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Wooden Train Parenting

I laughed at the mother who's bringing up her kids without electronic toys, but has a social media feed to boast about it... until I remembered the Red Train of Doom.

A relative once bought our son Kurtzhau a traditional wooden ridealong steam train. It was big and red and he was tiny and a boy and he was supposed to ride it around the flat.

You got the wooden part, right?

The damned thing took chunks out of the paintwork, hurt to trip over, and wouldn't steer. It was also uncomfortable to sit astride and too easy to fall off. Little Kurtzhau rode the train perhaps twice. Then he reverted to the comfy, steerable and less lethal plastic fire truck. Thank God.

However, the wooden train seemed somehow "special" and survived successive declutterings. These days it languishes at a relative's house for visiting children to ignore. Give it another half century and the train will be a heirloom dutifully hauled around between generations.

Nobody has the heart to throw it away!  What the hell is going on? Why is this thing special?

A wooden train does not feature in my childhood memories. To the best of my knowledge, I never had a toy like that. I doubt my wife's family did either.

Born in 1968, I had a plush dog on wheels to ride or push, a metal trike and a (steerable!) wooden scooter. Nor were steam trains a thing for me (though I once fell off a table at kindergarten while trying to build Stephenson's Rocket, but that was more to do with engineering).

However, a big red wooden train does belong to the timeless Mary Poppins world of nurseries and nannies and gilded Christmas trees on advent calendars. It's the same world that makes us feel guilty that our kids don't spend more time running around out of doors or playing imaginatively with twigs and cardboard boxes. It's where the urge to "unplug" your kids comes from. It's why people tut and say "too many toys".

The situation is as Charlie described for "feeling adult", but worse. We measure the childhood we give our own offspring against a fossil of the idealised vision of aspirational childhood handed down from our great grandparent's generation.

However, whereas mistakenly not feeling adult merely makes us insecure or twitchy, wooden train parenting has more pressing consequences.

For a start, it creates friction and inconvenience and makes you look silly.

If your kids aren't allowed video games, but all the other kids are having a blast playing splitscreen Minecraft (or Halo (which is sweet when the 8 year olds join in with their elder siblings)), then that just creates a social dilemma wrapped around a cringey parent-child power struggle.

If you're dreadfully proud your kids don't have mobile phones yet, but then have to ask another child for their mobile number so you can get in touch when the group goes free range, then just perhaps you are comically confounding your own position.

Most importantly, though, wooden train parenting misses opportunities.

Ironically, this approach actually closes the door on traditional play and activities which never went away, but just reskinned as the world changed.

For example, kids still share games of make believe, draw pictures and write stories. They even play with cardboard boxes and potter around the garden.

As always, they are inspired by common cultural reference points. This once meant Tales of King Arthur and Improving Stories for Young Ladies. Now it means TV and video games. If your offspring don't have access to these, then it's harder to join in and you're arguably giving them a less rich childhood than you had!

Then there's this wistful thought that kids once roamed free - got put out the door at 9am on a Saturday and returned muddy and tired at dusk. That freedom isn't going to return any time soon. However modern technology actually restores some of the benefits it provided.

True, few kids can nowadays nip out to the street for a quick game of football. Child safety aside, their mates are likely scattered around the city. However, they can get online to build worlds or hunt aliens together - you should hear them yelling and giggling over Skype!

They can also use email and messenger to navigate their over-programmed lives and thus plan to get together in the flesh. And armed with a mobile phone, older kids - early teens - can enjoy the same measure of independence we did in less paranoid times. Barring your kids from electronics is the same as locking them indoors back in 1930 and then wondering why they don't have any friends.

Fun aside, these are all activities that develop timeless social and intellectual skills and do so in an environment that prepares them for the world they will have to inhabit as adults. Sooner or later, they'll need to collaborate online and organise themselves by email and phone. Where's the benefit in preventing them from learning to do this with their peers?

Wooden train parenting also rejects the wonderful possibilities of using abundance and technology in order to tailor childhood experiences to meet a particular child's needs and personality.

We've all endured smug parents flaunting the photogenic handcrafted childhoods of their stoneground children!

For a change, let me tell you about how Kurtzhau grew up with tonnes of toys and easy access to video games, not because he's special, but because he is illustrative.

When he was four, Kurtzhau became obsessed by the Romans.

If he'd had my 1970s childhood when everything was expensive and crap, he'd have had a handful of Timpo plastic Romans and yearned to build bigger formations.

Presumably wooden train parents would have sourced some ethically made hand stitched Roman doll figures (assuming they weren't disturbed by the militaristic and imperialist nature of his interests).

Me? I went on Ebay and bought him 60 Playmobil Romans.

Some visitors to the house would remark, "You have too many toys, Kurtzhau!"

Kurtzhau didn't care. He was busy putting his (only slightly understrength century) into wedge formation to punch a hole in the barbarian lines - more Ebay plus handmedowns from friends.

He could tell you who the centurion was - the indomitable Tertius - and who the Optio and Standard Bearer were, plus their service history, and that his unit was stationed at Cologne and spent a lot of time fighting the German barbarians. (He'd make me extemporise bedtime stories and I'd been reading Sharpe, so...)

At five, he was playing Rome Total War. It improved the heck out of his reading and geography! It also had me devouring history books so I could answer his questions, and it turned Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth into an intense shared experience. We had some memorable family visits to Hadrian's Wall and I made him lorica to go with the authentic helmet we bought. His interest broadened and he would surprise my friends by identifying migration era helmets and knowing who Belisarius was.

What a surprise! History you've experienced in simulations feels much more real to you than history you've seen in children's books, no matter how beautifully illustrated.

So literacy, geography, history, imagination... traditional markers for a good childhood given a power up by modernity.

However, Kurtzhau also learned things children of yesteryear couldn't easily because there was no way to teach them: things like strategy and planning, and infrastructure and supply chain.

"Why can't I make heavy cavalry, Daddy?"

"Did you build a blacksmith, son?"

Most kids watch youtubers talking about video games. By the time he was 10, Kurtzhau was watching them talk about video games companies, and discoursing confidently on whether a game was alienating a core audience. Sometimes he'd argue with my very patient mate who reviews games for a living.

These days, now 12, his prowess at Warhammer 40K gives him an opportunity to develop social skills while interacting with adults as a peer (harking back to the village cricket team - ha!). He also won a logic prize, attends programming club, and talks about becoming a project manager when he grows up. Meanwhile imagined worlds scroll across the screen of his Kindle at the touch of a button. And he's coming with us to Eastercon this year.

The point is that though he's unique in being himself and special to his parents, he's not uniquely special.

The obsessions are different, the personalities varied. However the depth and intensity is similar across the board. His entire cohort at like this, and his Cthulhu-obsessed little Steampunk sister and her cohort too.

All except the ones stuck playing with twigs in the garden while looking forward to using the cardboard box that the wooden train came in to pretend it's a game console...

What do you guys think?

M Harold Page is the sword-wielding author of books like Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: "Holy ****!") and is planning some more historical fiction. For his take on writing,  read Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic (Ken MacLeod: "...very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story." Hannu Rajaniemi: "...find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.")



Agreed that the unplugged mentality is little more than moral panic. It's frustrating to hear people decry the amount of time kids spend staring at screens as though all they're doing is literally staring. My younger cousins have enjoyed most of their teenage years being able to look up anything, anytime they want. The amount of discussions they've had that instinctively lead to both of them with their phones out to fact check is amazing. That's not something that any but the youngest of adults grew up with.

In addition games requiring more imagination and creativity have steadily grown more common and sophisticated. Any sort of survival/crafting game or simulator like Kerbal Space Program has a just as much, if not more, potential to exercise kid's imaginations as a cardboard box.

As for the unplug and play outside idea most people don't seem to realise how much phones can enhance outside, physical play. When I was ten I got my first phone (Nokia 3310, like every other kid born in the late 80s/early 90s). Me and my friends used to play games where one of us would run and hide somewhere in the neighbourhood and the others would race to find them based on cryptic riddles text to them about the location. These days, and going forward, I can only begin to imagine the type of AR games kids will enjoy. Pokemon go might have been a rapid fad but it showed how popular and accessible such games could be. Even something as simple as capture the flag with two virtual pins could be a tonne of fun.


The world of the imagination is always bigger than that of reality, mundane or otherwise. It would be well for some so-called adults to remember this.


I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees this!


