Scrabble, Risk and Why I Haven’t a Clue

I’m coming to realize that I don’t reflect on the past enough.

If I stop and take a minute to reminisce, I do remember my grandfather—Roy—fondly. He lived what seemed like forever away to a young boy, but his home always smelled warm, inviting, and scented with whatever potpourris my grandmother had laid out, often times with a fire going in a small nook fireplace, annexed to his dining room. My grandfather would greet our family, but I always felt like I was the one he was waiting for, and he would take me onto his knee, bony as it was, and we would talk about everything my younger self found important. Though many specific conversations have faded, there are still a few memories that remain vivid: watching him work on his fully functioning model train set that took up half of the basement, playing Lode Runner, Jack Sprat, and Olympics on his Apple (with the huge floppy disks), and, lastly, board games.

My grandfather loved words and language, which has played a significant role in who I’ve become. I can recall reading the dictionary for leisure while learning and applying new words, and even today I work as an American Sign Language Interpreter. So, in a way, I’m in the word business. The lazy-Susan Scrabble game with the plastic gridded board was his game of choice, and a Scrabble dictionary was always handy. I’m sure I was constantly and soundly beaten, but I don’t remember ever losing, as the steady rolling of the well-worn ball bearings kept me entertained from turn to turn. Wssh wssh! However, I DO recall Grandpa having a “newer” computer that had a Scrabble game and a computer opponent named Mavin. Mavin was a word wiz, and would constantly challenge Grandpa’s mettle. Even so, he would sit me on his lap, and we would work together to beat Mavin, often times looking up his words to hopefully use them against him at a later time. Thinking back on Mavin, I still feel heat rising up in my chest, while consternation is starting to knit my brows into a full on furrow. MAAAVIN! Phew, okay… Breathe in, breathe out…

Thankfully, my two uncles also love board gaming and, at the time, were young enough to live at home with my grandparents. Risk was their game of choice. Little wooden cubes, slightly elongated three-sided round-edged blocks all of different colors denoting army/allegiance, a game board of the world, and a whale with a sailors cap. The wood smell, the dice clacking on the table, and games lasting for hours while armies strategically made their way across continents. Aptly named Risk, the risk taking—now called a push-your-luck mechanic, I believe—went hand in hand. Sure, you may have 10 armies holed up in Siam, but I want Australia and I’m willing to pit my five armies against your 10, because I can roll three dice at least twice! Whether winning or losing, the thrill of taking over the world beckoned me, and I fell in love. Games of Risk became quicker, more of my siblings got involved, and world domination suddenly became a personal affair.

It’s funny now talking about enjoying Risk, as many of my current fellow gamers (serious and otherwise) speak so poorly of Risk, despite my advocating how quick of a game it can be, especially in light of how long even set up can take on modern day games (I’m looking at you, Xenoshyft, Near and Far, etc…). I still hold a special place in my heart for Risk, and much of that love is what spurred on my continued interest in gaming in general!

Years later my family was gathered around the table for some card games, dice games, and board games. When we’d had our fill of party games, we transitioned out to play Clue (Cluedo outside of the US) and began set up. Clue was a game that we seldom had played, but enjoyed when we did. Putting the three cards (person, place, and weapon) into the top secret envelope, I chose my character (Prof. Plum: purple is my favorite color) and rolled a 6. I made my way to the study. Upon my second roll, I went into the study and made my first accusation, Mrs. White, in the Study, with the Lead Pipe. My younger brother to my left checked his sheet and couldn’t contradict the guess. Passing to my mom, then my sister, no one could prove the accused character’s innocence, nor could they refute the room or the weapon choice. At that point, I checked my own sheet to see if I had erred: I hadn’t. Much to the disbelief my family was throwing around, I opened the envelope to reveal Mrs. White, the Study, and lastly the Lead Pipe. I had won on my very first accusation! My family was so upset that we didn’t play Clue again for the rest of the night. Incidentally, even to present day we haven’t touched Clue again, and even after marriage and having children of my own, Clue remains buried in our game closet. We have since replaced it with Outfoxed!, which I believe is my mother’s saving grace (she still rolls her eyes when I mention Clue), as it doesn’t matter if we guess correct quickly, because we are all about catching the fox and not beating each other.

Now-a-days gaming in my home can be just as volatile, if not more so, as my wife has joined the crew. I often joke—though sometimes I wonder—that my wife comes to the gaming table with divorce papers in hand! She gets so over-the-top competitive that most of our gaming sessions are cut-throat and she holds no mercy! We’ve been married for just over eight years, but I’ve rarely seen my wife come as alive as she does when she’s playing a gotcha or take-that game and is gotcha or take-that-ing me! Even when we are playing team games she gets no satisfaction being on my team, even if we win. She would rather be on someone else’s team and try to stomp me into the ground. I’m sure there’s some psychoanalytical path you could venture down, but instead I have since made a heavy lean towards cooperative games. It doesn’t spark the fire in her like competitive games. We’ll sit down to a one vs. one game of Love Letter, and she is bent to get those love letters through to the Princess. I love my wife.

Amidst the craziness of different gaming ventures, I am able to look back through time and find myself thankful. My grandfather passed away when I was 12 or 13, at that time there was a cacophony of life changes happening around me and to me, but there is one memory I hold on to. The church he attended was a smaller church that had recently built a new building: expansive, two tiers of seating, and quite overwhelming to my young teen self. For the funeral the church was packed—both tiers—and the minister moved to a time for comments/memories people wanted to share about my grandpa. There were fewer attendees that didn’t comment than did, and most focused on how my grandfather’s greeting them and following up with them from week to week had deeply impacted their lives. He lead an adult Bible study for a while as well, but again a mass majority of the comments dealt with him as a greeter. It is imprinted on my heart the outlook he maintained in life. He did something seemingly simple; he greeted church-goers. At the same time, my grandfather’s actions had such a weighty impact, all while doing what he believed was God’s will. I imagine they all felt like they were the ones he was waiting to greet, just as I had felt so many years ago. God had worked through my grandfather, and I could see the evidence of this, and it stuck: do everything for God. Don’t worry about the perceived “importance” but remember who we do things for. There are more stories I could recount about my grandpa, but I can say with confidence that his impact in the small things has rippled into waves of importance when I’m confronted with the big things. My faith was planted by him, and after his passing I learned to rely on God, who continued to water those seeds my grandpa sowed during Scrabble.

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