When I was in High School I found a copy of the Battletech tabletop game in a bookstore at the local mall. I loved playing strategy games on the computer and had played a few CCGs so I bit the bullet and spent some of my hard-earned money on the game. I’m ashamed to say that I was too embarrassed to ask my school friends to play such a “nerdy” game with me so I somehow convinced my dad to play with me. We’d spread out the paper map and put our mech standees on the board and I’d always be the rules guy checking out the particulars of indirect missile fire and consulting tables when one of us failed a piloting check while running and turning.
Like many teens I was so self involved that I wasn’t aware of how far my dad had put himself out of his normal comfort zone for me.
Like many teens, I was so self-involved that I wasn’t aware of how far my dad had put himself out of his normal comfort zone for me. I had always played games with my mother growing up (the usual suspects like Monopoly, Life, Uno, various card games and one summer where we got hooked on Decipher’s Star Wars CCG) but my dad, however, wasn’t really a gamer. He wasn’t playing BattleTech for his own enjoyment so much as he was spending some time with a son who would be going to college, getting married and starting a family of his own in the next 7 or 8 years.
One of my favorite memories from that time is him always calling out my seemingly crazy plans to take down his larger mechs with my swarm of smaller ones as “Smoke and Mirrors, son. Smoke and Mirrors!” Little did my dad know that years later, long after I’d become a father myself, that I would return to the hobby with an invitation by Shuck to come try out this Lords of Waterdeep game he’d just gotten in the mail.
Once I’d fallen back down the rabbit hole and gotten into the hobby at a whole new level and we were on our way to becoming Pub Meeple it seemed natural to me to want to share my newfound love of games with my young kids. It was with memories of those games with my father in my head that I bought a copy of Castle Panic so we could defend the keep against some orcs and goblins together.
Over the years my four children and I have competed to see who has the best farm, saved the world from killer diseases (we’ve let the world down a few times but we don’t talk about those), fought through Star Wars themed missions and traded plenty of goods in the Mediterranean. We joke and laugh, make up songs about harvest time on the misery farm and generally just have a good time together. I’d like to think that I’m the type of dad that would spend that time with my kids anyway, but the truth is, for at least some of it, they’d have a screen in front of their face or their nose into a book and I’d probably find something else that needed attending to or find a book of my own. Games are a way for me to spend just a little bit more time with these tiny humans that are growing into not-so-tiny humans too quickly.
Games are a way for me to spend just a little bit more time with these tiny humans that are growing into not-so-tiny humans too quickly.
The fact that board games require you to be physically present with those you are playing with is one of the best things about playing them with your children. You have to sit in close proximity to them and will, at some point, communicate with them. Games force some sort of interaction, and in between turns you can ask how school has been or get the inside scoop on all the middle school social drama. We are to the point now that the kids will often seek me out to play games instead of the other way around.
I would never have imagined that I’d have my own little gaming group living in my house, but here we are. Aside from the social aspects of gaming, I think they are good tools to help my encourage critical thinking and problem-solving skills in my kids. Watching them realize how to pull of a chain of actions that leads to a win is often more rewarding for me than getting the win myself. We’ve also had some opportunities to talk about various periods in history or how certain industries affect one another. Once, when my son Atticus created a nasty species he called “Sheldons” in Evolution, we had a cool talk about apex predators and the food chain. We also learned how an ecosystem can become unbalanced once the other player’s species found ways to protect themselves and the Sheldons had to start eating their own. I find other ways to connect with my children of course, but gaming has become one of our favorites and is something we come back to often as a way to spend time together as a family.
Looking back, I wonder if my dad knows how much he influenced me both as a teenager and as a father through his willingness to spend afternoons playing a game that he would never have picked up just to make his son happy. Without realizing it, he helped to plant a seed that wouldn’t fully blossom for years until I had a family of my own. We live in the same town and see one another fairly often, but finding time to spend a whole afternoon alone seems like a luxury we don’t seem to be able to afford. I’m sure if I brought it up to him he’d tell me the same thing he’s told me many times over the years,“Son, the way to repay me is to just be a good dad. Make sure you do the same thing for your kids.”
You got it, Dad.