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THE DAD GAME

Four secrets to finding a great family game

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 12:01 am

Everywhere I go, I talk with parents about their experiences with board games. Opinions are always mixed. Take Monopoly for example. Some people love it, others hate it, and a few were emotionally scarred by it.

There's obviously more at work here than simple likes and dislikes.

It turns out that most family game experiences come down to four specific points. If you know how to evaluate these four things for a board or card game, you'll quickly figure out whether it's the kind of game that works well with your family's temperament, interests, and skill levels.

So, what are the four mysterious keys to matching the right game with your family? In order of importance, they are:

* type of competition

* luck vs. strategy

* playing time

* player elimination

We'll start with the type of competition, because that's arguably the most important. Next week, we'll tackle another.

Type of competition

All board games are competitions, right? Well, sort of. Almost every game involve a competition of some kind, but competition itself comes in three specific flavors: direct, indirect, and cooperative.

Direct competition is the one most people know about because it's the easiest one to build into a game.

These games behave like a children's teeter-totter. If you're doing well in the game, then your end is up, which brings my end down. If I help my position, then I hurt your position. The teeter-totter is always moving.

Indirect competition looks a little different. The players are still trying to win the game, but instead of being on a teeter-totter, it's more like a race. We're all running hard, but what each of us do doesn't directly impact the others. Several of us might even be winning -- or losing -- at the same time.

Finally, there are cooperative games. The last type of game turns the tables on traditional competitive games by putting everybody on the same team, and then throwing us all against a shared challenge.

The challenge we face is bigger than any of us can tackle alone, but if we work together, we might just win. Then again, even if we stay focused, organized, and helpful, there's still a very real chance the game might take us down.

The prospect of shared defeat is an interesting motivator in these games, and can turn otherwise competitive players into a wildly creative team. (It's awesome fun to watch the transformation, too.)

What's right for your family?

Every family has a unique dynamic when it comes to competition, but I never met a family that was entirely focused on one kind of competitive play.

Your family probably has a preference in one direction or another. Recognize that preference and feed it.

But at the same time, try something that runs against your main preference every now and then. When you do, watch how everyone interacts during the game. You'll probably see some new things happen!

Perhaps the kid who's usually quiet becomes a creative problem-solver when faced with a cooperative challenge. Or the go-for-the-jugular competitive player finds a new joy in the individual race for the win.

And those are great discoveries to make, because they create stories that last through retelling after retelling.

What kind of competition fits your family the best? Has competition ever been a problem? Share your thoughts and challenges. I want to hear from you!

Fort Wayne resident John Kaufeld is a best-selling author, speaker and dad. He enjoys playing games with his family and letting others know about them. You can email him at john@johnkaufeld.com and read more of his work at www.johnkaufeld.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.