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Origins 2014 – Surviving Origins with Kids
Dispatch from Planet Parent.

Your family plans to go to Origins with your kids…and if you ever want to go again, everyone needs to enjoy your four days of gaming.

Corinne Mahaffey, 25 June 2014

With many thanks to all the parents I spoke with, especially Kristy, and the Kids’ Room supervisor.

Click images to enlarge

Begin with solid preparation.  The first thing you should have done is pre-register, because there is no way your kids should be sitting in the registration line for 2 hours.  You get a kid’s badge free with an adult badge.  If you haven’t, get there early (by 7 am if you arrive Saturday).  The last place to open is the Exhibit Hall, at 10 am.  In the meantime, whoever isn’t in line can walk around the convention with your kids and the map from the convention book, and start scouting out the games you and your kids might be interested in, see the cosplayers, and locate essentials such as the Kids’ Room, the food court… and, of course, coffee.

The second key part of preparation is to book a hotel within very easy walking distance of the convention.  Look for an in-room fridge, free breakfast, and coffee. Yes, it is much more expensive than that distant hotel that you and your friends used to split costs on before you had kids.  But being close has all kinds of advantages beyond not having to try to get comfortable in a chair while your friends snore.  When the kids get tired and cranky, or over-stimulated, you have only a short walk back to naps, free coffee, and the hotel pool.  If you or your co-parent (meaning your spouse, or partner, or significant other, or the adult(s) who attend the convention with you and is/are helping with the parenting) is staying at the convention for a late, late game, you don’t have to coordinate transport.  We found that a two room suite with a fold out couch for the kids worked very well.

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Ah Wednesday morning… the “no crowd” version of the main hall. This is the best time to check in for badges.

The third key part of preparation is packing properly.  If any of your children use a stroller or carrier, even just sometimes, bring it.  You can try out demos, play games, and eat while they sleep in it, and they, and you, will be more cheerful if they are not dragging around the convention, exhausted from walking.  Pack more of the essentials than you think you’ll need: diapers, wipes, snacks (especially snacks!) and everyone’s medications, because you don’t want to run out some late evening after the Kids’ Room is closed and you can’t ask their advice on where the nearest grocery is (North Market, across the street, btw) or the pharmacy (CVS, in the strip mall at the intersection at Neil and Collins).  Add some headache medicine and Pepto Bismol for the adults.  And more snacks for the kids.

Pack your favorite coffee loyalty card and a travel mug – the coffee shops may discount if you have your own mug.  Bring even more snacks. Everyone should wear good walking shoes; our son’s number one complaint about Origins was “sore feet”.  Bring a laptop, tablet, or DVD player.  Yes, yes, award yourself a set of dice for bad parent of the week, but, as one parent pointed out, you may need the option.

Did I mention even more snacks?  Snacks are key.  In fact, “snacks” was the one thing nearly every parent said when I asked for their top tips.  As one sardonic and clearly experienced parent said, “If there’s something in their mouth, they can’t scream”.

Fourth, check into your hotel the day before you go to the con.  This will give you time to find the essentials, like the grocery and pharmacy.

Consider renting a car if you flew in.  This gives you the flexibility to get away from the convention and do other things in Columbus.  I can also assure you, from recent personal experience, that the nearest big box store that you suddenly need for Something Essential (and oh, since you are there, can you pick up more snacks?) is a very, very long walk away.

I am of two minds about buying event tickets ahead of time.  Sort out what you and your kids really want to do, but realize that you might only get to a quarter of it.  Event tickets reserve your place in those key events, but you lose a few dollars if (when) you can’t make it.  Many events, though not all, accept generic tokens, so use them where you can.  In any case, coordinate with your co-parent as to when you get to play games, versus when you play games with kids and your co-parent plays games.  The key here, as with everything, is flexibility.

So you and yours are at the con, you have your admission badges, your shoulder bag-of-holding, and your stroller.  Now what?  Pick a meeting place.  We chose the Mech Pods in the main hall because they were very obvious.  The entrance to the Kids’ Room is another good spot.  I know you won’t forget to charge your phone after a long day, but some of us will, and a meeting place and time will get everyone together for lunch, or to exchange parenting duties, regardless of the state of your phone.

If your kids are old enough, point out the convention staff, and explain that they always sit at the entrances to the halls, (and who helpfully wore loud orange t-shirts) so they know who to ask for help to find lost parents.   Write down your contact information and put it inside your kids’ badge pouches so you can be contacted if the kids get lost.

