Before I launch into this spiel I just want to clarify a point about GNG’s search engine: we’ve rated games as suitable for 4+ 6+ 8+ 10+ 12+ and 14+. The critical thing to remember here is that + symbol. If you’re searching for a game to play with your 4-year-old, you don’t want the convoluted and brain-burning High Frontier to appear on the search results. But if you have teenage kids it’s more than likely many of the games that are rated as suitable for younger players are also suitable for them – or indeed, you. Thus, the search filter on 14+ will bring back all ages of games, whereas younger age searches will filter out the older ages only. That way, you won’t miss out on games with simple rules but much depth (like Ingenious) all-age classics like Push It, or more-ish quickies like Timeline or Pairs.
But age ranges are only a guide anyway – as any parent knows, kids vary massively in so many ways and the idea they can be distilled to an all-inclusive number is erroneous. I’ve been lucky to have sons who share (for now, at least) my enthusiasm for gaming and they’ve played games allegedly for much older children with no problem. What’s interesting to me is how they cope with losing. Like most players, they want to win. As young boys, they want to win a lot. But what I’ve found is that they cope better with losing when they have had more control of their own destiny.
If you take a really luck-heavy game such as Midnight Party, then even the best strategist can (and probably will) be undone by chance: you can position your pieces as well as anyone, but you’re heavily reliant on the roll of a die. Losing these games can make them frustrated. But if they play a game such as Caverna, where each player gets on with their own plans, interaction is not intense and luck is pretty much eliminated, then losing doesn’t bother them so much. I think there is a sense of well, I did my best – whereas, in a game where anyone can win because it’s ultimately all about luck, there’s a sense of frustration about things being out of their hands. It’s also about the method of play too: in Caverna you’re being productive when you take your turn. In Midnight Party (and I like Midnight Party a lot) you’re just kind of hoping.
So although publishers often seem to think that a younger a child is, the simpler and more luck-based the play should be, it’s not something I’d go along with. My eldest son’s favourite game is Railways of the World – building track, delivering cargo to cities. A really simple idea, but one that also incorporates tactics, strategy, special moves and economics. So don’t rule out a game just because the publisher thinks your kid is a bit young for it. Kids, as I constantly find, will often grasp even a complex game pretty quickly.