Friday, 27 January 2012

Board games are awful

It is winter, it gets dark at 4 and I have spent all our money on jumpers and Picard Surgélés eclairs, so we have been playing a lot of board games recently. Yeah, like the nineteenth century or something, I know, it's almost unbearable, I might as well just send the children up a chimney and have done with it. So they tell me.

This has given me ample time to develop a grudge on every game we own, for a variety of reasons. Board games are awful*: most of them are just a fight in a box. In French, they are called "jeux de société", which suggests society is full of rampant individualism, untamed aggression, vicious reprisals and sulking, which is completely .. oh.

I give you here the fruits of my research, so that you do not need to suffer needlessly. Say no to board games people, make this madness stop. Read a book. Send your children to their bedrooms. Wash the kitchen floor. Do anything, but do not suggest brightly "shall we play a game?"


Are you ninety? Are we appearing in an episode of The Archers? Are we in a half-timbered country pub with a fat labrador dozing by the roaring fire? Are you of an age when being able to count to six is a cause for celebration? If the answer to all of these questions is no, none of us has any place playing dominoes. Step away from the spots, punk, no one gives a shit and winning doesn't even feel good since it's PURE DUMB LUCK.


For a game so apparently innocuous, Uno creates a fugue state of hysteria in my children far worse than any food colouring, Nintendo game, violent Japanese cartoon or Haribo. I think it's the colours and the potential for minor acts of cruelty to your nearest and dearest. Do I know if you can keep putting "plus 4 cards" down infinitely, eldest child? No, I do not, nor do I care.
I want no part of it. Fuck off, Uno and take your pointless, expensive derivatives and variants (Robot Uno, Uno Extream, iPad Uno, Uno themed cheese strings for all I know) with you.


A Scrabble board is no place for the bilingually semi-literate. I love my children dearly, but their vocabulary and spelling renders this farcical: I end up playing for all of us, and getting progressively angrier as their proudly placed 3 letter words close the board down catastrophically.

Lashes asked me to buy it and told me he "loved Scrabble". I can only assume this was one of our many linguistic misunderstandings. He must have said "I love taking off my dirty socks and throwing them into the corner of the room" or "I love fighting", or "I love being bought enormous boxes of Lego". At least no one ever asks to play Scrabble anymore after my last strop about the use of "Yo" as the starting word.


This is a source of great sadness to me. I used to love Memory. When I was a biddable, bookish, shadow of a child, much preoccupied with death and ponies, we had a tragic but much-loved French Memory game with pictures of several kinds of nougat de Montelimar, champagne corks, pieces of the Eiffel Tower and stinking wheels of Brie. It was like a great, seventies middle class game-gasm. Best of all: I usually won. Imagine, then, my bitter disappointment that (a) our Memory game features Diego, Dora the twatting Explorer's overachieving, sloth fondling cousin; and (b) that my children DESTROY me at it.

"I've seen that damn coatimundi!" I hiss, staring angrily at the grid of cards. Then I jab at one, hopefully. It is not a coatimundi. It is fucking Diego riding a fucking turtle. My children fall about laughing, not wholly unkindly.

"Mais non, maman" they say, with infinite condescension, patting my hand. Often Fingers is cackling with joy and rubbing his long, long digits together as he swiftly locates the two sloths AND the two Diegos riding turtles. I start every game in high spirits, confident of victory this time and end every game contemplating mortality, my inevitable decay, loss of critical faculties and undignified death, or at least where I can find a draught of hemlock. Which is nice. If I want a memento mori, I'll find a more aesthetically pleasing one, thanks, Diego. Lo siento, and all that.


I don't really need to go into it, do I? We all know about Monopoly and how it's an interminable, conflict generating, heap of old toss. It is the original "fight in a box". I don't know why they don't just put that on the side. "Monopoly: a rancorous fight guaranteed every time". How do you play, reader? Fight, or get bored and abandon? I favour the second option, but I am always outvoted.


I like you, Pictureka, but you try too hard. Four different "rounds" in a single game? Teams? Miming? Eh. I'm exhausted just thinking about you. Two specific pointers for you, Pictureka: First, how the fuck do you expect me to mime "singing nurse?" And second: a board game shouldn't involve physical exertion, so don't go asking me to "jump like a frog". JOG ON.


