Wednesday, 23 November 2016

So, what am I really looking for in a wargame to play with a child?

I was going to next develop a list of games that I am going to try playing – and ask for recommendations. However, thinking about it I thought that it would make more sense to think about the criteria that would make a game suitable for a child to play so I can then judge if a game might be suitable. I am in no way a game designer so these thoughts are very much of the cuff and from someone that hasn’t given much thought. Any pointers would be more than welcome.  In no particular order here are the things that I think may need to be considered.

1.       The amount of ‘manoeuvre elements’ that a player has to deal with. With the ‘One Hour Wargames’ the boy and I are trying at the moment, although they claim to be a ‘Big Battle’ game, you in fact have at the most 6 units to deal with each turn. Skirmish games are usually considered to be simpler, but if in your skirmish game you have 18 figures running around able to operate independently that is three times as many things to keep track of.
2.       How many different actions each unit can take. If all a unit can move, shot and fight in a turn, that is easy to keep track of. If you are worrying about reloads, overwatch or a morale test this turns into overload for a child quite quickly.
3.       How many rules differing units use / have access to. One Hour Wargames being a useful example again. Every unit uses the same mechanic for fighting – through a dice for a score. You may have to half it for cav or add 2 for heavy foot but this is just a bit of simple arithmetic. Games that have a mechanic that ever unit has access to differing rules can quickly become complex. I love playing Malifaux for instance, but damn, I find it difficult to remember what my units can do, let alone my enemies stuff. Differing rules can be ok if each side has different rules but are the same for that side. So in Space Hulk, Genestealers may play different to the Space Marines, but if you are playing the Genestealers, they all have the same few rules to keep track of – and their player does not have to keep a close track of the Marines rules.
4.       How complex are the command and control rules. Games without any are probably the way to go for children. Or at the least simple ones. DBA’s through a dice and you can move that many elements / groups is probably ok, anything more than that probably a no no.
5.       Are the victory conditions simple, consistent and clear? ‘Kill all the enemy to win’ simple. ‘Have a unit walk of the opposite board edge before turn 10’, probably doable. Any victory conditions that can’t be made clear in one or at most two sentences, probably to much.
6.       Last criteria that I can think of and probably the most important one. How long before stuff happens? I think Peter Pigs pre game in Poor Bloody Infantry is excellently designed to give an exciting asymmetrical game but it is a fair amount of doing stuff before you start shooting each other. Likewise, I prefer games where you can and indeed must manoeuvre for position before the fighting occurs. I feel children however are looking for a game where stuff happens from the get go. Winning may be important to them, but action all the way through is how they want to achieve it.

Any point that I have missed that I should think about. Any advice for things I should consider when looking at games to play? I would be interested in hearing any comments. 


  1. Length of play and whether rules have a reputation for being riddled with exceptions - it creates too much stuff to hold in your had.

    I would also have regard for how much playing space is needed and whether additional space is needed for rosters and quick reference sheets / game tracks etc.

    Your son may well be at a stage in which staying with Neil Thomas is best, but adding rules to it, to make it into 'your' game might produce he most fun and engagement.

  2. Dice and modifiers. If the games uses lots of different dice types, or the game has lots of modifiers (or lots of adding or subtracting the number of dice you roll) this can not go down well. Or complex maths that needs to be worked out (not really a problem these days but some rules from the 70s do my head in!)