6 Reasons to Play Games Without My Kids

Geek Culture Tabletop Games

Last month I shared my top 10 reasons to play board games with my kids. I love introducing them to games and spending time with them and one of my favorite hobbies. But the truth is, I also play a lot of games without them. You’ll notice that many of my reviews are targeting adult gamers, not the kids. Why is that? Well, the fact is, as much fun as it is to play games with your kids, there are also some great reasons to play games without them, too. Here are a couple.

It takes Village to confound a child. That’s the saying, right? Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

1. Complexity Level

Jim Kelly offered some great tips on teaching younger kids more complex games. That’s great for your kids, but it also means that you (and the other teens and adults you game with) aren’t getting the full experience of the game. Games are great for exercising your brain, but not if you’re restricted to your kids’ difficulty level. If you’re playing basketball with your kids and you lower the hoop for them, you’re not getting the same experience and exercise as playing against adult friends. Playing games with your adult friends lets you really dig into meatier games that require levels of strategy that your younger kids are still learning to master. As an example, Agricola comes with rules to play either the “Family” variant or the full version.

Last Night on Earth
Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak is full of zombies. Great for me, not so great for the kids. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

2. Theme and Content

Let’s face it: there are games about just about everything, and not everything is kid-appropriate, even if you simplify the rules. I happen to like zombies, but my kids don’t, so I can either play Last Night on Earth with other people, or not at all. I do seek out games with themes I think my kids will enjoy, and at times they surprise me with what they’d like to play, but there are a lot of games that simply aren’t appropriate for them yet. The same way I share some of my comics with my kids and not others, there are games I’ll play with just adult friends until my kids are older.

Legacy: Gears of Time
Trying to explain the time travel in Legacy: Gears of Time to adults is tricky enough already. I think my kids’ brains would melt. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

3. My Schedule

I stay up later than my kids—kids need more sleep than adults, after all, and I usually need a break from my kids at the end of the day. Just because they’re in bed doesn’t mean I can’t play games, though. I often host game nights on evenings when my wife has to work, because after the kids are in bed I can’t leave the house anyway—might as well have some friends over for a game or two! I’ve also managed to arrange a Pathfinder Adventure Card Game group that meets on Mondays while my kids are in school—it’s time that I’m spending with friends that doesn’t take away from time with my kids.

My kids play roller derby; I play JammerUp. (Technically this isn’t a game I wouldn’t play with my kids—it’s just that the theme fits the topic.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

4. Their Schedules

My kids have a lot of activities. While we’re constantly trying to pare down things so they’re not overwhelmed, my two older girls still have a plethora of activities between the two of them: sewing classes, violin lessons, roller derby—not to mention homework. Most weekdays it seems we don’t have much time for more than finishing those things and having dinner before bedtime. I’d love to play more games with them, but I also want them to pursue their interests and hobbies rather than pushing them into mine. Sometimes they’ll join me when I have friends over for games, and sometimes they’d rather do something else, and that’s fine with me. If they’re playing games with me, I want it to be because they chose to, not because I forced them to.

Becoming a parent can Eclipse the rest of your life unless you make time for other relationships. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

5. Relationships

It’s easy for parents to become completely absorbed into their kid’s lives. As soon as my first daughter was born, my identity shifted in many circles from “Jonathan” to “her dad.” Certainly being a parent is a great responsibility and it’s one of the most important things that I do. But it’s not the only thing I do, nor should it be. Becoming a parent doesn’t mean you cut off ties to your other friends (parents or otherwise), and I’d argue that maintaining relationships outside of your immediate family circle is not only enjoyable but necessary for your mental and emotional well-being. As a stay-at-home dad, I need a source of interactions with adults beyond talking to the cashier at the grocery store. For me, playing board games is one of the ways I’ve made new friends and kept ties with old friends—and it’s more fun than Facebook.

(Oh, and a bonus reason related to Eclipse, pictured above: my kids are simply too fidgety to play something that has that many little bits that need to stay put. Five minutes into the game, we’d have no idea how many of what resource anyone had, and we’d be replacing all those little cubes on the board constantly/)

Chicken Caesar
Don’t take it personally. It’s just Chicken Caesar. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

6. Maturity

My kids are still learning to be good sports (reason #8 in my other post) and one of the hardest things is learning not to take things personally. That’s even harder when a game’s core mechanics involve direct attacks rather than parallel competition. Some games have been known to result in ruined relationships, even among adults. But you can’t play games like Chicken Caesar if you’re afraid of being mean—that puts me (and especially my adult friends) in an awkward position if my kids are at the table. Nobody wins if somebody leaves a game in tears—so I’ll save this sort of game until my kids have a few more losses under their belts.

Well, those are a few of my main reasons for playing games without my kids. How about you? Do you have your kids at the gaming table all the time, some of the time, or none of the time?

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6 thoughts on “6 Reasons to Play Games Without My Kids

  1. Great article and a battle that I am currently dealing with. finding a challenging game for the kids while still replayability to me is difficult. Clue and Zooloretto are currently leading that charge. Are you currently playing the game pictured/listed above solo or with others when you can gather them?

    1. Brad—check out Jim Kelly’s article about playing complex games with younger kids: it won’t necessarily solve everything, but it may give you a wider range of games to choose from just for variety. I don’t play many games solo—I try to get people together on weekends when possible.

  2. Well said.

    I’m pretty lucky to have an 11 year old daughter who plays well as part of my family group. She’s a resource hoarder by nature and has an intuition for stats. My 16 year old tolerates the occasional game of Eclipse, but the whole family enjoys a vying for Tokyo’s Kingship. And, I’m lucky to have a gaming group of mostly college profs, which gives me a fantastic, non-kid, competitive-yet-friendly gaming outlet.

    IMO, kids can be great parts of your group, but it’s got to be the right kids and/or games. I think that the hobby has really helped mine with a more visceral understanding of probability and an appreciation of the benefits of delayed gratification.

    1. I agree with you there about having kids as part of the group—though sometimes the theory doesn’t play out in practice. I’m definitely going to continue playing games with my kids, but I also need to feed my own desire for heavier games by playing with my adult friends.

  3. I occasionally play games with my niece. Currently I struggle with getting her to take turns and understand the point of basic games. Tried teaching her Rumi and ended up playing memory instead. I love games and have friends over for game nights frequently and as my niece gets older she will get to join in on more games.

  4. I appreciate the notion of considering reasons to play both with and without our kids. For me, balance is the issue. My 3 and 7-year-olds take up a very large amount of my time, and playing games with them is often as much for my necessity as it is their enjoyment. But every parent who enjoys games should always be sure to make enough time to play what he or she likes that isn’t age appropriate for children.

    Besides, how else would I ever play Walking Dead?

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