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Author: TMFDavidG Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Supernova Phoenix 1
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Subject: How to let kids win. Date: 10/14/2003 6:30 AM
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Lydia,

It's great to hear your perspective and your own experience with numerous small ones 12 and under. Part of the fun of this board is just hearing others' play experiences. On a side note, I would hazard a guess that I have actually read more game "session reports" from others on the Internet than actual game sessions played of my own, for most games. And yet, I have not failed to play many games. :)

So we can learn from HOW others play, too.

OK, I'd like to add one idea, based on how I play against my children.

I used to think "let them win." So I would make catastrophically bad moves at the endgame, or consistently mediocre moves throughout the game. And so on.

I see at least two problems with this. First, selfishly, it's not so much fun. I mean it's fun to play any game, and fun to gaze at your little one's face as he or she enjoys victory, but I don't want to look back on my life and times as a gaming parent and remember chronic and compelled quitting for years and years across all games.

Second, to the extent that we model good behavior and good play for our children, and that this matters at all (I'm assuming it does, at least a little), does it make sense to make bad moves all the time?

So, these things considered, my good friend Todd Etter once provided me some relevant advice from his own experience growing up (he can feel free to add or subtract to anything I'm saying, here). He said that growing up he always played his Dad straight up, but with a handicap. That is to say that his Dad would handicap himself in whatever workable way, but then play all-out against his son throughout the game (in a kind and gentle way, I'm sure -- none of this should be stressful).

Since hearing that anecdote years ago, I have done this with my children ever since. Here's my own personal method:

Step 1. "OK, let's play some Carcassonne, how 'bout it?" You get out the game. You play the game. "With a kids' handicap, of course, right?" Right, my child understands, since that's the way we play. It's important to talk this up a few times during the play, as you'll inevitably make a good play that discourages the young lad or lass, and you don't want that to be overmuch. "That's because Daddy is good -- he's older than I am," I believe my child thinks, "plus, I'll get my kids' handicap to make up for that!" This is more realistic for kids to understand, I think, than the probably-more-frequently-done but really-less-plausible-when-you-think-about-it "Wow, I just beat Dad again -- I always beat him at all games always!" So anyway, I'll make good moves when I can -- and praise my children, when they make good moves -- but when I frustrate their efforts, plans, or positioning, just before or just after I'll remind them about their handicap.

Step 2. Win the game. This will almost inevitably happen on your first playing of it, right? If not, you have no need of reading this posting, and go see Searching for Bobby Fischer. :) So you say: "Well well, looks like my score is higher right now, sport. HOWEVER, let's see what the kids' handicap is for this game...." This is said, of course, with suitable smiles and wide eyes to show that something special -- i.e. the child winning -- may be in the offing. You then instantly calculate the final score in your head, as quickly as possible (in Carcassonne, e.g., you would want to already have a sense of how the farmers will play out so that you can know ahead of time and increase the drama for your child). Knowing the final score, you announce that the kids' handicap for this game is X, where X equals your score minus his score (plus a few more if you like). In other words, when adding in the handicap you make it enough so that he will either TIE you ("Hey now, we tied!!!!") or BEAT you ("Whoa there, you actually won, because the kids' handicap is 36!!!!") -- I usually choose a win for the child in our first game played....

Step 3. "Well, so that's the kids' handicap for this game then, +36. So next time we play, you get 36 points as your handicap, and let's see if you can beat Daddy with that."

Step 4. Play with the new handicap acknowledged at the beginning, and go all-out! In most cases, the child will play better the second game, now knowing the rules (especially if you go over some strategy particulars). And so the handicap will be more than enough and you'll then adjust it lower for future games. Rinse and repeat!

Over time as the child improves and ages, you watch the ol' handicap go 36, 26, 19, 14, 9, 3, and presumably (since I'm not really THAT great a gamer), MINUS 4 and probably MINUS 8. :)

With different children, there would be different handicaps as needed. You can even write these down on a small slip of paper tucked into the game box for memory refresher.

If you do this right (with occasional leniency or even the opposite, where needed), your child will win MOST of the games and yet you'll have a heck of a lot more fun and challenge in "losing."

That's it, in a nutshell. It's worked for me for a few years now, so I heartily recommend it, and I thank my friend Todd for inspiring it in the first place. If anyone has any additional thoughts or insights, they're all welcomed.

David
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