22 October 2009

Board Games Bored Games

After all these years I’m finally ready to admit I was never able to play nearly enough board games as a child.  I was deeply warped by this omission.  I  spent many the long hour thumbing  through the Sears and JC Penney Christmas catalog (sometimes until June and July) trying to decide exactly which board game I wanted.  I so longed to play these games I imagined just how I would play it, who I would play it with, and how much fun we would have.   I know, I know, twisted, right?   Well, the truth is never pretty. Years later I would try to convince my friends that these board games were fun.  Ears, ears everywhere and all of them deaf, but I get ahead of myself.

Sure, there were the inevitable games of Monopoly but at 12 years of age I had the business acumen of a 5 year old.  By 15 I had barely progressed to age 7.  It was tortuous.  My only salvation came in losing myself in daydreams about my tiny Lone Ranger game piece.  Stuck forever in perpetual rear, Trigger pawing the air with his little tin hooves unto eternity.  I dreamed about the day when we could both break out and gallop across the vast board game plains of our dreams.  Then, as now, Monopoly (in all its varied iterations) is simply a humiliating exercise in working for others.  Egregiously taxed into submission we finally overextend ourselves financially resulting in disastrous ruin and poverty.  Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200.  Uplifting, isn’t it?

The game Risk was even more humiliating.  For those of us who had difficulty with the simple task of building vast hotel chain empires or forming complex energy trusts you can just imagine our angst at trying to plan a land war in Asia!  I know, I know, never start a land war in Asia, a classic blunder!* 

What I always wanted to play .. what tugged at my heart so badly .. were the word games.  Scrabble.  Yahtzee.  Upwords.  Scattergories.  Taboo.  Balderdash.  Oh Balderdash!  The only board game to ever successfully pair my two loves: The written word and creative writing.  For the unwashed, those two things are NOT the same.  Just try reading Dostoevsky and you will understand what I'm talking about.

For those who don’t know, the object of Balderdash is to either 1. Guess the correct definition of an obscure word from amongst the various player submitted definitions or 2. Make up a definition that is so stinking good someone guesses it.   Good heavens but I was GOOD.  But, as usual, my love was too slow, too obscure, to BORING (as if!) to be much of an enticement for others to play.    I was the British Humor at the table with Larry, Curly, Moe, and Donald Trump. And me without my toupe!  Why I aughta .... !

I must now interject an honest accounting of the brief period when my sister indulged me in more than her share of hours playing CLUE.  I will grant some small satisfaction gained from the battleship-like guess and check board game.  With its quirky characters and candlestick murders it did appeal to my imagination.    But, alas, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the longing deep in my heart.

The closest I came to attaining board game nirvana was sometime in college when some friends and I invented the mother of all board games: Beer Board.  Not being exceedingly literary in nature (the board required little alliteration, rhyming, or onomatopoeia) I still retain more than a small suspicion that the nirvana may have had a good deal to do with the beer part of the board.

As drinking games go, Beer Board had it all, and I'm not just bragging.  Loosely based on the game Shoots and Ladders, players would roll the dice, rapidly advancing through a plethora of drinking game options.  And it was all neatly wrapped up in one flashily painted plywood board game!  Imagine for a moment a fast paced ever-changing world where players might find themselves playing rounds of Thumper one roll, and then singing the Hee Haw song with three friends the next.  There were rounds of Mexicali, Rub butts with a friend, Roll-drink-and-dance, “I Never”, Indian Poker, and more!  All was to be had.   There was never a dull moment in our little Narnia-come-Natural Light world. 

Side B of the board, yes there was a rare side B, was somewhat less involved.  It was a spinner game.  Players would spin the tin spinner (the original cut from an authentic Keystone Light can and affixed with a push pin) and then all playing would follow the instructions.  Everyone with blue eyes drink.  All football players drink.  You get the idea.  Intoxicating, isn’t it?!

Sadly, Beer Board was never picked up by any of the major retailers.  Through applied research and practice we were able to finally make some small refinements to our product.  Taking a lead from Monopoly we created several theme versions such as “Old Mexico” (Cinco de Mayo edition) on a paper grocery sack cut open to lay flat in one giant beer board rectangle.   The squares were drawn on with Sharpie pen, which never ran even if wet. You could roll them up like a lost treasure map and if you lost one you weren’t out much.  Still there was no interest from Milton Bradley or Hasbro.  Even in this, our greatest triumph, there was no satisfaction.

The years have gone by and even now I confess I get a little bit nostalgic for the raucous games I saw in all the commercials during those cartoon mornings so long ago (admittedly somewhat less nostalgic for BB).  I sometimes press my nose against the window pane of memory and imagine what could have been if only life mirrored art. I still harbor a  hope that someday I will sit down with a group of people I love and we will all engage in a mighty merry word game.  It will be like a warm Thanksgiving celebration or victorious Super Bowl Party.  Is it really too much to ask?  Words live such a quiet life, it seems.  Perhaps someday I will find that mythical place, the place they show in the TV commercials where people roll the dice and then bounce on the sofa excitedly, clasped fists raised in air.  Where friends high five, and mothers and fathers look on shaking their head in a sort of loving gentle reproof at some antic.  I hope so.  And so does my wee tin friend, the Lone Ranger.  Liberated by laughter and a shared game of endless linguistic possibilities.

Ride long tonight through golden board game fields of our dreams my friend.  Be well.

Rare Side B Beer Board Pictured Above Right, Circ. 17 MAR 1994
(Note authentic Keystone Light tin spinner in center)
Faces have been obscured to protect the innocent.
I am not one of the innocent.

*Vizinni the Sicilian: "You fell victim to one of the classic blunders.  The most famous is: Never get involved in a land war in Asia.  Only slightly less well known is this: Never go against a Sicilian when dealth is on the line! Hahahahahaha" [Vizinni falls over dead] - The Princess Bride.  Little known fact: Vizzini's advice on not getting involved in a land war in Asia is derived from the principles stated by Field Marshal Bernard L Montgomery (Viscount Alamein) in a speech in the House of Lords on 30 May 1962: "Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war is: Do not march on Moscow' ... Rule 2 is: 'Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.'"