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…