Hey Kids! Watch Out! Your Parents Are Cheating at Board Games!

I don’t think that’s what the makers of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders had in mind.

I’m sure they envisioned their games as a way to help families have some fun and spend quality time together.

But a story in today’s Wall Street Journal shatters that myth.

Apparently, some parents are palming cards, strategically adding pieces when the children aren’t looking, and sometimes outright lying.

And it probably doesn’t surprise most parents why some parents engage in such behavior – so that they can lose as fast as possible. Doing so may offer a couple of benefits.

First, it may be a way to end some mind-numbing games that could go on and on. Second, it could help prevent a major meltdown by the youngsters.

The story, and the comments associated with it, offer both support for such behavior, as well as suggest some problems that may result from such behavior.

One woman says she resorts to deception about 45 minutes into playing another seemingly endless game of Candy Land with her dogged 5-year-old, “when I just can’t stand it anymore.”

A data analyst employed statistical analysis to figure out a more efficient way of hastening Chutes and Ladders after one too many mind-numbing games.. His solution was to tape a new ladder to the board between space 47 and 72. That lowered the longest game to 110 moves, from 146.

Another data analyst noted that his analysis suggested eliminating the longest chute, spanning square 87 to 24. The analysis also recommends avoiding Candy Land, with its 3.4% chance of running longer than 75 moves (compared with 0.76% for Chutes and Ladders), or eliminating the rule of sending pieces backward.

One dad notes that card games such as Uno and Go Fish are especially easy to lose, since his kids are not good at holding their cards, and he can see all of them, and plan his turns accordingly.

Even a woman who has written against purposeful losing, noting that children like her daughter need to learn how to handle disappointment, admits to miscounting spaces to advantage her daughter in Sorry and Chutes and Ladders so the games will end.

One dad Dalton agrees there are valuable lessons children can learn from losing, and shows his 4- and 7-year-old daughters no mercy when playing Candy Land and Monopoly. “If you want to win you’ve got to do it the right way,” he says.

One mom, a lawyer, noted that when playing Candy Land, she used to palm the best cards and give them to her kids at opportune moments. She let her secret slip when her now-adult children were teenagers and they haven’t let her forget.

“I’d say ‘let’s just play one game before bedtime,’ but the game would go on and on, so you’d have to do something,” she says. When they were children, “I am glad they didn’t figure out their mom, a lawyer of all things, was a cheater. What kind of lesson would that be?”

Well, I’m not sure what kind of lesson that would be either, but I have to admit I’ve done similar things when playing board and card games with our kids. I’m not sure if I can offer a reason why, but most likely it was just to give my kids the chance to win. While I agree there are many lessons to be learned from losing, I figured our kids would have enough chance to experience that in other settings. So why not let them win at these mindless board games; there’s also lessons to be learned from winning, such as how to be gracious.

(Although I was upset to read in the WSJ story that the makers of Monopoly are coming out with a cheater’s edition. The impetus for the new version was based on a survey that found that about half of respondents admitted to duplicity while playing the real-estate game. The new edition will reward players who can, say, move a rival’s piece without notice or collect rent for an opponent’s property. Encouraging such behavior as part of the game itself seems to cross a line, in my mind.)

Many of the comments to the WSJ story note that today there is no need to be stuck playing boring games like Candyland or Chutes and Ladders, which seems to be one of the drivers for parents’ questionable behavior.

Board games are experiencing a sort of golden age, with a growing number of high-quality, engaging board games. Many of these games don’t have winners and losers in the traditional sense, but focus more on values such as cooperation and planning. The great web site boardgamegeek.com can hep you find the right game for your family.

As a family, we still enjoy playing board and card games. It’s a nice way to pass the time and have a conversation instead of just staring at the TV or computer screen. The games are competitive, with our kids more likely to win than my wife and me. I wonder if at some point they’ll start purposely losing…

P.S. I’ll throw in a couple of games that we have enjoyed:

  • Wits and Wagers – I’ve written about this game before.
  • Codenames – Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.
  • Five Crowns – a five-suited rummy-style card game.

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