The obvious meeting place

The obvious meeting place

Kids in the Convention

Try out the kid-friendly demos with your kids.  Playing games with your kids is the whole point here, no?  This is a great way to find out if your kids like the game and you find it suitable.  Wait and see what your kids talk about, or keep dragging you back to, before you buy any games for them.  Our son spent hours at the Battle Tech tables, and painted a mech miniature; this convinced us to splash out on the introductory box set.

Don’t try out demos on Saturday; the exhibit hall is way too crowded.  Go use some of those event tickets.  If not, there are other things for the kids to do.  Paint a miniature figure for free.  This will keep the minimalist artists busy for at least a few minutes and the realist artists busy for hours.  The Mech Pods in the corridor take generic tokens, and you can all watch your heroic deaths on the screen afterwards.  Go boffer fighting, which takes generic tokens.  The kids at the convention clearly loved squaring off with the instructors, and you shouldn’t just watch.  An instructor played two to one with me and my son; he loved the chance to boff the adults.  It’s a lot more fun than those 30 minutes on the elliptical you keep promising yourself you’ll do.  And, really, how often do you get to hit someone with a foam sword?

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BOFFERS!

Make sure the kids get some downtime.  Find some safe space where they can run around and take the edge off.  This may be in a currently otherwise unused hall, or the Kids’ Room, or outside the convention altogether.  It is all too easy for the kids to get wired and tired here, so keep a close eye on signs of fatigue, hunger, or over-stimulation.  This goes for the adults as well!  Put a game, toy, or book that the kids already like in your bag, to give them something to wind down with.  It also keeps them from asking for everything they see… and there is a lot to see.

Have lunch and dinner an hour off the obvious times, to miss the rush.  Have dinner a few blocks from the con, because those places are more likely to offer kids’ food free or discounted.  Keep in mind most food deals tend to be early in the week, not on the weekends.  Most places have something kid-friendly to eat.  I was tempted to set up a betting pool to see when my son would get tired of chicken fingers.  The answer is “never”.

Hold fast to the usual bedtime and morning routines.  There is enough novelty in the day.  Bring a nightlight; it’s not their bedroom, they want to see where they are – and that you are there! – when they wake up in a strange room at 2 am.

You can try games in the exhibit hall.

You can try games in the exhibit hall.

 

Games for Kids

When you are playing with your kid, make the game move forward quickly due to short attention spans and multiple distractions.  Don’t expect to get through a full demo, or a full game.  You or the demo person should do the table lookups and other complex mechanics, but don’t shut your kid out.  Let them roll all the dice and add the numbers.  Tell them why they are doing it, and what the result is, and let them move/remove the pieces.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a friend to play with, too.

GM should play umpire to coordinate the player group to keep the game moving (ok, everyone roll for initiative!  Everyone tell me what you got?  Who has the highest roll?  You move first, who are you going to attack?  Roll for…….Etc….)  The most important thing the game should be, for your child, is fun.

Stick to games your child is interested in, are for his age group, and suits your child’s own readiness.  Look for the child and teen track games.  Read the whole write-up of the event – the GMs are clear about difficulty and the age appropriateness of their games.  (And what else is there to do for 2 hours in the events tickets line?)  Games with big pieces on mats on the floor were clearly a big hit this year for the younger crowd.  The older kids will probably like the RPGs, LARPs, and Munchkin.

Stay with your child.  The GMs are not babysitters.  Don’t drop off your 9 year old at a game rated for age 16 and up.  If that is what your child wants to play, and you are ok with it, stay with them and play as a team.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. We tried all convention to get our whole group together to play in the Mech Pods.  It never happened, which was a major disappointment for my son.

 

The Kids’ Room

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Cardboard construction in the Kids Room

The Kids’ Room  is well worth the stop.  The room had record attendance this year, with the most kids on Saturday, as usual.  They are open all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and part of Wednesday and Sunday, though they are closed for lunch from 1 pm to 2 pm.  They have a sign in/sign out policy, and if you wish to require a photo ID for sign out, just ask.  If you hold a full badge for the convention (not a day badge) any child age 5 and up may be left unattended, if your child is OK with that arrangement.  Then you can have some ‘me’ time to try that age-16-and-up demo, or to recover at the coffee shop.  Or stay and play yourself!  However, they ask that you not just sit there and read on your phone.

