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Board games: Help your kids to create their own
Helping your kids build their very own board game makes for a cheap, easy, educational and, most importantly, fun activity.
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There are so many benefits children can draw from playing board games. It engages them in valuable social interactions that teach them how to be gracious in victory as well as defeat, it ups their confidence and communication skills, and it encourages analytical, strategic and critical thinking, from planning their next move to calculating winning points, all while they are having a ball.

Now, if you really want to stimulate their mental and creative capacities, you can take things to the next level by getting them to make their own board game. Kids are natural game designers who fondly remember “that amazing pirate game” they invented the last time they visited granny’s house. All that’s required from you is a little guidance and a few easily assembled raw materials.


What is your family's favourite board game? Have you tried making your own? Share your stories with chatback@parent24.com and we may publish them.


Identify an exciting theme

Start the kids off by getting them to explore possible settings for their game. Are they gaga over unicorns or does their life revolve around powerful superheroes and dastardly villains? A good back story that has them excited will provide the perfect creative inspiration and starting point for the more mechanical aspects involved in designing a game.

Decide on the kind of board game

Consider the skill level and how long the game should last, more or less. Will luck play a role? Then you may want a dice, a spinner or a deck of shuffled cards. Is it all about skill and strategy, like chess? Or perhaps a combination, like backgammon or Scrabble?

How many players will the game have? Two or four? More, or just one?

Here are some popular types of board games:

  • Roll and move games: Think Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, Monopoly. Younger kids may love the simplicity of these games. The element of luck features highly here.
  • Strategy: In strategy games such as chess and checkers, all players have all the info at hand, and they need to out-wit each other. 
  • Deduction: With Cluedo, Mastermind and Battleship, the players need to solve a mystery based on clues.
  • Educational: These include trivia games, such as Trivial Pursuit, or any others that are dense in facts, enable kids to learn about a person, historic period or subject.
  • Guessing games: Charades, Pictionary, Balderdash, 30 Seconds are all examples of fun guessing games where one person describes, the other one guesses.
  • Roll-playing games: Dungeons and Dragons is probably the best-known board game here. Any fantasy scenario and characters can be dreamed up to create a truly spectacular gaming experience.
  • Team games: In games such as Pandemic, all the players work together in a team.
  • Deck-building/engine-building games: Games like Dominion start with each player having a set amount of cards, which they can expand through skill and cunning.
  • Territorial games: Yes, Risk falls into this category. Each player tries to dominate the board.

There are so many more, from solitaires to legacy board games, but these will start them off well!

Characters

Once they’ve settled on a theme, next is the characters the players will represent – a princess or a dragon, a goblin or a shape-shifter – and what actions they will be able to take on their turn to advance the story of the game. What will be the aim of the game, how many people will be able to play, what are the basic rules and how does a player win?

Start with a prototype

At this stage, you’ll do well to get them to build a simple and very basic prototype of their game, by writing and drawing all required numbers, text, pictures and icons on bits of paper and cardboard to create the various components of their game. Throw a couple of dice and a deck of cards into the mix for some extra inspiration. Ask them to write down the basic set of rules for the game.

Their instinct is likely to be to make a beautifully illustrated and colourfully finished product, but you should encourage them to keep things rough and ready. Ugly is perfectly acceptable for now. The prototype will first have to go through some testing to see if it actually works before it’s time to prettify it. If they are hesitant to go along with this apparent delay in gratification, explain to them that this is how “real” game designers do their job and that it will make their final creation so much better.

Testing, testing…

On to some play-testing. Get them to take some trial turns. What works and what doesn’t? Where do they need to add options, actions and choices to make things interesting for players, and which bits of their design are obstacles to fun-filled interactions? Ask them to modify their prototype components to improve matters and then get them to try out another turn of the game with the improved rules and components.

Do your best to make them understand that by repeating this trial and error process they will continue to make their game more playable and more fun. It also offers one of the central learning opportunities of making games, as it teaches them the problem-solving skills and grit that are necessary to successfully overcome tough challenges.

Make it pretty

Once your young gaming wizards are happy with the way their prototype functions, it’s time to bling things up and make the game pretty. Put out colour pencils, crayons, white and coloured paper and card, along with scissors and glue. Rummage through your household and kitchen supplies as well as any left-over crafting materials. Anything from buttons and tiny mosaic tiles to beads and wood off-cuts can be incorporated into the game.

The kids can spend hours in drawing imaginative illustrations on cards and boards and they may even want sculpt special playing pieces out of clay for a uniquely personalised touch.

To really up the ante, forage through some of those old board games on your shelves that nobody ever plays any more for some high-end game pieces, playing boards, cards, spinners and such. Bric-a-brac and thrift stores are great sources for cheap crusty old board games with beautiful bits and bobs, so why not take your intrepid game designers on a treasure hunt at the nearest second-hand shop?

Box it up

The final, optional, task of the project is choosing and decorating a container to hold the masterpiece – a shoebox or a discarded old board game box is perfect for the purpose. All that remains is trying out the finished product one last time, perhaps looking out for any minor changes to enhance the gameplay experience.

By now, you’ve kept your kids creatively busy and excited for hours – even entire days – and you’re ready for the ultimate reveal. Get the whole family together around the dinner table to celebrate your little geniuses with some home-made fun and games.

Also read:

What is your family's favourite board game? Have you tried making your own? Share your stories with chatback@parent24.com and we may publish them.

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