Family Game Night ~ Outside the Margins with Kelly Jensen

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When I suggested family game night to my fourteen year old, I expected an eye roll at the very least, a litany of excuses as to why spending one evening a week playing games with her parents would dig a deep and irrevocable hole in her life at worst. Instead, she said, “Sure.” This reaction, more than anything else, defines living with a teenager. Bracing for the worst and being unexpectedly surprised by the best.

I wanted to set aside one night a week to play for a couple of reasons. One is that we all enjoy games. Our family has a long tradition of playing games together stretching back to how Husband and I met. We met online, playing a game. This was about eighteen years ago, when everyone still thought that sort of thing was a bit weird. But you know what? In the months we role-played together on the text based MUD where we met, we got to know each other a lot better than we might have on some (sweaty) dates. That’s another story, however.

As are the WoW years.

In addition to computer games, we also enjoy board games and table top RPGs. Until recently, we have always been involved with a D&D group, and one of my fondest memories is introducing my daughter to role-play and dice-rolling.

The other reason I suggested putting aside one night a week is closely related. When you’re playing a game together, you’re spending time together. It’s easy time—no one has to come up with something to do—but it’s also valuable time. It’s not us lined up, slack-jawed, along a row of movie seats (or the couch) watching Batman and Superman face off. When kids hit the teenage years, time spent with them seems to be harder to come by, so every minute counts. It’s all valuable.

So we play games together. Once a week. We don’t always arrive at the table in good moods. We’re human, all of us. Sometimes we’re tired and sometimes we really don’t want to play a game. By the end of these evenings, however—even if the evening is a bare forty minutes where Daughter conspires to lose hand after hand of poker because she has other plans—we’re enriched in a small way. Other nights, we have a lot of fun. Ridiculous amounts of fun. We remember that we really like each other, that we like spending time together, and that we love playing games. And so we play.

Here are a few of our favourite games, in no particular order.


Isn’t my dice bag awesome?

Dungeons and Dragons

We’ve campaigned through a lot of different systems—including some that are a bit of this and a bit of that—but we always come back to good old D&D. I think it’s the familiarity, and the fact we’ve also read about fifty books in the Forgotten Realms setting. We know this world. We’re still using 3.5 because that just seems to fit our needs. Not too complicated, but not over simplified, either.

What makes playing D&D fun? It’s basically the never ending game. Yes, we’ve finished campaigns and we’ve retired characters, but there’s always another story and it’s always different. Also, pissing off the DM will never get old. I have a reputation for rolling difficult characters. I have to balance Husband, who has a reputation for rolling the upright (uptight) paladin—always painfully Lawful Good. Honestly, I sometimes wonder what we have in common…

Daughter plays the perfect Chaotic Neutral character. She’s known for it. She also likes to make up her own weapons (allowed if they have cool names). Because we try to be good parents, we made her add up her own dice rolls when she was young. Math practice! Because we’re terrible parents, we gave her a bastard sword and insisted she nominate it, out loud, whenever she wanted to use it.

D&D is always great for understanding characterisation—especially when your DM is telling you that you can’t do that thing that you really want to do because it’s against your alignment. It’s also great for learning and appreciating storytelling, cooperation and for stretching the imagination.


Pictionary is one of those games we hate to love. We always grumble as we set it up. The game takes a while to play, Husband’s drawings suck, and there are only three of us so we have our own set of rules for how it works. We each play for ourselves and, on our turn, nominate another player to draw for us. Nominations can be fraught decisions!

Somehow we get around the board. Sometimes one of us even wins. Always, we end up laughing until it hurts—because my drawings suck as well, and Daughter’s not old enough to get a lot of the older or more subtle cultural references we might go for.

Her drawings are awesome. But she’s chaotic neutral, remember? So they don’t always make sense until she’s presented her dissertation on them after the sand has run out.


I maintain it’s not a bad idea to teach your child how to gamble. We tend to play Hold ‘Em and bet small until we’re tired, then we toss the chips around as if they have no value, which they don’t, really, but after hoarding them for an hour, they feel as though they do.

Daughter is actually getting quite good at poker, which means we might have to stop playing…


The team!


Not all of our games are played at the table. Sometimes we retire to our separate gaming caves to team up for a session of Borderlands.

In various combinations, we’ve co-oped our way through a few games and we all have roles. Husband is the loot whore collector—though Daughter often vies for this title. At least he waits until all the mobs are dead. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve succumbed to enemy fire while yelling into our headsets, “stop looting and get over here and help us kill these bastards.”

Her response is usually to pull out the most inappropriate weapon possible, shoot off her small store of inappropriate ammo, and go back to looting—over our dead bodies.

When not collecting all the shiny, Daughter’s role is… Let’s call it interference. She’s the one who will aggro the room around the corner while we’re still discussing strategy. She’s also the one who will drive any vehicle off any cliff into all the lava while giggle-yelling, “Sorry!”

My role? I often end up playing tag along. We’ll call it strategist. I’m the trap builder, the mine layer, the kiting SOB who will peck away at an enemy using rez points, way points and natural cataclysm to advantage. Even if that means blowing up a companion in the process.

You may be getting an inkling of why people don’t like to play D&D with me.

Together, the three of us actually make a pretty good team. Daughter draws fire, Hubs wades in weapons hot and I snipe and toss grenades. What makes the game fun, aside from the actual playing, is the chatter through our headsets. We banter and taunt, and when we really want to get our point across, we yell across the hall. Afterwards, we talk about how much fun we had—and forget who was being really annoying.

If you’ll forgive me for being a little sentimental, that’s sort of the whole point of family game night. To connect in a way that’s next to our reality. To work out mini aggressions, to let off some steam, to laugh and to communicate. And, simply, to just be together, no matter what.

~Kelly Jensen

About Kelly Jensen

If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.

Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. At lot of what she writes is speculative in nature, but sometimes it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.

You can chat with Kelly on Twitter @kmkjensen or visit her blog at where she rambles on about anything and everything.

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One thought on “Family Game Night ~ Outside the Margins with Kelly Jensen

  1. Thanks for the post. My daughter (who is 11) loves games. If you want to do something nice for her, just offer to play a game with her. She doesn’t even care if she wins.

    And, yes, your dice bag is awesome.

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