Hoo boy, that's EXACTLY what I needed, somebody else who has an idea about how I should be parenting my kids. I suppose that I'm in the Wooden Train Parenting Club, so here's my explanation of the choices my wife and I have made, since it seems to be so damn interesting:

Wooden Toys- We have them and we prefer them for two reasons: (1) They don't beep and ding and do other things that piss us off. (Thank You, Aunt Connie, for the police car that, with the push of a button, yells out "YOU ARE UNDER ARREST! STEP OUT OF THE CAR WITH YOUR HANDS UP!") Yes, they're big and clunky and we occasionally trip over them, but we're willing to pay that price for some quiet, which we think is a benefit to us and our children. (2) They last, which is important when you have more than one. The oldest is now 6, and the 1-year old has taken up his wooden tricycle just fine. We have toys that we have inherited from the older cousins that are going on 20 years old, and when our two kids are done with them, they'll go to my mother-in-law's daycare center. This has meant that we were well-stocked for the first kid, hardly had to buy anything for the second kid, and now we can throw birthday parties that are about the party, not the presents.

Limiting Screen Time- We generally stick to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations because I firmly believe they know more about this issue than we do. So no TV for the little one (live video chat excluded, though he doesn't seem interested), and limited screen time for the six-year old. And here's my issue with screen time: it only engages the brain, and possibly the fingers. When my kid has sat and watched TV all day (hey, we're not perfect) his behavior is notably worse than when he has been doing something that involves exercise. This is not a surprise, considering that I observe the same pattern in myself, my wife, and the dog.

Going Outside-Yes Yes Yes. There are two reasons for this. The first is the exercise issue mentioned above. The second is my fundamental belief that we are creatures of meatspace first and foremost, and I'm not saying that as a Luddite. I make my living by banging away on a keyboard (as an editor), and what I've noticed is that among my friends whose jobs primarily occur in cyberspace, all of them make a very conscious effort to do physical activities outside. If the kids want to augment their outside time with electronics, go for it. But GO OUTSIDE.

The problem we face as parents is that the appeal of outside, for most kids, is subtle. The iPhone is shiny and pretty and they have no problem figuring it out on their own. Nature tends to hide some its most interesting features (lest they get eaten), so sometimes you just have to kick the kids out and let them see what there is to see. I fully admit that we are very lucky in this regard since we live in an area of the country where land is relatively cheap and my in-laws live on 10 wooded acres, but it matters to us.

So yes, we like our wooden toys, yes we limit screen time, and yes we send the kids to grandma's to get chigger bites. We think they'll appreciate it one day.


I didn't say wooden toys were automatically bad - we had Brio train sets for years, for similar reasons to those you set out. Just that assuming their automatic moral superiority is wrong (and annoying!)

One way to limit screen time is of course to provide things more interesting to do. My kids grew up on Walking with Dinosaurs. 45 minutes of CGI and then they were building the Cretaceous on the living room floor using the booty from car boot sales etc. I do disagree with just parking them in front of random TV - that's lazy parenting. And sometimes kids need "reminding" that other activities are available...

Regarding going outside. YES!

We have a set of Laser Strike guns. These are basically canned "laser wars" toys; they are reasonably accurate, register hits (to the gun only, alas) and keep track of hit points. Sometimes our shared back green is like live action Halo. Even the grumpy teenagers work up a sweat.

When the kids were younger, we used to have massed melees using foam swords made from swimming noodles. Shields also came out, and there was some authentic style I33 combat creeping in.

So I suppose the thing I didn't mention in my piece, but which I hope is is implicit, is (assuming you have the time, affluence and aren't in a warzone - we are privileged to be able to have this kind of set of concerns) the best parenting approaches have to be the ones where you engage with your kids and help them further along the line.


I agree with a lot of that but it seems a little inexact to lump all different types of screen time together. Watching TV, playing an FPS, playing Minecraft, browsing Wikipedia, and surfing Facebook all seem like very different things to me. Also the AAP has just revised it's guidelines. Unfortunately, they are paywalled but here is a Forbes article which summarizes it at the end. It's a little hard to tell, but they may have done away without their strict prohibition for the under twos. Also, for fun, here's PA's someone reductive response to limiting screen time.


LOL yes, that.

Plus I've noticed that parents often seem to pick perverse limits that punish engagement, e.g. 30 mins isn't usually long enough to see a story to the end. 45 mins cuts off the last segment of a documentary. It feels like target based parenting.

When Morgenstern (8) can't sleep - a rare occurrence, but difficult when it happens - she has permission to reboot her brain by watching an episode of Sky at Night on her Kindle. The other day she drew a picture of two colliding galaxies.


For tens of thousands (maybe just hundreds of thousands) of generations little H. sapiens have grown up despite the best efforts of their parents - and pretty much whatever their parents do, the data suggest the vast bulk of them turn out to be pretty reasonable adults.

To pick one hot topic, yes, if your parents abused you, you're more likely to be an abuser (I think it's about 30% of those who were abused go on to abuse and that's much higher than those who weren't abused) but not all abusers were abused themselves, it's not even half of them in the last set of numbers I saw (although that's about 15 years ago so it might have changed since then).

The children of Wooden Train parents and the children of highly connected parents will all grow up anyway. Most of them will learn how to socially interact, how to have fun, how to connect to loved ones of whatever gender and so on. Some will become "productive members of society" for whatever values that has in the 10-60+ years ahead. Some will become murders, rapists, thieves. We can run predictive models on it, and in 50 years time sociologists and psychologists can run retrospective models. They'll probably all say that having money (or at least 'stuff' if not actually money) in the house, and a loving, supportive environment is much more important than any particular other thing in becoming a well rounded adult.

Of course, on a personal note I'd say I'd want any theoretical little Eloise Juniors to be plugged in (on muted devices). It's how I live my life and how I'd want them to live theirs too. But then I disagree with a pretty wide variety of parenting choices, from many of those my parents made to many of those my friends with kids make to having kids at all (for me anyway) so it remains a purely theoretical discussion for me.


Yes, you can argue that parental choices have less effect than we'd like. However, I think a child has more chance of reaching their full potential as an adult if the parents facilitate rather than stand in their way.


@4 Buying loud or obnoxious toys for your nieces and nephews is one of the privileges of being an aunt or uncle. You get to amuse the small person, whilst pissing off your sibling at the same time :)

The other thing I've learnt is not to make any negative comments about someone's parenting. Everyone thinks they know best about caring for their children (even whilst feeling out of their depth), and thinks that everyone else is terrible.


(Of course some trends are negative about other people's parenting by implication and sometimes by smugness. Hence my counter strike.)


Well, because a) trains are Special, and b) wooden ones are really cool: You don't have to wheedle for your parents to remember to buy more batteries, and a lot are for small kids, and it's somehow real.

I got my granddaughter a wooden set a couple of years ago for the holidays. At 3.5, she figured out how to put the tracks together, and the train, and was pushing it, and clearly wanted more track, because rather than making a circle, she had it longer, and then took tracks from the beginning to keep going.

Around 2001, I got one for some dear friends, for their first child, and he loved it. Cars, and all the rest, are just cars. But stop for a grade crossing, and watch The Train go by (and, if it's freight, and by, and by,) and it's huge.

The only other big thing kids deserve are dinosaurs, of course....


Ah you're talking about Brio or equivalent. Excellent toys. I was talking about a big red thing and using it to stand for an attitude.


I'm partly arguing that, and fundamentally I believe it too.

But I'm also arguing that your choices facilitate certain kinds of options, the wooden train parents facilitate others. You, and I, value the options you've taken but it doesn't necessarily make the other options wrong. They're making different choices and facilitating different opportunities. They're opportunities that you don't value as highly but that doesn't make them wrong.


You, and I, value the options you've taken but it doesn't necessarily make the other options wrong. They're making different choices and facilitating different opportunities. They're opportunities that you don't value as highly but that doesn't make them wrong.

I suppose I'm arguing at minimum that it would be nice that the Wooden Train Parents remember the above!

However, there is a discussion to be had and arguments to be made from sincerely held positions, which is what I've tried to do.


Regarding the title subject, we gave away the wooden ride-on Mothercare giraffe / trolley combo and the giant plastic multi-storey Playmobil-scale car park once the kids stopped playing with them. Good toys go on and on across families and generations :)

I'm not that worried about the "moral panic" stuff (the Daily Mail attitude) or the "moral evil" stuff (sister-in-law is an enthusiastic Green, keen to avoid the evils of consumerism while living a worthy and ecologically sound life) - are the kids using their brains, their hands, their legs, and their social skills? If so, job done.

I still remember the frustration of my grandmother's attempts to wooden-toy me during the school holidays in the 1970s; couldn't understand why I was happy to just sit down and read a book, thought I should be doing craft things or "playing outside" (I was at a school that was enthusiastic about sport and outdoor stuff, had the CV system of a racehorse, and just wanted some downtime).

