Boys, Girls, and the Rules of the Game

castle ravenloft closeupI’m a gamer. Not computer games, not video games, but board and card games. Complex, multi-hour games like Pandemic, Shadows Over Camelot, The Manhattan Project, Power Grid and Eclipse. You probably haven’t heard of any of ’em, have you? That’s okay. I’ll also play Monopoly and The Game of Life (though I boycott Risk as I find it to be completely un-fun to play for various reasons).

I’ve also taught my children to be gamers too, though it’s worked best with the younger ones. My son and I have had many hours playing WWII reenactment games like Memoir ’44, went through a Dominion card game phase and even went a bit crazy with Killer Bunnies until that one just over-expansion-set exploded on us. Which reminds me, I have a number of Killer Bunnies expansion sets if anyone’s in the market…

The most recent games are backgammon that G- (now 14) and I have been playing every evening, and a Dungeons & Dragons-based board game called Castle Ravenloft. And it’s the latter that is the seed for this post, actually.

My son and I played Castle Ravenloft a few years ago, game after game, exploring the dungeon we’d build as we went along (it’s a random mix of tiles each time) and killing monsters left and right. There’s much of Dungeons & Dragons in this game, which is no surprise since it’s from the D&D company, so each character has “hit points”, an “armor class”, a “range”, etc, as do the monsters we’re trying to defeat.

With G- it was all about figuring out and following the rules. At 12 he was all about the rules. Indeed, he still is, and following the rules is important to him.

In the last month or so I’ve introduced the game to my 10yo K- and her approach is entirely different: she constantly wants to reroll, tweak the rules and bend interpretations so that we have a better chance of winning and so that neither of us ever gets down to a critical level with our health (e.g., hit points), even though there are “healing surges” to resuscitate you if you otherwise are going to die.

K- and I were poised to play a game of Castle Ravenloft over the weekend and I invited G- to join us. Except I didn’t think it through: a boy who is a stickler for following the rules and a girl who likes to bend the rules. And they already argue all the time, sometimes cats and dogs with their communication.

Spider Attack, Castle Ravenloft!G- went first and moved off the stairs and into the dungeon. He added a monster and it promptly attacked him, as they do. Darn monsters.

Then it was K-‘s turn and her character had a range of 5. She counted out her move, skipping the first square because while we’re supposed to start on the staircase that’s the entrance to the dungeon, she’d started on the first square ahead of the staircase. If the two of us were playing, I wouldn’t care. I mean, it’s trivia and the goal of any game is to have fun, right?


G- started arguing and pretty soon they were fighting over whether she could move all six squares she’d moved or whether she was ‘cheating’ by starting one square ahead of the entrance staircase.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting there rather stunned at this rapid turn of events and suggesting it doesn’t really matter and we should just play. But no.

After sighing and rolling his eyes, after one long, drawn out “GOOOoooood.” G- just quit and walked away.

And K- and I played for an hour or so while he avoided us and read a book.

A definite drag since we had come that close to all three of us playing a game — a rare occurrence — but had it fall apart because of the differences in their personalities and developmental stages. He couldn’t accept that bending a minor rule wasn’t a big deal and wouldn’t adversely affect the game, and she couldn’t recant and move one less square so that the rules were met to the letter and we could proceed.

Sometimes parenting is about trying to make things work. And other times, well, other times it’s a matter of sitting back and marveling at the complexity of the journey and how it can unfold in completely unexpected ways.

Fortunately we did kill all the monsters in the dungeon and get out alive, in case you’re wondering. And yeah, we bent a few rules on the way.

4 comments on “Boys, Girls, and the Rules of the Game

  1. I fondly remember playing Stratego with my mom as a young boy. I always won, one reason I loved playing. I suspect she wasn’t trying her hardest against me, but I don’t want to ask her if that was the case. I’ll keep my memories as is, thank you!

  2. Games of all sorts are a wonderful way to connect with children. One thing I have learned is to not emphasize the competitiveness of the game but rather the fun and learning aspects.

    Double, triple, and quadruple solitaire is great fun an the dining room table.

    I still love Super Mastermind for a more logic oriented one on one quiet thinking game.

    Papa Green

  3. I know a lot of those games you mentioned because I’m married to a gamer geek. He is loving Memoir ’44 right now. And I admit that I love Dominion.

    I’m with G. I am a stickler for rules. If you don’t follow the rules, what’s the point of playing the game!?! 🙂

    Have you ever tried Munchkins? Your kids may enjoy it. I think it’s a hoot. I like the Boots of Running Really Fast, despite the fact that they aren’t very good armor.

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