Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Game Night in the Digital Age

Games have certainly changed in the last few decades.  Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled by my very first video game, the classic Atari 2600,  but it didn't replace the stacks of boxes in the closet, each filled with hours of endless possibilities.  There is something I appreciate in the ritual of setting up a game board, feeling the weight of the game pieces in your hand, watching that stack of Monopoly money grow.

Some may disagree with me but games today have grown impersonal - a player and their box, connected to another player somewhere else and their box. And heaven forbid the Farmville server go down, lest two thirds of Facebook users stage a coups.  So let's put down the Angry Birds for a few moments and go back in the not so distant past and talk about a few classic games that not only make beautiful additions to your home, but can be enjoyed with friends and family.


Tic Tac Toe, or Noughts and Crosses if you are from the other side of the pond,  is one of the oldest games played in history, dating back to the Roman Empire in the first century BC.  Called Terni Lapilli, it was a simple two player game on a 3 x 3 grid, with each player only possessing three game pieces, allowing the game to continue rather than end in the usual draw in the modern version.  Because of its straightforward nature, and limited number of game result possibilities, Tic Tac Toe was the first game written to be played on a computer.


In spite of its name, Chinese Checkers was invented in America in 1884 by a Harvard surgeon who called the game Halma, from the Greek meaning "to jump." This first version was played on a square board, allowing for a maximum of 4 players.  The object of the game is to hop or jump your marbles from your corner to the opposite corner using single hops or jumps over other marbles.  Pieces always remain in play, so no worry of "losing your marbles". The clever Germans adapted the board in 1892, making it in the shape of a star, allowing for 6 players and calling the came Stern-Halma or Star-Halma.  When the Pressman Game Company wanted to market this game as a toy,  they called the game Hop Ching Checkers sheerly for marketing purposes and the name Chinese Checkers developed from there.


In my house, we were big card players.  I learned to play Solitaire while barely in grade school, though my Barbies will never confess how many times I cheated.  We grew to trust that a deck of cards could be counted on for hours of entertainment.  Laughter and healthy rivalry over a game of Spades or Pinochle frequently appeared at most family functions - and I cherish those memories more than any game of Wii.

In these times of financial difficulty, some say the inexpensive tradition of family game night is making a comeback. I say - bring it on!


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