...Warhammer 40K is expensive :( but it was an opportunity to develop fine motor skills on the assembly-and-painting side. Firstborn went Space Marines, so I went Eldar, and youngest went Tau. Firstborn is now out the other side of his initial enthusiasm, but he still has a shelf full of the stuff. rule is currently "No First-Person Shooters" for the Playstation, and to (mostly) stick to the PEGI ratings. My beloved subverted this slightly, and so the boys now play "Destiny" (I justified this to myself on grounds that the targets are weirdly-shaped aliens, not people). I'm admiring the Playstation VR, and wondering what awesome games will be out at Xmas - the advantage of sharing an office with gamers is that one was brought in, so I've had a chance to try it out. Veerrrrrrryyyyy nice. I'm also torn between buying Kerbal Space Program for the PC, and waiting for the PS4 port to come out.

My "worthy" moment came when the boys discovered that the only games I put on my tablet were "Bridge Builder" and "Flight Simulator"... I may have had an ulterior motive, they pester their mother because she's got all the Angry Birds-type games on her tablet, and I get to read my ebooks, muhahaha... except now I've got a budding civil engineer in the youngest.

...we'll occasionally let the 12-year-old youngest watch a 15 film (if we've already seen it); imagine the shame of 14-year-old firstborn at being the only one of his friends not to have seen "Deadpool", it would have been cruel not to let him see it.

The kids are digital natives (firstborn is now old enough, and has been allowed to join Facebook). Youngest is busy nicking my Dremel to build a bodyshell for a hand-crafted Scalextric car; both spent last weekend trying to learn to flyfish under their mother's tuition. They're still perfectly willing to disappear out into the local wood with their friends, and get muddy and bruised; they both compete in Judo to a high level, and play non-serious rugby for their school; they're happy and physically robust / physically fit. Result.


I like your pragmatic and mixed approach! Hope we can get in a beer next time we run into each other at one of Charlie's launches.

Warhammer 40K is expensive

Surely not in comparison to the price of a modern gaming console and a few games?

(By the way, there's a regular invitation only Fife/Lothian adult and child 40K charity tournament...)


What you're assuming here is that kids get recess. In the US, my daughter gets 40 mins of play during school (9:20 to 3:50) and 20 mins for lunch. Its not enough so the kids are bouncing off walls by the time the day ends.

I don't believe in not letting her use a tablet but I do want her to run around and see the world with her own eyes, which you sort of hinted at by taking the kid to Hadrian's Wall :-)


Yeah. I was dissing a particular style of statement parenting, not preaching for total laissez faire. (wot I can't spell)


Hmm. I have a bit of a different perspective on this (at least compared to others my age). I think my parents may fall into this category somewhat. Given that I live in a small town about four hours drive from a major urban center, and since my family is not from this town, I had a bit of an initial disadvantage. This was not helped in the slightest by my inability throughout all of elementary school to understand why other children both did not understand (and in most cases, never heard of) and did not want to listen to extended discussions on certain books or subjects (i.e. paleontology, history, math and a couple others). In addition, I live just outside our town, with few neighbours, making it difficult to "just go outside and play". This combined with the previous, (in addition to my pathological hatred of mosquitoes, which are omnipresent for 7 months of the year) made me orient towards books and computer games, and Lego. Oh God the Lego (which I will admit, I still haul out semi-regularly). To get to my point, my parents did kind of adopt the "Wooden train" style of parenting, but primarily through necessity. Though they did keep me away from the game systems, to which I suppose I should be grateful (though it would have made socializing a little easier). Surprisingly, it's far easier to talk to others when you understand their video game talk.


This. This. Mine had batteries, but your point stands. I will admit, I still have my train sets and plastic dinosaurs somewhere in the basement.


LOL I will screen cap and show to Kurtzhau. That pretty much describes his nightmare of growing up away from other geeks.

Your parents don't sound wooden train so much as geeky - if they were, then there would be no computer games either! Wooden train has an element of parenting theatre about it, as well.


I've never personally played Warhammer 40K, but I've always heard about it being expensive, so I was intrigued by this statement.

From 5 minutes of research, it looks to me like the minimum (official) product you need to play a two-player game of 40K costs about the same as a modern gaming console bundle. (I assume if you want to do painting, terrain, or multiple armies that the cost goes up rapidly from there.)

If anyone knows better, feel free to correct me.


No that sounds about right. I find it interesting that parents who complain about the cost of plastic figures somehow still stump up for consoles!


You are making me feel old :-) I was over 30 when my children were born, but cheap mobile telephones (and the ubiquitous 'Internet') came in only for their teenage years! However, you are maligning the low-tech approach. If a (non-urban) child hasn't been encouraged to use a knife, string and sticks to build something by the age of 8, unsupervised, the parents are being ridiculous.


Ideally, they would do both, right?


The shop downstairs sells child-sized but fully functional bagpipes. Just saying.


If it's gameplay you're after in tabletop gaming, you can use nails instead of figures. You need various kinds with wide heads so they stand up. Much cheaper. And once you get the gist of it you can write your own rules.

Also, this newfangled "reading" --it's just staring for hours and hours at a piece of paper. Parents need to limit paper time.


First - spouse and I lived far away from our families by the time our firstborn arrived, so very little interference re: parenting and very few old hand-me-down toys dumped on us.

Second - we knew what type of parents we wanted to be - involved, open, and facilitating rather than controlling since our kid would end up being his own person regardless of what we did. Our parenting role was, apart from loving our prog, help smooth out some of life's bumps, encourage interest and involvement, and when necessary dampen down some not-so-great tendencies.

In the birth lottery, our prog happened to draw parents who were interested in a whole bunch of things and were able to afford lessons for whatever activity the prog was interested in. However, there was always a discussion that interest also meant commitment because 'Hey - we're not made of money, there are only so many hours in a day/week, and school comes first.' Seems to have worked.

Range of interests/activities over the years span indoor through outdoor, old-school through modern tech, solo as well as group/team: music, dance, painting, astronomy, theater camp, musical theater, opera, boating/sailing, swimming, martial arts, archery, skiing, scuba, horse back riding, wilderness camping/back-packing, plus oodles of video games, every Disney/Pixar movie, Sesame Street, range of nature docs, trips to family get-togethers at home, abroad, in the country, etc. Plus the prog also learned about the parents' day jobs (bo-o-ring) because we'd pick up the prog at school then head back to the office because we were working on a project and/or deliverables were due, etc. As far as toys went, the most play-worthy were: cards and board games, pots & pans, plastic containers, small mirrors and magnifying lenses, Lego, old fashioned wooden building blocks, wooden pull toys, a telescope, lots of books - fiction and non-fiction, crayons/art supplies, a handful of stuffed toys and a few video games.


I do not like Penny Arcade much, but this is absolutely brilliant!


I'm reminded of

You do wonder whether toys that grant a kid some degree of omnipresence and omniscience might not have an effect on the kind of adult they will become.


Actually you might know more about screen time the the the American Academy of Pediatrics because they just changed their mind on everything

In generally I am a "moderation in all things" parent but I've found positive reinforcement and opportunities to do fun things that aren't screens is better then hard limits

I also think games of all sorts can be wonderful. My 11 year old is a total Magic the Gathering addict and I love it. Better then chess. He also enjoys a good game if x-wing though I haven't got him hooked on Star Wars Armada yet. He loves computer games too


Better then chess.

Oh Jesus, Cthulhu and Quezalcoatl!

Growing up as a smart boy in Russia, I had to play chess. It was just a given. And while I did not hate it, in fact rather liked it, what I likes MUCH more was to invent chess variants. For which my dad (my mom did not really care) made fun of me -- "Did Karpov ever play cylindrical chess"?

I had not played chess in about 25 years, and do not miss it at all. There are far more complex games to keep my interest.


Kurtzhau corrected me. You can get an adequate 2 army starter set for about £50. Ebay is also your friend.


That reminds me of the worst computer game I have played recently. Basically chess with procedurally generated rules.

Sounds clever, but what actually happens is that you start a game with unknown rules and get thrashed by the computer because standard search algorithms can brute force an adequate game with any rules. Repeat until bored.


Doesn't seem that strange to me; the cost of the console is an upper bound (it can be amortized across several games) while the cost of the minis is a lower bound (if interest is maintained, you'll probably be buying more stuff).

I suppose I am implicitly using a cost-per-game metric as opposed to a total-cost-of-hobby metric. That seems reasonable to me because I view the breadth of possible experiences offered by a miniatures game as being more comparable to "a single video game" than to "all video games that will ever be released for this console", but I suppose others might disagree.

Similarly, the cost of 40K versus the cost of novels looks very different depending on whether you compare it to the cost of "a novel" or of "all novels that an avid reader will read over their lifetime".


