Wheaton’s Way

Revisiting the wonderful world of board games

I’m going to confess something here: about a month ago, I had to Google the rules to the simple card game ‘Snap’.

I’m not saying we played it morning, noon and night when I was a kid, but I certainly had a handle on how it all worked, along with Gin Rummy, Cribbage and several other card games. When did I turn my back on a good old table game for Candy Crush on my iPhone? It’ll probably be what they’ll find in my cold, dead hand when I finally snuff it, left forever hoping for a colouring candy to help me get past that gummy bear level.

After the ‘Snap’ embarrassment, I made a promise to myself that I would start to revisit the great board games of yesteryear. I had always loved Trivial Pursuit, Clue, Cranium and the like – how had I let technology push them to one side, keeping them in the cupboard for so long?

My new resolve was presented with its first opportunity to be tested when, a week later, I was asked to babysit my two nephews. I took along best friend, Auntie Lynne, for reinforcement.

Kalyan and Arjan are 8 and 9 years old, respectively, and know more about smart devices than I’ve forgotten. They were happily playing on their Nintendo Xbox PlayStation thingies when we arrived, but the two aunties were going to put a stop to that fun and teach them to play board games like we did when we were young.

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They actually had a box of Monopoly under the coffee table, so that made the decision easy.

“Right, Monopoly it is,” I announced, making space to set up the board.

“Good, I’m great at Monopoly!” Arjan exclaimed. “I’ll beat you in 15 minutes!”

Bless, I didn’t think he realised what a long and involved game this was.

Lynne, sensing real estate wars in the offing, said she wouldn’t play – she would just be the banker. She got all the property, Chance and Community Chest cards organised, and doled out our first allowance. I went with my usual boot playing piece, the boys chose theirs, and the dice rolling began.

Arjan got the highest roll, and off he went. He landed on Oriental Avenue.

“Buying!” he proclaimed, thrusting $100 in Lynne’s direction.

Kalyan threw next, and landed on Reading Railroad, which he immediately snapped up.
Then, it was Auntie Vicki’s turn. I threw a six, which took me to Oriental Avenue and a landlord awaiting his rent with glee.

It continued in the same vein with every throw. I didn’t know if Arjan’s earlier boast of winning the game in 15 minutes came from an inside knowledge of loaded dice, but he had amazing luck. He was landing on choice properties and buying them all, only for me to stop on them right behind him. The only money I was handing over in the first round was for rent.

Kalyan’s strategy was the railroads and utilities, so when he found himself on Virginia Avenue, he decided to pass.

“Auction!” Arjan yelped.

Huh?

“Yes, Auntie Vicki, those are the rules,” Arjan said – kindly, yet firmly – in a voice reserved for kindergarten teachers or the mafia. “If someone lands on a property and doesn’t want to buy it, the other players can bid for it.”

I picked up the rules and scoured the pages. Well… I’ll be. He was right!

And so, the auction began. I didn’t want Virginia Avenue that badly, but at least I drove the price up so he paid $171 for it instead of $160.

Yeah… don’t ever mess with Auntie Vicki.

By the third round of the board, I had already been in jail once and I had three mismatched properties to my name. Kalyan had a nice grouping of the railroads, and Arjan was sitting on a portfolio that would have made Kim Lund proud.

I don’t think Arjan landed on my properties once, and when Kalyan did, he insisted in paying $12 rent with a $100 bill. Daddy Warbucks was therefore forcing me to make change every time.

If he thought such a strategy would put me off wanting to charge him at all… he was correct.

We had been longer into the game than 15 minutes, but it was clear from the beginning that I was on a losing streak. The only thing that saved me from selling a kidney to pay rent on a hotel property, was the welcome knock on the door to announce the arrival of ordered food. Surely we couldn’t continue playing now.

Auntie Lynne totted up the property and cash in everyone’s possession at stop time. Arjan won, with Kalyan second and me a distant third.

We let the boys go back to Minecraft after dinner.

The second opportunity I had to go old-school with games, was when we had a 16th birthday party for my niece, Lane, at our house.

There were nibbles, beverages, cake and a setup for Pictionary.

With 11 of us in the room, we split the two teams into groups of six and five, ensuring there was a nice balance of adults and children in each. An easel with a large pad of paper and marker was ready for the budding artists to do battle.

Just in case anyone doesn’t know the rules, Pictionary is like Charades with art. A team member picks a card, and then has to draw something so his or her team can guess the word or phrase on that card.

I was dying to have my turn with the marker. I knew I was going to rock this, but I had to be polite and patient – I was the host, after all.

Both teams started off strong, with impressive guesses from all ages. Kalyan and Arjan doubled as the timekeepers, watching the sands run through the mini-hourglass like hawks. The last grain would barely hit the bottom before “TIME!” was barked at everyone through ear-to-ear grins. The boys loved their job.

After everyone in my team had had their chance to draw, it was finally my turn. I grabbed the marker with an air of “Watch this!” about me. I pulled the card. The word was ‘Spike’.

Easy peasy.

Over the hourglass went, and I started drawing. I had decided to go the way of drawing a vampire, followed by the method of killing it. They all saw the vampire, but halfway through sketching its implement of death, I realised it was a stake, not a spike.

“STAKE! STAKE! STAKE!” my team members, quite rightly, starting yelling.

Time was running out. I frantically changed tack and tried to draw an ear to go the ‘sounds-like’ route, with a bike next to it. Everybody was understandably thrown by this new addition to the landscape. A vampire, a stake, an ear, and what appeared to be a unicycle…

“TIME!” came the shout from the nephew double-act. I was officially done.

“Spike… it was spike,” I explained in a small voice to my confused compadres, as I handed back my marker in disgrace.

My embarrassment aside, I have to say that we had a great time. Everyone really got into the game and that meant we were all interacting as a group, rather than chatting in fragmented duos and trios. It was a definite hit.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and my family still brings it up as one of the highlights of the night. Maybe there really is something to be said about reviving these board game traditions.

I’m keen to try it again, but in the meantime, I’m signing up for art lessons at the National Gallery.

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