Beach House Diaries: Fun ... and Board Games

parcheesi game

Beach housers know board games are more than a rainy-day diversion or after-dark boredom buster. Unlike, say, the Kennedys' Cape Cod-style football matches, they allow us to indulge our competitive spirit without risking bodily harm. Plus they induce waves of nostalgia because playing is such a traditional pastime. (Some of my own best memories are rooted in checker tournaments with an adored grandfather who always let me beat him.) Above all, board games create the perfect opportunity for family bonding. With that said, playing them at our place is a dicey proposition.

Occasionally it's the games themselves that pose a problem. Risk, for example, is too time consuming; Snakes and Ladders too luck dependent; and Mouse Trap unnecessarily complicated (especially when key pieces are lost). Since our beach house collection qualifies as vintage, other games are outdated. Take Trivial Pursuit: we have the "Genus Edition," circa 1982, which means we must revert to a time-warped world where Italians buy things with lira and Czechoslovakia is still a country.

More often than not, however, the problem lies with my foursome. While I do buy into the whole "folks who play together stay together" philosophy, I'm also aware that family game sessions are frequently accompanied by a familiar refrain: "Mooom, I wanna go first." "Mooom, he took my purple piece." "Mooom, she cheated." "Can somebody get a damn timer?!" On Pictou Island, this common irritant is compounded by individual quirks that have made former favorites un-playable.

Monopoly was the first to be crossed off the list due to my son's megalomaniacal approach. He would amass color-coded property cards like a pint-sized Donald Trump on amphetamines, showing no mercy in the process. On his way to yet another win, his concentration never wavered. Nor did his conscience: indeed, I imagined him gleefully bankrupting widows, evicting orphans, and erecting hotels in ecologically-sensitive areas (a scary prospect considering he genuinely intends to be a real estate developer!). Clue was the next game to be retired, and the blame for that goes to my daughter.

As a little girl she liked to play it by her own rules -- then she began playing it by herself. Spending hours alone in the loft, she developed a variation called Clue Murder Chase. I'm not sure exactly what was involved, yet I suspect Miss Scarlet was repeatedly thwacking Colonel Mustard with a wrench while waving a candlestick and a revolver. Encouraging this game might have led her to become another Agatha Christie. Then again, it might have landed her in prison, in which case even her brother's stockpiled "Get Out of Jail Free" cards would prove useless.

Life is off the table as well, thanks to my husband. One reason is that it simply wasn't designed for grown men; his fingers weren't nimble enough to properly slot all the pink and blue pegs that represent people into those tiny plastic cars. His fumbling efforts messed up the board, annoying the rest of us. The bigger issue was that, as hubby took his turns, I worried he was having a mid-life crisis. You see, the choices he made in the game of Life ran completely contrary to the path he has actually taken. The fact that he invariably assumed the role of Enrique the Hairdresser didn't help.

My kryptonite is Scrabble. Having been an English professor and now being a writer, I consider myself a "word person." My family would say "show off." Worse still they thought I was a vocabulary snob, when I was really just a purist. Although game manufacturer Hasbro does condone slang use, I still refused to accept "RV," "OK" and "TV," leaving my opponents PO'ed. I, in turn, got frustrated by the realization that players weaned in an age of spellcheckers seemed unable to correctly string letters together without one. ("Mom, is ankshuss a word?" No. But you thinking it might be causes me great anxiety.)

Hmmm... on second thought, maybe touch football is a safer alternative after all.

Next: 7 Tips for Board Games at a Vacation Home

<<Previous Week: Eating the Pictou Island Way
Next Week: Welcome to the Neighborhood>>

Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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