I imagine that you can get gaming consoles cheaper on eBay, too. Especially if you're willing to get older ones (I'm guessing that £50 starter set is probably not their latest release).


Generally, if you have an army, then you will play against a wide range of players with varied armies and play styles. So it's much more like getting a console and a cheap subscription that gives you every RTS as it comes out.

You also, of course, meet a wide range of people in real life, make new friends and expand your circle. So it's also like taking up golf.


Computers are perfectly capable of thrashing you in standard Chess, too. Any sensible game would have an option to tweak the difficulty until the challenge was appropriate. That's not a problem with underlying concept.

Though I am about as skeptical of procedurally-generated game rules as I would be of procedurally-generated novels.


A single RTS video game will usually allow you to play against many other players with varied armies and play styles, too. I don't see how that makes a single miniatures game equivalent to "all video games ever produced in an entire genre".


And much cheaper if you don't worry about official figures. Decades ago, when I was the Gaming Club at the school, I blew more than one kid's mind by using non-standard (cheaper) miniatures for a game. They'd been told by the salesman at the WarHammer shop that you had to use the official minis. (And one boy had been burned by the minis changing and having to re-buy his army). When I pointed out that as long as they weren't playing at the WarHammer shop it didn't matter, they were able to field much larger (and more interesting) armies :-)


Right. Mine were put off computers by observing their father on them :-) But they both used them from an early age.


Wait until the "oooh, I enjoy the painting and making it look good" bit kicks in. I take it you've discovered "Sixes to Hit" on Bread Street?

...under no circumstances go near Model Wonderland on Lothian Road. Before you know it, you're revisiting your youth, but with more spending power...

PS For the truly impressive, here's someone who scratch-built a 1:144 Tiger tank:


Probably the best gift I received as a child was a 50 pound sack of potassium nitrate (fertilizer). This was for my 9th birthday, a few months after my father had me spellbound with a demonstration of the combustion of mixed potassium nitrate and sucrose. I wouldn't recommend that today's parents do that, despite the extremely high entertainment:price ratio and all the time the child will want to spend playing with it outdoors, because you can easily tempt the kid into a dead-end career like "chemist." It was ok in my case because I had already been growing crystals, plating metals, extracting pH indicators and so forth for a couple of years; I was clearly infected already and might as well have a good time along the way.


I always think of entertainment in cost per /hour

I hate chess (even though i'm not bad at it) because I teaches bad habits. Complete information (no fog of war) symmetrical forces , only one opponent , no random chance and pre game strategic preparation doesn't play in much. most of the strategic axis are null

I never got into 40k but I like be the fantasy flight miniature games


I always think of entertainment in cost per /hour

That works tolerably well for linear entertainment (novels, movies, RPGs), but a competitive game (like 40K, or Chess, or Basketball) could entertain you for 15 minutes or 50 years depending on how much you get into it, so there's no useful way to measure the cost per hour except in retrospective.

Also, measuring cost per hour encourages the creators to pump them full of filler, which usually isn't what you want. When I select media for myself, I care a lot more about the entertainment-per-hour than the entertainment-per-dollar, and the dollars-per-hour is basically noise.


Yes. My parents are quite geeky. The overabundance of books in the house is and was a nice thing that balances it. As for growing up without other geeks, I was essentially alone on that one for most of elementary, but now that I've hit high school, I have found my "tribe" to some extent. Also, SFReader's parenting style is like my parents, only with what you'd expect in the way of activities from a town of 8000 people whose entire lives revolve around hunting, fishing, and hockey.


No children, but 2 nieces and 2 nephews.

One of the nephews, aged 4, is currently collecting chicken bones. He carries a bag of them around with him, ignoring all his other toys, to his parents' bemusement.

I've been writing stories for them all, at each birthday and Christmas after they turned three, printed out, and bound by a relative, stories which are all in continuity with each other. Each of the four children has a shoebox full of these stories next to their bed, which I'm assured are regularly reread.

I did have a wooden train when I was young, large enough to ride on. It spent a few decades in my parents' attic, but is now popular with their grandchildren.

I also had a Sinclair Spectrum 48k, a Christmas present the year they first came out, and spent a lot of time indoors playing on it. It certainly didn't stunt my imagination.


You sound like you're posting from Stranger Things!


And here is the middle class (or even the upper working class?)... Assumptions and presumptions around having a place that has a grassed yard to play in and a nearby wooded (or similar) area to play in. I'm not knocking that, I grew up in a similar enough area myself (teens=1980s). But there's a few assumptions floating about in the comments.

That taken into account, I know a couple of people with kids who would fall into the sort of category Mr Page is talking about, and one who is home schooling their child that I have personal worries about. He has pointed out the hypocrisy of the parent who insists that no electronics or 'media' sully their child, yet blast out on Facebook, YouTube, etc about their way. That's thing I find more funny.


There's a group of (adult) children who play with 1/6th scale military figures, the "Battle Barbies". They also build 1/6th scale models to pose their figures with/around/on.


Other kids, those kids' toys, their parents and parenting styles also figure into this because if your child is unable to get their entertainment/fun, physical activity and/or exploration at home, they'll go where they can find it. Although we regularly had kid traffic running in, out and about, the most popular house (based on kid traffic) was the family whose three sons all played organized school sports.


This is a running battle with my wife. She wants the time doled out in 30 minute blocks. I argue for 22 and 45 minute blocks - about the length of time for one episode of kid video and grown up TV show for most American products.


Yes. The good content is usually longer than a crappy cartoon. Also, it's not a bad thing to be able to focus on something longer. We do have a de facto rule that we take TV seriously - if people are talking over it or treating it as background, then it goes off.


..,Not to mention the similar assumption of disposable income to spend on childrens' toys. Or books. Or even a journey to a public library.

We're lucky, and I know it. It's also a concern when trying to stop the kids getting stuck in a too-comfortable entirely middle class bubble, and trying to keep them aware that they have opportunities that most don't. I don't want them to end up spoilt or ($DEITY forfend the shame of it) "entitled"...


Tiny bagpipes, you say? Where is this shop, exactly? I have nephews and nieces, and my daughter is 21, so there can't be any Xmas payback...

Apropos wooden training and denying kids Minecraft, it is infinite Lego, FFS. What parent in their right mind would deny their children infinite Lego? I've seen kids build whole beautiful, marvelous worlds in it.


We were tutoring a friend's teenager for the college entrance exams and were impressed with his vocabulary. He claimed it was all from those Warhammer novels. We worked on his other reading skills instead.

I have nothing against modern toys and games, but like old fashioned diversions, they can make certain problems worse. Our Warhammer word-master's parents divorced, and he stopped doing his school work and ramped up his game play. He and the game console became strategic elements in the divorce proceedings. Another friend's daughter had serious problems with insomnia and depression, and having a computer in her bedroom exacerbated things. If she had been an adult, I would have recommended detox, but this was a matter for her and her parents.

I'm not saying there weren't troubled kids before electronic toys. I'm saying that there are cases where a parent or two needs to step in and recognize that there is good screen time and signs of trouble screen time.

I remember visiting the old FAO Schwarz in NYC when I was a kid. This was back before they carried the same brands as everyone else, so they had Castillos, oversized wooden locomotives and odd toys with strange names that I came to associate with children whose parents had more money than mine. Some of the toys were pretty neat, but they were odd.

Then again, I had my own share of odd toys. When slot car racing was all the rage my parents found me a British set at a job lot liquidator so my cars wouldn't run on my friend's tracks. Still, my friends and I enjoyed racing a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow against an Aston Martin at my place. Some of the commenters here are from the UK. Does anyone else remember this racing set, or perhaps it was for export only.


Sadly,I have not watched Stranger Things, so I can't comment as to that, but yes, my description is entirely fair and accurate. I know there are some other Canadian posters on here, so I'll leave it to them to confirm the stereotypes of small-town Canada.


the similar assumption of disposable income to spend on childrens' toys.

Or the simple assumption that they have enough storage space for the stuff. My sister started family stuff in a house where a divan bed basically filled the second bedroom, and if they'd added a chest of drawers one drawer of the divan wouldn't have opened. It was very easy for one set of grandparents to give them more toys than they could store. Luckily they have moved to a bigger house (they have child #2 now, too).

Unfortunately they will probably never have my level of "10 acres and a creek" play area, but then the elder has a phone significantly more powerful than the computer I finally got when i was 15 (a Commodore64... which you can emulate in javascript running on his phone. Bah, young people). I think he's 6. Or maybe 7. Ish. They also get Lego, which they claim to quite like. Although the novelty of talking to some geezer on the other side of the world has worn off, so I don't get upates very often any more (for a while they used to skype me just to say "it's early in the morning there? It's evening here" and other exclamations of wonderment.