In our household, we all believe we like Cluedo, but I am here to tell you that we are labouring under a massive delusion. Here is why:

1. Modern Cluedo seems to be set in some kind of low rent Champneys crossed with an episode of the Young and the Reckless. "A soirée at a millionaire mogul's mansion", says the description. It is monstrously vulgar: hitting people with a dumbbell? A trophy? A SPA (I don't think you hit people with the spa, but you get my point)? What was wrong with the candlestick, for pity's sake? What of the noble lead piping? Why does Miss Scarlet look like Stephanie Beacham circa 1982? I feel like a high court judge when I look at the board, furious and confused.

2. Again, this is a game my children are shit at. The youngest often forgets to show us his cards when he's supposed to. The eldest likes to show us all how clever he is by expounding his deductive reasoning out loud. Both of them forget to write anything down. Nevertheless, Lashes is convinced from about five minutes in that he knows all details of the horrible crime and hastens to the swimming pool (I TOLD YOU, vulgar) where he is proved wrong, and retires to sulk. After that, the youngest and I continue in increasingly mutual confusion until one of us decides to give it a punt. We will also be wrong. Then the last person tries and is also wrong. At this point what usually happens is that we realise that one of the cards is missing, probably under the dog.

1000 Bornes

Does this piece of shit even exist in English? God knows, I hope not for your sakes. It is, I am assured, a French classic, though it used to just be a card game and they have only recently introduced the board version for extra "fun". You are a small plastic car. You must travel 1000 kilometres before the other cars, by playing cards with varying kilometre values, that you pick up from a central pack, while the other players try to stop you by giving you cards with flat tyres, red lights and empty fuel reservoirs.

Ok, my main problem with this game is that you need a green light card to get started. I never, EVER get a green light card. The whole shagging game is usually over before I get a green light card. On the odd occasion that I do manage to limp a few hundred kilometres, one of my children blasts me with a red light and I get stuck again for the remainder of the game. Do I sulk? Yes, yes I do. I am thirty seven years old and I want to win 1000 Bornes for once in my life. Is that too much to ask? (Yes)

Bazaar Bizarre

This is like a visual acuity and deductive reasoning test and unsurprisingly, I fail every single time. There are 5 wooden figures: a red chair, a green bottle, a grey mouse, a blue book and a white ghost. There is a pack of cards. On each card there is some combination of some of the figures, but the colours are mixed up. Or they might not be. You have to find EITHER: the thing that is missing, OR the thing that is accurately represented on the card. Confused? Yes, that is normal, you are supposed to be if you aged over 10. I have stopped even trying to play: it is hopeless, I am far too slow to ever win a round, and the risk of injury from my children's fingerclaws is too high.

I think I nurture a particular prejudice against this, because it is one of those really wholesome Germanic board games that cost a million Euros and which your children tire of within 30 seconds because they are both boring and complex. Though at least this one comes with extra violence, I suppose.

Which board games do you play, gentle readers? Do you hate them all? Am I missing some gem which will reconcile us all?

(*Any suggestions that I am prejudiced against board games because my redundancy leaving present after 11 years service was a board game called 'Anti-Monopoly' are frivolous and unfounded.)


iknowhim said...

Very illuminating. Was forced to play 'Harry Potter' Cluedo at Christmas. There were no murders or weapons just abductions and spells. The rules were so complicated it took us 2 hrs to work out how to play it, by which time the kids had buggered off to watch a dvd leaving the adults to argue.

And don.t get me started on bloody Yahtzee!

MargotLeadbetter said...

My heart sinks whenever there is a suggestion that we play a game. It is learning the rules that hurts the most, as I have seem to have lost any knack I once had for reading and understanding instructions.

Although having said that, I love a game of rummy or trivial pursuits, although only with grown ups.

Also, I once enjoyed sweet victory at dominoes at a domino and beetle drive in our village when I was about nine. This was in many ways the high point of my life so far.

Hannah said...

I AM SO HAPPY YOU ARE BACK!! Sadly i will have no time for cocktails as i am leaving Belgium on Monday. Sad times. However I will obviously continue reading.

Also, I harbour a genuine feeling of seething resentment about a particular UNO incident with my mother. I feel angry just thinking about.

I stopped spending christmas day with my parents because I couldn't face the board games any longer. My mum is lovely every other day of the year, but board games at Christmas... It ALWAYS ends in tears. Usually mine. Sometimes my dad's.

Also, risk. Lord of the Rings risk. What a complete fucking nightmare.

