The hardest part about introducing kids to a complex game has to be losing. Not you, your kids. even kids old enough for technical strategy can be overwhelmed by the devastatingly huge library of cards for each kind of Trading Card Games. Here are some tips for keeping games with your kids fun and friendly.
- You are going to lose. This is one of the first things I tell my kids about most games they are playing for the first time. I let them know that no matter how much time, money, practice, and hope they put into their decks, they will still lose eventually. At first, it will be a given. They have to learn. But there are some other ways to bring things together.
- Play face-up. With each player’s hand revealed, you can coach your kids on good timing and strategy. Transparency, and a willingness to kill yourself will go a long way here.
- Have the same rules for both decks you learn with. Even better, play with twin decks. I like to use a green elf deck in Magic: the Gathering when training new players. I’ll include the deck’s information at the bottom of the post, to help you get the idea. Use straightforward cards, few fancy rules, and a mix of cheap and expensive cards. This way, kids don’t have to remember the mechanics in your deck while trying to learn their own mechanics. One set of rules is hard enough. Leave it at that.
- Play with common opponents. The M:tG format Two-Headed Giant allows two players to play at the same time against another two players. This method of playing in teams can be super helpful for young players. They can see how three other players play while they participate. They have a dedicated person to ask questions. They have a partner when they win, and when they lose, they aren’t alone. Shared defeat is less bitter, and shared victory is twice as sweet.
- Finally, be prepared for your kids to fall apart, or to be jerks sometimes. It’s your job to teach them good sportsmanship. A common protocol of good sportsmanship allows kids to follow a script. When my son plays with me and/or my friends, all participants are expected to say “good game” if they lose, and “thank you for playing with me” if they win. If a kid falls apart (which happens, rarely), everyone is expected to be supportive. If someone is a poor loser, though, they have to sit out a match, and regain their composure. I have been known to play one handed, allowing the kid to hold my hand and draw/place cards for me, so I can hug them and provide emotional support without losing the chance to play, too.
There’s no one way to play, but there are some specific abilities/elements I’d avoid for brand new players. Introduce these concepts after players are comfortable with the basics to keep things positive.
- Counterspells. Kids finally getting to cast their Big Bad can feel deflated, even cheated, because of a counter.
- Deathtouch: This ability instantly kills any creature it fights, no matter how strong they are.
- Pacify: This one surprises veteran players when I suggest it, but crippling any creature can be a shock for a new player.
- Milling: New players, especially kids, feel deflated and harassed when they watch their deck get discarded before they can play them. Seeing your favorite card hit the graveyard can hit you in the feels.
Another great option is to buy two of the same starter deck. Since starter decks come pre-built, with a decent variety of cards, you don’t have to think too hard about what might work best. All the rules are explained in the included instructions, and buying two decks means that you can combine them later, to practice building a deck with a strategy already defined.
In the end, know your kid. Set them up for success. Teach them the basics well, and then let them build their collection when they are ready. I’ve given our son a starter deck of my own design (the one below), one of the Holiday Packs (which I love) and a Fat Pack. This set him up with lands, a variety of cards, and control over where/how his cards are stored. This works well for him, but your mileage may vary.
Here’s the deck I mentioned before:
- 4 Llanowar Elves $0.35
- 4 Arbor Elf $0.8
- 4 Elvish Mystic $0.10
- 4 Elvish Visionary $0.13
- 4 Sylvan Messenger $0.87
- 4 Elvish Archdruid $0.65
- 4 Force of Nature $0.21
- 4 Chorus of Might $0.05
- 4 Enlarge $0.05
- 4 Staff of the Wild Magus $0.02
- 20 Forest
This deck is a basic ramp deck. Create lots of mana, and use it to devastate your opponent. With lots of low-cost elves, and mana generated every time you blink, even the expensive cards can be played early in the game.
It costs ~$25 at current prices, not including lands, but I owned most of the cards when I built the decks. I spent maybe $5 for the missing cards. We find that two players using copies of this deck have an easy time learning how to use the basic rules and strategies.
If you have tips you’d like to share with other GeekDad readers (or the writers!), please comment below!