Living

Games are for the bored and the board

Catan, created in the 1990s in Germany, is credited with making board games again popular in America although some argue they’ve remained popular among those who prefer playing at a table with real people.
Catan, created in the 1990s in Germany, is credited with making board games again popular in America although some argue they’ve remained popular among those who prefer playing at a table with real people. Special to the Sun Herald

I’m bored, so lets bring out the board games.

I want to gather around a table to laugh and hiss at friends and family as we trounce each other in Catan, Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, Barboursville Train, Carcassonne, Labyrinth, Castle, or any number of other games that happily claim resting space in the hall closet.

But no one wants to be near me, afraid this elongated bout with a coughing virus is catching. So my closet games gather dust, the housework gets ignored, the bed gets overused and the cough-addled brain doesn’t know what to write this week.

Hmmm, I think I’ll first direct my bored status at the gambling industry. I’m unhappy that this risk-taking, monied industry has co-opted the word “gaming” as a euphemism for gambling.

When I was a kid, “gaming” simply meant a competitive activity with a set of rules that involve skill, chance and/or endurance on the part of two or more players.

We Baby Boomers didn’t know playing board games kept cognitive skills sharp and the competitive juices flowing. We were just having fun — and maybe beating a smug sibling at something.

To be a gamer then was to haul out the boards. The most difficult decision was to decide which one to play. Clue then and now is a favorite because I enjoy deductive reasoning. I liked Monopoly but don’t make a good land baron. Checkers with older folk was always rewarding.

When I was a young adult, the knowledge-testing game Trivial Pursuit was all the rage. Charades isn’t technically a “board” game but you could count all the close-at-hand props as your game pieces.

Whiz forward to “aging” adulthood and I still love to play games. When I juggled both newsroom work and teaching Mississippi Coast history in Road Scholar programs, I learned about a domino game called Mexican Train when after class one night the students asked me to play.

It’s not the dominoes of our grandparents day, although it does use the old-fashioned dotted tiles. There’s a train station, colored engine markers and tiles from which to build trains by connecting dots.

Enamored with the game, I bought my Virginia sister and her husband a set of No. 15 double dominoes. Mark, being an imaginative sort, tweaked the rules to create a more fun version in Virginia we call Barboursville Train. Before the Katrina mermaids stole my dominoes, I played a Biloxi Train version, and when I now play with Gulfport friends, they remind me we should be using the port city name.

Mark is officially “The Commish,” or commissioner of our reworked game, always ready to answer questions when stumped on rules. This family version of Train is now played in other states, even as far away as Switzerland and Ireland.

My Train story segues into the history of games and how they can spread across the world. Did you now that board games are prehistoric? Archaeological evidence proves humans were playing board games before we were writing down our history. The earliest known game pieces are 49 small painted carved stones, aka dice, found in a 5,000-year-old Turkish burial site.

The oldest-known board game that continues today is likely The Royal Game of Ur, discovered in royal tombs in Iraq, with similar pieces found in Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb. Ur supersedes the 2,000 year old Backgammon.

Fast-forward to the 21st century. Time permitting, I, one of my sisters and a good friend play Settlers of Catan once a week. This game involves pirates, robbers and uncharted islands, and its up to us settlers to horse-trade our resource — sheep, wheat, brick and coal. Catan time is our laugh time, mixed with stress-relieving growls and barbs at each other that we would never do in real life.

Catan, a German game dating to the 1990s, is credited with bringing board game popularity back to America. I contend, however, that there are more people like me who never gave them up. As the inimitable Benjamin Franklin once noted, “Games lubricate the body and the mind.”

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.

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