Holidays 2016

Welcome to CthulhuMom Games – a blog about my experiences raising a child in a gamer family.

The holidays came, they celebrated, they ate, they played and they moved on. Or so it felt. Adult life kept getting in the way this year making the holidays feel a bit disjointed, but we still made time for fun. Which of course for us means game time!

We had several parties between Thanksgiving and New Year. All went well with many games played, and for us more than we have in parties past. Here’s why:

Age Five is Awesome!!!

So is having other kids Yog’s age at the party. The first party of the season was weekend of Thanksgiving. The other children had arrived at the gathering before us and were anxiously waiting our arrival. When we got there they greeted our entire family and then they disappeared with Yog. The only time we heard from any of them was when food or drink was desired. So my husband and I got to play two different games at the same time. Not that I dislike playing games with my husband, obviously, but we do have some differences in taste at times. Parties are where I get to scratch my itch for the lighter, party style games he hates and he finds the one or two other people to play the really complicated games I won’t touch.

As always we brought along some of Yog’s games in hopes that having other people her age to play with would encourage her to do so. Unfortunately she isn’t as excited about Ice Cool as she was when we first got it. We love playing it, but once we told her she had to play it as a game and not just as another toy house, she lost interest. I think the first time she played because it was unique and new. The second time was because we had let her practice free form with the penguin after the first game and she figured if she played the game she could “free play” afterwards. Which we did allow and would continue to allow. With a skill based game you need to practice to get good at it, however if you don’t ever follow the rules, it’s never a game. The third time we offered to play with her she said she would flick the penguin around, but not play the game. So I told her we weren’t going to play at all and to pick another activity. Lucky for me the other children that were at our holiday party love Ice Cool. It’s so much fun to watch their excitement over successfully getting their penguin to land where they planned. They did so well I taught them how to make the penguins jump walls when we were done playing.

This year for Christmas we didn’t buy Yog a game. Technically. Ok, we bought us a game and her a play set. Playmobil makes an awesome hockey rink toy that’s a playable game! I still haven’t read the rules or played it yet, but we plan to. At least my husband and I plan to. Yog plans on “playing hockey” on her own terms. Which is what we anticipated happening and therefore are fine with happening. We got her the rink, which came with two goalies and two players, a Referee and Linesman set that came with a Stanley Cup, and a ZAMBONI! Because ZAMBONI! That came with another figure, because we don’t have Google self-driving Zamboni machines yet. She loves playing hockey and I look forward to beating my husband on the ice.

playmobil-hockey
Playing hockey

Christmas wound up being a later night than originally planned. We started by playing Resistance, during which my husband learned where I inherited my devious streak as my mom completely fooled him into believing she was innocent. Unfortunately that same devious streak kept him from being able to tell if my sister or I were the other traitor…allowing my sister’s traitor husband to escape! This was followed up with my husband and family played Black Orchestra. I didn’t play as they had reached the maximum number of players. I figure that we own the game, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play. Besides, I hadn’t had a chance to watch A Christmas Story yet and tradition is tradition. Luckily we had packed clothes and pajamas. So at the appointed time Yog was off to bed and we spent the night.

New Year’s Eve was similar to the Thanksgiving party in success. The big difference was that Yog had a little more time alone. We figured that would mean going back to tag team game play, but Yog had other plans. She found ways to entertain herself, sometimes telling me to “Go play a game”. She’s always been really good at self-entertaining (I’m never sure if this is because she’s an only child and had to learn this skill or it’s just part of who she is. Most likely it’s a bit of both.) As always I invited her to play with me, rolling dice or playing cards, but she turned me down. She’s still “not the kind of kid who plays games.”

New Years Day was traditional. For us. Pork pie, Mummers and Arkham Horror. At least Yog enjoyed the pork pie. She has lost interest in even helping to set up Arkham Horror, which is a shame because I got my husband some organizational tools that made the game take up a bit less space. She didn’t even watch the Mummers! If it’s not animated it’s not worth watching apparently. Instead there was a school-house and toy cars to use for story-telling. Just wait until I tell her she was a role player as a child! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

Ok.

I know.

All children a role players.

Just let me pretend that she’s a little bit of a gamer, all right?

