Hi class, I hope you’re all enjoying the new year!
I’ve had the opportunity to test out two new games since our last class. One is a reworking of the Visit of the Magi and another is a Kingdom Building Game that I’ve wanted to try out a long time before (and have said so in previous articles).
Running both of them I noticed something. It might not specifically be a “gaming with kids” thing, but it was very noticeable that in the two games the gimmicks and props I used were so successful! They were the things that were enjoyable. I think there are a few lessons there, specifically when gaming with kids.
Lesson 1: Visualize
Rules in games of make believe are sometimes quite hard to understand, especially for kids, but simple, visual things are not.
In the kingdom building game the kids gave me decisions for their kingdoms at the end of each class and then I parsed them at home (which proved way more work than I anticipated). The next class I gave them the results and options back in an envelope which had their ruler’s name on it, addressed in flowery words and script. One of the 10-11 year olds said: “Whoah! This really makes me feel like royalty!” They had also gotten a map, which they started annotating and taking notes on, completely unprompted! They loved it.
The other game had simple rules which were turned into a simple character sheet with simple symbols on them–a head for thinking, hands for doing and a heart for feeling. They could write their score in the symbol and that made it easy to find, discuss and explain things.
Lesson 2: Input and Randomness
In the Visit of the Magi game I included random tables to come up with situations in set scenes of the story. Instead of filling in the tables myself for each scene, I left them empty and each scene of the story the kids had to give me nouns or verbs or jobs or habits etc… which filled in the random tables on which I then had to roll to see what happened. It kept a very railroaded story still filled with a lot of surprising events. And also, the kids loved it. Once they got that their words could define what happened next it was a very chaotic shouting match that happened each scene. It was very fun.
In the kingdom game the kids didn’t know which rulers were which kids, especially since I played it in two schools at once! They did not know which ruler was which kid, if they were from this school or the other, or if they were one of the three NPC rulers in the game. This made them use the precious little actions they had, mainly for writing notes to each other. Also, the behind the scenes rules had me rolling dice for actions they took and just to see if something special should happen. This had some interesting results. One ruler found strange eggs which he ignored as he built his golden villa in a volcano. As I rolled a very bad result for a random events roll the egg hatched a dragon that burned down the kingdom and flew away, being a menace on the other players as well!
Kids don’t really care about the rules all that much unless they need them. There are exceptions of course, but generally, as you the teacher play the GM you are generally considered, being a teacher, to be fair and honest. Abstracted thought is hard for younger children and even young teens might struggle with it. Making things visual helps a lot. Having props is also a great deal of fun. It makes things tactile.
Having some amount of input that will be immediately noticeable is also a great way to have them engaged. It’s the same rush as sending in a drawing to a television show to have the possibility that it is shown on TV. Being able to have an impact on the game like this is very fun. It is a great tool. And whether or not your rules are finished (as with the Magi game) or being made as you play (as with the Kingdom Building Game) it doesn’t really matter. The experience is fun. And that’s why we play games, right?
Homework Question: What gimmicks have you used in games and did they work? Why?