Anne V said...

mille bornes as a card game is really fun. except that it's a lot like uno, so you might not like that, either.

also it might not be really fun - it might be that I remember it that as fun because it's a summer house/winter ski trip game in my head, hazed over with reflected fun and splendor, and now that I reflect on this, I am not sure I recall ever finishing a game. which makes the funnishness questionable.

Narbonnaise said...

So true - Have you ever played Carcassonne ? The one where you "build a city" out of connecting squares ? I bought it 2 years ago, and about 3 times a year I read the intructions, but just can't face actually playing it - the scoring is some kind of fiendish algorithm connected in some very obscure way to whether your characters end up in castles / fields or face down in a ditch- should I bother ?

soleils said...

Narbonnaise: No, you should not. There are many other better things you could do with your time, such as staring at a wall.
I loathe board games and the few times my boys manage to rope me in, I deliberately play like a moron, pretending it's all a big joke (see? I am so not a sore loser! ha ha bloody ha). Then they feel sorry for me and keep saying "cute maman".
I no understand.

Ashleigh said...

I feel like I'm the only person in the world who loves board games but I think that might be because I always win and only recall playing with a child when I was not one myself on one occasion but do I recall that occasion being quite difficult.
It was one of those games with rounds and teams and play dough to mould into things, I can't remember its name. Of course, the child had never heard of any of the songs he was required to hum the tune of etc. Which I quite enjoyed (he was on the opposing team) until it was revealed to me that I was expected to let him win. THAT was where it became difficult but I imagine you're well versed in the art of letting a child win while making it seem like they're actually winning all by themselves..

Sarah said...

Oh God, those sodding strategy games! I went out with someone who was into them, but I used to behave so appallingly in the face of playing them that I was pretty much excused games. I have an awful suspicion that I may have resorted to yelling 'why can't we just have sex, like normal people!' in the face of another jolly evening in. As you can see it has scarred my memory, if not my life ;-)

irretrievably broken said...

In my house growing up we had a "no crying" rule for Monopoly. We would have to take breaks, adjourn to the bathroom while repressing sobs, etc. My stepfather took a vicious pleasure in insisting we play through to the blood-soaked, capitalist end, which may explain why my brother and I are unemployed and my sister is an underfunded documentary filmmaker...

beagle, true-bred said...

Hah -- if Monopoly is an argument in a box, then Taboo is "leave table in supreme huff" in a box. Happens every time -- stay away from it. We like Ubongo (combination of spatial stuff & strategy & luck), Make 'n Break (building stuff against the clock), Sagaland (Memory plus board game -- you also get to send people home) but in my heart of hearts I'm a Boggle player. (We have the American, the German and the truly weird French-Canadian version which is 5x5 and mostly vowels -- unplayable, really). And it's a sign that the kids are getting older and better at language that three-letter words are no longer allowed. Yesss!

Sarah M said...

THANK GOD YOU ARE BACK. While you were going I checked your site, pathetically, almost everyday. Sometimes twice.

Betty M said...

Well I'm glad I'm not the only one who has gone from Memory Champion of Champions to total loser. I can now only beat the 2 yr old.

I refuse to play Monoploy scarred for life by my younger sister the cheating Banker of my youth. Ditto scrabble as I am always stuck with at least 4 identical vowels.

I'd much rather collapse in front of crap telly- evn crap French telly.

mountainear said...

The only advantage of board games is that one doesn't have to put on some horrid synthetic costume to play . Otherwise no advantages. Why not just bicker?

karen said...

Mousetrap. If any one of those plastic pieces is lost, it doesn't work. If it's not put together properly, it doesn't work. If someone knock the board, it doesn't work. Hideous.

Dara said...

I second the notion of Monopoly: Fight, or get bored and abandon? That game just sucks.

I used to play Uno with my first serious boyfriend. We would sit at my kitchen table and he always sat with his back to the window. We were playing at night so I could always see his cards reflected in the window, so I cheated...All The Time and always won. He finally caught on (like 4 months later?!) and was so mad he stormed out. I broke up with him shortly after...I can't abide a man with no sense of humor.
I have to say, my dad did play cards with me. I loved that. He taught me how to play poker and rummy.
My kids like Apples to Apples-it's a word's not too bad.

Clare said...