Did you get any new games for the kids this holiday season? Share your favorite discoveries in the comments.

Until next time – Happy Gaming!

Play with Me – Ice Cool

Welcome to Cthulhumom Games – a blog about my experiences raising a child in a gaming family.

We recently had one of our rare family trips to the game store. They’re rare because our “local” game store isn’t very local – it’s about a 45 minute drive from home. As a result my husband will often go by himself. He goes more often because while I love playing games, he loves reading about and buying them. So he researches and purchases, I play. It works for us. Anyway, we found ourselves in town as a family and took advantage of that to visit the store. As always, Yog was plied with the promise of a new die if she behaved well. This led to her contemplatively wandering the store, picking up boxes and deciding whether or not the game in hand was “good enough for Daddy”. Occasionally she would point to a box and say “We have that!”, which was fun.

Of course we couldn’t leave the store with just Yog’s bribery die. After a lot of consideration we decided to make a purchase that we hoped would work for the entire family, not just me and my husband. That purchase was an adorable game called Ice Cool.

And, yes, Yog earned her die. She chose a purple D8 this time around. Now if only we could convince her of the need for a dice bag so I don’t step on this one. Hmmmm…dice – the “Legos” of a gaming family!

In Ice Cool you are playing penguins trying to sneak extra fish before lunch time. Each player has a different colored penguin with a “weeblesque” bottom. The game is played in several rounds with each player taking a turn being the “Hall Monitor/Catcher” and the others being the “Runners”. The goal is to get your penguin through the three doorways on the board to collect fish cards before the Hall Monitor catches you by bumping your penguin with hers. Players use their fingers to flick the penguins causing them to slide around the board. You can even make them jump the walls on the three dimensional board. Oh yeah, the “board” is actually several boxes that you arrange together using provided clips. Don’t worry about storage, they stack inside each other and the game takes up as much space as an average sized game. Yog can assemble the board herself as there are colored dots to help you match the doors.

The fish hunt begins!
This was shortly after we started playing for the first time.

The box says this game is good for ages 6+ and the Boardgame Geek community agrees with that assessment. I however think that this game is great for any kid once they get over the “stick everything in my mouth” phase. Sure younger kids are probably going to struggle more with the manual dexterity, but that will grow with time and this is a fun way to practice fine motor skills. My suggestion is to not allow wall jumping until your little one can consistently get the penguin to slide. We (my husband and I and well, so far all of our friends we’ve introduced the game to) are still trying to master making the penguin curve the way we want it to. I, however, am quite skilled at jumping walls. Sometimes I’ll even show off and jump multiple walls. And sometimes I’ll show off and retrieve my penguin from the floor outside of the box. That is all to say that yes, a younger child will struggle more, but you can choose how aggressive to chase each other down until your little one gets the hang of moving the penguin.

This game has been a real hit, despite the fact that it is a competitive game. Yog doesn’t seem to mind if she has the lowest score, she enjoys the game just for the sake of playing. Though I will say she wants to be the chaser all the time. I think the biggest reason she loves this game is because it is active. Once play starts the chairs get pushed aside (or moved into a better spot to help Yog reach the board) and everyone is on their feet. What I love about this is that it’s not a huge game. Most games I have seen that involve moving around need more space than I have available. I know there are a few games out there that are mobile and don’t take up a lot of space, but they’re not that common.

Another plus – even when the Hall Monitor catches you, you’re not out. The caught player continues to play and could even be the first player to go through the three doors. The round ends when either the Hall Monitor has caught all the other penguins or one of the Runners has gotten through all three doors.

Scoring is randomized. Having the most number of cards doesn’t guarantee the highest score. When you pass through a door you collect a random scoring card with a value of 1, 2, or 3. To even things out, if you reveal that you have two “ones” in your hand you can take a second turn. I wonder if making the scoring a little more random takes some of the pressure of getting a high score off of Yog, making it more palatable. Then again, she really doesn’t seem to care what her score was, even though she will count it up herself.

This has become the new “go-to” game if we know there will be children at a gathering. The only downside is that it can only take four players. So far that hasn’t been an issue for us, but I could see there being a line of waiting players.

I guess you could call this my first game review as this “Play With Me” didn’t involve modifying a game. This is a great family game right out of the box, or in this case, in the box!

