Me? I’m a veteran of many Risk campaigns. I have taken Space Marines into battle. Searched dungeons with a band of heroes, for treasure and glory. I have marshalled troops against Axis forces. Formed squares against Napoleon and his armies. I have conducted Diplomacy with fellow European leaders. Finally, I have had my dreams realised, and dashed, as a property magnate in Monopoly.
My opponent, and current nemesis, enjoys Animal Crossing. She plays Fortnite with a fierceness that can only be matched by a lioness protecting her cubs. She has only just entered her second decade on this planet. Can wrap her Dad around her little finger. She has maths homework to do and has a cabal of cuddly pugs, at her command. What follows is a list of family games where she has bested me on her first attempt.
The aim of this classic tile laying game is to score points for the size of your completed castles or the length of your roads. It stands proud as the definitive gateway game. This has provided us many hours of fun. You may have also had fun with this game but, I ask, have you tried playing with a cutthroat 10-year-old whose sole aim is to beat her Dad? I have died on the pyre of my own hubris many times. It starts slowly, she lulls me into a sense of security. I start making my roads and building my castles with gleeful abandon. She finds that piece I need and does it again, and again. Stalling any progress I ever hoped to make. This leaves me with a bunch of half-finished constructions.
It’s like she has some kind of sixth sense around what I could possibly need. I rue the day we bought her a load of jigsaws when she was a toddler. She has weaponised them and I am the target.
I like social deduction games. The ability to not only play the game, but the other players and you can talk your way out of trouble. This is based on the classic Werewolf. It condenses the game down into a ten-minute chunk of talking your way out of situations. In a time when Among Us is being rolled out to every platform. Social deduction looks like it could be the next video game trend. Where you can’t trust anyone, not even yourself, and most definitely not my daughter.
My skills honed in Diplomacy family games should stand me in good stead. A 10-year-old who has honesty written through her. This should be a slam dunk for me. But no! The lies that have been told in service of the game have even stumped legal minds. Not only that, she can read me like an open book. She employs the tactic of never trusting me. This leaves me in the position of having to constantly convince people I am not lying, and failing. I mean why would this cute butter-wouldn’t-melt child, who loves and respects her Dad throw him under the bus? To win the game is why.
The core of this game is simple, which I like. A game of tile collection and laying. The aim is to complete a pattern determined by your player board. You score points for how many tiles you have adjacent to each other. The placing of the tiles is a satisfyingly tactile experience. It's also one of my favourite gateway games. I've introduced it to family and friends and never felt like I would dominate the game just because I know the rules, it feels fair. Except for when the little girl who you used to cradle to sleep steals the tiles you are trying to score. Leaving me scrabbling around fto pull together a meagre score. This makes me feel like I've been practicing chequers in preparation for a game of chess, with a grandmaster. I’m not even going to go into how I've treated in Azul: Summer Pavilion.
A fun dexterity game themed around putting on a circus performance. You balance wooden meeples on each other, creating a tower of animals, circus performers, wooden planks, and balls. The provided app has a timer that lets you select circus music to perform to in preparation for your performance. The pace of the music picks up the closer you get to the end of the timer. This ramps up the tensions in a way a sand-timer never has. Combine this with a girl who has small hands and nimble fingers. In contrast to my dinner plate hands and sausage fingers, you have a recipe for a daddy disaster. Too many times I've been sat at the end of a round looking at the carnage strewn around me. Strongmen crushed by elephants, conductors flattened by tumbling tumblers. I look across at the grinning girl opposite me, and her carefully assembled tower.
What did I do to deserve this?
Scythe, the beginner’s edition. A game that started life as a My Little Pony spin-off to Scythe, the print and play is still out there. The aim of this game is to complete four objectives before the other players do. You can do this through various means. The objectives are the same for all players and vary from collecting and delivering apples to winning pie fights and various things in between. This makes it sound like a sweet and innocent game. This sense is fostered further by the cute animals you get to play as. Animals that beg to be painted, if only I had that ability. So, what’s not to like? You have cute animals, pie fights, and rewards for being kind to your opponents. The game is simple, perform an action, perform a different action next turn.
Except for my daughter’s approach to this is how can I beat Dad? If there is an opportunity to be kind, then that will go to her Mum. A pie fight you say? Then have it all Daddy. To the point of being a broken wreck with only a couple of apples to my name.
A Level Playing Field?
All the games listed above are family games that I love to get to the table. I enjoy various elements of all of them. They are good family games and require very little learning. Above all else, I know I will win one of these games, someday. I shall persevere, I am tenacious, and I will not go gently into that quiet night. I will best that little girl if it’s the last thing I do. If I don’t, I will confiscate her Xbox controller. She may be smart, she may be good, but I am in charge. Or so she lets me believe.