My son’s teacher emails families to give them a heads up on what students will learn each week. Last week, we learned that my son would be diving into the American Revolutionary War. He is well aware of my wargame collection since it spans most of the shelving in the house upstairs. His first question was, “Dad! Can we try out Washington’s War once I learn about it at school?”
I firmly said, “NO! These are NOT toys. They are complex historical simulations not intended for the FEEBLE MINDS of children. In fact, he shouldn’t even make eye contact with the boxes again.”
Of course that’s an out right lie. I was delighted and promised we could start playing it that weekend. Well, as the week wore on he remained interested (tough at age 10) and this past weekend we played our first games of Washington’s War from GMT Games.
Teaching To Children
Start with the end in mind.
In this case, that means teaching what winning looks like for both the Americans AND the British. Learners, regardless of age need to know the expected outcome they are to achieve before diving into the rules. I’ve been explained a lot of games where 20 – 30 minutes into the rules discussion I still have no idea how to win.
The jargony phrase here would be to “scaffold the instruction.” In effect, you need to sequence what you teach so that it builds up to the next concept and builds upon the last one covered.
Here’s a brief outline you can use with Washington’s War (Keep in mind this is NOT comprehensive and that’s a good thing…as you’ll see in a moment)
- Teach the objective of the game for both sides.
- Show the political control markers and then have the child practice making legal placements and seeing their options.
- Teach the abbreviation of PC for these markers and teach isolation. Have the child set up an isolation.
- Introduce Generals and talk about who they were and what generals did for armies historically. (The context here is important because it helps explain their features and some of the rules)
- Teach children about combat units and their abbreviation (CU’s).\
- Run through a made up sample combat and remind them that the goal is not necessarily to defeat your opponent militarily. That’s only a means to an end.
- Talk through the various roll modifiers and teach the abbreviation of drm. Again, the history here will help a little.
- Teach the child about the Continental Congress and what it means if the British disperse the Continental Congress.
- Show the various card types and talk through each with the child:
- War End Date Card
- British & American combat strategy card
- British & American event strategy card
- Take some time to go through the deck and explain some of these cards and what the implications might be when played. Then randomly place some PCs on the board and let the child work through some of the event cards and re-fight a battle so you can keep them rolling dice and engaged.
- Show the child the 1,2, & 3 Ops cards and talk through the options one at a time, letting the child actually do the task.
- Talk about playing an opponent’s event strategy card as a 1 PC with limits action.
- Talk through how a turn works and show them how the charts on the board and their player aid card are all laid out so they can refer to them when needed.
- Go through the game setup with the child taking the Americans so they can control General Washington and place the Committees of Correspondence. Make the child talk through their logic and help them see their options while respecting their choices. This shouldn’t be aided solo-play!!!!
- Talk through the turn sequence and remind them how all the pieces you’ve covered fit together.
Questions, Questions, Questions
You can take the next step in a variety of ways. A lot depends on how the child you’re teaching has responded to the information you’ve shared to this point. I advocate playing with an open hand for the first turn so you can talk through what you’re thinking and how you will use your cards just as you should encourage the child to do so.
This gives them the opportunity to see and understand the logic.
Ask LOTS of questions of the child as they play to help them gain confidence. Here were a few I asked repeatedly?
- What do you (American player child) ask me as the British player at the start of each turn?
- What happens if this general doesn’t end its turn in Winter Quarters?
- Why do you want to fight in ports when you’re the British?
- Why are you placing the PC marker there instead of somewhere else?
- A 3 Ops card is a big deal, talk me through why you’re using it that way!
The questions are intended to have the child express their thinking and logic. You need to be overwhelmingly supportive of their choices while also gently giving some things to consider. Remember, as the adult, the child you’re teaching is going to value your input perhaps more highly than their own which might overly influence what they’re doing. Instead of teaching the child, you’re effectively playing for them and that’s not going to be any fun for the kiddo. Praise the good choices and let the questionable ones stand as-is as long as there’s logic behind it.
Depth Over Time
Cover the rules for things like the French as they become more important. The child needs to understand why the French are valuable and how the French track works. That said, they don’t need to understand the nuance of French reinforcements, generals, and naval blockades just yet!
Give the depth of the game to the child over time. That’s done by talking through why you’re doing something. Reinforce the objective of the game repeatedly. It can be SO tempting for kids to want to get rid of that +1 British Regular advantage through combat early on when the British are sporting 20 CUs on the map and the Americans are squeaking by with like 6 or 7.
Instead, remind the child that the Americans need to retain their political power. Philadelphia is the heart of that power. Building PC networks that are adaptable and can link up, particularly along the coast, is hugely important for the Americans.
Children aren’t morons…usually
When my son started chess, I had no idea what to expect. He quickly advanced and learned the rules, strategies, and could talk-the-talk. He’s 10 and he’s easily my equal in chess (I’m not very good for my age and he’s very good for his having won a few local tournaments).
We don’t “talk chess” at my house. It’s his thing and we also don’t typically “talk wargaming” because that’s kinda my thing. Consequently, I was impressed by his thought process and in cases where I’ve played Euro-games with my son and his friends their thinking as well.
It can be easy to misinterpret being a child for being slower on the uptake with games and rules. Don’t fall into that trap. Kiddos are crazy smart and will surprise you with how cleverly they approach problems. Their willingness to take risks and their adaptability are unmatched.
Give the child credit and make every lesson additive to their knowledge. It can be easy to say “You should have done this!” Instead, flip that and ask, “What do you think might have happened if you had tried this instead?” Make THEM solve the problem.
Put Fun First
My son loves all things active. Even on the basketball court he’s constantly in motion. The kid just has to move! He tires pretty quickly of repetitive tasks and, to some degree, wargames can feel that way with their prescribed turn sequences and deja vu moments.
The other thing that wargames have going for them is that they use dice. You can’t, as much as you might want, fudge the dice coming out of the tower on a critical roll for the child you’re teaching. Disappointment and heartache are part of gaming and being a good gamer across the table.
That means sometimes taking a break to clear your head. Get a drink of water, a snack, or just take some time to do something else for a little while. While Washington’s War is fairly short, there’s nothing wrong with breaking up the game into two or three sessions to keep the child interested.
Putting fun first ALSO means celebrating great choices and positive outcomes. When Washington gets his first victory, high five it up! When the French join in on the side of the patriots…make french sounding noises. Use the milestones that mark success to reinforce the good feeling the child already has with tangible external encouragement! This is even easier if the child you’re teaching is your own.
Warning: Your Mileage May Vary
This is just a reminder that should go without saying. No two kids are alike. There are some universal teaching models and strategics (constructivist pedagogy) that will help you put your best foot forward. However, your mileage may vary!
My son is into chess. He is NOT typically into wargames. We have tried to play some games in the past and he’s just not into it. That’s 100% okay. I’d rather we find things to do together that we both like than me forcing him into my hobby. I’m 100% okay with him not having the same interests as much as I’d love that.
The time you spend across the table teaching a child to play is sacred. Whether it’s your child or another, you’re getting an opportunity to make an impression about our hobby that may last a lifetime even if the hobby doesn’t for them. You may end up being the only ambassador that the child ever has for our hobby and that’s a pretty cool responsibility.
Hopefully the information in this article will help you ease a child into Washington’s War and give you a framework for working with other games as you introduce them to kiddos!