Check it out here, give it a try and share your thoughts.

Until next time, Happy Gaming!

The Early Years

Welcome to CthulhuMom Games – a blog about my experiences raising a child in a gaming family.

During an email exchange with a reader I was requested to do an article I had meant to do when I started this blog, a piece on the early years of gaming with a child – what it’s like to game with an infant and/or toddler. I guess the good part is that I’ve had so many other things I wanted to share with you that I kept forgetting to write this post. The bad thing is – time is not good for the memory. However, not all is forgotten and I am FINALLY going to share my early experiences with you.

Yog was involved in gaming since before she was born, kind of. I was five months pregnant at Dreamation and when getting a LARP character assignment prior to the convention one of the organizers (a friend of mine) asked if I wanted to play a pregnant character. She let me read the character prior to deciding and I thought it would be a lot of fun. And it was. So, I suppose, one could technically say that Yog has already played in a LARP.

Right after she was born I was planning an interactive scavenger hunt/LARP/surprise party for my husband’s 30th birthday. I spent many hours holding and nursing her while researching various bar bet games with which to challenge my husband. Some of her first outings were to set up the arrangements at the various establishments I would be sending him to. My awesome friends helped get the gears in motion and keep an eye on Yog while I made the cake. So before she could walk or talk she was my co-GM.

From there things settled into our norm. Pre-baby we had settled into a pattern with our gaming group where we would take turns hosting. We even had a market bag of snacks that traveled between houses. This continued right after Yog’s birth. This was kind of our training ground for how portable infants are, if you don’t mind packing the bags. The weeks we hosted were a bit easier however, as there was no packing. The weeks we didn’t host we packed up the diaper bag, pack and play and our dice and trekked out together.

We chose not to sleep train, so for the first six or nine months of Yog’s life she had a cycle of her own that we were comfortable with, but that did not involve long stretches of sleep. While this may sound terrible to a lot of people, it had advantages. Mainly we could pretty much do whatever we wanted at any time we wanted, so long as we didn’t mind toting baby gear. Visiting with friends until midnight? Check. Weekend trip? Check. Late night movie watching? Check. So for about the first year of Yog’s life we didn’t have any major schedule changes in our social life, which for us is synonymous with our gaming life. When we hosted gaming if Yog needed to sleep she was in her crib. When she was awake we held her or, when she was sitting up on her own, we put her in her high chair next to the gaming table. When we were at a friend’s house it was the pack and play or our arms. We became quite adept at managing a hand of cards and a baby. I even mastered breast feeding while playing!

Diaper changes were never that big of a deal that I can recall. Potty training was a bit harder as we had to be more vigilant for a few months, but even that mustn’t have been all that impactful on our gaming as I can’t recall any specific incidents.

I think the biggest factor in success was open and honest communication with those at our game table. If we did need to step away, we never said “it’ll only be a few minutes”. If I knew a diaper change would take ten minutes I told them I’d be gone for fifteen. If I wanted to breastfeed before starting a game I would tell them I needed half an hour. I always over-estimated the time I would be away from the table and was willing to not play in a game if they wanted to get started. Typically this meant everyone set up the game and waited for me, or picked another shorter game to play while waiting.

One of my husband’s most uncomfortable gaming moments came from juxtaposition. When Yog was an infant we were playing a rather intense game of the Dresden Files RPG and he was our GM. There was a moment when he was holding Yog and putting my character in some very tough positions. He said it was really weird to hold our daughter and “torture” his wife at the same time.

063011-dresden-files-3
His eyes really are that color. We all know GMs are evil and have one purpose – to kill all of the PCs! Don’t let the presence of a cute baby distract you

 

 

Things didn’t get difficult until Yog was more mobile and had a static sleeping schedule. Mobility meant that we spent more time keeping an eye on her and more game interruptions. The static sleeping schedule made staying out late pretty much impossible. In some cases we were able to bring the pack and play and put her to sleep where we were and then simply take her home. However, the older she got the harder this was to do. She went through a period where if she fell asleep in one location and we picked her up, she would be wide awake for at least an hour before going back to sleep.  As I think I have said in just about every article, thank goodness we have awesome friends. We requested that our weekly game night be permanently moved to our house until Yog can stay up later. The response has always been “Thank you for hosting!”. We’re thankful that we are able to keep gaming with our group. The other solution we came up with was for my husband and I to take turns going to game night if needed. So the now standard routine was begun. We get home from work, have dinner, clean up, have a little bit of play time and get Yog ready for bed. While we are getting her into bed our friends arrive. As soon as she’s down for the night we get the game started.

