Greetings Wargamers and Hobbyists, and welcome once again. Today I would like to talk about something that, as I age, is becoming more and more of a factor in my hobby life; gaming with my son, Oscar.
There are two reasons I have decided to write this article, and any that follow it. The first is that I, like many gamers of a certain age, have been blessed with children who are reaching an age where they take more than a simple cursory interest in ‘daddy’s soldiers’, and are really starting their own path into the hobby that we love, which for any parent in this hobby, and many others is a dream come true.
The second reason is that I was always inspired by (and a little envious of) articles penned by one Martin Bond of the Garage Gamers blog, and who sadly passed away earlier this year. I had known Martin across the inter-webs (or Marticus to some of us) for many years. First as a stalwart of the Astronomican online gaming community, and later when he found me on Facebook. I loved to read about the gaming that he and his daughter enjoyed together.
It was plain how much joy he experienced at being able to share his love of games with his daughter. So much so that he told us all about it, and he has inspired me, now that my son is old enough, to do the same. Martin, thank you for inspiring me and others to share this hobby with our families. This one is for you brother.
As an opening article for this subject, I thought I might emulate many great hobby podcasters when introducing someone new to an audience and take the sensible, logical (or perhaps foolish) approach and interview my six year old son…here we go.
“So, Oscar, let’s start with some background questions so that people will get an idea of what kind of person you are. You are six and a half years old, right?”
“And what is your favourite colour?”
“Orange. No, I like lots of different colours.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, lots of colours.”
“And what about your favourite food?”
“How about your favourite superhero?”
“Darth Vader. Yes, Darth Vader.”
“Okaaay then…and what is your favourite TV show?”
“Lego Nexo Knights and Lego Ninjago.”
“Thanks Oscar. Good choices. Now for some gaming questions, ok?”
“Right. Of the miniatures games we have played together (Warhammer Quest, Warhammer 40K, Dropfleet Commander and Frostgrave), which do you like the best?”
“I like the dungeon game (Warhammer Quest), because the dungeon floor pieces are cool.”
“Cool. And of the games we have that we haven’t tried yet (Kings of War, Age of Sigmar, Blood Bowl, Necromunda, Man O’ War, Battlefleet Gothic and Bolt Action), which would you like to try next?”
“Blood Bowl. Because I like all the different teams.” – (NB, there are 5 painted Blood Bowl teams in the cabinet in our living room.)
“And of all the models you have seen so far, which ones do you like the look of most?”
“Space Marines!” – (I have some painted Dark Angels in the cabinet as well.)
“Good lad. Next question; do you think that playing wargames together helps you with learning, like reading, or maths maybe?”
“No, it just helps me to get better at playing wargames.”
“Ok, so why do you like to play games together then?”
“Because it’s what you like and it’s good to do things together.”
“Thank you Oscar. I like playing games together too. Last question: Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Ok Oscar, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.”
Approach to Gaming with a Younger Gamer
I have been playing miniature games for a long while now, more than twenty four years, since the age of about 12 for ‘proper’ wargames like Space Marine, Warhammer 40,000, etc. From about 8 or 9 for games like HeroQuest and Space Crusade Even younger for the simple fun of playing with toy soldiers. It was something I found myself inspired by and drawn to, rather than something I was introduced to by others. It developed over many years into the all consuming monstrosity it is today. I even dragged a few like-minded individuals along for the ride.
My son Oscar has been aware of my miniature gaming hobby from a young age. You can’t grow up in our house and not be aware of it. There is a fine balance that has to be maintained between enjoying the hobby with the support of my understanding spouse, and allowing it to take over the house and earning negative husband points.
Oscar has taken an interest in the models I have had around the house since the age of 4 or even younger. Although in the early days I had to be a responsible parent and not allow him to handle them for his own safety, as he got older, I made a point of allowing him to pick them up and handle them.
This got me some funny looks from the wife, who I am sure was wondering if I had lost my mind and would have a fit if something got broken. But, in actual fact, my intention as I explained to her at the time was that if I allowed Oscar to handle miniatures from a young age, but taught him how to handle them gently and with care, then he would grow up knowing how to look after them and be able to handle them with confidence. At the end of the day, after two and a half decades in the hobby, I have acquired plentiful repair skills. So, what if something got accidentally damaged? I can fix more or less anything.
So, from a very young age Oscar was seeing miniatures, and being allowed to handle them to an extent. He was learning very well about taking care of them. My discussions with him have been that although these have always been ‘daddy’s models’, as he grows older, they will be our models. We will play with them together if that is what he wants. Heaven knows I have more than enough to share.
The key when it comes to playing games with a child of this age is understanding what he wants to get out of it.
Engagement, Entertainment and Inspiration
What does a six-year-old want to get out of playing toy soldiers with a parent? I have learned that they want to be included, and they want to have fun. This often means going with what will be exciting, rather than sticking rigidly to the rules, and putting the cool models on the table, rather than just the ones that fit into an army list. Sometimes it means making shooting noises or roaring noises. It certainly means building some mean narrative. Kids like stories, and often, gamers like stories, so turning the game into a storytelling exercise is a win-win.