If you call it "adulting", I presume the converse is "childrening", and it's going to be different, very different, between generations. The phone thing, for starters. And the internet. Geez, I met exactly one of my scots relatives, once, when he left the islands and came to NZ for a visit. The current younglings seem to go through a phase of being excited at having uncles and aunts in other countries, then a week later the novelty of video calling strange adults wears off. Maybe when they're old enough to play video games with me I'll see more of them <;)


Very probably Scalextrix... universally used to mean "slot car" in U.K. English, much like "Hoover" for vacuum cleaner. However, "Xerox" never travelled here, we just use "photocopy" :)


The current younglings seem to go through a phase of being excited at having uncles and aunts in other countries, then a week later the novelty of video calling strange adults wears off.

One of my nieces in China liked getting pictures of Canada, especially the countryside. Large patches of uninhabited ground were scarce around Beijing, thus a novelty. And it was a country she knew she could never visit* so there was that too. Pictures aren't such a novelty anymore, but try pictures of ordinary things that are different from their ordinary things.

*Our last neocon government raised visa application fees to very high levels, and the consulate told her she was wasting her time applying because as an unmarried female she was considered a risk. So she decided not to waste money applying.


Spent several summers 'up North' around small towns. Thing is, summer is the primary tourist season up there (so no ice hockey), and apart from the occasional trip to yon picturesque fresh produce stall, farmers market, agricultural fair, etc. mostly met other big-city folk. As for actual encounters with locals, suspect that most locals can spot a city dweller instantly so adjust their behavior immediately.

Best recent insight into rural/small town living was a wedding at a farm a few years back. Although many issues in common, surprise was how much closer (and more personal) they are re: their local gov't authorities. This results in very different types of conversations as well as approaches to problem solving vs. my big-city 'just-another-cipher' experience.


The major social event for the entire year does seem to be our town fair (at least, among the young'uns). I can also confirm that the locals can spot an outsider immediately- the outsiders are the ones who actually try to get things DONE. I can't speak as to the actual workings of town government, but given that we re-elected the mayor whose policies lead to the major employer in our town leaving, with little hope for the future, I have serious concerns as to the sense of our town.


Question re. games/apps: Is anyone else here caregive for a child with specia needs, especially trisomy 21? I'm curios if there are any apps that help with language aquisition, especially augmented communication. I've looked at apps that teach sign language, but they where too cumbersome and not made for little kids (+ the sign language used in augmented communication is different from the standers SLs)?

I'm also curios if anyone knows good nature docus for little children on youtube or elsehwere - My bucke list for goos includes: little drama, little brutality, starts with actual animals in one of the first takes ()no 5min of narration and sweeping landscape panoramas. You make a docu on badgers, you start with a badger)?


You should blog! Or tweet! Or both!


Hey, I already have Instagram. That's enough of a timesuck as it is. Though I have considered blogging...


When everything goes to crap and formerly civilised people are resorting to cannibalism and killing one another for their shoes your child will want something nice and heavy to defend themselves with. Plastic toys don't cut it.

Then when the carnage has died down outside outside and fimbulwinter has set in you will be glad that you bought toys that are safe to burn.


When everything goes to crap and formerly civilised people are resorting to cannibalism and killing one another for their shoes

Wednesday morning?


Mind you, time spent playing Total War may help turn your child into the next God Emperor.


By commanding an army of children armed with heavy wooden toys?


I was thinking of starting early.


time spent playing Total War may help turn your child into the next God Emperor.

I have one friend whose child graduated from foam swords to wooden at about 5 years old, and plays horribly complex real time strategy games that make me feel old. I should give him the Ender books (although his father has read them so, it's not going to be news).

On that note, Australian eco-survivalists are strangely similar to US racist-survivalists but also different in weird ways. Specifically, the ways in which they cross over with the Society for Creative Anachronism don't seem to have any parallel in the US.

It is slightly odd dealing with an under-10 who regards smelting and forging as normal activities, and will readily correct me to explain that the problem with firearms is the complex manufacturing chain compared to a decent crossbow. Wooden trains, yes, can we talk about wooden trains?


I suppose my views on electronic toys are coloured by the kind of "electronic toys" I had when I was a kid - the individual components. Beginning with the obvious torch bulbs and batteries, which I used to light my dens (already plumbed with running water and toilets from an earlier enthusiasm), then the equally obvious crystal sets, and going on to wonderfully lethal things like the line output stage extracted from a valve TV, configured to free-run and kicking out its 20kV while powered direct off the unisolated mains. It has been tremendously useful in a world which is now so full of electronics to actually know how the shit works, to see through the manufacturers' lies, and to be able to fix it when it goes wrong for trivial or zero cost; in short, to have so much scope for solving problems by means of thought instead of money.

I have no kids myself (one of the blessings of my life) but my sister has 3, and I do disapprove of the fact of all of them having iphones and ipads at such a young age. They are not learning anything constructive or useful like I did; instead they are learning the destructive habit of unthinking submissiveness to corporate fascism, lock-in, money-draining and brainwashing before they are even old enough to understand what it all means (and since they have actual Apple devices, learning it in its most evil and pernicious form). (Not to mention carrying a portable tracking and surveillance device everywhere without a qualm and without even realising what it is.) Things were bad enough when schools began to get x86 PCs and teach "computing" with the meaning of "learning how to use Microsoft office software as if that was the beginning and end of the whole subject", but now kids have even worse brain-rot continually trickled into them throughout their leisure hours from things they carry voluntarily in their pockets.

Lilies, I said!

Heck, these things require a constant input of money just to keep them working. That alone would have made it inconceivable to have given them to me or my sister when we were kids if they had existed back then. And our parents were better off then than my sister is now, by some margin. How she manages to pay for them all is beyond me. I would not, in her place. I would give them the parts to build a crystal set and reward the successful construction with a BBC Micro.


What's "An electronic toy" ? Hint: I had "Meccano" from about age 8- the set growing to a "Number 9" or slightly larger .... Understanding some of the basics of "how it works" is so important, & so few people, either adults or children do understand. And, having been a teacher, I can tell you that most of them are equally useless, too.


Greg @75 & Pigeon @74:

Sterling examples of completely missing the point of the OP, and in doing so providing examples of the "holier than thou" attitude that the OP rails against.


Am I totally missing the point here? About 6 years older than Harold if it helps.

I did in fact have a "wooden ride-on 'steam' engine", made by my grandfather, who also made me a garage - service station with fuel pumps, sales room, repairs workshop and parking, a dolls' house for my sister...

We also had 54mm and 20mm armies. a collection of toy cars...

I'm childless, but would have no issues with letting them loose on things like the "Total War" series (well, except that I'd want to play them too!).


The point of the OP is that there is no "one true parenting way", and parents often get into a stupid habit of one-upmanship and attempting to claim some non-existent moral high ground (especially with claims that hand made low-tech toys are intrinsically better than anything else).


This is before we even start to discuss the habit of many non-parents to make statements that can be boiled down to: "I'm not a parent, but you're doing it all wrong."

(Note: This is not aimed at paws @77)


Some friends of mine found the best way to make a child stop being obsessed with $game, particularly older children. Start playing it as well. If you get good at it, you can assist said child, but better yet, you can automatically make it seriously uncool.

But yes, there has always been an idea that "what was good for me is automatically the best way for my offspring". And I suspect people having kids at an older age magnify that effect.

I had one friend who did what I want to copy - they embraced the history of consoles as a learning tool. So as $offspring were growing older, they purchased second hand consoles and a bunch of games, and over a period of 8 years or so moved from essentially Pong to Uncharted, via spectrum, amiga, master system, NES, megadrive, SNES, PS1/2/3 and 4. Turned out to be surprisingly inexpensive, and apparently refighting the console wars in house went down well as a family bonding ritual.


But yes, there has always been an idea that "what was good for me is automatically the best way for my offspring". And I suspect people having kids at an older age magnify that effect.


I found that I have to be careful with my enthusiasms - and that sometimes I'll get it wrong. So, we got oldest a Raspberry Pi; but he didn't use it. Turns out that the fiddling away to "make it work" (my youth in the early 1980s, the absence of ready-made working programs, and the need to type / joy in creating your own programs) can also be seen as "why reinvent the wheel?"

He did join his school's programming club, but avoided telling me, discussing it, or asking for any help :) subtle hint, or what :)

I've also learned to "not suggest good books" - I just let him pick whatever he likes off the bookshelves in the bookshop (he's discovered Ken Liu and Mark Lawrence, and introduced me to Scott Lynch) or at home (although I may have put certain titles at eye height...). He also prefers paper to ebook - and if it means he gets a paper copy of something I've got on my tablet, then I'm fortunate enough to afford him the ability to build up his own collection.


