Growing up, my parents had the most beautiful chess board. It was black and white marble, veined with a mossy green streak, and topped with intricately moulded pewter figures.
And I remember them playing precisely three times.
I'm not certain why, but the story goes that Mum kept winning. Not just by one clever move after a hard-fought campaign, but absolutely thwomping Dad so thoroughly that he never wanted to play again.
While his desire to end the gameplay probably had a bit to do with the social construct of masculinity and competitiveness in the 1970s and 80s (remember, this was the time of Rocky and Rambo), it probably didn't help that Mum seemed to enjoy her success a little TOO much, and perhaps without the customary grace that pervaded the rest of her life.
So now, my husband and I have taken up playing board games. Play for adults is important -- it can help lower stress and anxiety, it helps us connect with others, and is good for continued brain development. And it's also just good, clean fun.
Here are three things I've learned about playing board games that will keep it light, and not make you want to poke your beloved in the eye with a pointy game piece.
1. Collaborative games are best
There are many different types of board games but they can be broadly broken into collaborative and, well, fight-to-the-death combative.
Collaborative games allow the players to take actions that lead to a greater good and are usually played with cards open for all players to see. Players work together to create strategies to win against a set of circumstances.
A good example is Pandemic, a popular game created by Matt Leacock who thought "there were too many games on the market where a single player would end up dominating the others, leaving them handcuffed." (But that's a whole other game for two players.)
And a noble goal it is, freeing the world from four deadly infections before we're all wiped out. The nice thing about this game is that you're actually talking to each other -- "If you go to Bogata and clear that outbreak, I can then build a research facility in Milan" -- and a sense of mutual achievement when the world is safe once more.
Rather than one half of your marriage sitting dejected in the corner after being overrun by four disease epidemics with quite unpleasant side effects.
2. Avoid punitive actions
So you've decided to disregard the above, spectacularly brilliant, advice and play a head-to-head game with your love. No offense taken! I was just trying to save your tears and your family unit!
There is a way to save yourself from the darker parts of board gaming, and that is to create your own rules. Particularly, to rule things out.
When we play The Manhattan Project, a charming little game where you race to build plutonium and uranium bombs and arm your bombers, we have simply cut out two parts of the game.
First, no espionage. Second, no fighter jet attacks on the other person's factories.
Let's just say it started with a simple fighter jet flyby, and ended with, "But why were you shooting at my yellowcake mine, you seemed to really enjoy bombing me! It was like you wanted to hurt me. I'M NEVER PLAYING THIS WITH YOU EVER AGAIN".
Erm, yes. Cutting out game elements that don't work for you is good for you.
3. Be gracious in victory
ALLOWED: "Wow, that was great fun! Thanks for the game darling. Let's play that again sometime."
NOT ALLOWED: "Ha! I absolutely pummelled you! Did you see the bit where I manoeuvred to block you from access to water and you died of heat exhaustion far from home in the desert! That was AWESOME. So, what does that make it now, six wins in a row for me? I'm not sure I want to play this game again though, it's a bit easy for me and I just keep winning.
At the end, board games are fun, are meant to be fun, and you might want to play them again. So stay gracious and you'll have a willing partner for life.