December 21, 2009

Why Carcassonne is Great For Kids Too

I am a gamer, and one of the things I am always on the look out for are games that I can play with my kids. My oldest son is five - and with a few modifications to the rules - I've found that Carcassonne is a great game for us to play together. I'll outline my rules changes below, but first let me tell you why Carcassone is such a kick ass game for both kids and grown ups alike.

4 Reasons Carcassonne is Good For Kids
1. Easy to Learn, Easy to Play: Carcassonne is a "tile game". The tiles are well illustrated depictions of medieval towns, roads, farms, monasteries, lakes, and the like. You pick tiles at random and use them to build the game board as the game progresses. Thus, every time you play the game board is different - which is somewhat reminiscent of Settlers of Catan. Each player has these little wooden men that are used to claim the towns, roads, monasteries, etc as they are created. Points are based on how large the towns are, how many towns your farms reach, or how long the roads you own run. It's a straightforward system that scales well with a wide range of skill levels; new players can be introduced to the game and be playing in about 5 minutes or less. Kids included. Oh, and although the game officially says "Ages 8+"; kids as young as 5 can easily play with a few small modifications and with an adult player to help them along.

2. It's Portable: The basic Carcassonne boxed set is enough tiles for four, perhaps five, players to have a challenging game.  The box is small enough to fit in a backpack, and doesn't take up so much room that traveling with it in a suitcase is a problem. 

3. Reading / English Not Required: Another reason Carcassonne is great for little kids is because it doesn't require any reading. I know that some kids are already reading Catcher in the Rye at age 5, but my son's reading is still fairly basic - so finding a game that we could play together needed to limit the amount of reading required. Carcassonne's tiles are free from text, making the game easy to pick up for kids no matter what their native language.

4. It Builds Strategy Skills: A basic strategy of Carcassonne is that you hedge your bets - you don't know how the game board is going to end up being laid out, so you need to spread your men around as you play. Kids playing Carcassonne learn the basics of strategy through guesswork. Not knowing what tiles they will get leads them to be cautious about the size of the towns they build, or the roads they make. Especially at early ages, playing games that encourage thinking ahead of their turn helps develop the critical thinking skills needed to succeed at more difficult games later on: like the game of life.

My Simplified Carcassonne Rules for Little Kids
In my house, I've trimmed the rules to accommodate my oldest son, who was five when he started playing Carcassonne. These changes won't make any sense unless you are familiar with the game.
  1. Ditch the Farmers. The strategy of using farmers in basic Carcassonne requires a bit more planning than the other ways to gain points. There's a substantial amount of strategy involved blocking other player's farmers and pushing your own. And frequently, games can be won or lost solely on the placement of farmers during play. By ditching the farmers, you can let the kids focus on things that generate points immediately: towns, roads, and monasteries. 
  2. First one to 50 points wins. Instead of playing the game until all the tiles run out; by playing until the first player reaches 50 game are faster. With shorter games, kids also have more opportunities to "be a winner" which builds confidence and helps them master the rules faster.
  3. Limit the Number of Men. In the standard game, each player is given a dozen (?) pieces at the start of the game. For kids, I've trimmed this down to three pieces. By limiting the younger players to three men at a time, they can focus on finishing towns, building and finishing roads, or completing the squares around a monastery before moving on to the next man. 
That's basically it. Carcassone is a great game for kids and "grown ups" - and I highly recommend it for parents who are looking for a new puzzle or tile game to play with their younger ones. Plus, couples who enjoy playing games together can still enjoy Carcassone once the kids are in bed.

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