Kids, Games, and Sportsmanship

I grew up playing games all the time with my parents. We played card games like Double Solitaire and Russian Bank. We played games like Boggle, Yahtzee, and Scrabble. Trivia games like Trivial Pursuit, Jr. Trivia, and more.

When I played with my parents, we all played hard. No one let anyone win. When I did manage to beat them at a game the victory was so sweet, but those wins were often far between. Sportsmanship was a very big deal in my family. I learned how to be a good loser and how to be a graceful winner. And you never, EVER cheat.

I’m trying my best to pass that along to my kids.

Games, in St. Louis, are a huge thing! There are gaming conventions, game nights, and groups that get together regularly to play. I always felt like such an oddball for liking to play games so much, so it’s cool to discover that there are other adults who love playing as much as I do.

It’s been fun discovering new games with my kids, but inevitably, we’ve run into problems with sportsmanship, so here are our family’s rules for fair play:

  • Cheating is never tolerated. When someone cheats (which has never happened) the game is over. Period.
  • Accusations of cheating as a means of expressing frustration for the outcome of a game or turn are never tolerated. Cheating is a charge we take seriously, and it’s not an accusation to be bandied about.
  • It’s okay to feel disappointed, but it’s not okay to pitch a fit and behave rudely to other players when things don’t go your way.
  • It’s great to celebrate a win, but it’s never okay to gloat.
  • Everyone plays as hard as they can to win.

Really, for my family, it’s the same as sportsmanship in an athletic event. You congratulate the winner and encourage the ones that lose, and we teach this by example. Although, my husband tends to “jokingly” accuse people of cheating which earns major side-eye from the rest of us. We’re working on that one.

I do my best to teach them strategy, just like my parents did with me. On my turn, I explain why I chose certain moves over others, and sometimes we play “open-handed” so I can give them pointers on why some cards might be better to play than others. But if they beat me, they know that the win was truly earned. The smiles on those faces are wonderful to see!

The girls are learning. Winning is fun, but losing can be tough. Last week, the Grasshopper made a really bad decision at the start of a new game we got the day before. I mean, it was a colossal mistake, and it immediately cost her the game. In a dramatic way. The tough thing was, she had to hang in for 30 or so minutes until the game finished, watching the rest of us pull farther and farther ahead. She shed some disappointed tears. Not tantrum-y tears. Just sad ones. But she hung in there and finished the game. It never crossed her mind to quit, and for that I am so proud of her.

When it was all over, we hugged and talked about what had happened and why she had lost, and we came up with some strategies for next time. I told her how impressed I was about how she played her hardest until the end. She was still sad, but she’s looking forward to playing again, and that’s the most important thing.

These are some of the new games we’ve found. They’re pretty well known, but they’re new to us and tons of fun!

  • Hey! That’s My Fish – Cricket got this for her 4th birthday from a friend and it is a favorite! There’s enough strategy that it’s engaging for me, but it’s simple and requires no reading, so it’s great for little ones, too.
  • Ticket to Ride – We don’t actually have this one, but we got it for my parents for Christmas and we all LOVED it. We were all able to play, even Cricket, although for her to play, we either had to put her on someone’s team or play open-handed. My husband and I are thinking of picking up one of these for us!
  • Ninja Camp – We got this through their kickstarter and it arrived last week. We’ve only played it a few times, but so far it seems to be a hit! This one is tough for Cricket, though, because of the reading involved.
  • Munchkin – This is one that is best for the Grasshopper and I to play. My husband gets frustrated with the complicated rules and doesn’t find the cards amusing. He doesn’t have the same love of role playing games that I do. It definitely requires reading skills, so Cricket is not able to play. Honestly, I’m still figuring it out, but the Grasshopper and I have fun with it.
  • Machi Koro – This was the one that the Grasshopper lost so bad at last week. Poor thing. Awful loss aside, this is a fun game, although Cricket needs tons of help to play. Even though Cricket can’t read the cards and mostly just guesses, and even though the strategy has been a challenge for the Grasshopper, it’s still a fun one that even my husband likes.
  • Race to the Treasure – This is definitely one for the kids, but it’s cooperative which they enjoy. It’s simple enough that they can set up and play it by themselves.
  • Cauldron Quest – Again, this is a kid’s game, but it’s got enough complexity that Cricket needs a bit of help remembering the rules. They both enjoy playing it with me, and it’s cooperative so it’s fun to see them working together toward a goal.
  • Pokemon – Yeah, you read that right. the Grasshopper and I get serious playing Pokemon TCG. That’s “The Card Game” if you’re unfamiliar. It is surprisingly fun, and she’s gotten great at adding, subtracting and multiplying in her head with this one.

