Opportunities in Modern Board Games for Giving Advantages for Educational Purposes

Board games offer a cherished avenue for family bonding. Yet, striking a balance to make them enjoyable for players of varying ages and skill levels is crucial. By intelligently tweaking game rules, families can ensure a quality shared experience that benefits everyone.

Original appearance on Paideia - Authors: József Jesztl, Máté Lencse

Written by

Máté Lencse

Educator, game designer,

founder of PlayWise

Why listen to him?

Máté has been regularly playing modern board games and classic abstract board games since 2013. He plays because he loves to. He plays because as an educator, it is his most important motivational and developmental tool. He plays because as a father, it is one of the highest quality times spent with his daughter. He plays because it adds to his marriage. He plays to get to know games and as a game designer, to be able to create new ones. Thus, it's not surprising that he often plays through 15-20 games weekly. Learn more about him and his background on his author page or follow him on social media:

In board game education workshops, a common starting question is, "Who lets their children win?" Most participants raise their hands, explaining that they do it to avoid conflicts, provide a sense of achievement, and nurture motivation. However, we believe genuine effort in gameplay can also foster these values. Rather than letting kids win without a fight, our real battle for victory sets a positive example for them.

When an adult plays against a child with a significant advantage, it's an opportunity to showcase both skill and determination. This intense, almost underdog struggle becomes a lesson for the child. This real fight can be inspirational and becomes something they aspire to emulate.

Educational gameplay with kids is about creating meaningful and developmental experiences. A core element is equalizing chances, using creative advantage techniques. For instance, on a go board, there are specific spots designed for advantage stones. This built-in advantage system in the game highlights the importance of leveling the playing field between participants of different skill levels. But this concept can be unfamiliar, even challenging for some to embrace. Yet, it's crucial: it ensures everyone is playing at their best, squeezing out the maximum educational and developmental potential from the game.

We'd spotlight a few specific examples from popular modern board games, illustrating techniques to make games more equal. While diving deep into the game rules is beyond our scope, the examples are still clear and insightful. Our ultimate goal? To encourage a shift in perspective, urging players to adapt game rules when it enhances the experience.

Board Games

Carcassonne: A Timeless Classic

Introduced in 2000 by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, Carcassonne has us lay tiles to shape a medieval kingdom's map. Over time, the game has seen various expansions and versions, including those tailored for younger players. Here, we'll focus on the original game without any embellishments. Its charm is so undeniable that even toddlers love playing with its pieces, enjoying the pure joy of world-building.

At the beginning, kids can be our teammates, potentially playing the role of the main architect. They can be involved in discussing next moves. As they grow, we can set collaborative objectives: complete every castle, finish all roads, or as in a fairy tale, have paths leading outward from our square kingdom in every cardinal direction. Creating a cohesive, well-thought-out world showcases a child's budding puzzle-solving skills. Recognizing and understanding the distribution of game pieces becomes crucial as they learn.

Playing together is invaluable; the familiarity with tiles acquired in such settings becomes handy in more competitive situations later on. These joint building sessions are fun until, one day, our child wishes to play independently! So, what's the game like when played by its actual rules?

In Carcassonne, players score points by placing terrain tiles in one of four scoring methods: roads, castles, monasteries. While rules for these are straightforward, scoring with the farmer piece can be tricky for very young players. Feel free to omit it for younger kids and reintroduce it once they're older. How to give an advantage? Let your imagination decide.

You can grant a point advantage, a substantial one at that. Or, offer a choice advantage, allowing the child to select 3 favorite tiles at the game's outset, which they can play at any point. Building in Carcassonne may seem peaceful, but the game allows for players to block others from scoring. However, it might be wise to limit this option for more experienced players to ensure fairness. Removing it entirely would take away the game's spice.

