Maskenball Der kaffer

Earlier this week I took delivery of a boardgame for the eldest boy, ‘Maskenball der Kafer’, translated on the box as ‘The Ladybug’s Costume Party’, although to be honest I prefer the more literal ‘Ladybird’s Masked Ball’ – it has a grander feel, I think. It’s a lovely thing, a collaborative game for the over 4s consisting of 9 wooden ants, each yellow with black legs, eyes and mouths; 8 painted wooden ladybirds, each with five holes for also wooden pegs; 8 sets of 5 pegs, each a different colour matching one of the 8 ‘petals’ on the gameboard, itself vibrant with the main game flower in the middle, the green winning leaf at the bottom, and the ‘ant track’ to the left of board. The game starts with the eight ladybirds loaded with pegs of a single colour sat on petals around the flower. Players take it in turns to spin a spinner in the centre of the board – if it lands on a petal, the player gets to move that ladybird to a different petal, hidden magnets inside the ladybird either attracting or repelling the bugs. If attracted, the ladybugs swap pegs and the player gets to move again; if repelled, the player returns the ladybug to its petal and the next player takes a turn with the spinner. The aim of the game is to swap pegs on the ladybirds until they’ve got 5 different coloured pegs in their back, after which they can move to the winning row. If the spinner lands between the petals, however, an ant moves onto the ant track. Get all the bugs off the board before the ants fill up the ant track, and you win. If the ants fill up the ant track first, you lose. It’s a great game, evidenced not only by the fact that it won the Kinderspiel des Jahres in 2002, but also by the joy on my little boy’s face when he moves the bugs around the board and watches them snap together or spin away from each other. I was playing again this evening, and in a strange way it got me thinking about Arkham Horror, a considerably more adult and yet similarly collaborative boardgame some of the team and I play at our Wednesday evening gaming sessions. In fact, since we’ve been running the Wednesday night sessions, one thing has become clear, and that’s that although we enjoy the competitive games well enough, we prefer the collaborative games where you and the other players are working against the system, against the designer, so to speak. With my boy I see a similar thing – he really doesn’t get the idea of competition, at least not in an aggressive way. When he’s playing ‘Monkey Ball’ or ‘Spore’ on the iPhone he always says “we won daddy” or more often”we’ve been eaten daddy”. Even a race down the street with his friends is collaborative play with the winning or losing being an irrelevance when compared to the experience of playing together and socially interacting in a playful context. Apparently this is normal for children. And you can understand why, really, they innately lean towards collaboration and teamwork and almost have to be taught the rules of competition amongst peers. To fulfill the most basic of human needs collaboration is more important than competition – we are stronger when interdependent than when isolated; we achieve more as a team than as an individual.

And this, really, is the power of games and of play isn’t it? ┬áTeaching and exploring fundamental human skills in an accessible and engaging way. Negotiation, sharing, meaningful play, teamwork, communication. Skills that will certainly help them if they ever decide to become game developers, that’s for sure.

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