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!

—–

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!

Dexcon 2016

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

Thanks for your patience while I gathered my life back up and put the breaks on. There’s no guarantee that this won’t change the release dates of the blog going forward, but I’m going to try hard to get back to the regular “last Tuesday of the month” commitment I made (at least to myself!).

July’s gaming got a kick-start with our attendance of Dexcon, one of the many conventions run by New Jersey company Double Exposure. We have been attending this convention for over a decade now, which gives us familiarity with the space, schedule and staff, which is a big advantage to us.

This was probably the most relaxing convention experience I’ve had in a long time, which is odd considering I ran four events and NPCed for a fifth. There were a few things that played into this. First off was my mind-set. I came into this convention without expectations. I didn’t expect certain behavior from Yog. I didn’t expect to enjoy any one game more than another. I didn’t expect to sleep. I didn’t expect to exercise. In the past these are all things I thought would happen and when they didn’t I felt like I was doing something wrong. The only thing I had wrong was expectations. So that helped me relax.

The other major player in the relaxed feeling of the convention for me was the lighter schedule I had planned for myself. In recent years I didn’t have a single block open. I figured the lunch and dinner breaks would be enough. However when the schedule came out there were blocks where nothing interested me. That isn’t to say there wasn’t anything going on, or anything “good” going on – just nothing that I felt like doing out of the choices available. Sometimes that was because what I wanted to do needed a four-hour block, but due to needing someone to watch Yog, I only had one of the two-hour blocks open. So I had more down time, which left me with more time to chat and wander the convention floor.

We also lucked out in our hotel room. We were on the fourth floor, which meant we could walk the stairs. I know this isn’t appealing to everyone, but it’s not uncommon on a Saturday to have to wait for what feels like 20 minutes for an elevator that you can actually squeeze yourself into. Having the option to take the stairs meant we didn’t have to do that wait, which can be a big thing with a bouncy five-year old. Also, when I got to a larp and realized I had forgotten something (like the time two of us were at the same game and realized neither of us had a room key…) it was quick and easy to resolve. Check in had a small stumble, but the desk staff was quick to resolve it, a welcomed relief from our past few experiences at this hotel. As usual, we had our connecting rooms so that Yog could keep something that resembled her sleep schedule while the adults keeping an eye on her could enjoy the convention and each other’s company.

We had arrived Wednesday night, the official start to the convention, but most of us didn’t make plans for anything but sleep. I stopped by the LARP Bizarre event to say hi to everyone I knew, being as that might have been the only chance I got to really sit and chat with anyone I know who was running a larp. I had considered playing a table top RPG, but decided that being up to 2 am the first night of the convention when Yog would have me up by 7:30 and I had a 9 am event to run was a bad choice. I could be irresponsible later in the weekend when I would have more friends with whom to spend time (not everyone gets there right away).

Thursday morning I ran the first of three sessions of Family Game Table. Yog discovered a game she loves – Jenga. I had begun setting up Eldrich Horror for solo play since at 9 am it was just Yog and I in the room. Yog asked me about the Jenga blocks, I believe because she just wanted to build with them. Which, honestly I would have been fine with, but I wanted to see if she would give the actual game a try. And she did. And then she played for an hour straight! About 45 minutes into the slot we were joined by a Dad and his daughter who was no older than 7. We pulled out Legendary and I got to teach it to both of them. They had so much fun that the daughter was asking to come back and play another game later. Unfortunately I was only running the morning slot and they were only there for the one day.

Yog playing Jenga. Or is it Batman?
Yog playing Jenga. Or is it Batman?

Immediately following my event was another kid centric event called “Early Bird Adventures”. The woman running the event set up a scavenger hunt and prepared a science experiment for the kids. Both Yog and the daughter from my event made colored slime and then ran around the convention floor together, with the help of both parents to decipher the clues to find the little containers stashed around. Each container had a letter in it. Once we collected the letters, we returned to the game room to solve the anagram. Each child got a medal for successfully completing the scavenger hunt. I am sincerely hoping that she will be back at Dreamation, and if not for Dreamation, next year’s Dexcon. I loved the idea and the girls had a blast. So much so that Yog asked to go back the next day. We weren’t able to make it back due to our schedule, but we did get to chat with the hostess since our events were back to back.

In addition to our two events, which ran back to back, in the same room, three days in a row, there were a few board games in the board game room that were geared to the younger set. There were at least two LARPS designed for the pre-teen set, including one run by a teenager! Even though Yog didn’t participate in any of these events, I was ecstatic to see them on the schedule. It shows that what has always been a family friendly convention is making strides to being family inclusive.

Friday morning started out much like Thursday did, Yog and I in the room alone. A man and his son poked their heads in, I invited them to play, but they declined. About half an hour later they came back and we played Eldritch Horror. Saturday’s session didn’t see anyone outside of my game group, but we did play Flashpoint.

I also ran a two-hour seminar on using Improv techniques for LARP character development and was an NPC for the Dresden Files – Empire State Chronicles LARP. In between all of that I got in Settlers of Catan, Tsuro,  The Resistance, a Cthulhu Live LARP,and a Vampire, the Masquerade LARP.

I tried a new experiment this time around with Yog. I brought her to my game of Tsuro. I wanted to see how she would handle being in the main board game room, which can be overwhelmingly busy. Tsuro is a pretty quick game, lasting no more than 20 minutes. We played three times in about 45 minutes. Yog sat next to me the whole time and was well-behaved. The group at my table was very welcoming, even inviting her to play, which she turned down.  I don’t think she’s ready to sit there for a full two hours, or for me to play a game that she can’t interrupt with questions, but I was very proud of her at this event.

My in between event time with Yog was spent wandering the convention area and talking with friends. Yog is starting to discover the joy of the dealer’s room and almost came home with a really cool pair of horns. Unfortunately she couldn’t hold up her end of the bargain to behave at dinner. There’s always Dreamation to try again.

As always, we had a great time, and the wait until February is way too long!

Let me know what questions you have about Dexcon and our experiences and I’d love to talk them over with you.

Until then, Happy Gaming!

 

The Good And The Bad

The good news is that I have a lot to say about Dexcon. And that work is crazy busy. So is life in general. The bad news is that I’m beginning to wonder how far one has to go to pass out from exhaustion like you hear celebrities doing all the time. And that this month’s post isn’t ready yet. However, it is started. And I promise not to put it off any longer than needed. But sometimes living comes before writing (unless you’re a professional writer, then get back to work 😉 ). As soon as I have a few spare moments, I promise to share them with you. With pictures. Of Batman.