Let's dive into a complex example: Sara, 4 years old, gets a 20-point lead. As the kingdom's heiress with prophetic abilities, she plays with 3 extra chosen tiles which she can place at any point in her turn. Peter, 7, starts with a 10-point advantage. As the invincible Black Knight, he's feared by all. The parents, however, are the conquering knights but are wary of Sara and Peter. They can't oust Sara from her territories, and Peter can only be ousted once. While Peter doesn't harm Sara, he can outplay his parents from any establishment. As for the parents, they're fierce competitors. If balanced correctly, Sara and Peter will compete for the top spots, while the parents, even at their best, can secure only the second position. As the kids become proficient and start mastering the strategies, the advantages are gradually reduced, leveling the playing field.

For Sale

For Sale is a classic by Stefan Dorra that was released in 1997. Despite its age, it still firmly holds a position among the top 500 board games worldwide. Even more impressively, it ranks within the top 100 in the family category. This is a significant achievement for such a simple and light game. The game can be played in 20-30 minutes, requires a minimum of 3 players but remains enjoyable for up to 6. While the publisher recommends it for ages 10 and up, younger players can start earlier without issue. Do not be alarmed that the game includes ten-thousand denomination bills; these can be simplified for younger players.

The aim of the game is to have the most money after selling the properties acquired during the game. The game consists of two rounds: every player tries to acquire the most valuable houses with the same starting capital through bidding, and then they have to sell them using a blind bidding mechanism.

There appear to be two potential ways to give an advantage in this game. The first, perhaps more logical variant, is when players do not start with equal capital. For instance, in a game with four players, everyone would start with 21 coins. However, we can decide to only distribute 18 or even 15 coins to ourselves. The extent of the advantage needs to be felt by us, but ensure that it is significant enough to secure a victory. Starting with more capital allows players to purchase better houses, improving the chances in the second round. However, be aware that the second round is tougher and likely less familiar in its mechanism.

During the blind bidding phase, players can acquire the revealed check-cards with their properties. Everyone selects a house card, places it face down in front of them, and only reveals it, all at once, once everyone has chosen. The player who presents the most valuable house card gets the most valuable check-card, and so on. During blind bidding, it is common for experienced players to misjudge their opponents, who might act illogically, and by playing "incorrectly" still come out on top, which in itself is a balancing feature. During the blind bidding phase, the most important aspect is to remember who has what and try to anticipate the thinking of the other players. The advantage can be derived from accessing information. A less experienced player might be given the chance to place their card later in 3, 2, or 1 rounds: everyone reveals their card, and based on that, the player decides what to play. This is considerably easier than having no basis for decision-making. It's advisable to announce this intention at the beginning of the round. This clearly alters one of the game's core mechanics, but for a few rounds, it's worth it as even the less experienced player gains practice. A child often just needs to understand the game's mechanics and might not immediately delve into its depths. However, repeated losses can demotivate them from the game. Easing the learning curve and letting them know that they have room for improvement can keep them more motivated.


Bruno Cathala's game won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in 2017, which is the highest recognition in the board game community. It's a game with simple rules and a light gameplay but hides a lot of depth, making it far from easy to play well. It can be played by 2-4 players, the game lasts about 15 minutes, and although the publisher recommends it for ages 8 and up, with a bit of advantage given, younger players can also join a game of Kingdomino.

The goal of the game is to build the most valuable kingdom. Throughout the game, players choose tiles, but the choice also determines the player order for the next round: the more valuable the domino (with two landscape elements on it), the later you'll be in the next round. Dominos are presented randomly, but in a strength order determined by the creators based on tests. Our task is to find a balance that's most beneficial for us: sometimes we need to secure a strong domino, and at other times, it's worth forgoing a valuable tile to get an early choice in the next round. The first player to choose can pick any of the available dominos, while the others face increasingly limited options.

The biggest advantage in this game would be if someone could always choose first, even when the rules wouldn't allow it. Yes, this would be a significant game imbalance, as it would be too easy to always select the best domino. However, if someone consistently picks the best option, they probably have grasped a lot of the game's strategy. Initially, players can agree that, regardless of a child's move, they will pick first in the next round. If we wish to give this advantage to multiple children, they can alternate starting, while we adults make the most of our limited options. It won't be easy for us. Since this is a huge advantage, after the first 1-2 victories, it's worth refining this benefit. Let the player with the advantage get 3, then 2, then 1 start token, allowing them the right to start even if they would have gone last. Using this advantage wisely requires a deep understanding of the game, especially when only one token is available.

