Gaming Strategies for multi-aged Gaming Groups
Gaming is about many things. Some of us game for fun, some for the social aspect, some to win – but for most of us, it’s some combination of those interests that attracts us to gaming. So, for the moment, let’s look at a couple of games and consider strategy as a way to make games more fun for all the players. Let’s face it, it’s more fun if you’re not getting womped all the time and as we play across ages (generations in fact) in my game group, some level of strategy is important to keep the ‘tweens from feeling like there’s no point in playing if you’re not a grownup.
So…Let’s talk strategy. But not individual strategy, rather strategies that allow more players to have more fun by being more competitive.
More words have been written about this game than I can count.
I tend to like card games, so let’s look at my favorite hybrid tile/card game first, Settlers of Catan. More words have been written about this game than I can count, so let me focus this discussion on the strategies that specifically allow for cross generational groups to play.
Catan, in its simplest form, is a very straight forward game. There are 19 land tiles and some water surrounding them. You build roads, build settlements, build cities and aim to be the first one to reach the Victory points to win (somewhere between 10 and 13 depending on how you play). One of the first things our game group discovered was that adding boats & water that the players can use made the game more interesting. We also discovered that adding these to the game gave more strategies to win, and that opened the game up to more people winning from different approaches. In the base game, there are only a couple of strategies that can win. If there are more than 2 players, all of the strategies involve thinking many moves ahead, making sure you don’t get locked out of the richer producing lands, and planning to block the competitor.
Since we most often play with 3 or 4 or 5 players, it means the ‘tween gets out maneuvered pretty regularly. We figured if we want to keep our ‘tween interested in one of our favorite games, we had to make some changes. Seafarers allowed us to do this. Seafarers comes with a bunch of pre-laid out maps – many of which have multiple islands. And therein lay the game that could allow more folks to play and have a better chance of winning (or at least competing). With a mainland that everyone starts on and 2 or 3 or 4 islands (generally of 3-5 tiles each) that are available for people to sail to, the game becomes more about where each player chooses to focus. We add to that a couple of other pretty standard variants that a lot of our friends of all ages really like. First, we add something referred to as “Green Catan” which allows any player to “burn” anything that cost an even number to build (roads, ships, & settlements), removing them from the board and regaining ½ the resources used to build them. This helps the player that made a bad strategic choice or who got cut off by another player reclaim their pieces and some resources to build in a different direction.
The great thing about this is that everyone gets to play...
The other variant we really like is one whose name I can’t remember, but that we refer to as “chits.” This one makes sure that if you happen to be on all the bad numbers (or the good ones, if the dice just happen to hate you this game) doesn’t get left behind by chance. Any time the dice roll and the producing number is not one you have either settlements or cities on, you get a counter or “chit.” When you reach the same number of chits as you have victory points, you have to trade them in *at that point* for a single resource of your choice. This is obviously weighted toward the players with fewer victory points, thus leveling the playing field a little, especially for those who are younger or newer to the game. The great thing about this is that everyone gets to play and no one gets left behind. It’s a lot more fun for everyone this way.
One of our other favorite games is Carcassonne. This game is again one that’s been written about a lot and is a fairly straight forward game, at its most basic. While this game has tiles like Catan, there are no cards, removing one element. The game is won by gaining the most points – and points are won by completing cities (bigger ones are worth more points), completing roads (longer is better) and owning “farms” that support cities with your 8 little guys. Farms are worth more, the more cities that are touched by them. As a result, if you don’t have your little guys on the right farms, you almost can’t win – regardless of how many cities you’ve completed or how big they are.
[I]t’s hard for the younger members of our games group to compete...
Again, it’s hard for the younger members of our games group to compete with that kind of requirement. So when Rio Grande came out with several expansions, we tried them out. We’ve settled on 4 that we really like – 2 of them especially because they even the playing field and open up more winning strategies. We like the River Expansion – as it gives us more river to play with and we like that for some inexplicable reason – but it’s not a game changer for the tweens. We also use Traders & Builders, because we like the aspect of extra tiles while building cities/roads and trade goods, which make cities better prizes. The two that do change the game and make it more accessible to our younger players are the King & Scout expansions. King goes to the player who built the biggest city and gives them 1 additional point for every completed city in the game. The Scout does the same for roads. The real advantage for both of these is that it allows every player to win regardless of their approach. Whether as a player you prefer the long game of farms or the shorter more exciting game of cities or the more random game of roads – it’s possible to win a number of different ways. This allows the younger players (and the newer, non-hardcore players) to enjoy the game and even have a shot at winning, far more than when we play just the basic game.
So there you go – Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne – with their own variants/expansions that allow players of all generations to play together. Our group currently includes active players from 12 to 53 – and all enjoy playing these games when augmented in these ways.