Underrated in America: Board games

My daughter's seventh birthday is coming up, and I know at least one toy I'm purchasing: a board game.

A few weeks ago, I was surveying the household. My daughters, who are four and six, were watching TV and playing a computer game, at the same time. I was working on my own computer. There were probably snacks in the room. And suddenly, I felt like this snapshot of our lives was a scene we had played out all too many times.

So I pulled out a ragged board game of Hasbro's Chutes & Ladders. My six-year-old and I used to play it and Candy Land a few years ago, but for whatever reasons, we had stopped. I wasn't sure if my girls would go for it, but as it turned out, they were interested, and for the next hour, the three of us played Chutes & Ladders. I finally bowed out -- there are only so many times you can go up a ladder and down a chute until your mind starts to become mush -- but my daughters continued playing for at least thirty more minutes. And that's when it hit me: We should be playing a lot more board games.

Board games unfortunately sound like bored games, but they're anything but. They were fun when I was a kid and they're still fun. I have no beef against computer games or TV, but obviously, they're extremely sedentary activities. Board games may not require a lot of running around either, but it is an activity that obliges a family to play together, and that means a lot, especially as more and more outside forces -- from TV to the Internet to school activities and work obligations -- demand our attention.

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There are other pluses, too, of course. Board games are generally a lot cheaper than, say, a Wii computer game, which retails between $30-$50, based on my limited research. (I haven't bought a Wii, though I have a feeling I will sooner or later.) But more importantly, board games allow you to create memories. My brother and I forged a tight bond years ago playing Stratego, a nonviolent war game by Milton Bradley, and I have fond recollections of occasionally beating my dad at a game of chess when I was in elementary school.

I know that my daughter enjoys playing chess on the laptop, but I doubt that years later, she's going to look back on the moments, when she managed to execute a particularly clever move, and wish she could relive that piece of time.

Board games, in short, rule. Or they should.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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