Friday, April 20, 2012


I am not a big fan of board games for the most part.  I do have a history with board games, but I find the ones I remember the best and enjoyed the most while growing up were not games like TROUBLE or PARCHEESI but rather games that took some knowledge or some strategy.

My grandma Clark had two games that I enjoyed playing whenever I visited her.  She had a game called GO TO THE HEAD OF THE CLASS.  This was a game in which the board was laid out as a classroom with rows of desks.  You would put you playing piece in the last row.  Then someone would draw a card that had a simple question on it.  Well, the questions weren't that simple to a little kid trying to play, but if you answered the question correctly you moved your piece up to the next desk in your row.  The idea being of course to be the first player to get to the front row, or the head of the class.

The other board game she had was JUNIOR SCRABBLE.  It was based on the original scrabble game except the point system was different and the tiles were bigger and it was just easier to play.  The board was also decorated with little pictures that spiced up the game instead of colored squares that indicated triple letter or double word scores and the such.  Playing this version of Scrabble just seem less intense then playing the adult version of the game.

Ah yes, the adult version of Scrabble.  SCRABBLE was my mother's absolutely favorite game and she was good at it.  She also played strictly by the rules.  She would get us kids together, it seemed like once a week, to sit on the living room floor and play SCRABBLE with her.  Next to her would be the family dictionary in case there were any challenges made during the game, and believe me, there WOULD be challenges.  Every once in a while I would get desperate as a kid trying to get rid of letters and pick up points and try to slip in a series of letters that might be a word.  At least it sounded like it could be a word.  "I think I am going to challenge that" mom would say as she was reaching for the dictionary.  Before she would crack open the big book, I would have pulled the letters off the board and try again, because if mom was challenging it, chances are she knew you were bluffing and that it was not a word at all, just a series of letters that meant nothing.  She would usually win these games but there were times when me or one of my siblings might sneak out a win or at least come close to her score.  SCRABBLE was a game that I think every household should own.  It is a game that increases your vocabulary ten fold.  It is a game that taxes the mind to think of different ways letters work together.  Mom was especially good at it because she did have a good vocabulary and she had lots of practice moving letters around to make words because she played JUMBO in the paper on a daily basis.  All in all, what she did was give her children a tool to think with and a vocabulary to grow with.

I have a SCRABBLE game in my home and we get it out once in awhile to play.  The first time my son defeated his mother and I in a game of SCRABBLE was ground breaking.  In our SCRABBLE box to this day sits a little yellow piece of paper with the date on it and the scoring of the first game he won.  I treasure that little piece of paper.

Another board game that I began to learn at an early age was chess.  Chess is a game that absolutely fascinates me.  I grew up during the Bobby Fischer age of chess when the young American was winning world championships and defeating Russian champion chess players.  America had produced so few chess champions that when Bobby Fischer was in a match, it would be reported on television in the national news with Walter Cronkite.  The newspaper would print out each move that had been made in a game.  That is how I learned chess.  I would take the moves from a Bobby Fischer match and move the pieces on the board to follow how the game had gone.  I learned how each piece moved and how they could be used.  Eventually I taught my little brother how to play and we had some pretty good games between the two of us.  Then as I grew older and moved out of the house and in with my wife, the electronic age was beginning to come on strong and they had little electronic chess games where you could play against this computer of sorts.  Now I have a chess game on my laptop and try to play at least one game a week just to keep my mind sharp.  I usually lose, but it is a fun thinking game.  Chess is probably my favorite game of all time.

Another board game that I like to play I have a love hate relationship with.  I was introduced to MONOPOLY at a very early age.  It was like SCRABBLE in that every household seemed to have it.  It was a favorite game that would be played at holiday times when the extended family would get together.  My Uncles, mom and some of my older cousins use to play that game forever.  I finally got to the age where I could play and it was fun, but it was also long.