They also want to be able to interact, to use their hands, to get their hands on the awesome grown up toys. So, let them do the measuring. Teach them how to handle a tape measure or pointy stick. Let them roll all the dice for both sides if they want to. This is what I do with Oscar, and giving him something to do all the time helps keep him engaged in whatever game we are playing. We all know what it’s like waiting for our turn to move a model or roll some dice, or to make a decision. For a child who is likely to have less patience than an adult, making them wait around is a sure way of losing their attention early on.
That’s not to say that I can play out a full game of anything with Oscar. Sometimes we will only get through 2 or 3 turns of a game before he wants to do something else, or real life interrupts. Yet, more and more often these days he wants to come back to the game later on and continue. I have found it helps to talk to him about what is going to happen next, so that when we have time to go back to the game, rather than just ask if he is ready to continue playing, I can ask him if he is ready for those Ork Boyz to smash-up those Guardsmen!
It is a good idea to allow a child to contribute to decision-making, but not necessarily give them free rein. We as parents are the experienced gamers, and know what will make for an exciting or interesting move, and what will see a unit get crushed and end the game on a low note. Also, we know what losing feels like, and like any new gamer, letting our kids experience that may turn them off to the experience. We are meant to be inducting them into our sacred hobby world, and teaching them something new, not clubbing baby seals – save it for the tournament!
Guiding Game Selection
I am multi-gamer – this is probably clear by now. One good thing about this is having a wide range of games to choose from when I am planning a game with my son. It means that I can consider whether any game is suitable to play in it’s natural state, or due to complexity needs to be simplified just a little to make it flow without confusing detailed rules, or what options I give him to choose from. It is nice to be able to give Oscar the choice of which game to play, but I use my experience to steer him away from games that are overly complex, or take a very long time to set up – by which time he may have lost interest.
Also, it helps to play games that can be played on a smaller scale. Like having fewer models and units to keep track of, and a small enough gaming area so that it is not overwhelming. For example, when Oscar and I tried out Dropfleet Commander for the first time, we only used the starter fleet models. We didn’t bother with using any of the rules for landing ground assets because it adds a whole extra level of complexity that will just take too long for a small child to deal with.
Equally with 40K, we played 8th Edition for the first time last week, and I didn’t bother choosing any kind of lists, I just took the infantry I had painted from the cabinet, and added a few cool extras, like a Trukk, and some Deffkoptas. The gaming area was just 3 feet square, and used ruined buildings I had recently finished assembling for Bolt Action. The game was a bit gung-ho, perhaps being a little more reckless with units than normal, but this kept the action moving and kept us both focussed on what was going on. I got Oscar to read out the unit stats when we were shooting, and rolling all the dice for actions, and this kept him engaged.
Winning is Fun!
I have already mentioned how we as parents need to use our experience to guide the game we are playing; to keep it flowing, and avoid any calamitous events that throw the game off. Equally, we need to make sure that the game remains enjoyable. Perhaps when dealing with a small child this is easier said than done because they may lack the experience and maturity to deal with losing. True that we all need to learn to lose gracefully at some point, but I think it better that this lesson is taught a little later down the line.
For our games, I have gone for more of a team approach. Warhammer Quest was a great game to play because our heroes were working together to fight their way through the dungeon – Oscar and I weren’t playing against each other. This helps to avoid any sense of upset when a game is finished, and any of that upset being directed at me. We are building a new facet of our relationship, and my plan does not include confrontation as a result of what is meant to be an enjoyable and educational experience.
With our other games that are not as well suited to the ‘team game’ approach as Warhammer Quest, such as the various battle games, rather than agreeing which side each of us is controlling, I have sold it as a joint effort between Oscar and myself to decide what each side should do in their turn to try to win, and to do exciting things. This avoids any sense of competition between Oscar and myself, and therefore any disappointment on his part if he should lose. I much prefer this approach to either making silly moves or neglecting to do things on purpose in order to help him win.
As soon as Oscar gets to the point where he wants to pursue that competitive element between us, then I will go with it, but as with any newbie, not go all out to crush him. I have always found that I can have just as much fun losing a game by a narrow margin as I can winning by a narrow margin. Feeling like we have given almost as good as we got, and were in with a chance of winning until the dying moments of the game, are important things that I want my son to experience as he learns. Some day, he may find himself playing elsewhere against other people, and I want him to have learned both how to lose with dignity, but also to win magnanimously.
I hope this article has given those with an interest a little insight into our experiences exploring the miniature gaming hobby together. I have found it refreshing playing in such a relaxed manner, and everything somehow seems bright and new again. Future articles will no doubt be all about how we are getting on with our gaming, the adventures we have had, and anything we have learned that may benefit others to know about. I would love to hear about your own experiences gaming with your next generation, so feel free to comment.
Thanks for reading,