Reinvent Board Games to Manipulate the Miniscule
When a toddler pulls a board game off the shelf and wants to play it, a parent might groan inside. “That game is too complicated for his intelligence,” you think. “Now I have the task of redirecting, distracting, and juggling other, more interesting things so he won’t be interested in that board game.”
I’ve found a trick that has a a living room frequently littered with board game pieces when there’s only a preschooler to make the mess: create a simplified game using that board and its pieces. After all, it’s the pieces that fascinate your kid: what do these colored pieces do? What does a set of dice do? What do you do with this board once you unfold it?
We received a game of Clue for a Christmas present one year. We’ve played this particular set by the regular game rules, but it’s not very fun with just two people. So it sits on an open shelf in our dining room with all the other games in the household; we offer to play a game when we have dinner guests over, and everything is within scrutiny’s glance.
Just last month, Toby expressed an interest in Clue. It’s one of our most complex games, with more essential playing cards that could be bent, papers that could be lost and torn from the pad, lots of tiny game pieces that are all important to the game, and pens that I’ve stashed in the game itself because pens are so important to this particular game.
So far, I’ve managed to convince him of things like, “No, that one’s for grown-ups,” or, “How about we play this other board game instead?” But this time, he pulled it out and had it open before I could distract.
“Wow, what’s this for?” I heard over and over. Time to invent a preschooler’s version, I thought as I sat down next to him.
We pulled out the board and I explained the rooms to him. Then we pulled out just the room cards from the well-mixed deck of character and weapon cards. I showed him how each of the room cards matched the rooms. Then we looked at each of the game pieces. My version of Clue is really cool because each of the game pieces is shaped and colored like the character, down to their shoes and the details in their hair. It’s all wonderfully detailed, and it’s perfect for someone just getting to know the characters.
We placed each character where they belong on the board, and I had him pick one. After that, I changed the game from it’s original rules; I tucked everything but what we needed for the game back in the box and closed the lid. Then I put just the room cards on the hall room in the center, faces down. (This particular game board has a room in the center that isn’t on any of the cards.) Then, I had Toby roll the dice.
I read the number that the dice showed, and told him to pick a card in the center. Then I told him that he had to go to that room with his character.
At this point, I discovered that he’s not interested in counting the tiny little squares between rooms. I nitpicked about it for awhile (“No, here: one, two, three. Your piece goes here, not way over there.”) but then realized that he’s more interested in the process of the game, not the concept of following rules and competing to win. So I counted tiny squares on my turns and took two or three turns to get from room to room and he rolled, but then bounced from room to room.
The object was to get your character to the room on the card you were holding. Then you put the card face-up on the room that it matches. Then it’s the next person’s turn. For someone who can’t read, he enjoyed studying the pictures on the cards and matching them to the rooms on the board. It’s novel to him that all the game pieces match up so perfectly like that. It’s also novel to watch the pieces move around the board, to manipulate your environment in such a miniscule way.
And I find I do this with any board game. It doesn’t work with everything; he pulled out one of those BIG boxed puzzles one day. It was of a I Spy scene, with lots of tiny toys. Being the Yes Mom that I like to be, I said, “Okay, sure, we’ll do what you want to do,” and dumped out all the pieces on the dining table. After the awe of so many puzzle pieces, I asked him again if he wanted to do this. He was interested, but after a few minutes of turning all of them over with me image-side up, he wandered off.
Toby watched with interest as I put all the straight sides together and made the frame. I handed him four or five pieces that were obvious they went together and let him fiddle with those while I worked on the big one. After I was about halfway done and feeling in the groove, he started begging me to do something else. I could hear the whine of boredom in his voice, but my stubborn streak set in.
“You said you wanted me to do this, so I’m going to do it,” I told my preschooler. And I did, while he played nicely. I even let him put in the very last piece. We’re not doing another big puzzle together for a few more years.
Besides, we’ve got plenty of board games to amuse him. We make our own designs with Battleship boards and don’t ever battle. We separate the jewels in Mancala into color groups even though the colors don’t matter at all in the actual game. We roll the wheeled game pieces in Trivial Pursuit across the game board and make patterned designs out of the wedges.
We even have an old game called Extinction; I don’t even know what the real rules are to the game or how to really play it. I just know the preschooler version. Considering we never had all the pieces to play the real game, our made-up game is fine with me.