Guest Post: How to teach children deck building games with Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle

Guest Author: Jim Cohen from What Board Game (WBG)
Instagram: jim.gamer

Jim runs the brilliant website What Board Game where – you guessed it – he’ll tell you all about what board game you should be playing next! His website is filled with game reviews, interviews, videos and competitions. We asked Jim if he had any advice for people who are looking to teach a particular game mechanic to children. The below article is a great example of how you introduce the deck building mechanic to younger players and uses the amazing Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle as its feature game.

Jim Cohen, WBG – Lockdown has been tough for everyone. But for gamers like us, we have the added pain of not being able to get our usual fix of board games with friends. I am lucky to have a family of two amazing children and my super-hero wife to play with, and I love spending time with them around a board game, but I miss my gaming groups with friends and the added social and deeper elements this brings to my gaming world.

I am a huge advocate of games being great for building children’s confidence, language, listening, concentration and strategy skills, and love the fact that as I play with my two children I am enjoying the experience equally to them. It is not the normal parenting/children activity I see where often the parent is a little board and the child is only engaged for a short period. Don’t get me wrong, we do all the painting, crafting and building forts out of old delivery boxes too, but those games usually last 30 minutes max and I am not 100% committed if I am honest!

Whereas playing a game like Scythe with my seven year is brilliant for us both, for a good hour and a half. We enjoy it equally and play for hours. I am not belittling those other more traditional parenting experiences, more shouting the virtues of gaming ones. I have seen the development in my children’s schoolwork and home behaviour from the quality time we have spent together playing more heavy, adult targeted, games. Board Game Geek suggests Scythe has a minimum age of 12 plus. And I can see why. There is a lot going on, and learning can appear intimidating. But I spent a good deal of time building up my children’s gaming acumen so games like this are more approachable for them, and they can compete on a level playing field.

How did I do this? Well let me explain. I look for games that would work as gateways into each major mechanic used in modern tabletop gaming. Which game would be an easy way to learn drafting? I can then teach them Bunny Kingdom. Which game would be a simple way to get them to understand area majority so I could play Blackout: Hong Kong with them? I used simple games to teach them more complex games, as teaching the rules to Scythe is actually quite simple.

The issue I found was more about teaching the way you should play. How you need to start using your bottom action as soon as possible, thinking four to five turns ahead, and plan a strategy to be as efficient as possible and achieve the goals as best you can. Simply saying “if you move your pawn here, you can then take resources based on where these two workers are” is as simple for a child as it is for an adult. Why you would want to do that particular action is another matter entirely.

So, I thought it may be interesting to talk about one particular game that introduces deck building in a brilliant family-friendly way that will open your gaming experiences with your children to so many other games! Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a fun game that is incredibly simple to learn, explain to others and play. And importantly, teaches you the fundamentals of deck building in a very approachable way. I think you will have a very good experience just playing this game as it is, but it will also open up the chance for you to then try more advanced deck building games with your family afterwards. I went from Harry Potter to Clank to Gloomhaven in three easy steps!

The game plays out across the seven different stories with a deck of cards available for each Hogwarts year you play – and a few other surprises along the way! You start off in year one, young, innocent and with very few powers. Your job is to defeat whatever villains come your way and stop the “baddies” from taking over the locations present in the game. It is a relatively simple opening and more about teaching you the mechanics of the game. You cannot really lose it; it is more about how long it takes to succeed. Your characters can take damage, but if they zero out, they are simply stunned. This just means you lose half your cards but your health is restored to full at the end of that turn.

The game is geared like this for younger players with a smooth introduction to the rules, deck building, and ease of play. The early levels as such may be a little slow and frustrating for older or more experienced players, but the theme is so good and the art, as stills straight from the movies, brings you into the world of Harry Potter in such a great way, you forgive the simplicity of these early games. Just enjoy being part of this magical world!

By year three, things start to ramp up a little, but I will not spoil anything. As you can see from the picture, there is a new box of treats to open for each year you play. This alone is a magical part of the game and children will love opening the boxes and seeing how the game changes each time. As you play through each year in order, it feels so close to the story, like you are actually Harry, Hermione or Ron (or Neville I suppose) going through your time at Hogwarts.

The game plays as a campaign with expandable components each year. Nothing is destroyed or changed permanently and as such you can replay any year as you please. For the first seven successful games you will be progressing along the school years, opening a new box of treats each time and adding new cards to the ones you already have. As such, each year you will have more valuable and powerful cards available to you, but of course they will be mixed in with the previous year’s cards too. You need to buy new cards to make your available deck of cards more powerful against the dark arts you will be up against. This is deck building. A classic board game mechanic that Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is one of the best gateway games into. If you want your kids to learn this brilliant and staple board game mechanic, then play this game!