I agree completely that there is not one good way of parenting. I had a colleague who did not allow his child to watch television, eat sweets or sugar and esposed him to both the religious of his parents. If he went to organisations with other children the parents asked them noit to serve sugary snacks. But they were good, intelligent people and their son seemed a very clever and fairly normal child. My own boy and girl were borough up as identically as we could manage. My daughter did not like "girls things" and would not play with dolls. At a parents' evening in primary school the teacher complained that she wouldn't play in the wendy house. She is now an engineer and also a brownie leader. We tried to avoid the worst of fashionable toys and toy guns for our children but otherwise teir toys were normal. My grandchildren all have phones and/or tablets and seem to be "normal". My son's girls participate in drama, singing and sport. My daughter's sons, (who inherited their mother's stubbornness) do sport and outdoor activities. Children are resilient ad can survive most regimes. I think the parents participation and interest in their childrens' upbringing is usually more important than the regime they follow. And the job of grandparents is to keep their advice to themselves unless asked. When the grandchildren visit us they often forgo their tablets for our large bag of Lego my remote controlled indoor helicopter or games in the garden with a ball.


They are not learning anything constructive or useful like I did[.]

I seem to remember that you said in an earlier comment here that you were different from the children who grew up near you, by trying to learn how stuff works. I suspect that most people during the last century or so haven't tried to learn how all the gadgets work.

I remember from my childhood (when we had computers like VIC-20, C=64 and later Amigas and PCs) that most people just wanted the computers to play games, not to learn anything from them. I think most of my friends knew just that they needed to type LOAD "*",8,1 and then RUN - and that was all they wanted. Some of us did want to learn more, but not everybody.

Also, when we got computers at school (some 8088 clones with two floppy drives) the MS Office suite was not that prevalent. I started my office tools with TEKO, WP and Lotus 1-2-3, and by the time I had computer education (as an elective subject) on the eight grade, I didn't appreciate the things they taught us, though Logo could have been useful if the teacher would have known what to teach about it. I did teach myself 8086 assembler and Turbo Pascal at the same time.

The portable tracking and surveillance device which costs money to operate had its ancestor as the land-line phone which also needed money to operate and which I did have and used. I held out "long" before getting a mobile phone, but if they had been common when I was a child, I would probably have gotten one.

Also, that crystal radio and a BBC micro - all fine and dandy, but see that previous comment about reinventing the wheel, and with that attitude you might be cutting your child off of friends. Much of their communication (at least looking at my oldest child) is on the e-messaging services, and plainly forbidding those would not be very constructive in my opinion. Rules and understanding just what to put on the internet, especially publicly, need to be discussed, obviously, but they are not that clear to many adults, either.

(One time I had to told my kid to turn off their tablet and leave instant messaging for the morning, and go to bed, and I immediately went to talk about this on IRC. My kid called me on this.)


I was one of the early generations growing up with computers.

My brother was older when the first computer arrived in the house and he got heavily into programming and electronics from an early age but by then he was old enough to understand what it was.

There were a selection of games I played before I could read, I knew how to get into them by their order in the lists of options.

I learned to count with a little maths game. Nothing fancy, just a game which posed little math problems and produced a tinny little bit of congratulations for a correct answer or a flash and a beep for an incorrect answer and it kept track of how many you'd got correct. Apparently I'd march into the kitchen and proudly declare things like "I'm up to half a thousand right!"

As a result I found math a breeze my whole life.(everything is easier when you have a huge head start)

If you're trying to teach your kid counting or basic math you're likely to get sick of it before hour 4 if you're a remotely sane human adult and you're going to try to get them doing something else so you can get some work done or just do something that doesn't bore you to tears.

Computers don't get bored, they don't get frustrated with small children.

It gave me an early obsession with math, by age 4 when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was "something to do with math and computers"... I now work in programming, informatics and statistics in a research lab. Not too bad for the investment of an old computer with a broken floppy drive and some shareware games.

Siri will spend all day every day answering a childs questions about types of clouds:

A normal human adult will go nuts long before then.

I think you may be utterly missing all the constructive things the kids actually do use their devices for.

Back when I was in uni one of my classmates had a part time job giving tours of the campus to groups. He turned up looking shellshocked one day after taking an unusually young group around. They were around 11ish. He started explaining the history of various things around the college and kids in the group started adding lots of obscure details about the history of the place, the architecture, the organizations there.

Turned out a bunch of them had been looking the place up on the way over while they were bored on the bus. Average adults? nah, they're not gonna do that but that generation considered it as natural as breathing.

Adults ignore most of that stuff, they just see kids playing on their phones. They don't realize that the kids consider it natural that if they see a plane in the sky they can ask siri what planes are above them right now, where they're going and all about the history of the destination city.

yes I hate that Stallmans "right to read" is coming true but locking the worlds knowledge away from a few kids isn't going to slow that down. But the good news is that if you publish useful information on how to bypass/defeat some of these problems this generation of kids is far more likely to find it.


Back when I was in uni...Back when I was in uni

Sort of; my pals and I (early to mid 50s) will use smart phones as web access, but to look up stuff related to our conversation rather than instead of having a conversation.


Copy pasta and proff reiding fail!! Should read:-

Back when I was in uni...history of the destination city.

Sort of; my pals and I (early to mid 50s) will use smart phones as web access, but to look up stuff related to our conversation rather than instead of having a conversation.


By commanding an army of children armed with heavy wooden toys?

LOL. Back when we used to do massive garden melees with foam swords and pool noodles, I could hold my own against several kids... until Kurtzhau waved his (LARP) gladius and made them line up and attack en masse.

Later he did a kind of plastic sword fencing intended as leading into "proper" Sports Fencing. They used to have big capture the flag battles. After a while, he emerged as the de facto commander: he'd put a small party in place to defend the flag, then lead the rest around the flank to take the enemy flag.

Then one day another budding general joined the class and things got interesting...

Ahem. My point was that many of the really good games do train you to think in terms of tactics and strategy, and also to consider where things come from. It's a mistake to conflate the medium with the content. Players of Civilisation and Total War would not necessarily be helpless if civilisation came to a halt.

(There is also - more darkly - some evidence fielded by a researcher called Grossman (of On Killing fame) that play first person shooters does in fact train you for some of the skills required in real combat, especially a reflexive point and fire attitude - I think he called it operand conditioning.)



First, the thing is that "knowing how things work" can apply on several levels. Knowing machine code, to pick an illustrative example, or knowing how to build a computer from scratch, doesn't make you a better programmer if the objective is to come up with software that (a) performs a real world business task, (b) is usable by human beings, and (c) is created within a modern business environment.

Second, digital stuff are also tools for learning other stuff entirely. Kids glued to their smartphones are learning to social network in our horribly complex wired social world. They may also be simply using the available tools to set up other stuff. My son organizes his 40K events through access to email and Facebook.

Perhaps I should make him do it by postcard? OMG I am a bad parent.


Great that the olden games/activities can teach kids how things work, how to fight each other (old school/noodle swords and computer games) as well as look up information on the fly.

Still feel that we need more games/activities that teach kids how to collaborate and work effectively with others because collaboration (not just giving/following orders) seems to be becoming more important as our societies become more complex. Only board games that I know of (Pandemic and soon/now Plague) that require cooperation/collaboration in order to 'win'. Old school activities that teach cooperation include choir/ensemble singing, school bands/orchestras, and especially drama/theater because of the diversity of talents needed to pull off a successful show.

I'm not dissing any activities per se, in fact a key concern of mine is the possibility of knowledge/skills gaps.


Pandemic is a real hit in our house, and those of our friends! Also a game called Forbidden Island, which utterly rocks.

Of course, Minecraft - the way the kids play it - is all about cooperation, as is most of the first person shooters and strategy games they play online. They'll set up with Skype and merrily go hunting together. "Watch the flank. You go into the big building, I'll cover you... TANK! TANK!" And so on.

What's interesting is that digital gaming seems to feed tabletop. Kids who've played video roleplaying games or strategy games instantly "get" the tabletop variant. There's a lot of D&D etc going on around us, plus X-Wing and so on.


See, now why can't I get other young'uns to do this?


Because local culture?

It just takes two of you to create an axis of expanding geekery.

Perhaps "Stranger Things" will make difference, assuming people watch it.

If they are Star Wars fans, perhaps you can get them hooked on X-Wing tabletop?

Or, there are always the wonderful Fluxx cardgames.

(Some ideas here:


There is also - more darkly - some evidence fielded by a researcher called Grossman (of On Killing fame)...