The thing about MONOPOLY is that you can play a "gentleman's game" of it and simply move the pieces around the board as the dice fell and money would exchange hands, and if you were lucky enough to get a Monopoly, you could save your money and slowly build houses on it followed by a hotel to increase the value of the property.  Playing the gentleman's version of the game could take hours if not days to complete.  It was the never ending board game.

Then there was the version of the game that my family played.  It was the cut-throat version of the game.  This version always started out with an argument over who was going to be the banker.  The philosophy was that whoever controlled the money controlled the game.  Usually my Uncle Jack would win the esteemed position of banker, which may explain why he was always in the game until the end.  In spite of constant accusations that he was short changing you or that he was dipping into the till, it was a losing argument.  He controlled the money.  In this version of the game deals on the side would also be made.  While it was another person's turn, a couple of the other players would be negotiating a deal that they thought would give them an advantage.  These deals would be anything from trading pieces of property to giving away a piece of property with the agreement that you would not have to pay rent if you landed on said property.  It wasn't exactly a team effort because a player you thought was looking at things in your best interest would savagely turn on you and make another deal with another player, that could wipe out the agreement you had with the original deal maker. It was a version of the game that you didn't get involved with unless you had the stomach and the guts to accept things that would be totally out of your control and face the fact that family members that you loved and who loved you would do anything to get you off the board and out of the game.  It was truly vicious.  My wife would not have been able to play a game of Monopoly with my family.  She didn't know how to wheel and deal and to trick people into making trades or doing things that they really didn't want to do.  In other words, Barb is too nice to have played Monopoly with my extended family.

There are other board games that I enjoy but have never played that much.  The game of LIFE is one such game.  It is suppose to mirror a trip through life where you can choose to go to college or not, you get married and have kids, and sometimes unexpected disasters or windfalls will come your way as you head through life.  In the end you either weather all the storms and become a millionaire or you made some bad decisions or things didn't go your way during your trip and you end up in the poor house.  Real life is becoming more and more like the game of LIFE as the middle class continues to shrink.

Backgammon is a good game that I enjoy but I haven't played in years.  I am not sure why.  I always enjoyed it.  It takes a little luck, a little thinking and a lot of strategy.  I think I will pull out the old backgammon game and challenge my wife to a few games in the near future.

These are and were the major board games of my life.  It doesn't include card games which is a totally different scenario.  My extended family also got together and played cut throat versions of PIT and ROOK.  When I say "cut throat" I mean exactly that.  Just as in the Monopoly games, you had no friends during the course of the games.  It is hard to believe that such a close and loving family could turn into such viscous monsters for a few hours of playing cards.  When the games were over, however, they turned back into their kind and loving selves that I had come to love so much and to enjoy..

When my son came along, I had to readjust and revert back to games that I wouldn't normally ever think twice about.  I played Parcheesi again.  Chutes and ladders was a game that made absolutely no sense to me at all. but my son loved it.  His favorite game was TROUBLE.  What an obnoxious game.  It is similar to Parcheesi except it has the die captured in this plastic bubble that makes an extremely loud popping noise every time you "roll" the die.  It was the noisiest quiet game ever invented.  I am not sure if he will admit it, but I think he still loves the game TROUBLE.  I wager that if he came over and I pulled out the game, he would be all over it ready to play.

Board games are good things.  They teach you and you learn.  Even TROUBLE has some strategy involved in it as you attempt to make your way around the board while sending your opponent back to the starting line.  Chutes and Ladders on the other hand, serve no purpose at all as far as I can tell.  If anything the game takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride.As you make your way to the top and you think you are just about to win, you hit a chute that sends you all the way to the bottom of the board.  Is that anyway to treat a four year old?

One thing that playing SCRABBLE with mom all the time while I was growing up was not only the growing vocabulary and the thought process of un-scrabbeling letters to make a word, but it brought the family together.  It gave time for the family to laugh, to talk and to compete.  It was one of the things that mom did to make that house with us four kids more into a home.  She did good.

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