The Games People Play

Guess who won and who lost …

We recently wrapped up a weekend in Port Townsend with my wife’s sister and her husband where about all we did was eat and play board games. Settlers of Catan, SmallWorld, Splendor and Five Crowns were all … on the table. We had an absolute blast, and pretty much each of us won one game. We can’t wait to go back and test our skills and luck again!

Playing these games did dredge up a couple of memories from years gone by. My sister Susan and I would occasionally get to stay with our grandparents in Vancouver, B.C.; one time we found a very old version of Snakes and Ladders, and played that endlessly, maybe my first introduction to board games.

Then I got introduced to Monopoly. We had a ton of kids in the neighborhood I grew up in, and we all loved to play. And play. And play. We started adding to the rules – you could put as many hotels on a property as you could afford. Soon we had to buy extra packs of Monopoly money, houses and hotels. Then one year, we started a game just as school got out for the summer. That game lasted almost the entire summer! There was never a game like that before, and there will never be another.

Someone “Shot the Moon,” or “ran” them!

I also learned how to play Hearts at an early age. One of my grandmas played it with a cutthroat intensity. She was able to count the cards and remember what had been played, and figure out what was left, and who was most likely to have what was left in their hands. I remember epic games around our dining room table that resulted in shouts of exultation as someone “ran” the Hearts, and cries of anguish as the Queen of Spades got played on an unsuspecting victim.

One time my grandmother came up to visit my wife and I. We naturally started playing Hearts, but somehow, she just kept getting messed up on her plays, and started racking up the points. “I just can’t understand it!” she kept saying. Then … “What is that music you have playing?” Well, I had some great rock’n’roll going softly in the background. “Turn that off!” she commanded, and with that, she was back on her game. Dang.

Just a few years back, I was visiting my uncle, and he taught me how to play a card game he called “Nickel.” Apparently that was because everyone had to ante up a nickel for every hand they played. Such a fun game! Since then my wife and I have taught it to several other couples (although I did have to call my uncle a few times to clarify the rules), and they in turn have taught it to others. I love being a part of keeping this tradition alive! Side note: the game “5 Crowns” turns out to be a commercial version of Nickel, with a very slight variant on the scoring portion of the rules.

And then there is dominoes. I had played with them as a youth, stacking them so that they’d all fall down sequentially, but I had never played a game of dominoes. Then our friends from Texas, Dave and Jodi, taught us how to play 42 and Mexican Train. 42 is a game with partners, and involves a highly evolved strategy. The good news is that David is quite skilled, so we won more games than can be attributed to my contributions. Mexican Train, however, proved to be super fun, easy to learn and teach, and so we acquired our own set of these specialized dominoes, and enjoy playing with anyone who will join us.

We are excited, because it looks probable we will have a game night at our home soon with our granddaughter and daughter. We’ve already made lots of great memories around OUR dining room table, and we can’t wait to make more. Maybe, if you are lucky this holiday season, someone will come up to you with a wish in their eyes, and say “Will you play a game with me?” and I hope you do.