My Wife Always Wins - Gaming with Uncle Bri-Bri

Brian Shabbott
June 26, 2017
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Gaming for Development and Family Togetherness

This slot is normally reserved for my weekly “My Wife Always Wins” series, where I discuss the week’s gaming session in my ever-failing competition to win against my wife, Lyndsey. Healthy competition is one of the reasons I love games, but this week I’ve been doing some reflection on other benefits of gaming. Namely, gaming as a way to form family bonds and build analytic skills in children.

I’m not a father myself (though I will be at the end of this year), but I’ve been trying to get my nephew, Jackson, into gaming for over a year now. As you may have ascertained from the title, he calls me Bri Bri (and is the only person allowed to do so). Jackson is almost six years old, and he is on the autistic spectrum. He’s like any other kid, but he has some difficulty communicating and he is very particular about his routine; for the most part this routine does not include gaming. He has a one-track mind when it comes to cars and trucks, so I bought him Monza, a car-racing game from HABA (which publishes great kids’ games). Still he wasn’t really interested.

We played a few run-throughs, and it took him a while to get the hang of it – the game is for ages 5+, a range he falls into, but he is a bit behind developmentally so I thought maybe it was a bit too advanced. But like with any kid, all it takes is a little patience. Lyndsey and I worked with him to form the foundation of the rules, and a basic understanding of the strategy. Once he had the hang of it and was able to complete his turns on his own, I was overjoyed to find him bringing me the box nearly every day while saying “Game?” Whenever he wants to play, how could we say no?

Rules and Our Session

Monza is a dice-rolling and movement game where players control a car on a racetrack. The track is three lanes, and each space along the track is a specific color, which corresponds to a side on each die. During his turn, a player will roll all six dice at once. Movement will be based on the colors showing, however a car may only move forward, and to an adjacent space. So if a player only has a green and purple adjacent space, he must roll either a green or purple on one of his dice. Once the player moves to an adjacent space, that die is removed, and he must see if his remaining dice will allow him to take anymore moves.

During the course of our game, I rolled several times where I was only able to make one or two movements in a turn, Lyndsey did pretty much the same, but also had a turn where she was able to string together five moves. Jackson’s mother, Donna, rolled nothing practical several times and was stuck on the same space for two consecutive turns. Jackson himself had two different turns where he was able to use all six of his dice.

From the start Jackson was far ahead of the pack, Lyndsey and I were neck and neck, and Donna lagged well behind. When Jackson finally crossed the finish line, Lyndsey was in second place, I was in third, and Donna was in last.

Post-Game Thoughts

It was incredibly moving to see Jackson, who is so set in his routine, change that routine because he wanted to join in on a hobby with which he sees his aunt and uncle deeply involved. The game has a big luck factor in the dice rolls. But the multiple dice add a higher strategy element, because they force players to contemplate not only where their move will take them, but what will open up to them after that move. This is incredibly important and can aid in a child’s developing critical thinking skills.

Since we started playing this game a few months ago, I have seen a big difference in Jackson’s development and how he interacts with the game. He used to recognize he had a specific color, and move to that space, where he might have been able to continue moving – or might have been stranded. While still in the rudimentary phases of strategy development, Jackson is thinking ahead of his first move and learning to consider the best tactic for getting the most out of his dice. I think Monza is a great improvement on the classic Candyland. While the latter involves the same color-based movement, it is based on a random draw of a single card – no strategy involved. But the dice mechanic in Monza takes this basic foundation and turns it into an intellectual experience.

Please note, this is a special entry into my article series. I do not expect to regularly write about our gaming experiences with Jackson. Like I said, Jackson is very routine-based and very drawn to his habits, which means we’ll be playing Monza every time we play games for a very long time, and you don’t want to read about the same game day-in and day-out, right? The next time the little man decides to change up his routine and add a new game, I’ll be sure to revisit this idea.

After the game, Jackson took a very energetic victory lap around the entire house. I mentioned before he has difficulty communicating through speech, but after his victory lap he was able to point to each of us, “pew pew” us with his finger-guns, and inform each of us that he had won and we had lost. I considered using this as a teachable moment regarding sportsmanship, but I couldn’t fault the kid for following his aunt’s example (Lyndsey is the worst). She’s taught him well, so I guess, in a way, this did turn into an installment of “My Wife Always Wins.”

Anyway, I wanted to leave you with Jackson’s review of the game. When asked why he liked the game, his answer was “driving.” I asked him what he thought about it in general, and he told me it was both “fun,” and “cool.” Now, I know that’s not the meatiest of reviews, but - coming from a kid who gets bored almost instantly – “fun” and “cool” have been enough to bring him back with the game in hand, every single day. This game is a sure-buy for the car-loving youngster in your life.