Settlers of Catan is BRILLIANT. Very easy to learn, but the element of luck is sufficient to ensure that it's possible to win even if you're a bit crap at playing. It's a strategy game, sort of like a cross between Monopoly or Risk. The best thing of all is that a game takes an hour and there is a definite winner/end to the game. None of the dragging on for days that you get with Monopoly or Risk. And sometimes (very occasionally) it is possible to get through the entire hour without arguments.

Elizabeth said...

I just can't be shagged with board games, but I have found that the card game '5 Crowns' works well. It's a bit like Rummy with 5 suits; start with 3 cards when Jokers and 3s are wild, continuing on adding one card to each round. 'It's not over 'til the Kings go Wild'. You don't have to cheat to let the kids win. It's been the big hit over the past few years with all of the households in my boat access community. Anybody who wants company during the summer meets down at the dock anytime after 5 for cards and 'docktails'. Quite blisul really.

Anonymous said...

The American version of Mille Bornes was called "Touring." Dreadful!

Margaret said...

We were OBSESSED with Monopoly, but that's because we didn't follow the rules strictly and played a speed version (deal out the property cards and have a round of trades, plus NO Banker, just an independent bank, which everyone watched like a hawk). The only other games we played were Trivial Pursuit and anything with a Pop-o-matic. Also, poker and canasta.

Oddly, even though my mom played for blood (I never heard about "letting the kid win" until I was an adult), and my grandma cheated at canasta like she was playing for the rent money, there was never much crying.

Re: memory. I played once with my little niece and she annihilated me. She was 4 and I was trying really hard. I'm pretty sure after a while she was easing up on me. The humiliation was total.

Gosh, I missed you!!

Alienne said...

Board games suck your soul out as you play them. I second Karen, Mousetrap is AWFUL. And I too absolutely loathe the new Cluedo - there are just too many rooms and implements and people now, I only have to look at it and I want to clean the kitchen floor instead. But Monopoly is the worst - I will no longer play that with my kids because the fighting makes me want to kill them both.

Flora Fauna Dinner said...

I LOVE board games but am so utterly competitive and vile that people complain at the lack of fun. Board games are not about fun! They are about WINNING. Cranium is probably our most played. Agreed, the modern Cluedo is terribly crass. We were gifted Scrabble Trickster which involves allowing texting acronyms, for shame. We are all slightly obsessed with both the hat game (write nouns on pieces of paper, draw from hat then - in progressive rounds - describe and act them for partner to guess*) and the Rizla game (famous person stuck to head, guess identity via yes/no questions).
In spite of my enthusiasm, I do always reach a point where it seems painfully evident we are all just waiting to die.

*Now be honest, how can sex possibly compare to that?

frau antje said...

A game with sloths sounds good, being someone who very slowly raises one arm, until my center of gravity shifts and I slowly roll over, ending up much closer to my goal. But I thought 1000 Bournes was a drinking game with Matt Damon movies, surely that's great fun for the whole family. We have a board game stashed away that revolves around historical German postal routes ('historical' postal routes, as opposed to those being part of legend or fiction, like the current routes). It's helpful for teaching obscure facts regarding minor aristocratic families, and where beer names come from. Boring, unnecessarily complex, and precludes any ability you ever had to see the forest. Voted best game of the year, because if you disagreed they'd beat the crap out of you. No, really.

Veronica Wald said...

You are a much more scientific researcher and reporter than I am. I just hate them all, no reason.
Thank you.

B said...

So SO lovely to read you in long(ish) form again, beauteous waffle.

Also, Carcassonne, YES. The scoring looks dodgy the first time 'round, but it's loads of fun once you catch on. (Plus, there's enough luck one doesn't feel stupid because one doesn't win every time. And I am an awful loser.)

Anonymous said...

The Waffle's back. Yeah.
Tried Shadows and Hunters this Christmas. My ten year old was game master, it was not too bad, despite hugely complicated rules.


Why is the verification word something as easy as "house"? Is this a trick?

Anonymous said...

We do not have 1000 Bornes except IN FRENCH CLASS. Thereby killing any amusement it might offer.

Ashleigh said...

Until I read this blog post and the subsequent comments I thought memory was a game my mother had invented. We always played it with a standard pack of cards and matched red and black numbers, queens etc with a complete disregard to suit.
I taught it to the child mentioned in my previous comment to stop him from covering all my finger tips with ink (he had just gotten a csi finger print thing for Christmas) and again had to let him win.
The most difficult thing about board games is without a doubt suppressing my awful competitive streak.
I once threw a strop because my boyfriend beat me at frustration but I think that was justified because before then I had never ever lost a game and a 18 year winning streak is a hard thing to let go of.

peter said...

