Thursday, February 7, 2013

Game, Interrupted.

By Randy

"Why am I not playing a game?!?"
This one is for the gamer parents out there. Sharing the love of gaming with your kids reeks of awesome. It brings me great joy to game with the kiddos. But sometimes, I just want to play games with my adult gamer friends. I imagine if you are a parent gamer, you probably feel the same, too. Over the years, I have made some observations and implemented some strategies that help me to be able to game with the adults, too. Here are some of those tips, tricks and cautionary tales that might just help you play a game without massive interruptions. 

The Seven P's

Have you heard of the Seven P's? Here they are: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. That means if you're going to get this right, you're going to need to plan it a little. This gets easier each time, so don't stress that you have to put some thought in ahead of time. Gaming with the kids around and minimizing interruptions of gametime requires a plan. 

Joint Playdate

"Let's get crafty!"
Start by telling yourself: you're organizing a joint playdate. No, you don't have to drink juiceboxes. Get over the term, because that's what you're doing. This is more literal when the other adults you are gaming with have kids that are coming over, but even if no other kids are involved, you need to have activities in mind for your kids as if this is an organized playdate. Which it is.So think about successful playdates that you have attended with your kid. Was there some sort of structure? What activities were involved? How much did the kids need direct supervision? You need to get this part right. As much as you want to engage in your activity, the kids need to feel like they're engaged in theirs. They should feel that they had a choice in what that activity is going to be to be invested. You probably already know what your kids like, and how to "sell" them an activity. You need to sell this one hard and ahead of time. If it is a DVD, it should be a new one that they are excited about. If it's a craft project, make it something new (preferably one that's not too messy and doesn't involve use of sharp implements helps, too!).  If it's just playing in the yard, suggest a game or provide some new challenge. Even a sheet of butcher paper taped on a table and a bucket of crayons can be fun.

Don't forget the food!

So... kids get hungry. True story. Adults do, too. And if you're going to be sitting down for long enough to play a boardgame, the likelihood of this happening is... yeah, it's going to happen. My advice is to have this scheduled and the food prepared ahead of time, something that can easily be eaten at the game table, that the kids don't object to, and that doesn't require a massive cleanup. Spaghetti? Bad choice. Pizza? Better. Add snacky finger food to the mix and you are golden. This all works especially well when a lunch/dinner time is scheduled and everyone knows there'll be crackers, apple slices and string cheese or something until then.

Be courteous!

Unsolicited deckbuilding advice...

Perhaps the most important part of this whole thing is courtesy. Be courteous to your guests (or hosts), be courteous to your kids, be courteous to their kids (if relevant), and be courteous in turn-taking. If you get this right, this smooths over just about anything that is going to come up. If you're playing a complex boardgame, don't assume that every other player's turn is an excuse to leave the table. If you have kids around, yes, you'll need to do this every now and then. But if your friends have to spend five minutes every time it's your turn telling you what happened, you may need to reconsider how you're going about things. And don't be snappy with your kiddo if they come to the table needing something! Stopping to take a minute and explain what the cards do may satisfy their curiosity so they will move on. Also, don't be afraid to ask players for a break to attend kids' needs. Everyone will be happier.

Adventures Nearby Babysitting

Do you know who kids think are absolutely amazing? Bigger kids! You know that 13 year old girl down the street who wants to babysit your kids for some extra cash, but is just too young to be responsible for the kids by herself? Why not hire her to watch your kids at your house while you game? We have done this before and it works out really well. And if other people are bringing their kids over, you can possibly arrange beforehand for the other parents to chip in. This is really an "everybody wins!" situation, but it does require a little cash.

Rotating Parental Duties

My wife Angie and I are both gamers, and when gaming is happening, we both want to be at the table. Sometimes, though, we know it's just not feasible for that to happen. Every now and then, one of us will take care of the kids while the other games. If you step this up a little, and you're planning a regularly occurring game day, one excellent way to have a satisfying game is to have one parent of however many participants to rotate being the one who hangs out with the kids. If there are three couples with kids, for example, being willing to sit out one in six games (or whole game days) gets you five others to relax and not worry too much about the parenting. That assumes everyone in the equation is a gamer; if there's a non-gamer spouse among the mix, making an arrangement with him or her ahead of time ("I'll watch the kids while you go out one night if you watch them while I game...") can really be a great setup. 

Know When To Hold 'em

"...and this is where Daddy crushes those other chumps."
Have little kids? Sometimes, they're going to need to be held. And it's okay to do that at the game table; your gamer buddies know you're a parent. So long as the kid is happy to be there, is quiet and not interfering with the game. There have been plenty of times that I've had a sleepy or curious little person in my arms at the table. But please keep in mind that this is not the same as giving your child your full attention. There will be times when your child needs your attention, and these are times when you need to excuse yourself.