I really want to try Catan, but I think we may have to get the Jr version of the game. I also want to get Pandemic, but I’m holding out for the Cthulhu version. I have the feeling this one will not be one the kids can play, though. I’m also curious about Forbidden Island/Forbidden Desert. I’ve heard that one is playable with children.

Do y’all have any favorite games to recommend? How do you handle winning, losing, and sportsmanship when you play?


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12 thoughts on “Kids, Games, and Sportsmanship

  1. My wife and I have the European version of Ticket to Ride. I actually prefer this version to the US version, because it adds a level challenge by not being familiar with the geography. I get the cheating thing, it was never tolerated in my family either. Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win. I’ll have to check out some of the other games on here.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There are two sets of rules for the Euro version. The US version is plain put down some trains. The Euro version has that play style, but it also has train stations which can be used to ‘cross’ tracks. It is a fun little addition.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Guess what my family got me for my birthday this year! Ticket to Ride: Europe! It’s a blast! We don’t play yet with the added rules. We just keep to the base rules. And we help Cricket by sticking the stations on the cities she needs to find a way to. What a great game!


  2. Ticket to ride is good, and definitely get the 1912 USA expansion. It has standard-sized cards and a few new game modes–really adds a lot to it. King of Tokyo is another good one. It’s fun and plays quickly and there are multiple paths to a victory (not to be confused with King of New York, which is a messy kludge). There’s a lot of luck involved, so new players can (and often do) win. Zombie Dice is another favorite–or Dino Dice, if you find the thematic elements of Zombie Dice problematic. My children are pretty young, so we’re limited in what we can play with them, but we’ll do open-handed versions of Uno or Crazy Eights or Sushi Go, or have them “help” with something that can be played single-player like Castle Panic.

    My attitude about sportsmanship is somewhat different, methinks. From my perspective, the point of the game is to have fun and to challenge yourself, and what that means can be different in different contexts. If I’m introducing someone to a new game, I will seldom play to win. I will frequently try a completely off-the-wall strategy, not because I think it’s going to win, but because I’m going to learn something interesting about the game mechanic. Or if there are a lot of people playing, I’ll generally play in such a way as to keep the game moving along and avoid quagmires. Sometimes this means cheating. More than once I’ve stacked the deck of a co-op game to avoid a crushing defeat. And some of this will likely change as my kids get older. It’s one thing to cheat against a game, it’s quite another to cheat against another human being.


    1. I’ll check out Dino Dice. Zombies freak me out.

      I definitely agree that sportsmanship can be contextual. When I teach someone a new game (rarely since most of my friends are teaching me!) I do dial it back. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be sporting. And we talk the kids through their strategies for sure. Basically, we aren’t jerks about it. 🙂


  3. I love this! I think I may have to print out your game rules to use for our family.

    My guilty secret is that we almost never play games. I kind of gave it up a few years ago when it became extremely clear that every time we tried it, the end result was tears, frustration, and lost tempers on the part of just about everyone. That, and many American games I have found intensely tiresome (Monopoly, LIFE, etc.). I think we’re ready to try it again, though the memories of our first attempts just make me want to give up now. However, I think our eldest can handle it a bit better now.

    Excellent post!!


    1. What if you started with some cooperative games? Those might help with the frustration aspect. I’ve found that the frustration lessens with time. Repeated losing makes it easier. And they get to see how I lose which usually involves lots of high fives to the winner.


  4. Have you tried sequence? It is pretty simple and gets more fun when you play in teams. i used to spend hours and hours playing with friends, and since it is short, each game brings new possibilities. I highly recommend it! I can’t wait to play games with Felipe jr.


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