Monday, August 15, 2011

Lessons from Yahtzee and Other Childhood Games

A few days ago, my spouse and I didn't have time to do anything time intensive, like going kayaaking.  But we did have a bit of time, and we wanted to do something more than watch T.V. together.  So, we pulled out Yahtzee and played a few rounds.

Playing board/dice games always takes me back to various moments.  Of course, some part of me is back in childhood, crouched on a cold concrete garage floor playing the game or some sultry summer day trying to stave off boredom and heatstroke by stretching out the playing time.

And some part of me is back in graduate school when my spouse and I first discovered how cheap board games were (thank you Wal-Mart), and we started buying them--first for the nostalgia value and then because they were really fun to play.  And maybe we just hung out with weird people, but we found out that our friends really liked playing these games too.  We were on limited budgets back in grad school days, so having cheap entertainment, like a board game, helped immensely.

As we were playing Yahtzee, my spouse and I talked about how we learned to gamble.  Do you hold out for Yahtzee, even though it's not likely, or do you enter a zero in that column early, in the hopes that your 4 of a kind spot gets you a few more points?

That conversation took me back to a year at the beach, where my dad set up a kind of casino for me, my sister, and my cousins.  O.K., it wasn't a casino, but only one game, Klondike (you play it all the time--it's solitaire).  We paid my dad 50 cents to play, and he'd pay us a nickel for every card that made it's way into the piles that you build at the top of the card run.  It sounded like such an easy way to make money!  We lost so much money!  And my dad, wanting to teach us a lesson about gambling perhaps, did not give that money back.

I am now that obnoxious person who doesn't gamble or even buy lottery tickets.  And I'm sure that I can trace that attitude back to that hot week at the beach, playing Klondike and giving quarters to my dad.

And this line of thinking takes me back to Monopoly.  My strategy for that game is to try to buy up all the cheap properties.  Someone else can have Broadwalk.  Give me the low rent district just around the corner from Broadwalk.  I've won many a game with this strategy.  And if you look at my history of home ownership, you'll see that lesson followed me into adulthood.  My spouse would buy even more cheap properties, if we had more money to invest.

If you want to hear other people talk about their experience with a variety of board games, go to this podcast.  I love the whole show, which talks about ways to deal with summer heat, but about 20 minutes in, the group talks about board games.  The discussion of the game of Life took me back.  Ah, those happy summer days, with plastic cars and little sticks that represented people.  One of my friends loved to stuff her car with more children than the car could hold.  But that game did teach us that children are expensive.  It also taught us that delayed gratification (by going to college instead of getting a job) would pay off in the end.

I wonder what kind of games we'd make up about life now.  Would the lessons be different?

Of course, we played plenty of games with no lessons, overt and otherwise.  I remember games like Sorry, games where the objective was to get all your pieces into a final spot safely and first (maybe the lessons were there, but I just didn't see them).

Even today, with video games and other distractions, I've noticed that people still love these old-fashioned games.  Even my friends who play Scrabble electronically love an old-fashioned game played face-to-face.  And an evening spent playing cards offers all sorts of pleasures that we don't often get in other ways.  I think of my grandparents who spent many years playing Bolivia, which was a variation of Canasta.  I think of our family vacations at Myrtle Beach, where after a long day of fun in the sun (and losing money to my dad at Klondike), we'd set up card tables and play Bolivia.  I can't remember how to play, but I remember how much fun we had.

I'm glad that we can still amuse ourselves, even if the electricity goes out.  I'm glad that these games are still being manufactured (although sometimes in vastly different forms--the game of Life sounds very different now).  I'm glad that I have friends and family who are still willing to play.

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