Friday, December 28, 2012
When I was little (you can tell how old you are by how often you start sentences with "when I was little;" it's like counting rings on a tree.) there was Monopoly and Scrabble, which as far as I knew had been around forever, and then there were chess, checkers, and dominoes which had been around longer than that. There were also games for little kids - Cooties, Candyland - and gimmicky games - Operation, Mouse Trap, and Battleship. I refer to these last three as gimicky only because they had little pieces which, if lost, ruined the whole game. I never in my life played a game of Operation where the funny bone wasn't already missing. I specifically remember when Clue and Risk were introduced. (They may have been a lot older, but I remember when they were introduced to me.) Clue walked the perilous tightrope over the abyss of gimmicky-ness. There were candlesticks and various other potential weapons, but these did not affect the game once they were lost. Scrabble is the ultimate non-gimmicky game; people don't complain if you lose the Q, in fact, they prefer it.
However, now games have gone through some sort of Cambrian explosion, and there are about a zillion different species and sub-species. Catherine and Drew have an entire game room dedicated to housing their collection. When I was little - there I go again. Judging by the "I was littles," I must be about fifty-one. When I was little, a game room meant a place in the basement with a ping-pong table or, if you were really swanky, a pool table. But no longer. Catherine and Drew's game room is just what the name implies: a room for games.
Some of these have recognizable ancestors in Risk and Monopoly: Catan, for example, is clearly a hybrid, as is Ticket to Ride. Some, however... I earlier defined a game as gimmicky by the number of losable pieces, well, some of these games are on steroids in that department. One game, for example, is designed entirely around different kinds of dice. There are dice with twelve sides, dice with colors, dice with pictures. There was a little red die inside a clear plastic die. (Die, in case you didn't know, is the accepted singular of dice, a very ancient form of game as witnessed by Caesar's remark, "The die is cast." If he'd said this around Catherine and Drew, they'd have wanted to know whether he meant the twelve-sided die, the die with colors, the die with pictures, or the little red plastic die inside the big clear one.)
Some of these games are so complicated, I think the primary pleasure is just getting to explain the rules. When I was little - there I go again, I must be at least fifty-three - we used to get in big family arguments over Monopoly and Scrabble, but this doesn't happen with Drew and Catherine's games, maybe because after it's over, you're not entirely sure whether you won or lost.
So anyway, once a week the kids come over, and we sit around one of Nancy's fabulous meals, and then we sit around a game board. And, when you get down to it, that's the essential aspect of any game: sitting in a circle with the people you love.
Everything else is a gimmick.