Q: “My family loves playing board games at the cottage, but I’m not a fan. I think most games are boring. (My sister says I’m a “weirdo.”) I will play one or two rounds to be a good sport, but I usually just end up reading a book while they play. How can I suggest switching things up without taking away from their fun?”
A: Board games are enduring fixtures of pretty much every cottage place, filling drawers and closets and blanket boxes with a geological record of game-dom that can reach back to a Parcheesi board that has been in the family since the Boer War. Even people who don’t play games at their regular homes will have a hoard of cardboard entertainments up at the lake, which is a bit odd, but maybe it’s because the family cottage is the one place where enough people gather to provide the critical mass you need for board game play. It really doesn’t matter, though, because board games, like s’mores and sunburn and mosquito repellant, having been specifically named in the Book of Cottage, are mandatory things. So it is written.
I think some cottagers who don’t really like board games will play them if necessary, usually to appease a bored child or to “be a good sport,” as you have already noted. So, no, you are not a weirdo. Personally, I dislike most board games because of their utter pointlessness, with moves controlled by cards or dice, and little in the way of mental stimulation. Think Candy Land or Pop-O-Matic Trouble. Risk is all about global domination, which sounds like the best thing ever, but even if you win the game, you actually end up dominating nothing but a sheet of cardboard and some plastic game pieces. And that’s after playing a game that can take days to finish. But what do I know? When I was a child, my very favourite games were Mousetrap and Rattle Battle, mostly because they involved noisy contraptions that drove adults nuts.
I would guess that most cottagers truly do like board games, if only because they represent togetherness and family tradition. I also suspect some people play games because they must always be active and organized and are patently unable to relax and do nothing. Why some people love games more than others is a mystery, but we do know one thing for sure: there are about a gazillion different board games out there in the Fun-O-Verse, both old and new. Maybe if you could find a new game, one that you might actually enjoy, you could join in the cottage fun without having to suffer through two hours playing Clue where, spoiler alert, it was Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library.
One way you could escape the misery of Cards Against Humanity or Hungry Hungry Hippos is to get your cottage crew into some games that are more active and less board. For example, I would rather play darts than Bananagrams any day of the week. (Actually, I would rather eat a bran muffin studded with broken glass than play Bananagrams, but that’s just me.) Why not shake things up with proper old-timey action games like horseshoes or ring toss or croquet or lawn darts? Cornhole anyone? I hear the hip kids are even throwing axes at wooden targets these days. Does anybody play mumblety-peg any more? Maybe it’s time to start.
Another way to up your game, so to speak, is to play for real money. The stake amounts are entirely arbitrary so you can play for pennies or real polymer banknotes. Do consider, however, that the higher the stakes, the more exciting your games will become, which translates into a higher level of emotional investment and better motivation. For example, regular Monopoly, using Monopoly money, can be super boring because, well, what’s the point? But swap that cartoon cash for Canadian Pesos and things get real interesting, real fast. Like when your judgemental sister checks into your new hotel on Marvin Gardens. “Who’s the weirdo now, Marcia? You owe me 1,200 bucks!”
The application of real currency to board games is truly transformative. Trust me. Normally I wouldn’t give two hoots if you sunk my battleship. But if you sunk my battleship and now I can’t pay my car insurance because I owe you $900? Well, that’s another, more exciting, kettle of fish entirely, isn’t it?
A lot of the time, cottage board game play is all about keeping children occupied. Which is great, because playing games with children for real money can be tons of fun. Kids are so naive. With really small ones, you can convince them, for example, that your loonie is worth more than their toonie. What’s the harm? For youngsters, the artificial construct of currency is just an abstraction, like the Tooth Fairy. Without being braggy, I will tell you that I am pretty good at Scrabble. But when I play against 10-year-olds, I am all but unbeatable, which is a very nice feeling indeed. Plus, I get to walk away with some extra cash in my jeans. The pay-it-forward benefit when you play children for real money is that you are actually doing them a favour. Beating a grade schooler at Jenga is one thing. But beating her at Jenga and taking $15 worth of Grandma’s birthday money teaches humility and how to appreciate the value of a dollar.
There’s a good chance you won’t be able to change your family’s board game habits. And I doubt you will turn into a game-lover overnight. So you might just want to stick with the status quo and read your books while others play. But if you truly want to warm up to the games thing, a good place to start is with a liberal application of alcohol. Adults only, of course, and here’s the thing: Pong was one of the first video games ever invented, yet nobody remembers it anymore. But when someone added beer to the equation, Beer Pong became the biggest party game in cottage country. It really cracked the code. That’s why playing Snakes and Ladders is dull and can lead to murmuring sadness, but navigating the same board with a pitcher of margaritas is super fun, even when you lose. You could even “gin up” some theme game nights with combos like Mojito Othello or Pina Colada Pictionary. Who wouldn’t love to play Trivial Pursuit of Zinfandel? The same way some good gravy can tune up a milquetoast meatloaf, a touch of tipple can make a good board game better and a bad one bearable. It’s a game changer.
This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of Cottage Life.