Saturday, December 31, 2005

Holiday Family Gaming

My parents live in Ridgefield (WA) just a short drive up the freeway from Vancouver (WA). Yesterday we drove down for the afternoon to pay them a holiday visit. My sister Carrie was up from San Francisco for the holidays and my sister Becky's kids from Vancouver came by to keep our kids company. (Ironically, Becky and her husband Rich are in Seattle visiting friends so we missed seeing them this time.)

Our family has a tradition of playing games whenever we get together. The game of choice for my brothers, sisters and parents has long been Hearts. We usually play with two decks since there are so many of us. Hearts is hardly my favorite game and with any other group I'd probably never ask to play it but at our family get-togethers I always have a good time because of the company and the conversation. Conversation has always been an important part of our Hearts games. Bad jokes, movie quotes, puns and stories have long been a fixture around the table. In times like these, the game is really much more of an excuse for us to socialize than a competition.

For the last few years, I've been bringing different games with me whenever we visit. I think deep down inside I've got this secret hope that something else will catch on as the family game but I'm very sensitive about not wanting to spoil a tradition. There's something to be said about playing a game where everybody already knows the rules and feels so comfortable with it that they can play almost without thinking about the game. I try and bring a small variety of games. Usually, I choose something that's very simple to teach because I know that most of my family members aren't willing to learn anything very complicated. I also try to bring things that are light so we can talk while we play. This isn't the right setting for a deep gamer's game. Card games are a good choice because they're familiar and my family has a card playing tradition. (And it doesn't hurt that they pack so small.) I also bring one or two children's games because my parents are always happy to play a children's game with their grand kids.

This visit was unusual for a couple of reasons. First of all, this time I made a conscious decision to let others suggest we play a game. Of course I was itching to play something from the moment I walked in the door but I reluctantly admit that I'm a little weird that way. Turns out that was the right thing to do. My sister asked me if I'd brought anything to play and so I introduced her to Fairy Tale. We didn't have time to play more than a single hand before lunch but she seemed to enjoy it.

The other reason that this visit was unusual was that we didn't play Hearts! Instead, when it came time for the big "adults game" to get started, I cautiously asked if they'd like to try something different and we played Sticheln. That went over very well. I was very pleased to see that they quickly "got it", adeptly and openly discussing strategies and gleefully chuckling whenever anyone got stuck with a hand full of negative points. They're a smart bunch. There were only a few blunders and everybody had a great time. My mom did terribly in our one practice hand but then we reset the scores and she went on to thrash us, finishing up with around fifty points when the second best score was in the teens. My father was the surprising big loser. He's a brilliant guy and he usually beats us at whatever we play but he had a couple of disastrous tricks and in Sticheln, that's all it takes.

We also got Ghost Grove to the table. Grandma had played Spooky Stairs with us during a visit a few weeks ago and she was quick to ask if we'd brought "that ghost game". When I told her we'd brought the sequel she was delighted to try it out. Jessica (5), Matt (8) and I played as well but we couldn't talk Kylie (Jessica's young cousin) into playing with us at first. I can tell she's a little afraid of playing games, probably afraid of loosing or feeling foolish. But once the game got going she quickly became interested as a spectator and as soon as we finished, she begged to play it with us. That was a nice success.

All in all it was a lovely visit filled with good food, good games, and great company. I'd call that a successful day.


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