Last week, The Opinionated Gamers launched a new series – 138 Games to Play Before You Die! The series began with Go, Sheepshead, Poker, Crokinole, and Pit. This week we continue the series with ten more games, five today and five on Thursday. Proceeding chronologically, we get all the way up to 1949 today and through 1966 by the end of the week.
- Rook -
Matt Carlson: My family heralds from the strongly church-going midwest so regular playing cards were “right out.” Rook is actually a set of cards 1-14 in four colors instead of suits with one unsuited Rook card. Thus, just about any card game can be played with a set of Rook cards. The standard game, however, is a trick taking game along the lines of 500, Spades, or Bridge. Points are scored via collecting 1’s (considered high in a suit – essentially “15’s”), 5’s, 10’s, and the Rook card. In addition to the fond memories of playing this game with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, I find Rook to be one of my favorite trick-taking games. There is bidding that lets you call out your trump suit (unlike Spades), there is none of this “one player sits out every game” found in Bridge’s dummy (or Bridge’s hefty learning curve due to bidding conventions), and the somewhat unique scoring that relies on specific cards allows interesting interplay between partners, sacrificing future powerful cards in order to pass valuable point cards to your partner in the present trick. If you haven’t played 500, Spades, or some similar trick-taking game (even Pinochle – which I swear was created when someone got drunk and decided to make a card game) you owe it to yourself to give them a try. Played with partners, Rook and its ilk are an elegant dance between communication and hand play strategy that has a gripping attraction.
- Bridge -
Joe Huber: One of the more interesting phenomena related to Bridge is that after years and years of the average age of players going up, the trend is reversing. With all of the benefits ascribed to mental activity such as playing Bridge, many folks who learned the game years earlier are taking it up again. Even with this resurgence, there are estimated to be only 25 million Bridge players in the US – a far smaller percentage of the population than in the game’s heyday, but a huge number as compared to the hobby game market.
But above and beyond helping the game to pass the “Will there be people to play it with?” test, Bridge is a game I’d suggest that everyone try – in the right company. Starting by playing tournaments, with players taking the game very seriously, is probably not the right environment for the Bridge neophyte. But a casual game – Social Bridge, as it’s often referred to, or a lunchtime game – can be far more forgiving, as players look to have fun first, and sharpen their skills second. The lunchtime game that I run at work struggled a little for a while, as we weren’t bringing in enough new players to replace those who retired or went elsewhere. But we’ve taught enough new folks that the game is now on sound footing, and ready to start recruiting still more players.
Larry: Bridge is the only game that I’ve devoted significant time to away from the table, and I’ve read many books in an attempt to get better at it. And this wasn’t for tournament Bridge but Rubber Bridge, the social game Joe talks about. It’s an amazing game, with almost limitless variety and scope for skill. The learning curve is very steep, but anyone who considers themself a serious card player needs to try out Bridge, the King of Card Games.
- Monopoly -
Matt Carlson: As much as gamers love to hate it, it remains a classic. It’s worst quality is the over-saturation of the market, and thus its reach tends to limit the public’s exposure to other games. It’s one of the best “roll and move” game of which I’m aware. Played correctly (no “Free parking” money, etc…) the game is quick and doesn’t outstay its welcome. If you haven’t given this game a chance using the “correct” rules, perhaps another shot is in order. Gamers who enjoy heavy interaction in their games can easily kick the game up a notch by introducing non-binding agreements between players in addition to normal deed swaps. (While the rules prohibit lending money between players, they don’t specifically outlaw giving money away.) I once played a game where I was the primary developer of most of the early hotels in the game, despite not owning a “monopoly” set of my own…
- Scrabble -
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: Scrabble is probably one of the few games that is really part of the collective imagination and a very nice game that can be played easily by all and interesting both for casual and usual gamers. I’m not a fan of this game but I’m sure it has to be in this list.
Patrick Korner: Scrabble transcends gaming culture in a way few other games do. It is also an odd word game, in that the words really don’t matter. Peruse the Scrabble dictionary and you’ll find all sorts of odd, obscure, and downright bizarre words. Scrabble players don’t really care about the definitions, either – it’s just a collection of letters that happens to fit where I want it to. Scrabble is really a pattern-making game that happens to use letters instead of numbers, yet something about teasing order from the chaos on your rack is intensely satisfying.
Scrabble is one of the so-called “lifestyle” games that can consume a person and leave them with no time to pursue any other pastimes. Competitive clubs, competitions, and the like abound, and the subculture is pretty hardcore. I highly recommend reading Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, it does a better job than I ever could in explaining the game’s appeal. Although spending many evenings as a child playing Scrabble with my parents, and pinning my occasional wins up on the wall probably has something to do with why I love this game…
Brian Leet: Patrick perfectly captures the lifestyle element of this game. Scrabble, more than any other game I know, is the single game played by many people. There is something about the formulation of this game to leverage the part of our brains that processes language and matches it with the part that looks for patterns in things. The result is a sort of gaming addiction that is culturally acceptable because no part of this game explicitly references gambling, magic, or the like. But, make no mistake, the hard core can memorize word lists in pursuit of perfection just as an avid chess player might study a book of openings.
- Clue -
Greg Schloesser: For me, Clue is the definitive “Whodunnit?” game and the perfect family game. Clue has influenced dozens of other games and practically created an entire gaming genre. It was a favorite game of my childhood, and I still have fun playing it when the opportunity arises. Trying to deduce whether it was Mr. Green in the Conservatory with the lead pipe, or Mrs. White in the Library with the revolver was always so exciting and tense. Yes, there is a lot of dice rolling, which translates into a considerable amount of luck when attempting to move to various locations. Fortunately, gamers can easily fix that if it proves too problematic.
Larry: I’ve always been fascinated with deduction games, which is why I designed my own. But it all started with Clue (or more properly, Cluedo, as it’s called in Britain, where it was first published). We played as a family during the sixties and my mom would fill every inch of her record sheet with cryptic notes. Naturally, she trounced my brother and I, who were only recording things we had seen. That was an early indicator that there was more to this deduction stuff than simple process of elimination.
Clue is perhaps the least likely of the “classic” board games, as most people claim they like to play games to relax and not think too hard. But it was so original and well thought out that it’s been a staple of family gaming for over 60 years. Anyone who likes these kinds of games owes it to themself to check out the original, which still has a lot to offer.
To be continued…