My 8-year-old daughter just completely destroyed me in Blokus, which is a strategy game won by good planning and strong spatial sense. She giggled as I feigned frustration, exchanging eye rolls with her father when I took too long to make a move. She put bunny ears over my head when she thought I wasn’t paying attention. She played a fourth hand on behalf of the cats, and “they” creamed me too. She ultimately lost, though, to her father. He wasn’t going to let the kid win just because she’s a kid. Good. She’ll remember that.
When I was Lily’s age, I learned to play Spades. In my mother’s extended family, if you wanted to be in on the conversation and have proximity to the snacks, knowledge of card games was a prerequisite. You learned quickly who made a good partner. I play well with my mother, who is a conservative bidder and can typically cover my reckless tendency to “go low” (bidding nothing, risking everything if a trick is taken). I play best with my grandmother, as does everyone else, because she is an astute counter of cards. When paired with my father, the two of us wreak havoc on the table, or else we completely implode; there’s never an in-between for two people who play exactly the same way.
Spades and Blokus have nothing on Mao, which is a card game my husband played in high school. The only people who are allowed to know the rules are people who have already played it, which means newcomers to the table are forced to figure it out as the game progresses. I do not recommend Mao for a peaceful family game night.
Nor do I suggest “Fake Conversation”, which is a name I’m making up for a game we played as teenagers. Each person writes a random sentence on a slip of paper. (As high school students, we had a penchant for body parts, gross substances, and completely unnecessary profanity.) Two people are selected to carry on a conversation about whatever they want, filling in dialog with the (mostly disgusting) sentences written by everyone else. It’s amazing how hilarious we found this, though I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Games like Balderdash, where players bluff knowledge of obscure vocabulary, seem often to end in the gutter when played by people over the age of 13.
One I always loved, and still do, is Life. Easier, shorter and more dramatic than Monopoly, I was particularly fond of it at Lily’s age. The first time I played it, I was 7, which I remember because I was spending the night at our next-door neighbor’s house while my parents were out late. The neighbors had a son my age, on whom I had a second grader’s crush. And when my car landed on the “get married” mark, I pretended the little blue peg was a representation of him.
My memories of the physically active games – Tag and all its variations (were we the only generation to play “TV Tag”?); hide-and-seek; and all the pool games (Marco Polo, Sharks and Minnows) – are overshadowed by one incident of hide-and-seek gone awry. We were playing in the dark. For some reason, both my brother and I were “It”. We were chasing after the same person when we collided into each other instead, the top of my jaw crashing against the top of his brow. I was taken on an emergency trip to the dentist. He was taken for a tetanus shot.
Whether they are wholesome, naughty, vicious or violent – I associate games with growing up, with being part of a group: family or friends. So even the ones that send people to the emergency room enjoy a rather cozy spot in my heart.
What about you? What are some of your favorites?