torsdag 31. juli 2014

Teaching kids Dominion

It's summertime, cabin time, and gaming time! But danger lurks. There are lots of excruciatingly boring games for children out there, and if you give them to your kids you're probably going to have to suffer through them on rainy days, repeatedly, ad nauseum. So, avoid the bad old "classics" like Monopoly, Risk, and Snakes and Ladders - and teach your kids some games that are actually fun to play every day!

If your kid can read a little and do some basic math, I would like to recommend Dominion. This is one of the best games ever made, with almost endless variety. Like most good, modern games it has relatively simple rules, and a lot of hidden depth. One of the things that makes Dominion a great game for playing with kids is that even if you are a decent player, there is some element of luck, so no matter what you do you will get your ass handed to you occasionally.

Six and six and six...
Here are some tips on how to make it easier to teach kids Dominion.

Start with simple Kingdom cards

In the beginning, hand pick the Kingdom cards. Start by using the simpler cards (like Smithy, Village, Market, and so on), and introduce the more complex cards and less straight-forward strategies after they have learned the basics. Most kids seem to love attack cards, so make sure there are some in the mix. Kingdoms that are heavy on Curse slow down the game a lot, so if the kids are too young or impatient to play a long game, it might be better to not use these cards in the beginning. If they have some favorite cards, have them in the mix!

Introduce new cards slowly

After you play a game, swap out one to three cards. It will make it way easier to learn the game if you keep the Kingdoms fairly similar in the beginning.

Play two or three player games

Two or three player games take way less time than four (or, horribly, five or six) players, so if the kids are impatient it might be a good idea to limit number of players to two or three. As they become better they will probably start playing the game faster, which will make it more fun to add in a fourth player.

Be patient

Dominion requires a lot of thinking, counting, math, and reading, so be prepared to spend much more time on each game than if you play with experienced players. Even so, I think it's important not to rush kids. Let them think and choose for themselves, but correct them if they happen to miscount, or break the rules! I think giving some occasional strategy advice is good, but make sure they get to do the decisions. Don't sit there and try to make them play every hand in the optimal way. In my experience, most people do not enjoy having other players play games for them, and most also find it annoying to be flooded with well-meant advice - and it might be easier to fall into this trap with children (who might not be inclined to tell you to just shut the fuck up and mind your own damn cards, thank you very much).

Play oddball strategies

I'm of the opinion that one should usually not deliberately throw games with kids. There are some reasons for this. First off, if they are smart enough to play Dominion they'll probably figure it out in no time, and no-one likes to find out they won like that. Also, I'll be taking away from them the joy of crushing me fair and square for the first time! In addition, it's quite simply very unsatisfying for me to not play a game to win, and the point here was to have fun with the kids. But even if you're way better than them there is a legit trick you can do in order to even the odds a bit, without deliberately throwing the game.

In Dominion, there are usually many potential ways to win. So, if I'm playing with kids, I use it as a nice opportunity to try oddball strategies. Often there will be some weird, long-shot strategy in the Kingdom! So skip that Smithy-Big Money and see if you can't find something crazy. Or just use a variant on a normal strategy and see what happens if you try to do it slightly differently. It could be a fun learning experience for you as well!

Basic strategies

After the kids have learnt the mechanics, these are some of the more important strategies that you might want to teach them.
  • Don't buy Victory cards in the beginning.
  • Buy some money in the beginning! Some silver and (later) gold is almost always a good idea.
  • Don't buy too many cards with no +Actions.
  • Start getting Duchies when the Provinces are emptying out.
Then, you might try to teach something about card synergy.
  • One-card combos (like multiple Laboratory and Market)
  • Two-card combos (like Smithy / Council Room + Money, or Smithy / Village)
Once they have learnt these things, you might find that you will have to start fighting harder to win! So, best of luck... to your kids! :D

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