Saturday, January 26, 2008

How to Beat a 4.5 Year Old at Strategy Games

For the weekend, Saarya and I went to my friends for Friday evening and then walked over to my Aunt and Uncle's for lunch.

Blokus Trigon

My friends are not game players. They have two kids ages 6.5 and 4.5 and a new copy of Monopoly: Wonders of the World. The 6.5 year old has successfully played it, as well as Checkers and a few other games.

I brought along my own bag of games, of course, including Blokus Trigon. Although I feel that regular Blokus is a more tense game throughout, Blokus Trigon becomes a tense game at the end-game. It's big advantage over regular Blokus is that it plays well with three players.

With three players, you are supposed to not use the outer ring of spaces. If you do, it's easy for all players to place all of their pieces. While one of Blokus' good aspects is that the play is as fun as the winning, no possibility of winning is a bit too tame for me.

I played against the 6.5 year old and my friend who was helping the 4.5 year old. I gave a little assistance once in a while to the 6.5 year old, but other than tending to broadcast what she was going to play next time, she played fine.

The 4.5 year old never quite got the game; whenever it was his turn, he just kept trying to place the pieces on the board whereever until his father said that his move was good. As the game progressed, my friend and the 4.5 year old played a piece into the outer row of spaces. When I pointed this out to him, my friend told me not to bother about it.

Some of you might mistakenly believe that just because I don't like that fact that all games are built having a single winner that I don't like competition in games, Nothing could be further from the truth. A game without competition is simply a leisurely activity, which is dandy enough, but misses out on many of the most important elements of gaming which include mental (or physical) stimulation, sportsmanship, manners, achievement, self-esteem, self-respect, and so on.

I never coddled my kids by letting them win. I helped them and gave them advice, but I didn't change the rules of the game for them. They sometimes took years to beat me at some games, but they had their revenge by eventually getting better than me at most games. Still, that's my way of parenting, and I respect each parent to make his or her own decisions.

But as I saw my opponent move into an illegal part of the board, I decided that I was going to play to win. Why? Because a) my friend didn't ask me not to, and b) I was now at a huge disadvantage if I didn't play on the outer rings, too. If I could win without using the outer ring while my opponents could, it would be a miracle.

So we played, with me futilely blocking as much as possible. My opponents were generally able to work around by simply entering the outer ring. However, they eventually began to run out of pieces that they could use to sneak around me.

It came down to the very last moves of the game. Astonishingly enough, I won, finishing my last piece and leaving neither of my opponents any space to play theirs.

All's well that end's well. In order to achieve both my desired win as well as my friend's "we don't allow any losses in here", I showed both of my opponents how they could rearrange the pieces on the board at the end of the game to also legally place their last pieces on the board. Which make them happy, since they didn't know enough about the rules to know anything was amiss.

It's Alive

My cousins were also at my Aunt and Uncle's, including three boys who are game players but don't know any better games, yet. The two younger ones are highly ADHD, which makes playing anything with them a challenge the moment anything else moves in the room (like a dust particle).

I got to introduce to them my game It's Alive. I played with my cousin and the three boys, as well as Saarya. We started with a five player game, which the oldest boy won. They then wanted to play again. Saarya bowed out, and I bowed out to help the youngest, so they played four player. The same boy won again.

Then they played a third time. This time, the same boy finished his board first, but both my cousin and one of the other boys both had better totals, and he only came in third.

After that, we played a Blokus Trigon game, which I won without too much difficulty. Lastly I taught them For Sale. I won the first game, and lost the second.

All in all, some good gaming.


Anonymous said...

My play style with my kids is the same. I play to win, too. I still remember the genuine satisfaction both my daughter and *I* felt when she genuinely beat me in a skill-based video game for the first time.

I sometimes modify stuff for her - like allowing the conquest of oceans in Risk - but only because she suggested it, and it seemed like a wild idea to me.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Actually, now that I think about it, I did give advantages sometimes, like a piece advantage in Go or Checkers. But then I played to win.