Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gaming with Kids: Cards, Stands, and Sleeves

A few years ago, friends gave my son this thing:

A thing

As I recall, my first thought when I saw it was, "What is this thing?" It's a stand for holding cards, to be used by young children who want to play card games but who also lack the dexterity, strength, and/or size to hold a hand of cards. Alex has used it since he was three or so, when we first started playing Kinder Bunnies together.

Kinder Bunnies
The stand works really well, and I recommend it to those playing card games with the very young. It's much nicer than the oft-suggested alternatives of laying the cards face-up on the table or in the player's lap.

Alex seems to have inherited my interest in learning new games, and who can blame him, with a cupboard and a chair filled with colorful and enticing board games? I was looking through my collection a few weeks ago for something he could learn, and I came across David Sirlin's Flash Duel. I suspected that the mathematics of the game would push Alex's boundaries, but all the more reason to try it!

We started by playing a few games without the characters, which I later discovered meant we were essentially playing Reiner Knizia's En Garde. Once he made some sense out of this, we moved on to playing with the characters, each of whom has three abilities that alter the gameplay. This is provided a great opportunity for Alex to learn some arithmetic as well as practice his reading skills. Currently, he reads the "trigger" for when the ability is used, and I read the ability text.

There was a complication with playing Flash Duel beyond reading and arithmetic, however. To satisfy a deep obsession of mine, I had sleeved the cards, which keeps them looking nice but also changes their physical profile. Specifically, they fall out of the stand.

I had been trying to convince Alex to practice holding cards in his hand for some time, but since the stand had been working for him, he didn't have much incentive to try. His desire to play games with his old man was strong enough that he's now working on his reading, arithmetic, and manual dexterity. Here's how he looks after a few weeks of almost-daily dueling.

Dashing strike, coming up!
For several days he struggled with the problem that he could not put down a card in the middle of his hand without revealing everything to the right of it: to play a card, he would set down the cluster and leave just the one he wanted. I explained that this was revealing too many of his cards, and in a few more days he mastered the art of picking and extracting the card he wants to play out of the top of his hand.

Between rounds, he's responsible for making sure the pawns are in the right places while I shuffle the deck. He hasn't tried his hand at shuffling yet, but I think it's funny that there's a good chance he'll learn to shuffle sleeved cards before he learns riffle-shuffling.

I wanted an easy way to set up random pairings for Flash Duel, but because the ability cards go in sets of threes, shuffling the deck of abilities was certainly more trouble than it's worth. Sounds like a programming problem to me! I spent a few hours one morning whipping up Flash Duel Matchup Generator, a mobile application that picks out random pairs for one-on-one matches.
A thrilling screenshot from Flash Duel Matchup Generator
I talked to David Sirlin briefly over email, and I got the impression he wasn't too keen on my releasing the app to the Market since he has something similar—and with much higher production value—coming out in the next few months. Still, if any Android-users want it, you can download the APK and install it manually.

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