Reading that book is exactly what made me leery of allowing our kids to play first-person shooter games (see my post @16).

...Which reminds me, I must get my copy of the book back (along with "Angry White Pyjamas", on a very long loan now to my best man)


Hmm. I have tried the some of the FLUXX card games, but no one where I live has seen either Firefly or Monty Python, being the only two we have. I don't play X-Wing tabletop, though that's mainly due to being four hours away from a location with them. I have tried D&D with some of them, but the chronic issue is players. Right now, I'm trying to get a group of four or five together, but I have a rough schedule this semester and most of them have jobs.


What about Black Death? Classic BTRC game is available in print-and-play.

Dumbass is also good silly fun.

Both available from BTRC (and other places):

I've become a big fan of PnP games, as they make replacing lost/damaged components easy.

Also fun is Evolution. (from North Star Games). The basic game is fun, there's a Flight expansion that adds more complexity, a Climate expansion (or stand-alone game) that adds still more, and an entry-level game (say only available from Target in the US) that is more suitable for younger players.

Read the review in Nature here:


Reading that book is exactly what made me leery of allowing our kids to play first-person shooter games (see my post @16).

Ah but you can have the "just how many times did you die" conversation...


I think D&D is too rule-heavy. Try something simpler, either "lite" or narrative focused such as FATE. Also, might you not have more luck with SF than Fantasy?


Re: Evolution. (from North Star Games)

Thanks - looks like a good addition to the annual holiday season board games marathon. FYI - there's a new second edition.


Ah but you can have the "just how many times did you die" conversation...

:) I've been using that as an excuse for why I'm so rubbish at computer games and indoor laser-tag games; the game rules tend to reward "killing" much more than they punish "dying" - while my default setting is to treat it as a simulation, not a game. I suppose the same problem applies to sports fencing (i.e. the Olympic events); how many one-hit competitions do you see?

Meanwhile, I don't sacrifice units in W40K, because you just wouldn't do that except as a very very last resort (i.e. rearguard for Op DYNAMO, Auxiliary units during Op CROMWELL, etc, etc). That's my excuse for why I always get beaten by firstborn, and I'm sticking to it...

I did get mildly irritated when a primary school teacher provided a homework link to a Youtube clip of the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan" to the youngest... (the clip was operating as a background to a piece of music)

...when I saw it, I felt I had to show them the whole opening sequence, on a big TV screen, with the hi-fi at loud, to put it in context; and to explain that I felt the clip to be belittling both the history, and the efforts of the film. They weren't chuffed at the time, but oldest recently admitted that he understood why I'd done it.



When Kurtzhau was 4 I was shocked to see him run across the lawn with his mate, pointing a water pistol and going "ratatatatatat"!

It just felt wrong to see him doing that on open ground. So I got out my Osprey WWII infantry tactics books and showed them how - in theory at least - to do it properly. Much more fun, of course, but also taught them to respect the imaginary weapons and gave them an inkling of an insight into the real thing.

You're right about most games rewarding (notional) killing more than punishing being killed. Notoriously - reputedly - real army teams usually lose airsoft and paintball matches against amateurs who don't mind taking 50% KIA.

The issue of children and war toys/games is a knotty one. I plan to take a shot at it later this week.


Still feel that we need more games/activities that teach kids how to collaborate and work effectively with others because collaboration (not just giving/following orders) seems to be becoming more important as our societies become more complex.

In my experience, MMORPG's are great for learning cooperation, planning, and division of labor. I'd love to see some academic research on this topic.


Got it :-)

I haven't won a game yet, but I've had lots of fun coming in second :-)


Back when I ran games for the kids at school (1990s) I ran a Twilight: 2000 for the RPG Club. (Post-WWIII role-playing in Europe — rather grim.)

In one session, the players' Grizzly was taking small arms fire from some woods, so one boy leapt out and charged the ambushers' position. And of course got hit. He objected, and I told him to tell the story to his sergeant (he was in cadets) that weekend. The next week I asked him what the sergeant said, and he was proud that he'd spend the entire weekend practicing his leopard crawling and counter-ambush tactics!

If you're looking for a game product that reflects small unit actions, I'd recommend At Close Quarters from BITS:

written by Doug Berry (former Ranger sniper) it uses an action point system that does an excellent job of rewarding (in game) proper small unit tactics for close combat. Easily adaptable for any rules system.


Meanwhile, I don't sacrifice units in W40K, because you just wouldn't do that except as a very very last resort

Going with the fluff, I think many of the armies in the setting would use sacrifice as a valid tactic...

I have only played Epic 40K (with quite many houserules), but that really doesn't reward sacrificing units that much.


Personally, I think that "original Fluxx" is more enjoyable than "$show Fluxx" unless most of the players in that game are fans of $show. (based on how much fans and non-fans seem to get out of "Monty Python Fluxx".)


Star Fluxx and Cthulhu Fluxx have slightly different play styles, but the skin is also witty and well observed, which is part of the pleasure.

Oz Fluxx has a card that gives extra goes to somebody wearing green... kids rush off to rummage in wardrobes :)


That's what I meant; the "witty and well-observed skins" work better if you're familiar with the base material they draw on.

My standard deck has one rule "Add one to all ordinal numbers on rules in play" that even makes experienced Fluxx players think a bit!


Notoriously - reputedly - real army teams usually lose airsoft and paintball matches against amateurs who don't mind taking 50% KIA

Against experienced players, I don't doubt it; it's a game, not a simulation.

And having taken our Company to a paintball site[1] for fun rather than training value [2] (we had to spend some of the Company funds prior to amalgamation - long story), it was also noticeable that when one of the younger bright sparks suggested "Officers and Senior Ranks against the Juniors", that our age and treachery triumphed over their youth and vigour :) [3]

Although... I do worry about some of the airsoft websites that I've seen. I know it's fun, it just seems from a distance that some of them take it a little too seriously. I get the same sort of slightly uncomfortable feeling I used to get around some Practical Pistol shooters... (see: my discomfort around training to kill, without a surrounding framework involving the legal use of lethal force).

[1] Note regarding paintball - wear multiple layers, if you only wear a single thin layer you'll end up with bruises the size of saucers...

[2] The mistake that many make is regarding infantry skills as being the low-level shooting and camouflaging and crawling stuff; nope, that's just basic soldiering skills. The real skill in infantry work is getting hundreds or thousands of people to the right places, at the right times, knowing what they've got to do, and with the correct support to achieve it. Probably in the dark. It's a lot harder than it sounds - imagine if your offices had a fire drill at night, in a complete power cut (no street lighting), and was trying to check that everyone was clear of the building - using nothing louder than a whisper, and no torches.

[3] We took the kids to Centre Parcs last year, and they had a laser tag setup. I crawled off with youngest to get muddy and relive a misspent youth, firstborn charged off with some other kids, and my beloved hung back and sniped the hell out of everything that moved. Our team kept winning; I may have pointed out to the more macho Dads and Lads afterwards that they hadn't really stood a chance, she'd been a British Champion with a rifle...


Off topic, but let's all offer up a prayer for the U.S. Oh glorious Cthulhu, you whose rugose tentacles encircle us all (screw those pastafarian heretics), please guide these silly, silly Americans to a better, non-cheeto covered future. Ramen.

[[ Most odd — it's been absolutely ages since the filters dropped a comment into the approval queue - mod ]]


Kumba'ya, m'lord ... Kumba'ya!


Crap! I forgot him too! Oh glorious God-Emperor of Mankind, you who sit on the Golden Throne, keeping the Ruinous Powers at bay (speaking of that, CD, didn't you make some comment about Slaanesh running Trump's campaign awhile ago?), please guide your avatar, Hillary Clinton so that your people will be saved from this warp-spawned demon.


Some other fun science games:

Covalent and Ion from Genius Games:

They might also like IonicCompounds, which is a free print-and-play card game: (Look under the Chemical Properties tab.)

I've also recently backed a couple of interesting KickStarter projects:

And finally, Go Extinct! is a fun game about cladistics: (Kinda like Fish, but different enough to be interesting.)


One of my 4-year old daughters favourite games while we are out walking is to invent apps we play on our (imaginary) phones - she has a whole series based arid. A character called Crafty Cricket. Sometimes she would rather play imaginary games than use her real iPhone 5.

I think that's a perfect summation of how digital becomes incorporated into the world of traditional play. Or how her mind has been 'corrupted by smartphones'.


I think it's over guys. He won. The lunatic won. Is this what it felt like for those of you in Britain when Brexit happened? This may not directly affect me, but the world has to deal with this lunatic for the next four years. Goddammit.


