game on, already…

My brother and I have a reputation (with some people) for playing board games (or any game that comes in a box, with rules), and we’re considered to take it way too seriously or to be too picky about the rules. In our defense, I would like to suggest that this is only a perception that people have, and not actually the reality. I think that many of my friends will speak in my defense, that I love games, don’t take them overly seriously, and have a roaring good time playing them. The one game, in more recent history, that has given us this “reputation”, is Scattergories, and I think it deserves an explanation.

If you recognize yourself in any game descriptions, please understand that all of this is said in love, I am not angry with anyone, and only want to supply an explanation, to rectify an incorrect assumption. I don’t think anyone out there likes to be figuratively patted on the head, as if some of the things they do are highly amusing (like a child), and it’s just assumed that you always behave this way.

I am not a stickler for rules, but when you play a game, such as gin rummy, you follow particular rules. If there is a variation on the original rules, you explain these to whoever you’re playing with. I have played so many card games, in recent years, many of which are variations on a rummy-style game (Phase 10, Quiddler, Five Crowns), that I have to check the rules before I play each game. These rules are there for a reason, so that you will understand how to win, and you can figure out whether there’s any strategy involved. If you don’t understand the rules completely, you can’t completely understand the game you’re playing, or you might not even be able to win.

I have always liked word games, such as Scrabble, Boggle, and Scattergories. All rely on a knowledge of worlds, though not all of them require you to be able to spell correctly. You concentrate on the quantity of words, pick out words with the largest amount of letters, or try and think of words that all begin with the same letters. But I still like them, even after I get consistently beaten by my friends and family. It’s challenging, and when you finally beat your unbeatable cousin, just once, you feel like you just won a marathon.

Scattergories is a word game where you roll the die, and then you come up with twelve words, beginning with the letter on the die, that fall into the twelve assigned categories. The rules are simple, but in this game, you can be easygoing or more strict about whether someone’s answer is correct. “Wet water” is not only an redundant, but is an attempt to get extra points by using an additional adjective. Therefore, you can’t use it. But “knuckle sandwich”, while clever, isn’t an actual sandwich that you can eat, but it’s allowed, since it’s an actual turn of phrase.

As you may guess, there can be differences of opinion, as some people have a harder time coming up with answers, so they come up with more random answers. But when I was growing up, I often played with two different types of people. One of them wanted their words to count, even if my brothers and I disagreed, so we got the “what I say goes” attitude. When you’re unable to argue with a forceful personality, it takes a bit of the fun out of playing, because part of the rules of the game are that you can have a good-natured debate over the words, and even take a vote. The other type is the person who expresses themselves in a charming, persuasive, and even humorous way, who thinks that their sheer audacity in suggesting this word should allow it, and if you say no, you’re just being mean. Either of these types are hard to argue with, because when it all comes down to it, “it’s just a game”, and what are you complaining about?

But games are fun because of their rules, not aside from their rules. If you have a good laugh over it, that’s a bonus. Even Apples to Apples is mainly surrounded by hilarity, and the winner of each round is chosen just because of the reader’s personal opinion, which may have no basis in fact or reality. But since you know that right from the start, you swing with it, and play with those rules. I’ve had amazing games of Apples to Apples, because if you know the personalities of your friends, you pick your descriptive card based on that. It’s personal preferences, but if I know that a friend considers “vampire” or “Darth Vader” to be a trump card, why wouldn’t I play it? You know this from the get-go, and these are the rules you follow.

So, when my brother and I were reintroduced to Scattergories, as adults, we found ourselves confronted by some people that lean towards the idea of “sure, that’s fine” or “if I give you yours, then you get mine”. The attitude suggests that the rules of debate are null and void, and that people that argue that “oats are not an ethnic food” are being a little silly to get bothered by any of it, because remember, “it’s just a game”.

However, I think a game can be great fun, and you can still follow the rules correctly. I am not protesting that hand lotion and hand cream are the same thing, and therefore both people should cross them off their lists, in order to upset anyone, or to take this overly seriously. I am arguing the issue because the rules say that you can debate it, and people can come to a consensus.

Anyone who reads this will probably think that I’m upset (I’m not) and that I’m taking this too seriously (you can think that, if you want). I am writing about this, because it was on my mind, and I do a better time at expressing myself in writing (ask my friends about my paper written in defense of Christmas trees). No other reason.

Have you ever expressed an opinion, and gotten the feeling that people find you childishly amusing, and “let’s just humor them”, and then they don’t even hear what you’re trying to say? People make assumptions about others, and sometimes, they never get over them. I am not talking about this because I’m obsessive compulsive, when it comes to games. I am talking about this, because I want my opinion to count.

If you’re so lackadaisical about the rules, because “hey, they came up with answer, so let them have the points”, then where is the challenge in playing? I found that between the vestiges of jet lag or the tiredness that comes from mono, my wits weren’t completely with me, when we were playing Scattergories. I didn’t get very good scores, and didn’t come up with a lot of good words. But if you give me a good reason why my word choice doesn’t count, I’ll hear you out. And I hope you’ll do the same for me. The discussion options are in the rules, so I’m not being a fanatic. I just want to follow the directions that have been laid out, so everyone can have a fun AND challenging time.

Doesn’t anybody else like a challenge? Whether you’re playing Guesstures, Balderdash, Mad Gab, or Chronology, all of these games have their own challenges. Accept them and enjoy them, but don’t decide anyone is nitpicky, because they want to play them properly.

Now, who’s up for another game of Scattergories?

2 thoughts on “game on, already…

  1. Ooooh, I agree with you. I love the rules by which to play because catching people out and throwning down challenges can be hilarious fun, but I also love the “house rules” that modify the game slightly. For instance, in Monopoly, do you pay the fee/tax money into the middle of the board, and then whomever lands on Free Parking gets the pot? It’s not in the rules, and yet I’ve always played that way. Also, every now and again we’ll get the grown-ups together to play a themed game of Scrabble; our “jive” version of the game – with all of the misspellings and not-found-in-Webster’s is legendary in our family.

    • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with house rules, as long as everyone understands them and follows them. My brothers (all of them) and I regularly got annoyed with house rules at my cousin’s house, because they understood them and we didn’t, so we got creamed, which we never thought was fair. I think everyone plays Monopoly that way, the game company has just never taken the time to add that brilliant rule to theirs.

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