As a child we owned a few main stables like Monopoly, Life, Sorry and a standard deck of cards. The typical Parker Brothers type games didn’t see much action and when they did their “gotcha” style didn’t set well with the competitiveness in my family. Thus the standard deck of cars was the most used form of gaming with dominoes being a distant second. My grandmother had a trusty old Book of Hoyle with rules to hundreds of ways to strategize, manipulate and contort those 52(ish) cards into all types of games.
After my parents divorced my father worked even more hours and my grandmother became a consistent fixture in my life. Her husband, my grandfather, died years before I was born leaving her a widow young. In fact he died in 1969 when my father was just 12 years old. I always attributed this to why my dad seemed to struggle with parenting at times since he didn’t have a father figure to emulate. My grandma however seemed to me to be an expert at damn near everything. She was strong willed and didn’t take crap off of anyone (which was both admirable and embarrassing at times). You would think with a demeanor like that she would be an aggressive gamer but to the contrary nothing was further from the truth.
One particularly rainy day I realized that all 5 TV channels were showing infomercials or reruns so I wondered her house looking for some alternative form of entertainment. The only toys she had were better classified as antiques and at the age of nine I was outgrowing them anyway. At her direction I took a seat at the dinning room table. It was a large round table that was pushed into the NE corner of the room and had a small black and white TV perched near the wall, a green glass ashtray (exactly like the one pictured) and was covered by a plastic table cloth that changed every month or two to match the season. Each of these table clothes had a smattering of small charred circles where a cigarette had fallen and burned through revealing threads of cotton, the last line of defense before damaging the oak table.
She walked to the china cabinet that stood near the south facing wall and opened the far right drawer. She kept crayons and coloring books in this drawer so I expected her to produce these as she had many times before. I personally and painstakingly had illustrated every native bird of Missouri in one such books and was in no mood for “little kids’ stuff”. To my surprise instead she produced a softcover book decorated with gaming pieces, a deck of cards, a pad of paper and her trusty Stanley Home Products pen. “It’s time you learned to play cards for real. None of that crazy 8’s or Old Maid stuff.”
She handed me the book and I flipped through it reading sections that tickled my fancy while she shuffled the cards like a Las Vegas pit boss and dealt 10 cards to each of us. “This is Gin Rummy”, she said “I played this with my grandma and now I am going to teach you”. We played several games each of which I lost until with pride I finally yelled "Gin" and plopped down my cards with pride. I remember clearly that while I did win I noticed she didn’t reveal her hand. I suspected that she had better cards then I did but purposely held back to boost my confidence.
I remember when my dad finally came to pick me up that for the first time in a long time I was not excited to leave. After kissing her goodbye I asked if we could play again next time I came. “Better than that, why don’t we work our way through that whole book”, she said with a smile, “you won’t know which game is your favorite till you’ve played them all.” My family wasn’t very good about showing genuine emotion but in that moment I could feel the warmth of her words. She knew I was bored at her house and being a woman in her late 50s she only had so much that would appeal to me. I think she was thrilled that we had found something to bond over.
That was a small moment from my childhood but it’s always stuck with me and I think contributed to my life long love of strategy, competition and game theory. So in my 20s when I finally had disposable income one of the first things I purchased was quality games. One of my co-workers, Eric H. loaned me Carcassonne and Catan. I played them with my wife and we instantly fell in love with them. That weekend I went out to buy my own copies. From there my collection began to grow to what it is now and I can easily give some of the local game stores a run for their money. As my kids got older I was anxious to introduce them to the joy of gaming and I was thrilled when my oldest took to it like a fish to water.
Kids have diverging interests and although our collection now exceeds 400+ unique games very few appeal to all 6 members of the family. As such I have lots of purchases that fit specific moments with each. There is at least one game for each of my kids that none of the others will play. Dave plays 90% of the games but if I want to engage Alexander (16) it needs to be an attacking game like Munchkin or Smash Up but he and I are both big fans of the 2 player game Morels and this is still "our game" not played by others. If I want to game with Bridget (8) it needs to be an abstract or dexterity game like Qwirkle or Rhino Hero. Now Phaedra (14) is the biggest challenge, she has the lowest number of logged plays in the house and outside of party games it has to be something real light like Dixit or Sparkle Kitty.
Tonight we took a step forward with recruiting another diehard gamer to the inner circle of mom, Dave and I. Bridget sat down with mom and dad to try out a brand new game. Stuffed Fables is an unusual adventure game in which players take on the roles of brave stuffed animals seeking to save the child they love from a scheming, evil mastermind (think Toy Story meets light horror flick). By making daring melee attacks, leaping across conveyor belts, or even steer a racing wagon down a peril-filled hill we can engage with the story. The game delivers a thrilling narrative driven by player choices. Players explore a world of wonder and danger, unlocking curious discoveries. The chapters of Stuffed Fables explore the many milestones of a child's life, creating a memorable tale ideal for families. We had agreed to just play one chapter but after three we had to tell her that we’d revisit the game another night.
I saw that light in her eyes that one gets when they engage on a deeper level. Playing games has long given me joy but doing it with those I love and seeing the happiness they get from figuring out complex tasks fills me with pride.