to strengthen our relationships and to reflect God’s family by creating an atmosphere where all are welcome and participate on equal terms, young and old, family member and guest.
That sounds lovely, but playing games together can be tricky, not least because we all have different levels of competitiveness. Some want to win so much it’s painful. Some are so uninterested in winning that it almost seems pointless playing. Others get bored before the game is over. The rest of us are trapped in the crossfire.
I’m not, fundamentally, a lover of board games. I like reading, chatting, drinking coffee and watching TV. Playing games is something I’ve had to work at. But it’s worth it because there are now a dozen games that we play as a family, often after a mealtime, or on a Sunday afternoon, and we’ve had some really good times together.
I’ve been to houses of friends and seen entire walls of shelves containing games. Seriously. Good for them. If you know people like that, use them to get recommendations and you’ll end up with a couple of gems. Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way that might be helpful.
Keep It Simple
If your children are small, keep it simple. Play a short game, and if you’ve got time, play it again. Snakes and ladders is a favourite, but we never really got into that. We enjoyed Rat-A-Tat-Cat, Sleeping Queens, Sushi Go!, and Uno. And there’s another version of Uno called Uno Flip you might want to look out for.
We’ve since moved on to Qwirkle, which is a fab game of matching colours and shapes together, simple enough for children of six and up. A shorter game is Zeus on the Loose, which involves a bit of mental arithmetic. A round of Sequence only takes about twenty minutes. A real gem, though, is Dragonwood, which involves collecting cards, rolling dice and killing dragons. What’s not to like?
The Kids Are Alright
Quite often, we adults underestimate our kids, especially when it comes to learning rules and game complexity. We started to play Settlers of Catan as a family when our youngest was only 7. She got it fairly quickly.
Join in properly
Let’s be honest here. It’s usually not the kids who are the problem. Kids like rules, remember them and delight in enforcing them. It’s adults who are the weak link. They tend not to pay attention, keep checking their phones and start making tea half-way through. Stop it. Play the game. If you put enough commitment into it, you can teach them to play a game you actually enjoy. If you show willing, they’ll follow along.
If you get a new game, and don’t know the rules, reading them rules aloud and trying to figure it all out together is torture. Look up the game on YouTube and usually you’ll find a video explaining the rules in a breezy way. Ideally, watch it yourself beforehand, then watch it together with the board and pieces in front of you. It’s still not painless, but it gets you into it faster.
This is how we learned a lockdown family favourite, Carcassonne, in which you build roads and little walled towns. It’s quite expensive when you consider it’s mainly cardboard, but is well-designed and thoroughly tested. Games like that are good value for money if you end up playing them a hundred times. If you like the idea of building railways, rather than medieval walled towns, try Ticket to Ride.
If you want to try lots of games, save money by having a games swap with other families in your church, (unless you’re some kind of collector who wants everything kept in the original packing), then you’ve got a shared experience with members of your church family too.
Some games can be dragged out to delay bedtime. Sometimes, we set a time limit and say that whoever has the most points or has killed the most dragons, or whatever, by a certain time is the winner.
The Problem with Monopoly
Personally, I find it hard to recommend Monopoly. How it’s become such a family favourite is a mystery to me. Charging your daughter hundreds of pounds to stay on your hotel in Mayfair is not something I ever want to do. (Mayfair isn’t even the name of a street!) We did play an accelerated version the other day, which improved it a little, but it still made me nervous. We also tried Monopoly Deal, a card version that’s over in twenty minutes, and generally much better all round, but it’s not a favourite in our house as you have to be a bit mean to win.
There are some games where you’re all on the same side and playing against the game. A simple one is called The Mind, which we’ve played quite a few times and still not won, but are having fun trying. A more complicated one (make sure you watch a YouTube video for this) is Pandemic, where you all work together to stop a, well, pandemic. We’ve played it a few times and won a couple and lost a couple, but come close each time.
Out and about
When I’m out with my kids, I sometimes remember a pack of cards, and we’ll play Solitaire or Patience. It’s us vs. the cards. One game we played together in a café in Exeter is one of my most treasured memories. Other games that are easily transportable are Bananagrams and Dobble. We play Bananagrams to see who can get the most interesting words. Dobble is more frenetic and will make you realise how old you are becoming, with much slower reaction times than your kids! Play it anyway, and let them enjoy having them upper hand for once.
James and Melissa Cary