In my house growing up, being bored always led to board games.
The same proved to be true in this man’s “castle,” and all of those games came in mighty handy during quarantine.
Many of them were actually the very same games from my childhood home, the center of the board split halfway up, the cards frayed, a piece or two missing and substituted with household items like paper clips or marker caps.
Both my kids’ Sorry! board game and Stratego are the exact same ones dad grew up playing. Except for one thing: Turns out my siblings and me were playing them all wrong all our lives. Yep, my kids Googled the directions. Nerds.
In my childhood home more often than not we already knew how to play a board game before we even got it - either from playing it at a sleepover or even in school. This being the case, the one who’d played it the most simply explained to everyone how it was played, and we took them at their word. If things did happen to get confusing there was always the cover of the box itself to refer to, where the rules of the game were laid out succinctly, bullet-point style, right there. No rule book was ever flipped through, or survived the games’ move from Morris Cove to Branford. If memory serves, they were always quickly discarded.
But not in the Google age! Participation trophies be damned as far as my children are concerned. We will not only play correctly, but dad must lose at all costs.
Now, Sorry! proved no problem. Easily my favorite board game of all time, the ins and outs were committed to memory, a pattern of play so rote from playing it so darn much, it mirrored my Pac-Man pattern. That ’80s video game phenomenon could be played blindfolded by yours truly.
Stratego was a different story, as was Monopoly. The latter, I’m fairly certain, is the lone board game my siblings and me always had a hunch we were playing incorrectly. We basically just bought the property, slapped hotels on them willy-nilly, and collected “go” for our $200. My kids were livid upon discovering how much I didn’t know about the actual rules of Monopoly. We play it annually, at Christmastime, leaving the board on the table with all our pieces in place all of December; it’s such a wonderful tradition that one year I even got the kids the “Stranger Things” edition.)
As for Uno! - it would appear that it was never played correctly, and no one was more surprised than me. It’s such a simple game! Furthermore, it’s nowhere near as much fun when actually played correctly. Seriously? One must shout out “Uno” when they are down to one card, as if the other players cannot see that this is, in fact, the case. It reeks of braggadocio. Borders on poor sportsmanship. But, this is what must be done or the person who notes that you didn’t do so may hand you two fresh cards from the deck, therefore rendering you completely back in the game.
My kids’ “hang-up” regarding the rules of board games was an interesting thing to learn during quarantine. We’ve played board games for years. I can even recall when I first broke out my childhood Sorry! game for the older of my two, because she was actually quite young but I had just read an article that cited it as one of a handful of games that actually helped children learn how to count. So, I figured let’s go!
Years of Sorry! playing ensued, with Chutes & Ladders and Candyland and everything else to follow. Sure, there were moments where questions were asked and rules were brought up, but never anything remotely as stringent as what I was dealing with now, locked in this house with the two of them, board games and binge-watching television dominating the majority of our time.
It got frustrating. I was accustomed to playing the way I’d played my entire life, and would find myself annoyed by a break so one of them could Google the rules to Stratego and then explain the existence of the piece that allows a player to guess the number of the piece that it will replace on the board. Why would there be such a piece? You’re wrong nine times out of 10 and then who you’re playing can totally take down that piece. That’s not strategy; that’s showing your hand.
One night, though, during a particularly heated game of Uno, it was me looking up rules. I had wanted to do something that both my children took umbrage at and said that I could not. I assured them that I could, but they joined forces in their certainty that it was not allowed. So I looked it up. the rule that got closest to addressing what I was looking to do was convoluted at best, and I didn’t emerge any more convinced that I couldn’t do what I’d wanted, which I’d done my entire Uno-playing life, mind you. They, somehow, felt victorious.
This is when it dawned on me: The rules were mattering to these two now, more than ever before, not just because lockdown had them on edge, each day exactly the same as the one before, and maybe even for the foreseeable future. They viewed me as one of the lot that got us into this mess — a “glance at the rules” rogue who went about life knowing them to a degree, but not fully and, worse, not following them completely. I represented the generation that had gotten them into this mess, this lockdown, this quarantine, because it’s all right there. Wash your hands. Clean up after yourself. Wear your mask.