Congratulations new parents!
You have increased the difficulty of your life, and as gamers you are fully capable of handling this new challenge.
Parenting is quite like playing a particularly complex board game, lots of resource collection and management, so many complex objectives and secret ways of scoring victory points, everything takes way longer than you thought it would and it comes with really cute miniatures.
The problem is…what about all the other board games?
The answer is complicated, and changes based on your own personal experience and mileage may vary, but I am going to share some things that worked for me…sometimes.
My daughter was one of those babies that did not like to be sat in one place for long periods of time and wanted to move around so most of the time I would be playing with only one available hand or would have to be stood up and walking around and away from the table. The best games for this situation were ones where all the components are kept on the board or table and, if necessary, I could instruct someone else to move the pieces for me. Games with hidden movement or hands of cards that need to be kept secret were more challenging here.
Carcassonne is a classic of the tile laying genre designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede for Z-man Games. Slowly building the historically accurate map of the French city of Carcassonne. This game has been around forever and for good reason. It is perfect for new parents. The rules are simple and easily digested so you do not have to keep checking the rulebook. Your collection of worker meeples are all kept on the table in front of you and anyone could place them onto the map for you if you happen to be holding a baby.
Cooperative Games as an entire genre are perfect for new parents. They are great training tools for practicing the most important skills for parenting: compromise and teamwork. We found that you could choose slightly more complex cooperative games as you are doing everything as a team, but you will still want to check the length of the game and how much the game might ask you to keep from other players.
Flash Point Fire Rescue worked particularly well as an example here. Flashpoint Fire Rescue is a game where you play as a team of firefighters, rescuing a family from a burning building designed by Kevin Lanzing. It has a similar feel to Pandemic, constantly fighting the threat of the fire spreading like a disease through the house and slowly destroying the buildings structural integrity but it is a bit easier to setup and you do not have your own personal hand of cards. As everything is on the board, you can easily instruct other players to help you move around the board as needed. Cooperative games can have difficulty with one player taking over and telling everyone what to do, in this situation, make them hold the baby and maybe the distraction will keep them too busy to take over.
Easy Rules, Setup & Break Down
When I did have both my hands free, maybe while my daughter napped, I was still feeling tired and did not want to have to keep track of lots of complicated rules. I am the rules person of my group, and I did not have the brain capacity to memorise a big book or keep track of the rules for other players. Simple, easy to remember rules or games where the rules are written on the cards for everyone to see made this easier.
An average babies sleep cycle is around 45 minutes and so there’s no time to waste while they sleep. We needed to maximise playing time, so games we could setup quickly and effortlessly were a must. Also, our time was too precious to put a million little tokens into individual tiny bags so throwing everything back in the box when we were finished was always a plus.
The Isle Of Cats – Family Mode
The Isle of Cats is designed by Frank West and along with the more complicated rules for the standard game it comes with a family mode which is a pared back ruleset. These rules are designed to cut straight to the core of the gameplay and remove any fiddly bits and hidden information which would be difficult for children to play with. This turns The Isle of Cats into its simplest form of placing awkwardly shaped cats onto a boat and is ideal for my sleepy parent brain. The rules are super simple to follow, all the components remain on the table so it can still be played while your hands are occupied, and the play time is quite snappy.
Railroad Ink is a roll-and-draw logistical transport management game created by Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva. The challenge here is to roll 4 dice depicting train tracks and motorways and draw them on your board in a coherent and aesthetically pleasing manner. The game is out of the box and on the table in seconds and you will be planning your network simultaneously making for a speedy playtime. The individual player boards have icons to represent all the scoring rules and the game can be played one-handed as you only need to hold a pen. The short rounds and drawing the network onto the player board meant that Railroad Ink can easily be paused between rounds or even put back into the box with little worry of losing progress (as long as you remember which turn you are on), however the game is quite short anyway.
Nimalia is a newer favourite of ours, but it fits this category perfectly. Nimalia is designed by Wiliam Lievin and has you attempting to create a nature reserve that suits the needs of the different animals by creating an overlapping grid of cards. The setup is just laying a few cards out so everyone knows the objectives for the game and the design of the objectives is neat and clear so you can easily put everything together. Nimalia has changing objectives every game which keeps it fresh so you can play multiple times with only small changes and the rules are all depicted on the cards with simple iconography that can be learnt very quickly.
Games That Can Be Paused
Those 45-minute sleep cycles as new parents are only guidelines and interruptions are frequent. Sometimes we would be able to leave a game for a bit and come back but other times we needed to put it away and hopefully return to it next time. We loved playing games that can be paused and returned too without any hassle. This is where crime solving games were the champions. We found that this type of game was not a problem when it was interrupted as we could continue away from the table by discussing theories before coming back to it later. The cases are also flexible on time as you decide when you think you have gained enough information so we could stop playing when we wanted. This flexibility was especially helpful as new parents and made it much easier to get them to the table.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is a murder mystery game by Gary Grady, Suzanne Goldberg and Raymond Edwards. The game works by giving you a map of London which has reference points for locations you can investigate, and a pile of newspapers with further leads. The locations on the map and leads in the newspaper are then found in a book which tells you the nature of the crime and your starting position before then allowing you to explore the crime scene, speak to the different characters and suspects and examine those leads you pick up on. The game creates a murder mystery through only a handful of components meaning it is quick to setup and the rules are minimal. You can explore at your own pace and take all the time you have available to you.
Suspects is a murder mystery crime-solving game by Guillaume Montiage. The game consists of a deck of numbered cards, and you go through picking out the cards that match leads you have found or just based on your new parental instincts, people you wish to speak to and locations or items you find. The system is interesting and putting everything into one deck means that it is easy to get started. You can pause the game and keep track of which cards you have already seen, which allows for interruptions when necessary. We really enjoyed going through these cases and discussing them between sessions. Suspects has a lot of flexibility in its playtime, allowing you to stop when you feel happy with your answer. Remember that real detectives wake up at all hours of the night and go out to solve crimes so why not you.
Get Them Involved
Finally, as my daughter has gotten older and started to become interested in those colourful boxes of dice, cards and meeples, we have started to share the experience with her. We have to ignore most of the rules and treat the components in new ways, but it has been worth it to see how excited she is to play with them. She likes to find and match the different bugs in Hive and match the pictures in Dobble, knock over any tower I try to build in Rhino Hero and throw all the dice in the Dungeons & Dragons RPG Starter Set.
We have had to be adaptable and accept we can’t always play the way we wanted or when we scheduled it as new parents. It has been harder to play with friends and some of the games we like have had to sit out for a while. This experience can be rewarding but equally it can be mentally exhausting, anxiety-inducing and isolating so I want to remind you that it is always OK to ask for help if you need it and to share your feelings if you are finding things hard. You are not meant to do this alone and there is someone out there who wants to listen to you and help where they can.