Creative Play: Games
Warning: this particular page is likely to be
until well after the cows arrive back at the barn.
Games are central to so many of the skill sets needed
to survive adulthood and the work place: spatial and pattern recognition,
problem solving, creativity, social interaction, negotiation, and the
list goes on. This category, more than some of the others, promises
or threatens to be rather long and convoluted.
One of the problems of being an only child is that
you are limited to four approaches to games:
talking the adult in the house into stopping what they are
doing to play the umpteenth round of Candyland (a game my mother
abhorred, a fact she admitted to years later, primarily because
I went through a two year phase where I thought it was the coolest
invite a friend to spend the day visiting (a challenge since
the closest neighbors with kids was in the next town over--Hilger
wasn't known for dense population);
playing by one's self or with the closest stuffed animal,
which takes away the challenge, the benefits of social interaction,
and negotiation (negotiating with one's self or asking for a refereed
decision is somewhat problematic);
playing one-person or solitaire games (I was a wiz at Klondike
(Vegas rules) at age 4, compliments of my grandmother Bennett).
From a personal perspective, the advent of computer games has partially
solved some of the downsides of only childhood. On the other hand, they've
created an equal or greater number of problems (including the advent
of couch-potatoism in those under 18). Despite the potential for abuse,
computer games, especially those that replicate traditional board games
are well worth bookmarking or installing on your computer. We'll leave
the field of game reviews to others, but there are some good online
resources to help you make decisions on what to install and what to
stay away from.
Games for the Winter Months
Winter has a habit of limiting the amount of exercise and increase
the number of times you are likely to hear "mom...I'm bored."
There are some great indoor games that may help to limit the number
of time you hear the age old complaint. Have fun.
Game Review Resources (for all sorts of
Board/Card Games. This is about as good a place to start
as any, especially if you have games but have lost the instructions.
Game Ratings from Thought Hammer. While not an exhaustive
list, the folks at Thought Hammer have divided their list up by age
group, which makes it easier to find what you are looking for.
Geek. A fairly comprehensive list and resource for all
The best advice about games probably comes from neighbors and your
local vendor. If you are buying a game at a store, unless it is a tried
and true game that has been around for a few millenia or a few decades,
ask the store owners about the games they carry. Also keep in mind that
age ratings aren't always particularly accurate or may have a limited
age range. Most games come with a "minimum" age rating (4
and up, 7 and up, 10 and up, etc.) based on normal or expected cognitive
abilities. Look at games and think about whether the "rules"
can be modified either for a child under the rated age or for children
who are somewhat older. For example, at the tail end of my "candyland"
period, who had an MFA in painting and decorative arts from the Chicago
Art Institute, changed the rules so that I had to move to a color dot
that was adjacent on the color wheel to the color on the spinner. I
spun and it landed on blue; I had to move to either green or purple,
depending on her set of rules for the day. It should be noted that the
"candyland" period ended soon after the rules change.
Online/Download Classics for Only Children
(sorry...I can't resist).
A perennial favorite, Backgammon, like many of the other classic
games is available on Games.com. I discovered one oddity on the computer
variation...the board is set up backwards from the game I learned from
my mother. Given that the backwards approach seems to be the standard
for online versions, I suspect my mother's version of the game was one
more example of her "creating stuff for southpaws." She was
left-handed; I am not. Backgammon dates from roughly 3000 BC (the earliest
example was found at th Persiane Shahr-e
Sukhteh archaeological site in Iran and is estimated to be a couple
of hundred years older than Ur.) Examples of backgammon can be found
in ancient Egypt and Greece, in medieval Europe (see the tapestries),
and even Iceland (c. 1300 AD). There is, in short, no arguing its ongoing
popularity). Oddly enough, Queen Elizabeth wasn't a particular fan of
what were known as "game tables" (what we would probably now
call most board games these days), so while mainland Europeans happily
pursued the game, Elizabethian Law banned it.The English finally decided,
sometime around 1650 (47 years after Elizabeth's reign ended), that
perhaps game tables, including backgammon, were not the root of all
evil. It should be noted than chess, checkers, and 9 man morris suffered
the same fate.
Man Morris. You can thank the Roman Empire for this game.
While Elizabeth may hva banned game tables (see Backgammon), Nine Man
Morris was popular, even warrenting a mention in Shakespeare's Midsummer
Night's Dream (Act II, Scene I):
These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
In the American colonies, it was simply known as Morris. If you are
looking for "simple to learn / hard to master," this is a
terrific game. Nine Man is based, at least to a degree, on the same
principle as tic-tac-toe (Three Man Morris has a striking resemblance).
The idea is to get three in a row, at which point you get to remove
one of your opponent's pieces, and keep doing it until they other person
is down to two remaining checkers. It is, by the way, a pretty good
game for camping. It requires either a paper drawing of the board or
a drawing in the dust (my father's favorite variation), nine pennies
and nine either dimes or nickles to stand in for the checkers. A variation
of Nine Man Morris is part of the Klutz Game collection, along with
a number of other international board games.
Cribbage. My grandmother believeed that cribbage was
a great way to learn math, or at least that was the excuse she used
when she taught me how to play at age 5. Unlike the two games mentioned
above, Cribbage actually has an identifiable inventor (English poet,
John Suckling, during the early part of the 17th Century) and has its
own organization (The
American Cribbage Congress). The ACC has tournaments and seasons
and standings, although its popularity seems to be limited to the northern
climes, at least in the US. Despite the board, cribbage is actually
a card game and is taken as serously as chess or poker by its adherents.
That said, it is a great game. While game play is fairly straight forward,
learning to count the cards can be a bit difficult. Short of having
a grandparent around to teach you the game, the fastest way to learn
cribbage is by using a cribbage program (you can find some freebees
online that will do the trick). As with backgammon, cribbage requires
a combination of luck and skill, and like Nine Man Morris, it makes
for a good traveling game. If you have a cribbage board but don't know
what to do with it, Wikipedia
has a reasonably good description of the rules and the scoring.
A Deck of Cards. Okay...not a single game. In 2010,
Toy Hall of Fame added playing cards to its roster (along with the
Game of Life). Little known card trivia: A deck of cards inspired the
periodic table (check out Dmitri
Mendeleev, inventor of the periodic table for a longer explanation).
While there are a whole host of games that can be played with a single
deck of cards, the coolest use is building: