Go on, admit it. When your first squalling infant emerged into the world, you celebrated, you looked fondly on as she took her first step, grew her first tooth... and yet, in the dead of night, you were already plotting to get her to join your hobby.
Here’s our suggestions for the first games that should hit the table, once your young turn ten or so. Use whatever rationale works best. Call them ‘Family Night.’ Call them a bonding activity. Because really, you know you’re training your ninja spawn, honing her skills so one day she can go out into the world and kill on her own... at the Agricola table.
[Note: if you’re not already a board gamer, you’ll be seeing the world this way just a few games in. Jump in!]
Ticket to Ride
Probably the ultimate family game, in Days of Wonder’s venerable Ticket to Ride franchise, you teach your children to take the cards their opponents need out of sheer cruelty, to sense and exploit weakness, and to block other players’ moves. Like Karate Kid’s Mister Miyagi might say, ‘Wax on, wax off!’
Settlers of Catan
Settlers of Catan is a game in which players build up settlements that score them resources on certain rolls of the die. There’s also a trading phase, so game ninjas-in-training can learn when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, when to trade and when to hold out. The dice still play a big role in your ultimate fate, so young players can always blame their failures on luck.
Not all beans are created equal. This light card game teaches young gamers the importance of scarcity, and acquiring the right bean at the right time. If your young student can master the art of trading a stink bean for a valuable one, then what are you doing reading this article? You should have them enrolled at La Sorbonne already!
Every budding ninja needs to know her limits. In this push-your-luck game, players can either give a chip or take a card, but chips are important (and limited), and cards give negative points. No Thanks! features incredibly simple rules but strategy that takes a lifetime to master, and it’s a quick game, sure to satisfy even the most jaded sensei.
Lurking inside every child gamer is a vicious beast, struggling to emerge and destroy! What makes the tile-laying game Carcassonne singularly appropriate for training young gamers is its scalability: it can be played casually, simply, kindly... but once players are past the basics, they can use meeples and tiles to destroy other players’ cities, to cancel each other’s farmers out, and to steal points out from under their opponents’ noses.
Sneaking past an enemy daimyo’s forces requires swift, precise movements. Spend a few hours a week sharpening your students’ coordination with this block-piling dexterity game, and each hour will repay them tenfold... with the swift deaths of their enemies.
Young shinobi all think they’re going to live forever. An experienced ninja is always aware of the possibility of defeat; that’s how they learn to value patience. Sometimes the long way around is best. K2 is perfect for imparting these lessons – players scale the world’s toughest peak, choosing their path up carefully, hanging back as long as they can while struggling to acclimatise to the thinning oxygen every step of the way. Sometimes players have to harden their hearts, and leave one of their team’s climbers behind – but to make a decent omelette, you have to break some yolks.
The young trainee's mind should never be at rest, but there are times when an abstract, Tetris-like game is just what the doctor ordered. Blokus works well for two, three or four; it refines players' sense of spatial relationships, helping to develop IQ and grace under pressure. You don’t even have to know your Jackie Chan from your Koharumaru to enjoy this one.
Survive! Escape from Atlantis
Survive! is based on an ’80s-era classic in which players flee the sinking island of Atlantis while trying to keep track of their hard-won treasure amid the chaos. As the venerable Sengoku-era Ninja master Hachisuka Tenzo learned during his botched attempt on Takeda Shingen’s life, knowing how to escape in style can be as important as knowing how to get in.
Swift calculation, economy of movement, focus: these are the watchwords of the ninja. Alhambra is a city-building, tile-laying game that rewards those who can react to their opponents’ actions as efficiently as possible. Use Alhambra to refine your trainee’s tactical sense.
The last step in the ladder before joining the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or playing Agricola). It’s a game about keeping animals in a zoo. Unfortunately for this metaphor, there’s nothing even remotely menacing about it.