Game School: Creating games with kids (in mind)

I consider myself a lucky guy. I’ve got two great daughters and I can brag about all the things that father’s normally brag about. But I’ve got some extra brag here – because both of my girls harbor a love of tabletop games. I feel slightly strange saying this, but it’s like I grew my own gaming group.

First I want to talk a bit about my youngest daughter, Luca. Primarily because, as the youngest child, she most often goes second when it comes to things (other than Gamewright games of course, where she goes first).

Last fall, Luca and I were talking about making games. She knows that I have a podcast, and although I do most of my design work when she’s theoretically in bed, that’s only a theoretical state which she often disproves. So she’s seen me hammering away at the keyboard often enough.

As some kids and many adults are, she was under the impression that I simply came up with a game idea, sketched out a few things, pushed a big red button and BAMF! New game!

We started getting pretty deep into a discussion about what it really takes to make a game – design elements, rules writing, play testing, and the lot. That’s when she announced that she wanted to make her own game. I was overjoyed! But she announced this about 10 minutes before bedtime, so we had to wait for another day.

The game that she designed, called Luca’s Diary is a fairly simple one – but as far as first game designs go, especially games designed by 8 year olds, it’s pretty solid. It’s a bit like Bananagrams (which she’s never played, having only recently become proficient enough with letters to really spell). You have a series of word tiles – “the”, “and”, “sister”, “school” and more. Each player also has a play mat that looks like a blank diary. Players scramble to grab words and make meaningful sentences out of them in their diaries. You can grab only one word at a time. When all of the words have been taken (or there’s only 3 or less left) the game is over. The player gets a score based on the number of sentences, and which words were used.elephant-tile

All in all, it took us about three evenings (post-homework, pre-dinner) to get the basic design down. We play tested with bits of torn paper until she was satisfied, and then the real work began. With me running the controls and her doing art direction, we downloaded GIMP and went to town!

She discovered that much like me, she loved envisioning a game, and even play testing the game, but writing easy to follow rules was a hard task. Even with the game firmly grasped in her fore-brain, putting those concepts on paper so that other kids her age could understand them was an epic task.

Game tiles were designed and everything was uploaded to The Game Crafter. Now she has a much better understanding of what goes into making a game. We still haven’t ordered a copy yet though, because she’s coming to grasp now with the economics of printing a game. At $37 a copy for what she designed (cost+shipping) she’s hesitant to pull the trigger.

This is her first design, but knowing her as I do, I doubt it will be her last.

pathWith my older child, Izzie, game design is taking a different tack. Rather than board games (which she still enjoys) she’s been itching to try out a role playing game. These are a bit more time consuming and harder to pull off for a busy family of four but recently her and I got some alone time. We were able to sit down and she rolled up a male elven wizard named Alfonzo Moonbeam.

She’s currently toying with ‘more elven’ names at the moment though, so Alfonzo may have an identity crisis incoming.

I decided to go the Pathfinder route with Izzie, for several reasons. First, I’m fairly familiar with the system. Second, she likes big, crunchy books with complicated plots (for her age) and lots of neat things crammed inside. Her eyes lit up when I handed her the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. This is exactly the kind of thing she’s looking to sink her teeth into.

She’s decided that she’s the elven equivalent of a 14 year old wizarding student (1st level character) and I’ve managed to drag one of my 42 year old friends into this campaign as well. Now I’m not only designing board games, but I’m also putting together a wizarding school and an adventure that will (hopefully) capture the imagination of my daughter and my friend.

Even though we’re playing a slightly simplified version of Pathfinder, it’s still looking like a chunk of work to put this together! Fortunately it’s the kind of work I wished I was getting paid for and it’s been quite fun starting off.

That’s how I’m kicking off my 2014 – gaming with my kids!

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