Even the most cut-throat, dirty games prove sentimental

Playing Monopoly at Thanksgiving 2009.

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?

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16 thoughts on “Even the most cut-throat, dirty games prove sentimental

  1. Up at the lake with the family during the summer there are games of monopoly that go on for a week. We still play with the board my dad and uncles had which is hilairous because they apparently made up their own chance cards including, Go to hell, go directly to hell, do not pass go 🙂 Outside we play king of the kyak which is an all out war. Hilarious! Great post.

  2. -Pictionary was one that we played often and I always lost – the only person worse than me at that game is my mother.
    -I remember Lesley cheating (badly) at Spades sitting at the kitchen table at the lake – who would have ever thought the she would be the one to be cheating
    -Love playing the icky game (sometimes known as progressive rummy) with a whole bunch of people
    -I remember my parents and their friends playing bridge when we were just kids – the parents were so involved in their card game they had no clue what we were doing elsewhere in the house
    -We played all sorts of games (card and board types) in Guntersville when we used to go there during the Thanksgiving holidays

    Thanks for the memories 🙂

    • Mom, my favorite Pictionary memory is when we played in Gatlinburg at our graduation from UT. I remember people howling! And what was the name of the game Dad loved at his office breakroom so much he made a copy himself from plywood and checkers?

      Sent from my iPad

  3. I’m with Jamie! Encore was awesome! That was the one I was thinking of the whole time I was reading your post…I had only ever played it in Alabama with all you guys, I hunted for a version to buy for myself for years! I think we finally found it about 2 years ago, only to realize it wasn’t nearly as much fun with just two people, one of which didn’t have all the background memories to go along with it!

    I also remember the “hide and seek” incident pretty vividly…If memory serves…I think I was the person you guys were chasing…I always felt absolutely terrible about that!!!

    And I DEFINITELY remember some of those sentences from the “fake conversation” game…

    I am sure I have a picture of us playing games at the table in your grandparents’ kitchen, it has always been one of my favorites!

    • Lisa, you loved Encore because you could actually sing! And, like Jamie, I recall you had a prolific internal set list. Fun times, indeed. I’d love to see that photo!

      Sent from my iPad

  4. Mao sounds kind of like the card version of a word game we used to play called Snaps. The point of the game is to figure out the rules of the game. Great way to drive a lot of people crazy very quickly.

    My favorite card game was Egyptian Ratscrew. It involves a lot of hand slapping. We’d play that and Spades in all-night marathons at church retreats.

    Also Honey if You Love Me Smile, where you sit in another player’s lap and get three chances to make him or her crack a smile. I was awful at that one – I have no poker face. (On reflection, it’s a really good thing the parents never knew what all went on at those retreats….)

  5. Knight-
    I loved this piece. I too have the same fond feelings surrounding those times where games were played for fun. Bonding experiences with family and friends that I will never forget.

    Here are some of my faves-

    1. Euchre
    2. Rummy
    3. Scrabble
    4. Nertz ( (which is like solitare on steroids)
    5. Bullshit
    6. Crochet
    7. Horse
    8. Two-square of four-square

    In my family today, we are currently obsessed with Crazy 8s and Uno.

  6. If my memory serves me right, I do recall dominating the singing game Encore against some of your family. Anyone who goes from 2Pac to The Mamas & the Papas in the same turn is a force to be reckoned with. It was always a lot of fun.

    • Jamie, I think you are right about that. I remember my grandfather was tragic at that game. The only song he knew was “Anchors Away”, and all he could do was hum the tune. Had no idea of the lyrics.

  7. – Scrabble. I have an incredible vocabulary, yet always lose. My ex played it as a blood sport.

    – Hearts is more challeging than spades, and the queen of spades is called “the bitch.” There are no trumps.

    – Scribbage. One has to find a vintage version on eBay or somewhere. A cup, letter cubes and an egg timer.

    – Backgammon. It’s an all night affair.

    Outdoors: horseshoes and croquet. I refuse to play a game with the undignified name of “cornhole. ”

    – cricket on a dart board.

  8. 1. Euchre. My mother’s family tradition, played mostly at weddings, funerals or the Eagles club with parents.

    2. Spite and Malice. My father’s mother taught us this Canasta-like game, played mostly at anniversaries, Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas with cousins.

    3. Battleship. I blew my sisters out of the water–they were so predictable. I had a habit of chewing on the narrow end of the pegs, though, so we had to stop playing after I had eaten them all. The white ones tasted better than the red ones.

    4. Clue. My older sister always played Miss Scarlet and always won, which I attribute to cheating as she also always dealt.

    5. Monopoly. I hated this game so much that I refused to play, even when my younger sister begged me. I made her play alone. She did.

    6. Scrabble. I’m decent; my mother is better. We had a turntable edition at a time when other turntables played albums.

    7. Solitaire. My father’s father had a 30-year-old routine: rise every morning at 5 to play, drinking coffee in silence until the rest of the house awoke. He taught me the basic game, but played more complicated versions I wish I had asked to learn before he died.

    • Arienne, So what you’re saying is that the way we play these games for fun is similar to the way we go about other parts of life. I dig it. I look forward to playing cards with you at the lake very soon – over cocktails with lots of laughter.

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