This blog post is an extract from The Board Game Family: Reclaim your children from the screen.
Not all games are created equal. Just because you’ve had one relaxed laughter-filled game-playing evening doesn’t mean it is plain sailing from then on. At some point you may inadvertently launch into a game that brings out the worst in your family. This can feel like a bomb going off and the table may well end up looking like it has. These hazardous games are hiding in every corner, luring in unsuspecting families. Picking your way through the minefield and then defusing the explosive, before donning your hazmat suit to orchestrate a full-scale clean-up, can be a game in itself.
What follows are my top five dangerous games. In my opinion, these should only ever be embarked on when the sun is shining and everyone is in an utterly charitable mood.
The king of the monster argument. Games almost always end messily and often with every player barricaded in a different room of the house, counting to ten very slowly. Scattergories is lethal because it is a seemingly fun and simple party game, but that is all an elaborate front. Game play involves players thinking of a word or phrase that starts with a certain letter and fits into a given category. For example, a colour beginning with S might be scarlet. But would ‘sky-blue pink’ be an acceptable answer? What about sea green? Or siren red? Herein lies the problem. If there are disputes about whether an answer is valid or not – which there invariably are – then the majority decision rules. The ‘game’ revolves around arguing your case and screaming at people who disagree with you. This, combined with the pressure of having to think of ever more brilliant answers within a strict time limit when you are already seething and preoccupied with shooting death stares at your brother, does not a pleasant evening make.
Also watch out for:
- Taboo – ‘That was a STUPID clue … and don’t put that buzzer next to my ear!’
- Scrabble – ‘Is that actually a word?’
As one Board Game Geek forum-user put it, ‘Dimplomacy [sic] doesn’t start arguments so much as decade-long feuds.’
This is a game of European domination, in which you can only succeed by making alliances with other nations and then subsequently breaking them. Except if you are Italy. If you are Italy, you are playing at such a disadvantage that you really have no chance at succeeding anyway. The game takes three hours, at least, and much of this time is spent waiting for people who have gone off to another room to discuss alliances (or to pretend to discuss alliances) to return. To top it all off, you could be losing from very early on in the game, without much chance of an amazing comeback. Even if you are winning, you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to enjoy the game when there are so many miserable people surrounding you. Backstabbing and betrayal are the lifeblood of the game and it’s easy for the blood to spill into family relationships. We had a copy of Diplomacy when I was a child. We only played it once.
Also watch out for:
- Intrigue – ‘But I gave you a massive bribe to do that.’
- Risk – ‘You told me those armies were there for defence!’
This is a deception game that leaves you wondering whether you can trust anyone any more. Players are secretly assigned different roles and they have to discover the werewolf in the pack before it kills them. The better you are at lying, the more likely you are to win. You need to convince the other players that they should trust you, even if they can’t. While this doesn’t seem to cause a problem between friends, when couples or families play together, the deception is much harder to take. Spouses, shocked at how easily convinced they were, end up wondering what else they’ve been lied to about. Siblings become paranoid and unable to forgive and forget. Only bring this to the table if you are prepared to never look at your family in the same way again.
(Teenagers often really love social deduction games, however. So it can be a good way to get them to the table, if you don’t mind them revealing their true colours as master manipulators and bare-faced liars!)
Also watch out for:
- The Resistance – ‘You seriously don’t trust me? After all we’ve been through!’
- Munchkin – ‘I can’t believe you’re using the Kneepads of Allure on me – after I used my Boots of Butt Kicking to help you defeat the Level 20 Plutonium Dragon.’
In theory it is great – a simple concept with a complex strategy that keeps you engaged for years and years. There are lots of good points about Bridge, but you’d have to have a robust relationship to withstand a Bridge partnership. Bridge relies on silent communication between partners, who are playing independently but together. It would really help if you had X-ray vision or psychic powers, but for us mere mortals, we need to rely on our best predictions to know what cards our partner is holding. Even if you’ve been playing with the same partner for years, there are so many ways to make mistakes, they are completely unavoidable. The co-dependence on your partner’s play is a hotbed of potential disputes. Several Bridge partnerships have even ended in murder. I rest my case.
Also watch out for:
- Hanabi – ‘Well, you never told me I had that!’
- The Mind – ‘Why would you only wait five seconds to play number 63?’
(…though these two are both terrific games if you’re of a robust disposition.)
Everyone has a disastrous Monopoly story to tell. The player in the lead may be thoroughly enjoying the game, but at the expense of all others, whose demise can be oh so painfully slow. In 2016, Hasbro even set up a Monopoly Helpline at Christmas to help families solve their disputes. A board game with a helpline – enough said.