Tales from the Fireside – You Know, For Kids!

Another Tale from the Fireside, wherein Campfire Burning thinks you should change your gaming ways… if only for the children.

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For Christmas my nephew and nieces were given an Xbox 360. The two older children loved it. They’d seen the adverts, they knew what Kinectimals was, and even before the thing had been hooked up to the TV they were playing dead and slapping their thighs to encourage Cutie the tiger to come over and play with them.

The youngest child, my two-year-old niece Maddie, was more concerned with running around in front of the TV and upsetting the Kinect sensor than she was with playing with the other kids, so to distract her I foraged around in their board gaming cupboard. Maddie, being only two, can’t yet read titles or understand instructions, but she recognises board game boxes well enough and knew which of the games she most wanted to play. She pulled out a magnetic travel chess set and Candyland, and told me in no uncertain terms that we’d be playing these games and no others. And I, seeing this as an opportunity to indoctrinate her into board gaming at a young age, set up a game of Candyland for the both of us, put her half-chewed yellow gingerbread man piece on the starting square and drew her first card for her.

“No uncle,” she said. “I’m the horsey.” At which point she used a Chess knight to stomp the bejesus out of the poor gingerbread man.

Of course she was too young to play the games, and I was a fool to think otherwise. But what were these games doing in the children’s cupboard in the first place? If my youngest niece was too young to play, maybe they’d be more suited to my oldest niece, Makayla .

I played Guess Who? with Kayla. It didn’t go so well. She’s six – at the bottom end of the game’s recommended age range, but still just within it. She couldn’t quite grasp the rules of the game: her questions were far too specific to narrow her selection down. In fact she pretty much came out of the gate slinging accusations as to my guy’s identity. After she’d lost a few games, she started cheating. She couldn’t read the names of the characters but she sure as heck could point him out from the board in front of her. “Is it him?” she said, pointing at a brown-eyed individual with white Mr. Whippy hair. I looked at my own board, where Karl – the selfsame character – looked back up at me. Then I looked up at Kayla’s wide-eyed poker-face. “It is,” I said. “You win. Kayla, how did you guess that?” Her eyes grew even wider, and her lips pressed tight and high on her face in a smug smile that said “Face it uncle, I’m just better than you.” She’d cheated, of course. Unless you have psychic powers, you don’t win Guess Who? on your second turn.

Two children down. That left Michael, my nephew. Michael is not a board game kid. He’s not static. He’s up and about, zipping around the room like a rogue electron. He’s the only boy in a house of girls, and has far too much energy for anyone to keep up with him. I have to admit, I wouldn’t bother trying to play Guess Who? or Candyland, or any other tabletop game with him. Video games are a different matter. They transfix him. “What’s that game?” he says when he spots a screen filled with colourful explosions. Being the little leaden lump he is, it’s difficult to drag him away when such a game catches his attention. It’s as if his leg bones erupt from the soles of his feet and dig down into the floorboards as soon as he spots anything even resembling a video game. Even when the other kids are having their turn he’ll be ducking and diving in response to the on-screen action, and trying to snatch the controller away from them. He likes big games; colourful, kinetic games packed with action.

And I have the perfect card game for him.

It’s called Redakai, and it hasn’t been released yet. It’s a trading card game for kids created by the fellows behind Ascension: Chronicles of the Godslayer. It’ll be out later in the year, as part of a multi-media barrage of toys and cartoons that are all a part of the Redakai franchise. Trading card games for kids are nothing new, but Redakai has a few unique tricks up its sleeve. For a start, the cards are lenticular. You know those old rulers you had as a kid, where you’d twist them and the characters on the front moved back and forth? They’re like those. Twisting Redakai cards brings your heroes and villains to life. But there’s more to it than that.

All the effects and attack cards you play in the game are transparent, and slot in over the character cards. As the layers of cards build up it looks as if the fireballs, forcefields and whatever else you’ve played are actually happening to the characters beneath. Even more clever, these layers obscure and add to certain statistics on the cards beneath them, so instead of keeping track of damage and attack values on paper or in your head, they’re all portrayed on the cards right in front of you. Want to see the end result of a long chain of attacks and responses? Just look at the stats visible through the uppermost card. This see-through lenticular 3D animation is a gimmick, yes, but one so ingenious the thought of it makes me feel like a kid again. And while Redakai mightn’t be aimed at some greying old codger still waxing lyrical about the 1980s, it sure as hell is going to appeal to my video game obsessed nephew.

And that makes Redakai unique among the three games I’ve mentioned. I know I was a big board-gaming naysayer as a child. I know I didn’t like Monopoly or Scrabble, or any of the other classic titles that put me off gaming for so long. But there were games I wanted that invariably had moving parts and strong adventurous themes – games like Screwball Scramble and HeroQuest. Kids’ games, but games all of us kids of the ‘80s are still talking about. Games should be fun, right? They shouldn’t be regimented like a diet. You don’t have to worry about your kids gorging themselves on sweets for breakfast, lunch and dinner with board games. So why do we give them these old traditional classic board games most of us adults would turn our noses up at?

Why do my nieces and nephews have a board game cupboard full of titles they’re evidently not interested in?

Hang that, I say. Throw your Candyland in the bin. If you want your kids to be gamers, get them the games they want. Children are idiots, I know. They want all manner of terrible tat – how else can you explain the enduring sales of Magic Wigglee, the worm on a thread? – but if you make your kids sit down to play Ludo on games night instead of indulging them in a little Mega Ultra Transforming Ben 10 Force, they’ll grow up resenting it. Remember when you wanted Fireball Island for Christmas but ended up with Cluedo? Remember wanting Crossbows and Catapults but getting The Game of Life?

Don’t make the same mistakes your parents did. Get your little darlings something bright, something flashing, something stupid and something fun. Get them something that won’t make them want to cheat – or worse, turn on the Xbox. Otherwise: Board games? You might as well call them ‘bored games’.

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Campfire Burning would love it if you emailed him – campfire@littlemetaldog.com – if only to prove him wrong. Also, he’s not the only grown man excited about Redakai. I’m utterly hyped for it, mainly down to watching this video:

How can you not be excited?! Curse my desire for the new…

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