Scrabble is not for children. Scrabble is for adults who can and will eagerly parse the subtle differences in meaning between verbose, prolix, and loquacious and then kick your ass for snickering.

Patience_Crabstick said...

Re your scrabble comment: why is it that bilingual children can't spell? My daughter was in a Spanish immersion school and her spelling is atrocious. My Canadian aunt's children were in French immersion and they can't spell either.

Board games are so tedious, particularly monopoly. Our "memory" set was given to my son by his uber-Catholit aunt and it consists entirely of different images of the Virgin Mary. He loved it and I used to have to play "Mary Memory" with him almost daily.

Nicky said...

Here's another vote for Settlers of Catan, the only game I can/will/want to play. The rest are futile attempts to drag my fuggy brain towards some sort of logical behaviour or my body towards physical feats (e.g. coordination) for which it was never designed. Settlers (and all its evil add-on packs) allows my tortuous Machiavellian thought process free reign whilst leaving my body utterly untroubled. Lots of bust-ups though. Which allow me the added pleasure of a luxurious sulk. CATAN!

Anonymous said...

Powergrid is a board game from Germany that comes with the awesome original name 'Funkenschlag'. I remember it being baffling to start with, so maybe not a good one for kids. Otherwise Bananagrams is a good word game for adults and kids as all the players have to construct their own crossword grid with the letters they pick, so noone messes up anyone else's game. First one to complete a grid with all the letters wins.

cruella said...

Oui, I hate board games. I never suggest them; I panic slightly when someone else does because you are supposed to LOVE going into a piece of real socializing now and then. My brother-in-law is the worst, his three boys follow suit.

Monopoly, strangely, is something I can handle. Best way to play: Set a time limit at max 2 hours, then count the money.

Cali369 said...

I'm a cautious game fan, good ones are great, bad ones are tedious and dull. I've picked up a few suggestions from here. I have 3 stepsons (12,14 & 16) and current faves are Rummikub (a variant of rummy with tiles) and The Really Nasty Horseracing Game (this can be long though 90mins +) and will definitely make some cry! Perennial fave is 'Who's in the Bag' which seems like a cross between the Rizla game and the Hat game, choice of 3 famous people on a card (including a kid friendly option) which you have to describe to your team. As many as you can before the timer runs out.

Anonymous said...

Hello, battleships? Used to love playing that with my brother who had strong military leanings. But I was smarter and it used to annoy the hell out of him whenever I won... :) good times!

Anonymous said...

another vote for settlers of catan... I'm not a big fan of board games, but played this with family over the holidays and did not mind it... even won.
welcome back!

Camilla said...

The Settlers of Catan lovers have clearly forgotten that nobody should be trusted with a trading mechanic, especially not children or inlaws.

janerowena said...

The Great Game of Britain (Steam trains version)

I know, I know... I bought it for my anorak husband, but now it's the only family game I can face. It starts off so innocuously, but eventually you end up having to be incredibly cruel to your nearest and dearest - it's hilarious! You can, of course, be kind, if you don't mind losing to your sons...

Brandon Butler said...

I don't blame you, these games suck. You need to try something like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, or Dominion.

lionelmessi10 said...

cara mengobati kemaluan keluar nanah obat kemaluan keluar nanah ujung kemaluan keluar nanah obat penis keluar nanah kelamin pria keluar nanah obat kelamin pria keluar nanah obat kelamin pria keluar nanah mengapa alat kelamin keluar nanah kemaluan laki laki keluar nanah kemaluan keluar nanah kemaluan keluar cairan nanah mengapa kemaluan keluar nanah cairan nanah keluar dari kemaluan kencing perih dan keluar cairan nanah cairan nanah keluar dari kemaluan pria mengapa cairan nanah keluar dari kemaluan kemaluan pria keluar nanah penyebab kemaluan keluar cairan nanah cara mengobati kemaluan keluar nanah kemaluan keluar nanah di sertai perih saat kencing mengobati kemaluan keluar nanah pada pria mengobati kemaluan keluar cairan nanah pada pria mengobati kelamin keluar nanah mengobati kemaluan pria yang keluar nanah