Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Operation, Mousetrap; when a man is bored of board games, he is bored of life. Playing with friends is so relaxing an activity, I can imagine even paid-up gangsters cracking open a few beers and getting out the Connect 4. As wild teens who took a lot of drugs and frequently woke up with hangovers in bathtubs, my friends and I would still enjoy nights gathered round a coffee table playing Bananagrams. I recall, too, a tender moment during a school detention – one of those lax, end-of-term ones – when I taught a tough lad chess and he taught me draughts.
There are people who profess not to like board games, but I feel they have just not met the right game for them. Risk, for instance, has a legion of fans, but if I were an alien dropped into mid-play with no other board game experience, I, too, would think they were not for me. (No shade towards Risk-lovers: I just find political conflict and war depressing enough IRL. I’m much happier strapping a plastic bee on to my head and playing the 90s classic Bizzy Buzzy Bumbles.)
As a child, my family would make an annual visit to a beach house in Cumbria (six converted and connected railway carriages). In the evenings, games of Monopoly would be conducted with a view of high tide – as though the sea, too, wanted to play. With an early bedtime, half-finished games would be put away overnight to be returned to the next evening. I cheated every time, stashing pink notes before recommencing. Nothing was said, but I am sure everyone knew.
Luckily, my family is small, and therefore games of charades were never played at Christmas, a routine I am told can turn stressful and sour. I was, however, often a sore loser. I am probably no less cocky today, but I have mellowed in this regard (although perhaps that is a result of playing with friends rather than relatives). Now, I think playing chess or Scrabble with one other person, in concentrated but comfortable silence, is an understated sign of love.
If I may, I would like to touch on card games. Poker I am bad at, because I cannot hold my emotions in, ever. But Ring of Fire and the quite iconic Shithead – both of which involve alcohol as a key participant – make for raucous bonding. That said, when I attempted to introduce the former to pals in Russia, they looked perplexed and said: “I do not understand. Why would you need an excuse to drink?”
These days, with venues shuttered, our options for outside entertainment are limited. I therefore thoroughly recommend board games to be dusted off and brought down from shelves. It’s Ms Parkinson, in the lounge, with Cluedo.