Do be honest with the Kids’ Room volunteers about your child’s tendencies; if you have an escape artist, they need to know!  They also welcome your participation!  Watch out for the other kids, and help the other parents and volunteers.  They will help you and will help redirect kids as needed.

Because Mayfair Games was one of the Kids’ Room’s official sponsors, kids could play games and earn “Catanables” (plush Catan markers), and Mayfair donated and demoed games.  Even if your kid does not want to do that, there is an end of day drawing to win a prize.  This year Foam Forge offered swords and shields, and Steve Jackson Games and others contributed games.  Every child goes home with something from convention when they leave the room; this year it was a bracelet or a collectible card pack.

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LEGOS!

There was a table of Legos, a table of plastic animals, an art table, a library of over 100 Exhibitor donated games, and movies shown by the volunteers.  There was a pile of empty cardboard boxes, donated by the Exhibit Hall every year, that is hugely popular.  The kids pile them up, building walls, castles, and towers, and then knock them down, crush them, and otherwise destroy them.  Candyland was set up on the floor one day, and the boffer fighters came in for a demo on another.

Many of the volunteers have been there at least five years, and have developed relationships with each other, the kids, and their parents.  Some kids have grown up to volunteer themselves.  They are a great source of networking, information, and advice, on anything from what games your child might like, to the nearest kid-friendly restaurant, to how to deal with your autistic-spectrum child’s over-stimulation.  If the Nursing Room is closed, you can use the Kids’ Room.  If the Serenity Room is closed, you can use the Kids’ Room.  Bottom line: they are here to help you deal with your family issues.

 

Costumes and Photography

The convention is a public place; your child will be photographed, probably as a “these are the people I was playing with” or as part of someone’s “OMG look at the crowd” shot. If you don’t want your child photographed at a game event, you may pull the seat back out of photo range or otherwise indicate you don’t want your child photographed.  There isn’t much you can do about crowd shots.

Many people love taking photos of costumers and cosplayers.  If your child is in costume, other convention goers and press will generally be polite (and should be) and ask to take a photo; decide ahead and agree with your co-parent on whether or not this is OK, and on what terms.  If your child is wearing a costume be sure it is one that is easy to move in all day, and washes or wipes clean.

If you are wearing a costume, people will stop you to ask for your photo, too, which will slow your progress around the con.  This may bore your kids, which you don’t want. If you aren’t saying no to the photographers (at which point, seriously, why are you wearing a costume?), have someone with you to supervise your child while your photo is taken, or only wear a costume in your non-parental time.

 

The Convention for Adults

Tempting though it is, try not to overdo the coffee (or sugar).  You will, but try.  Caffeine withdrawal is not fun.  Hide most of the candy you bought for your own sugar pick-me-up.  My son stuffed any number of chocolate bars in his jacket pockets, where they melted into packets of goo.

Coordinate the lunch run.  You want only one person stuck in a lunch or grocery store line, or making the long march to the food court.  Go to the cool eating places early or on Sunday; on other days they are too crowded with other convention goers.

Find out what the Kids’ Room hours are, and schedule your gaming and GMing around them.  If you absolutely must go to that late night game session, you can alternate early and late hour parenting duties with your co-parent.  If you have friends with kids who are also coming, coordinate with them because you might be able to trade off child supervision as a group.  Keep in mind, though, that you don’t get to get up early and stay out late.  You are no longer living in the world of 20-hour-a-day caffeine-fueled gaming.  You and your co-parent both need to be kept fed and watered and given downtime.  No martyrdom by anyone should be allowed.  After all, anyone who didn’t enjoy themselves won’t want to come back.  The last person you want to be tired and wired once you finally have the kids in bed is the co-parent you want to bring again next year.  After all, the real victory condition is coming back for years to come with a family of gamers!

 

After the Con

If you drove, don’t do the drive home in one day; you will be too tired.  Stay another night and take in some of the attractions of Columbus, like the Center of Science and Industry, the zoo, the Columbus Art Museum, which has a children’s program, the Columbus Commons (http://www.columbuscommons.org/), or the splash fountain at Easton Town Center.

Find some attraction on the way to justify an overnight stop – we stopped at Dayton to see the US Air Force Museum (and our son was too tired to really appreciate it!)  Be Flexible.  Did we mention… Bring snacks!

Pace yourself, dude!

Pace yourself, dude!


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