Know When To Fold 'em

Ideally, you step away before this happens...
Then there will be times when you, as a parent, just need to know when to throw in the towel. Nobody likes walking away from a game, but a child's needs must come first. Identifying those times when a child needs your full attention are important. If your parenting  "spider-sense" tells you that your child is about to have a meltdown, you're probably right. I know from experience that ignoring those signs and trying to play through makes everyone miserable. So do everyone a favor and when that happens, bow out early. At the end of the day, the meeples won't mind and the people should understand.

Winding Down

After all is said and done, I recommend spending a little extra special time with the children. If you make this a habit, they will be more likely to behave during your gaming when they extra attention will follow. Snuggles, stories... whatever you do to show them you appreciate them.

I hope this helps! Adequate planning can get you back to the table and enjoying playing games once again. I don't think I even need to say that this isn't an exhaustive list. So... how do you make your game days fun for everyone? What are your best tips? I'll tell you what... leave a tip for making a game day great, and I'll tip you one GeekGold on BoardGameGeek. Be sure to leave your BGG username!


  1. No kids.
    I host a game night that we first ran with kids allowed because I also have two girls, 8 & 6. In the end the issues caused by having more kids around just wasn't worth it. When it is just my kids they have their things to go do and not have to worry about them.

    SPBTooL on BGG

  2. Our game group/longtime friends have been very good about kids. As they came along, they were assimilated and accomodated for. None of us minded one bit (well, maybe a teeny bit but it was never a dealbreaker). Our current age range is five to twelve for the young'uns. They typically don't sit with us when we game but it's okay. The toys and activities are in a separate area of the house. We typically game on a weekly basis.

    All that being said, we tread much more carefully on the rare occasion we game with new people. Getting a babysitter is key to this, or one of us stays home while the other enjoys their "freedom" for the night.

    I think the type of game played is a factor as well in determining whether or not having children around is feasible. The more casual and less involved it is, the easier it is to step away when needed.

  3. SPBTooL: That's not always an option for us. Also, we want our kids to be around most of the time, and to get used to us having gatherings that don't entirely focus on them. But yes... addding more kids definitely complicates things. Thanks for sharing!

    -N.: We definitely shoot for keeping our kids in another part of the house, too. Adults paying reduced attention to them -and- asking them to be quiet is a bad combo! And I hear you about the type of game... we attempt to play more games that don't go over an hour and a half. Four-hour Twilight Imperium sessions just don't quite cut it anymore. Thank you for commenting! Do you have a BGG account I can tip?

  4. After bedtime: My wife and I, and most of our friends, have a child under 1. So at this point in our lives its easy to just plan to play games around 8:30 or 9, after bedtime. It doesn't always work as well as you hope, but its definitely a time when you are a bit more able to plan on not being distracted!

    Smandero on BGG!

  5. Josh Lozano: Thanks for sharing!

  6. Randy, I think it's a good idea to get families that game together for joint play dates/gaming sessions. Really good suggestions, all.

    I think that the good behavior being reinforced also instills the kids with respect for the game session, whether the intent is that or not.

    That makes the kids more likely to want to be included in later gaming sessions with the family, and thus continuing the circle of gaming legacy.

    Operadragon on BGG

  7. When our kids were a bit smaller (and we lived somewhere with mroe gamers) the older two usually joined in the first game at game nights (the youngest was already in bed befiore we started).

    Now they are teaching their friends to play the same games (and in the case of the oldest, invariably beating us at 7 Wonders too). I'm sure that being involved in games with adults at an early stage has helped shape them into the gamers they are today!

    Ed_the_Red on BGG

  8. I have found it hard to schedule around my parenting duties (doody!) when it comes to gaming. I have a non-gaming spouse, so I am able to leave the house to game but I usually end up feeling guilty about not spending time with my family (totally all me, my husband is supportive of my hobbies). My kids also play baseball in the spring, so practices & games interfere with my gaming schedule & a lot of the guys in my group resented it. I am currently looking to try online gaming, via G+ to see if it is a better alternative! :)

  9. Hey there! Thanks for popping by! We have certainly had difficulties with scheduling, as well. You shouldn't feel guilty about taking time to do what you want. Don't forget that you are giving your husband the opportunity to spend time with the kids without you. My wife and I, both gamers, often appreciate getting to do things with the kids without the other around; it's just a different dynamic.

    I'm sorry you were getting grief from your gaming group. I have never tried tabletop gaming online before, but some people I follow on Twitter have had some great things to say about it. For me personally, though, as a dad of younger kids (7 & 4), I can't easily sit down at the computer and expect to game without interruption. That may change as they get a bit older, but we're not there yet. I wish you luck in exploring that new gaming frontier!