I have no words. We were expecting the professional politician; as far as I know not even the electoral wonks understand why all the predictions were so far off. This is not a good thing for anyone who has to live on this planet.


My gloss on this is that when you do not have a party that represents a group that is declining, but is still the plurality, that group may do some crazy shit. And when you tell them they are ruining it for everybody, they'll say ruining what? I don't agree with them, but I think this is the "reasoning" in play.


Yup. I became an engineer because I had to find a way to safely detonate home-made explosives without resorting to lead styphnate and stuff, which felt "twitchy" even to my immortal teen soul.

I went to the library and got all the McGraw-Hill and IEEE papers I could find on "Exploding Bridge Wires" - yes, there were conferences on that - and built my electronic detonator.

Then I thought I would be neat to use a radio, so I got sucked into a radio amateur club, which had wire-wrapped computers, an electronics lab where one could BUILD stuff like HiFI amplifiers and Disco Lights (items believed to atract the ladies, of course this didn't work) and you could drink beer there too ... Power Electronics won in the end.

In today's stupidity, I would have been in jail already at 16 for some "terrorism" related bullshit. Probably graduating from jail as a Lawyer (one can go study while in jail) and my career track would be helping people with neck tattoos set up low-taxation corporate structures for their alleged drug money.

I would still have a nice house and a decent car, maybe even nicer than the one I have now.


Derail warning:

I may owe FE / NN/ HB / Cd an apology, it seems.
Vladimir Putin has just won the US election. Will there be a US election in 2020 or will Trumpolini manufacture a state of emergency? Though I think it is more likely that he (DT) will go down the standard route for destroying a democracy as used by Erdogan, Putin & Musso. Voters who are, from his pov “questionable” will find their voter-registrations invalid, the press will be attacked & civil rights mangles or set aside. As usual women will be the worst off – look forward to abortion being made illegal in the whole of the USA real soon now. Also expect a flood of US exiters coming over here.

I wonder if this will give the Brexit process some pause – a small shred of hope amongst the tatters?


Sure, It's ALWAYS someone else's fault with "you lot". Just get this: Keep pushing the same neo-liberal bullshit policies and keep failing. No Putin required, just hard-nosed stupidity and ignorance about the world as it is.

The democrats went and carefully picked the very worst candidate they had, one with a long and well documented track record of warmongering and failure to achieve anything for anyone outside of the 0.001% that are donors to the Clinton Foundation.

Massive shot to own foot with carefully engraved and hand-loaded musket.

And Cheer Up fer Ricekakes: If it was indeed possible to become dictator for life in the USA just by becoming president, the USA would not have managed stay a republic for 200 years or so. There is a system, it's not perfect by any measure, but it is fairly robust and self correcting.

And NOW I must be off an clear me some money off the index Futures. I love when "the experts" are wrong and everyone are hysterical.


I hope for your sake, that you are in a privileged section of the population: Pink, male, not of "foreign extraction, heterosexual & your female companion does not ever need an abortion.

You don't need to be "left-wing" to be afraid of fascism or USA christianity.


You don't need to be "left-wing" to be afraid of fascism or USA christianity.

No, but "you" have to belong solidly to that self-serving class that calls itself "the left" for convenience to completely fail to see how "your" naive stupidity and failure to fight for people outside of your little closed circle of friends (or even your own values) are in fact enabling all of the religious nutbars and the fascists to boot.

Trump had Republicans applauding when he claimed after the Orlando massacre that "being an LGBT person was part of the Freedom's that America stands for". Trump made the R's support LGBT people. Not the screeching of Democrats.

Why the Hell is the European "left" siding with Islamists and embracing "Markets" as the answer to Everything and Responsible Policies? Are they trying to get Le Pen or worse elected one wonders, What happened to "religion is opium for the people".

I want the 1980's left back. At least they stood up for something other than themselves and if one disagreed, one could disagree without terrible shrieks of "Racist", "White Privilege" and God knows what else.


Your sneering ignorance is profound. I suggest you ask Charlie (whom I've met several times) as to how far to the political right of him I (usually) am. Though I'm an extreme social liberal - sexuality is an individuals' set of personal problems. I think all drugs should be legalised, regulated, taxed & sold in pharmacies.

SOME of the European "left" is crawling up the backside of the islamists - what you may not have noticed is that there is an extreme internal faction-fight going on over this re-run of the Nazi-Soviet pact ..... My local MP is on the anti-islamist side & getting a lot of flak from the loonies, I'm sorry to say.

What "closed little circle" incidentally?

You are clearly a recent addition to these pages - so for your education: I was born in 1946 in the shadow of the War & all through the 50's too [ Inchon was my first memory of international politics ] I've worked with refugees from both the Nazi & Soviet terrors - a survivor from the Gulag, people who fled the Nazis, people whose families were turned into soap-bars & some with K-laager tattoos on their wrists. Now, in "retirement" among other things, I'm an allotment-holder, which means an astonishing mix of ethnic backgrounds, but most of them what used to be called "solid working class" with a mix of professionals & semi-professionals who like good food & exercise. [ Ethinc origins, apart from pink Brit, include Turkic, W Indian, Nepali, Han, Finnish, Bengali, Kashmiri .. ] A very closed little circle, obviously!

And the furthest "left" I have ever got was, for a short while, to be a member of the Liberal Democrat party.



Your sneering ignorance is profound. Well, thank you. A compliment from you is a compliment indeed I gather*.

Ok, I apologise, I should have used the generic "one", rather than '"you"' to make it clearer which part of the political landscape my "5 minutes of hatred". So, I failed to make the point properly.

1) What I was trying to express was that I see, shall we say to bracket the problem, the fraction of the left and social democrats that makes it into the media and parliaments, as the eager and primary enablers of all manner of bad corporatists policies that drive people, who are already pressurised, to apoplectic rage. That rage makes them use any possibility they got to stick it back to "The Man", even if this hurt themselves.

Therefore we have BREXIT, Front National, AFD, and maybe Trump?

Picking up the signal. The question mark I have about Trump, is whether Trump an Amplifier or an Improver. I don't know that, I think "we" don't know, we just have to see what he does.


2) Other "Amplifiers" I see are people like Hillary Clinton and all of the Democrats pushing and pushing tribal issues (my opinion). The messaging is the if YOU are Black, Mexican, Gay, Muslim, Red Necks, Deplorables - and on and on and on down to Planck scale market segmentation and branding - "there will be a Special Little Gift Only for YOUR's Kind if you vote for US".

WTF is with this stupidity? We should be talking about People. People getting shot by the police, People having no jobs, opportunities, money, health care .... .

Especially, things like why it is OK (since it is not an issue) that Poor People are having a 20% shorter life span that Wealthy People - In Denmark!

The "Amplifiers" will say that "They are immigrants anyway, so, It's OK", the "Improvers" will say, "shit, this is not fair. Obviously our values do not translate into outcomes, What can be done about that."

Though I'm an extreme social liberal - sexuality is an individuals' set of personal problems. I think all drugs should be legalised, regulated, taxed & sold in pharmacies. I agree with that. I would indeed add Religion to "personal problem".

I was born in 1963. Were I grew up, we had Brutalism and dull red, green colouring schemes, hessian wallpaper, plywood shit furniture ... because everyone knew that the USSR was going to nuke all that shit anyway so it was OK to be depressed by a depressing environment and cheaper too.

Reagan, that crazy anti-communist loon (oh, yes, that was the reviews), was in the end a huge relief to "my side" of the Water. We didn't get nuked. Maybe President Trump can pull off something equally good?

I tend to see almost everything that has been happening since the 1980's as a well funded coordinated counter-attack on the counterculture of the 1960s, which in many ways caused a revolution, that the Elites (many of which are actually the Hippies of Old) now want to prevent any possibility of ever happening.

Pushing Multiculturalism to the point of Tribalism is "the acid" that shall dissolve any bonds across classes. The idea behind "identity policies" is simply that we can't allow poor black folks to align with poor white folks on common interests.

Because then change might happen and "we", who sits on top of the pie, like "stability".

*) Sorry, couldn't help it.


Thank you.

However, you might want to review my comment on Rnald Reagan as a deliberate contrast to Trumpolini.

And the rest of that thread, whilst you are at it ....


Personally nice, yes. I think I've linked before to my guess that US conservatives worship Reagan by elimination, not having anyone else. Apparently he didn't even have any issues with Communists until some of them showed up in Hollywood when he was a union officer and made nuisances of themselves. (My reading of some incidents in his biography, so apply salt to taste.) The USSR might have saved itself trouble later by ignoring the Capitalist-running-dog entertainment industry...



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This page contains a single entry by M Harold Page published on November 4, 2016 11:08 AM.

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