Welcome to Another Board Family! This feature takes a look at board gaming through the lens of different families around the world.
Today we’re chatting with the Smith family. Anitra and Andrew have produced The Family Gamers Podcast since 2015 and have a love for both analog and digital games. In this interview they share the games that hit the table most often and why playing games with your kids can lead to better communication.
Tell us a little about your family.
We’re a standard all-American family. There are five of us, Andrew and Anitra and three little ones. Claire is eight, Asher is six, and Elliot will be three this summer. We’ve got two cats as well, Bailey and Talisker. We love all kinds of gaming, whether it’s on a screen or on a table. Our family nights are usually spent either playing a game at the table or watching a movie, all cuddled up on the couch.
Where do you live? What’s it like there?
We live in central Massachusetts. It’s cold six months out of the year, so a lot of our family activities are in the house. We try to limit screen time with our kids, hence our love for board games!
How long has your family been playing games together?
Andrew and I have been playing games together longer than we’ve been married. We have pictures of Andrew playing Guitar Hero with our oldest (who is now eight) asleep in his lap. Does that count?
We’ve always focused on having our kids be a part of what we enjoy doing because we love our hobbies and we want them to love them as well, so we’ve been working them into gaming as they’ve grown. Of course, our three-year-old isn’t playing Twilight Struggle just yet, but as they grow the games we play together get more complex! Of course, the biggest barrier is reading, so our oldest is now getting into the more complicated games.
As a family, what are some games that come to the table often? Do you have a particular genre you enjoy?
Since we have a six-year span in ages, we like to play cooperative games a lot, because it allows us to teach our children strategy without trying to hide our personal strategies. Games are a lot more fun when you have to think, after all! In this vein, we love games like Forbidden Island\Desert and Castle Panic. We also enjoy some abstract strategy games like Castellan from Steve Jackson Games, and we love playing HABA games which are great games for transcending age differences.
How have the games you play as a family changed over time?
Well, most significantly we are slowly migrating to more complicated games. I (Andrew) recently played Gruff with our oldest, which is probably the most complicated thing she has played to date. It’s a card game that is reminiscent of Magic (but not a CCG) by Studio Woe. I don’t think either of us expect our kids to get into heavy euros (but they can if they want!), but we do expect them to enjoy some table top gaming.
We’ve always focused on having our kids be a part of what we enjoy doing because we love our hobbies and we want them to love them as well, so we’ve been working them into gaming as they’ve grown.
Do you get to play games with other groups outside your home?
As I suspect many of us are, we are the friends in the friends group with “all of the games”. We have a group of friends that try to get together once every other week or so to play something.
Sometimes it’s old, sometimes it’s new, but usually we end up playing one or two stalwarts at the end of the night and getting a bit goofy. Duple is our current favorite palate cleanser.
What benefits have you seen from sitting down as a family and gaming together?
First, it helps with communication. So many of the problems we see in families (either anecdotally or through other people’s anecdotal re-countings) are, ultimately, functions of poor communication. So frequently it seems more complicated than that, but years of bad communication layered on top of each other create really unhealthy environments where good communication becomes impossible because of the difficulty of getting everyone on the same page. Since we have an actual thing that we do that physically brings everyone to the table, I think our communication is better in general.
By having a time where we are all communicating with each other, I think we’re less prone to creating activity silos over the course of time (though those do exist, to a degree) and the general willingness to communicate with each other is there.
What other hobbies do you enjoy as a family?
Andrew and Claire like to go ten-pin bowling. We’re fans of watching movies as well (but usually together), and we are members of the EcoTarium, our local outdoor science museum. Also, LEGO. Who doesn’t love LEGO?
New games are coming out almost every week. What do you look for in a game that allows you to commit to buying it?
This is actually a really hard question. In the old days, you would see a game on the shelf, read the back, and make a purchase decision. Then, with the growth of the internet, crowdsourcing opinions (thank you BGG!) became a valuable tool to make a purchase decision.
By having a time where we are all communicating with each other, I think we’re less prone to creating activity silos over the course of time…
With KickStarter really bringing us into what we think is the golden age of board games, the dynamic completely changes. Purchase decisions now must be made for a game we’ll get in six, nine, twelve months. That’s a lot harder.
Since we play with adults sometimes and with kids a lot, every game we look at really should be something that, somewhere, has a specific appeal. Unlike video games where you can wait until they go on deep discount to get something you’ve been looking for, there’s a substantial material cost with board games, and with very few exceptions those prices don’t drop a lot. So, unless there’s something that really hits us hard on a theme, we’re going to be critical regarding the mechanics until we see what the public at large thinks. (again, this is tough with KickStarter).
Every parent has shared the tongue-in-cheek frustration of buying an expensive toy for their kids, only to see their kids have more fun with the box. We really don’t want this to happen with board games, so we mostly look for games for our kids that have mechanics that we as adults wouldn’t hate to play with. One of the reasons why companies like HABA and GameWright are so high on our lists is because of exactly this reason. Both companies produce high quality games with kids in mind, but not necessarily games that only kids would love.
What classic game sticks out in your mind from your childhood? Have you introduced this to your family?
For me, (Andrew), it was Mastermind and Battleship. We did end up picking these up for the kids during a recent Target sale, and they love them. I was overjoyed to come out of our bedroom one morning to see our two oldest playing Mastermind together without our encouragement and having a really great time! We’ve also played some OutFoxed with our kids, which while not a classic game from our childhoods, is very reminiscent of Guess Who, a game I played more times than I care to admit.
Do you have any favorite moments or memories from some of your previous game sessions?
Our youngest, Elliot, is an endless source of hilarity when we play games together. He’s got a really weird sense of things he values sometimes and makes some of the best faces and comments. Knocked over the sticks in Zitternix? Who cares! Now we have all of them! Tipped the balance in Suspend? So what! It made a cool noise!
It’s refreshing and fun to see him looking outside the colored lines, and it’s a good reminder for us too.