Another way to offer an advantage is to allow only one side to use the game variants specified in the rules. In the Central Kingdom variant, 10 points are awarded to the player whose castle is in the center of their kingdom at the end, while the Harmony version gives 5 points if a player completes their kingdom without discarding a domino. Neither is free extra points; they must be earned. It's a significant advantage if one player can aim for this while the other cannot. Analyzing games, this can be a well-adjusted advantage. If the player with the advantage wins by a large margin, then the next round should award fewer points for this objective, or award points to everyone but in varying amounts.

Advantages don't need to be permanent. Kingdomino is not a difficult game, and luck plays a part, so players can quickly catch up to one another. Only then can the advantages be removed, especially when it feels like an equal match and no one feels disadvantaged during the game.

Ticket to Ride

Alan R. Moon's game, released in 2004, quickly gained popularity. The game is set on a map and evokes the golden age of railroad construction. Since its inception, many expansions and adaptations have come out, including versions specifically meant for children.

Players draw objective cards and, after collecting colored train cards, they aim to strategically place these cards to connect stations on a stylized map. While players enjoy placing cute little trains, the game often evolves into a competitive scramble. It's essential to plan routes in advance and construct them faster than other players. The game is attractive, and even children who can't read yet are eager to play. When providing an advantage in this game, our intention is to simplify these more challenging tasks for younger players.

Initially, we play with open cards, displaying our objective cards and train cards for everyone to see. Young players mark each city on their objective cards with a train token. When building near these cities, they can simplify their task by integrating one or two train routes. Younger players can even build next to an existing route on double tracks. To give them a point advantage, younger players don't receive negative points at the game's end for uncompleted routes. Our example game takes some of these adaptations to form a family-friendly experience.

Everyone plays with open train cards and two open objective cards. Cili, who is 5 years old, marks the stations she needs to connect using train tokens of her color. Áron, who is 7 and can read, helps her with the marking. He also marks cities for each of his objective cards but can only use one of these markers for route construction. Both children can build next to an existing route. Dad and grandpa only mark their cities to make them visible to the children. When an objective card is completed, players draw 3 new objective cards and choose the most favorable ones. At the end of the game, only adults receive negative points for uncompleted routes. As younger players learn strategic card drawing and savvy route construction from more experienced players, their advantages are reduced. They typically begin to gradually relinquish the protective rules that grant them advantages.


Let's revisit our goals. We want players of all ages, both experienced and novices, skilled and still learning, to play together. This desire stems from our wish to facilitate personal growth within a shared, quality experience. If the balance tips and constant compensation is needed, or if someone has to underplay their skill, the overall gaming experience suffers, preventing all participants from fully engaging. What do experienced players or children learn if they intentionally play poorly? Likely, nothing, and it diminishes the overall enjoyment. Moreover, what does the player, who benefits from others' restrained performance, learn? Again, probably nothing, as they won't grasp the cause-effect relations if no one demonstrates them through gameplay. They also lack an incentive to improve since they can win anyway. This situation seems far from a win-win, which should ideally be pursued.

To adjust the gaming rules for our children, besides understanding them and the board games, a touch of creativity and courage is required. As long as only a few publishers and designers believe that handicap rules are essential in a game box, it's up to us to ensure quality gaming experiences from this perspective. Yet again, the effort is undoubtedly worth it.

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Spread the Fun of Learning!

Love our content? Show your support by sharing our page with your friends and help us inspire more families and educators with the joy of learning through play! Your shares truly make a difference. Thank you for being a wonderful part of our community!

Spread the Fun of Learning!

Love our content? Show your support by sharing our page with your friends and help us inspire more families and educators with the joy of learning through play! Your shares truly make a difference. Thank you for being a wonderful part of our community!

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