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The Games That People Play

26 May 2010 Stories and Appreciations 7,820 views 6 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Board games were a huge part of my childhood. I remember playing Monopoly by our fireplace when major ice storms knocked out our power for days at a time. In the summer, I’d beg family members to play Clue with me while on vacation. And without even realizing it, I learned about various artists and their works while playing Masterpiece. Seriously, Milton Bradley could have been my middle name. And any siblings should have been called Parker Brothers.

When I became a parent, I couldn’t wait to share my favorite board games with my kids. I was certain they would love them the same way I did. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. It was great that they could enjoy these games from my childhood, but as an adult, I saw the games through different eyes.

Candyland. This game is one diabetic sugar rush tease. Just when you think you’ve made it to the Candy Castle, the random drawing of a card sends you all the way back to the molasses swamp (which these days has been renamed the Chocolate Swamp, by the way). Don’t count on the game ending anytime soon. It can change on a gooey gumdrop.

On a side note, this game does have an interesting back story. It was designed in the 1940’s by Eleanor Abbott, while she was in the hospital recovering from polio. Abbott created the game to entertain little girls who were also in the hospital as victims of polio. With a story like that, who can object to spending time in the Peppermint Forest?

Chutes and Ladders. This game is similar to Candyland in its ability to change one’s fate quickly. The simple roll of the dice can determine whether you climb to the top of that ladder or slide to the bottom. Do I need to draw similarities between Chutes and Ladders and corporate America? Chutes and Ladders requires following arrows and being able to count up to 100, concepts that might be difficult for younger children. On numerous occasions, my kids have avoided those dreadful chutes only to find they accidentally traveled backwards according to the numbered spaces. Frustrating to say the least.

I recently learned this game came to America from Great Britain under the name Snakes and Ladders. However, people have been playing it in India as far back as 1500, back when it was called Leela. Originally, Snakes and Ladders was used to teach morality to children, with the ladders representing virtues such as honesty and generosity. The snakes represented vices such as lust, theft and murder. Ah, there’s nothing like virtues and vices to bring a family together on game night.

Operation. How exciting it was trying to extract a piece of some poor cartoon character’s anatomy without making that buzzer go off! As an adult, I can now only imagine myself as the poor sap having my appendix removed by a random doctor brandishing a pair of tweezers. But more importantly, will that same buzzer sound if something goes awry during the actual operation? Here’s hoping my nose doesn’t glow red if it does.

Trouble. Less of a game and more of an experience, this one is all about the bubble-shaped dice roller with “pop-o-matic” action. After all of these years, it’s simply comforting to hear that tinny “thur-plunk” as it hops the dice around. Moving the little pegs doesn’t hold up quite as well the pop-o-matic dice roller. Heck, just saying the words “pop-o-matic dice roller” is fun!

Life. This was originally called The Checkered Game of Life and perhaps that’s how I would feel if I played this game as an adult. But as a child I loved it, driving that little plastic car around the board, accumulating a peg spouse and peg children to put in the back seat. Quite honestly, I think it’s better that I remember the game of Life from afar.

Clue. Still suspenseful, but I no longer feel the need to always be Miss Scarlet. I’m a bit more comfortable with Mrs. White or Mrs. Peacock these days — even Colonel Mustard if I’m feeling particularly feisty. I’m mainly drawn to visit the Ballroom (with its grand piano), the Conservatory, or the Billiard Room. I can visit a real-life kitchen or hall whenever I want, although our hall does not have a chandelier or a suit of armor. The biggest change in this game for me, however, is that I can now properly pronounce “lead pipe.” Piped pipers lead children. A pipe used as a murder weapon in Clue is made of lead.

Monopoly. Another game that never ends … and when finally it does, someone is bankrupt. How disheartening is that? And buying and selling properties in this market hits a little too close to home. Maybe I should just celebrate the fact that, in the world of Monopoly, things are actually affordable, especially when you’re given money before the game even starts.

By the way, Charles Darrow was an out-of-work inventor when he came up with Monopoly during the Great Depression. Thanks to this game based on his favorite childhood vacation spot of Atlantic City, Darrow was able to retire as a millionaire at the age of 46. Apparently, there is hope for all of us if we can create the right board game at the right time.

Kobi Shaw


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  1. This is great! I couldn’t agree more with your observations. I think the comedian, Dane Cook does a bit about how you start the game of Monopoly as friends, but you always end up frustrated and screaming at each other because it goes on for so long. I’ve always had a fondness for Professor Plum… I like those intellectual types. Ha! Also, regarding Operation… How the heck does anyone get the spare ribs out without hitting the sides? I’m serious!

  2. Ahhh the memories. I’ve never finished a game of Monopoly, I always end up with two cars of children in Life, I stacked the deck in Candyland so I would get Queen Frostine, I always lost at Chutes and Ladders so I would play the Snakes and Ladders version to win, I STILL have to be Miss Scarlet when I play Clue, Trouble frustrated me when I would have one peg left and I would be sent back to start, and finally, Operation still scares me when I touch the sides….what great fun.

  3. Ah, yes – I remember all these games well. I also liked ‘Green Ghost’, which was played in a dark room, as the game board and all the pieces glowed in the dark. The board was elvated on little legs, and there were cut out spaces in the playing surface big enough for a hand to fit in. When you landed on certain spaces, you had to reach in to a hole and fell what was in there. There were plastic bones, and rubber bands that were supposed to worms, etc. My older siblings usually substituted much more interesting things, which truly creeped me out as a kid – but I loved it all the same.

    I also loved ‘Life’, but mostly for the 3D game board and the little cars. I’m surprised these days that they still have you put your ‘peg children’ in the back seat of a convertible without car seats. Is there a space marked ‘Child Protective Services’ ?

  4. Oh my god, I just lost an hour looking at this site, reading your stuff and shopping at Archie McPhee, looking at bacon stuff and monkey stuff that Michael would love (even though his birthday isn’t until October). AND I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO. DARN YOU KOBI!

  5. Okay, I just introduced my kids to Mousetrap and I will say it holds up pretty well, as long as you have all the pieces. However, you can certainly forgo the game, assemble the contraption and just capture those mice at will!

  6. What about Risk! That game never ended. You would just slide the whole thing under the couch, and slide it out to resume the game later.

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