Friday, March 11, 2016

Playing Board Games

I grew up playing board games, loving board games in fact. It came from my mom, who to this day likes nothing more than to celebrate her birthday with the whole family getting together to roll dice or spin spinners. This year we played Telestrations, a game based on the classic party game "Telephone," except instead of whispering phrases into ears, we drew pictures of phrases and passed them along for the next person to interpret. I've never laughed so hard, we all did, ages 6-80, tears in our eyes and bellies hurting.

As a child it was Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, and Hi! Ho! Cherry-O. Later there were card games and checkers and Monopoly. In college we played cribbage, backgammon, and Dungeons & Dragons. I know why mom liked getting around the table with friends and family this way: laughing, talking, not taking the competition too seriously. It was like extended family dinner time, but without the functionality of nutrition, mastication, and pot scrubbing clean up.

I know that some folks feel differently about board games, even loathing them. I get it. My wife is one of them: she'll play if that's what the rest of the people want to do, but she would much rather just converse without the distraction of a game. She sometimes grumbles about having been "forced" to play games as a child, something, I think, that would sour anyone on pretty much any experience.

(There was a time when my favorite cocktail party question was to ask folks if there was anything their parents forced them to do as a child that they do willingly today. Over years of asking this informal survey question, I never discovered a single person who continued to do as an adult what they were forced to do as a child, with the exception of playing the piano. Several people said they were glad they had been forced to take piano lessons.)

Board games are an important part of Woodland Park. There is alway a circle of heads around our board games, most of which fit into the category of "cooperative games," those where the players are working together toward a common goal, but we have fun with classic competitive games as well. Not every child chooses to play the games, but at any given moment there is a crowd bent together, taking turns, agreeing to a set of rules and procedures to make things flow. It's actually a bit amazing to me.

As a cooperative with plenty of adults handy, we have the luxury of assigning an adult to the game table to support the children, not necessary in following the rules to a tee, but in helping them come to agreements about how this session of the game will be played. This, to me, is the most important aspect of board games in school: the rudimentary math and literacy skills required to play these games are incidental perks of game play, the real benefit is the cooperation, those holy agreements, even if it's a competitive game.

The game the children are playing in this picture is called Max from a company called Family Pastimes, my favorite cooperative game manufacturer. We've owned several of their games for years, but earlier this week I found myself as the adult at the table for the first time ever playing another of their games called Round-Up. I started to read the instructions as adults do, but within seconds, I was being instructed by the children in how to play. The first group of us played according to a very liberal set of rules, one that I quickly realized would lead to us "winning" every time. As the gaggle of players changed, however, I learned some new, more restrictive rules, ones that made it a more challenging game. Then later, I was taught the "right" way, a version of play that included a strategic level that made me want to keep playing again and again the way all good games do.

And all the while, we're talking, sharing, cooperating, and laughing, which is, I think, the point of any worthwhile human activity.

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ciedie aech said...

I absolutely love this post. I, too, grew up with board games and, in fact, in What-If-I-Were-In-Charge daydreams about how to run schools and reach more children (even at the high school level) I would instigate one board-game class per day per kid. From preschool to graduation! :)

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