As is quite obvious, I’m a big fan of playing board games with my family. But I must admit, I usually focus more on the benefits of playing with my children than with other family members.
But recently I’ve been touched by comments from fellow board game enthusiasts who have lost parents or grandparents and shared their memories of playing games with them – not just as a child, but well into adulthood. These experiences have shaped relationships and will have a continued impact on how loved ones are remembered.
So I’ve been thinking about my own Mum and what it means to me to be able to play games with her – as an adult.
Mum is 82 at the moment and mentally very lively. When she’s not teaching (she retired for the third time last year but remains available for cover!) or tutoring me through my OU maths degree, she’s diving into new published board games or helping me playtest various iterations of my own designs. Here are some reasons why I like playing with Mum.
- Board games give us something lovely to do together where we can compete (and cooperate) as equals.
- Board games give a little structure to our visits without needing to go out. We live close enough to spend the day together, but not close enough to pop round for coffee. We can easily spend an entire afternoon moving from one game to the next… to the next.
- Mum is never too busy to play. When we’re together, there is nothing more pressing. We are just spending time together. There is nothing else that she needs to do.
- She will play anything I put in front of her. Her gung ho spirit allows me to try lots of different sorts of games, themes and mechanics. She has her preferences, but she’ll try anything – at least once.
- Board games give us something to do and something (safe) to talk about. We weave other conversation into the game, but if she wanders into ‘annoying mum’ territory, I can steer back to the game as a focus.
- Mum is very enthusiastic about playing multiple versions of games I’m designing. She likes to see how the games change and how they get better.
- She’s good at giving feedback, being diplomatically honest and being specific about what works and what doesn’t. Mum is analytical and great at problem solving, so she often comes up with excellent suggestions which we immediately test.
- She copes with aplomb when rules are changed halfway through a game.
- I don’t have to have things in good order before I throw something at her. Sometimes I sit down with the barest idea of a game and elaborate and invent with her. I love the fact that Mum is involved in what I’m doing.
- Back at home, Mum continues to think about the games. She often phones or emails later with questions, ideas and suggestions, and I expect she bores her friends with details of all iterations of the games.
Over the years I’ve learned what she likes (easy rules and satisfying conclusions) and what she doesn’t like (lots of fiddly bits and having to think too many turns ahead). I get excited about showing her new games that I’ve picked up or designed. I often play a game with someone else and find myself thinking about how much Mum would like it.
I love the fact that when I get or make a new game, one of my first thoughts is, “When can I play with Mum”.