Over the last several weeks, we chatted about how to pick the perfect game for your family. I outlined several key things to look for when considering a new game, and we talked about each one in turn.
To quickly recap, I count four key things you should know in order to match a board game (or card game, party game, or some other kind of game) to your family's needs and temperament.
The first three on the list are:
Type of competition - direct, indirect, cooperative, or mixed
Luck vs. strategy - how the game balances luck against critical thinking
Playing time - how long it takes to play the game
And now we turn to the final thing you need to know about a game: whether or not all of the players are still in the game at the end. This is the concept of “player elimination.”
If you ever played Monopoly , then first, you have my sympathy. Beyond that, you also know about player elimination. That game mechanic sits at the heart of Monopoly and many other mass-market American board games from the big names, like Hasbro, Milton Bradley and Mattel.
Player elimination is a very common and easy way to determine who wins a game. Are you the last player standing? Is everyone else bankrupt, crushed, or otherwise reduced to bloody, sniveling heaps? Awesome! You win. Congratulations.
But before you get too awfully excited, look around the table and check one more thing: How does everybody else feel? Is your significant other still speaking to you? Are your children smiling or sobbing? Did anybody around the table have fun playing the game or are you the only one who doesn't need a tissue and some therapy?
To be clear about this, I have no problem with elimination in two-player strategy games like chess or checkers. After all, you can't play chess without losing a few pawns along the way.
I also have no problem with severely competitive families. If that's you, then go for it. Knock yourselves out. (Granted, I probably won't be playing with you, but that's another story.)
The majority of families take a more balanced approach. They like simple competition, but they also enjoy family connection and warm memories.
Trust me on this one: It's hard to make warm memories with your kids when someone is crying and somebody else is loudly proclaiming “that's a stupid game.”
The good news is that there are clear alternatives to player elimination games. The bad news is it might take a little looking to find them.
Keeping all players in the action is a common mechanic in German board games. These games, commonly called “Eurogames” or “designer board games,” engage all players all the way to the end.
Instead of figuring out who won by throwing players out, these games use a scoring mechanism that tracks victory points, money earned or some other measure of success.
But most importantly, though, nobody's crying at the end of the game because they just spent 30 minutes watching everybody else have fun while they sat out because they got eliminated.
Experiences like those do not make warm memories.
Stop for a moment and go back to the goal. You're playing games with your kids to have fun with them, build better connections with them, enjoy better communication with them, and to make memories that turn into stories which keep the family coming back for more.
If a particular game doesn't support your goals, then it's not the right game for you and your family. It's that simple. Start with your goal, check on the four keys to finding a great game, and then make your decision about what to play.
Then start making warm memories.