All in all I found infancy to be the easiest time to be a gamer. Toddlerhood was the hardest. Once she got to Pre-School things started getting easier because she was more self-sufficient and was beginning to learn patience.

What did I forget to ramble about? Probably lots. Five years is a long time and with a child there are many, many experiences to have. What challenges did you face gaming with an infant or toddler? What tips do you have to share with other parents?

Happy Gaming!

Play With Me – Flashpoint

Welcome to Cthulhu Mom Games – a blog about my experiences raising a child in a gamer family.

Though Yog often says she “is not the kind of person who plays games”, we have, on rare occasion, gotten her to play with us. One game to which she gravitates is Flashpoint. The age range on the box is 10 and up, but the community rating on Board Game Geek is 8 and up. With a few minor modifications, Yog was playing this at around 4 and a half.

The theme of the game is that a house is on fire and you are the rescue squad there to save the people and put out the fire. I can totally understand if the idea of the house being on fire is too scary for your little one. Yog was able to separate the game world from her own, so we never had an issue with the theme. She also loves the fact that she was playing the hero in the scenario, so maybe that helps make it less scary to her.

One of the great things about Flashpoint is that it’s cooperative. With Yog we’re giving cooperative games a try for several reasons. Firstly it makes it easier to help her with the game without “letting her win” or skewing the player balance, since we’re all working toward the same goal. Secondly, we’re hoping that if we all win or lose together she’ll be more likely to want to try other games. If we all lose together we can model losing behavior for her in a shared way and she can see that it’s not that big of a deal, and really the chance of losing makes the game more challenging and thus more fun.

We always use the starting “family game set up” when playing with her. It’s the easiest version of the game, both in set up and in play. The rule book will tell you exactly how to set up the board. I’m hoping now that Yog is working on reading skills that in a few months she’ll be able to look at the pictures in the rule book and start setting up the board  herself. I know it’s not too far off, since the one time I set the board up and was putting cubes in the wrong spot she corrected me. If you would like to read the rules before buying the game, check them out on the game’s website – http://www.indieboardsandcards.com/fpfr.php

The only big modification we make for Yog to play this game is how we use Action Points. Each player gets four Action Points for their turn, which she or he will use to move, put out the fire, and

Yog contemplating her next move
Yog contemplating her next move

rescue people. If you do not use all of your Action Points in a turn, you may carry the unused points over to your next turn, however when we play with Yog we do not do this. To help keep track of unused Action Points, the game comes with Action Point tokens. We use these tokens to help Yog track how many Action Points she has available by using them as counters. On her turn we give

her four tokens and as she uses her points she hands the tokens to the next player. This player will do the same, and so forth around the board. I’m going to guess that not carrying over unused points makes the game harder to win, but we’ve managed to win despite that. We felt that changing the number of available Action Points each turn may have been too confusing to start. Once she grasps the game better we’ll add the rule back in, again a not too far off event. From there we can only hope to play the Experienced rules, and, dare I say it, the expansion!

Speaking of the expansion, there is one piece we do use from that when playing with Yog. It’s of a large fire. I haven’t played the expansion enough to tell you what the piece is supposed to be used for. With Yog we use it whenever there is an explosion, always with a loud vocal “KABOOM!”  to go with it. We lay it on the space that was rolled during the “Advance Fire” phase, spread the fire, then remove the token. Yog really likes the visual.

I would say that Yog gets the basic rules of this game, but not the strategy. We let her make her own choices, even if that means we come closer to losing due to lack of solid strategy. However, since one of the goals of the game is rescue people, she often makes good choices.

We really enjoy this game (with and without Yog) and I love how well it scales well for the younger set without us having to change much about the game. I would recommend checking it out, or just buying a copy.

Until next time – Happy Gaming!

 

 

 

Gaming at Parties

Welcome to Cthulhu Mom Games – a blog about my experiences raising a child in a gamer family.

Any time of year is a good time for a gathering of friends and family. Whether you are celebrating a secular or religious holiday, or just enjoying whatever weather we have at the time, doing so with those you love makes it much better. In our circles this generally means at least one game will be played, more likely several games as these gatherings tend to be hours long, and occasionally overnight affairs. And there is the challenge to tackle – how to navigate playing games at a party while taking care of your child/children.

If your family and friends are anything like mine you have people all over the gaming spectrum. We have friends who make us look like we’ve never rolled dice before. Family who want low strategy games. Other friends only want to play party games. Yog might want to play, she might just want to interrupt us every few seconds. What’s a gamer to do?

For me, gaming at a party is all about mindset. I go into a gathering knowing (or trying to know) what that group of people is like. If they aren’t gamers at all it’s totally possible that we won’t be playing any games. On the other hand we might go to a party and spend the entire evening playing one very intense game. Having a general idea of what to expect helps us choose appropriate games or avoid the disappointment of not getting to play a game at all, as well as the child care strategy. Sometimes it helps to ask the host if they want to have games at their party. They will know what kind of space they have available and if their guests will want to play.

When going to a gathering with mostly non-gamers we’ll choose something lighter, most often a party game with no board that’s easy to learn. Box size and weight is important too. We don’t want to lug around a huge, heavy box and not play the game, especially given we are still marveling at the idea that we can leave the house for a few hours and not have to bring three bags of baby gear (seriously there were times we felt like moving would have been easier!).  Party games are also a great way to get children involved. Choose a game played in team and allow the children to guess. This is highly dependent on your group being open to having a child on their team (though usually if kids are invited to a party there aren’t many there who wouldn’t be). Depending on the age of your child the participation may just be for a feeling of inclusion – or to get more answers right than the other team! If you’re like me pop culture references aren’t your strong suit, but most kids have current trends memorized.

If we’re going to a party with a lot of gamers we’ll try to get requests ahead of time, that way we’re more likely to have what everyone wants to play. Speaking with the host is helpful here as well if you know your host has a well-stocked game closet. Again, who wants to pack several heavy boxes and leave them in the car because the host already owns the games you brought?

In addition to involving Yog in the adult games, we always bring along a few of her games, even if we aren’t anticipating any other children being in attendance. Usually there are a few adults willing to play a few rounds of one of her games. Sometimes without any children. It’s not our fault game designers are making compelling games for children! Typically we let her pick the games to bring along. Size and weight typically aren’t concerns with her boxes. At the gathering we’ll offer to set the game up to get the kids started or ask a few other adults to join in.

Involving Yog in an adult game can be tricky. She’s still small enough to sit on my lap, which has advantages and disadvantages. In the advantage category is that it’s easier to direct her participation. In the disadvantage category is that she’s tall enough that reaching around her can be difficult. Typically I will let her roll for my turn if there are dice involved. If a card needs to be played I’ll hand it to her to put on the board. A pre-game hand washing is usually involved for the safety of the game and health of the other players.

What do you do if you can’t get your child involved in a game? We’ve learned a few strategies for gaming party survival. The obvious one is to take advantage of nap and bed time. We have a travel cot and that has allowed us to go to gatherings during naps or later at night. The trick to using nap time is knowing about how long your little one will sleep and pick a game that won’t take longer than that. When Yog is awake and needs attention we take turns playing games and keeping an eye on her. Then there are the times when she’s happily coloring, playing with the other children, or otherwise not in need of our undivided attention. These rare times are when we try to sit down and play a game together. Tip one – play the same game. We go to some gaming parties where there are several games going on at a time, almost like a mini-convention. Being at the same table means that Yog isn’t running back and forth between us, nor are we interrupting two games. It also helps with game flow. Speaking of game flow – tip 2 – play a turn based, not phase based game. Performing all of your actions in one turn frees you up while the other players take their turns should you need to attend to your little one. Which leads to tip 3 – don’t sit next to each other. Put as many people on either side of you as the game allows. This allows you to take turns leaving the table if needed without stopping the game. This of course only works if both parents are at the party. If you are solo for whatever reason hopefully you have friends who are willing to help wrangle your child while you take your turn. I would still stick with turn based games in this situation, as it allows you some time to step away from the table without interrupted the game too much.

