I’ve been trying to include my children in my hobby (a fancy way of saying “I’m going to addict the little suckers so I have someone to play with when I’m in the retirement home”). They’re three and five years old and I’ve had various successes with introducing them to games. However, I recently found a game that worked perfectly.
That game was Castle Panic, a co-op with strong alpha player tendencies where you defend your castle from hordes of advancing monsters. Once could call it an extremely simple tower defense game, albeit it doesn’t live up to the tower defense requirements (for me). My kids, however, love it.
I’ve tried other games previously: Memory, Tempo Kleine Fishe, Connect Four, a couple of my own design but they always failed my criteria for a good children’s game as my kids either didn’t like them, liked them but couldn’t play them or could play them but got into fights over them.
But they can play Castle Panic. The first time out they picked up the game and sat through a 45 minute session with hardly any fighting. Yes, I handled all the rules but they did understand them, they did understand what the cards did and they did enjoy themselves, wanting to play again directly afterwards.
Having played a couple of game I got to thinking about what made Castle Panic special. I tested it with adults and after two games everyone agreed that it was rather boring – not something our gaming group would pick up again. But all the things that made it a bad game for adults made it a great game for kids.
My gaming group hated the alpha player problems, and it didn’t work to play for points as everyone would then say that if they didn’t get the kill then noone else would either. But for the kids having someone who could lead them towards (hopefully) victory was great.
Realizing that some cards were simply better than others was great too, as was the ability to build up and fortify the castle, which the kids saw in physical components on the board. But what made the game truly take off was that we were fighting together against an impersonal monster. We could cheer each other on, which was nice for the kids, but most importantly we lost together.
See, my kids hate losing. They don’t really care about winning but they do not want to be singed out as being bad at something (i.e having lost). That’s an interesting aspect: for the adults that I play with winning is the goal but for my kids the goal is to play together and not hurt anyone’s feelings, or perhaps not getting their own feelings hurt.
That last one is a small distinction but crucial. There are others like that, especially for my three year old: giving them something with the understanding of getting something back is bad – once she has a card she doesn’t want to part with it. But she’ll happily give away a card in order to get another one, so telling her that if she does this then she’ll get that works but not you’ll get this if you give me that. The giving has to come first.
So the next time I try to design something for kids I’ll try for just that: a co-op with alpha player problems where you get to whack stuff. Until then I’ll be playing Castle Panic.