Hopefully some of these tips help you with your next gaming event. Please share your tips, tricks, and questions in the comments. And until next month…

Happy gaming!

 

Happy Anniversary!

Welcome to Cthulhumom Games – a blog dedicated to my experiences raising a child in a gamer family.

As I was preparing this month’s post I found this on my drive. I had meant to post it the month before Dexcon, as July was the anniversary of the start of this blog. I had also meant to maintain some sort of sanity in that month and to that end wound up not posting a full article. Thus this article sat waiting. Though the anniversary of this blog has come and gone I still want to share the thoughts I had two months ago. So here it is – two months after the anniversary, my Happy Anniversary post!

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I started this blog after many months of thinking about it. I would have experiences and conversations that led me to several realizations. I wanted to share my thoughts and wanted to hear what other gamer parents were experiencing.

The first thing I realized is that there a lot of gamer parents out there, but we can’t always find each other. Life pulls you in so many directions and when one of those directions is directly behind your child (or children) it can be hard to locate other people your age with your interests. I also know how alone a parent can feel. I wanted other gamer parents to know they aren’t alone in trying to find time for their hobby and trying to share their hobby with their children. I looked around and all I could find on the internet was a few posts on various forums, mostly asking the same question “what game should I get for my X year old?”. Games are much more complex than an age rating. So are children. And parents.

I also know that we are all having our unique family experiences, but within those experiences is overlap. In that overlap we can help each other with what we have learned. I wanted to toss my experience out into the wind in hopes that where my life overlaps with yours you could learn from and be entertained by me. I had hoped to hear back and maybe learn a bit from you. I haven’t had much in the way of the conversation I had hoped to foster, but Yog is only five, so I have many years to get better at this.

Speaking of having a conversation, when I started looking into starting a blog there were many discussions on whether or not to have the comments turned on. I decided that I didn’t want this to be a lecture series, but an open dialog started by my (often rambling) thoughts. So I chose to enable the comments. Though there haven’t been many comments and even fewer discussions I consider myself blessed to have such a fine readership. The comments I have received have all been helpful and kind and thus far we have not had the de-evolution of society that is common on a lot of open comments. Thank you.

There is still a lot of ground to cover. Yog is now five, and we are dealing with a new phase in her development – she thinks she’s the boss. And boy is she bossy! We’ll see how this affects our ability to continue to play adult games and where it takes her desire to play with us. We’re still in the “I’m not the kind of person who likes to play games” phase. And who knows, maybe it’s not a phase. Maybe one day I’ll be writing about how we got someone to take her for the weekend so that my husband and I could go to the game convention on our own. Maybe one day I’ll be writing about how I had to explain to Yog that as much as she wants to play both games scheduled at the same time that we still don’t know how to bi-locate and she’ll just have to choose. Maybe lots of things.

We’re starting Kindergarten this year, which means there is a lot of new and first times in our future. We probably haven’t faced this much rapid change since the year she was born. Not that parenting a toddler or pre-schooler isn’t chock full of change and phases, but this is more external changes to handle. I’m curious to see where this next step in our lives leaves our hobby. How much time will we have? Will she want to play games with her new friends? Will we be able to keep in touch with her old friends?

Another goal I had when I started this blog was to feature conversations with other gamer parents and their experiences. This will take planning and time. I need to track down gamer parents willing to be interviewed about their experience, write thoughtful questions, and then figure out between two hectic family schedules when we can sit down to talk. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just not easy. I’d still like to do this. If you are interested in sharing your family experience with me and the rest of the readers, please let me know.

I also have ideas for deeper researched topics. These posts will take more time to produce and there won’t be as many of them. If I’m going to try to present facts to you, I’d like to make them as researched and factual as I can.

I’d like to know what you want to hear me ramble about as well. Feel free to contact me through the site. I love learning things, so if you ask me something that needs some research I’ll jump on that. However, see the previous paragraph.

It’s been an interesting year of learning and growing. I have done more new things inside the gaming community than I have in a long time. It has all given me new perspective on various aspects of gaming. It has presented me with new challenges. I have met many new people. Yog is constantly changing. It has given me new things to write about.

Happy Gaming!