The Triad of Evil Board Games

You’re no doubt familiar with those family game night commercials – where the kinfolk are gathered around the dining room table playing Sorry! or The Game of Life. Sister makes a pun as she wins the game. Brother does the “Aw, shucks” arm swing. Mom and dad guffaw and give each other the “Isn’t our spawn darling?” eye gaze.

Don’t let them fool you. It’s all marketing smoke and mirrors, I tell you.

Rarely, rarely, do those commercials feature a 2-year-old hurling Connect 4 discs like they were Chinese throwing stars. Or a 5-year-old crying because she was buzzed pulling the bread basket out of the Operation dude. Or the mom mainlining brownies because if she hears “It’s not fair” one more time, she’s going to punch Milton Bradley in the face.

Yes, my kindergartener is a bloodthirsty board game player. And I have no idea where she gets it.

On the soccer field, where you would think she would be cutthroat, she’s not. I guess when a bunch of five-year-olds are twirling in circles and making dandelion necklaces in the middle of a soccer match, it’s really more Kumbaya than competitive. When she misses a goal, her response is nothing more than a shoulder shrug and a “Jeepers. I’ll just try harder next time.” Her sportsmanship and sweetness make me all warm and gushy inside.

Yet, she spends one rainy night with our pal Hasbro and my little angel morphs into a drunken, jalapeno-popper fueled Vancouver Canuck fan whose veins run with buffalo wing sauce and testosterone.  With a snarl she rips off her Hello Kitty t-shirt to flash the Hungry Hungry Hippo she’s painted on her chest before body-slamming me and setting her Barbie Dreamhouse on fire.

It’s not all bad. Some games are relatively benign, like Memory and Hi Ho! Cherry-O. Our Guess Who? game has elicited only one argument – when MJ wouldn’t accept the fact a person with red eyebrows is still a redhead even though he's bald. Darn 5-year-olds take everything so literally.

But then there are those games I’ve dubbed the “Evil Three” – the ones that turn a pleasant evening of board games into a battle of wills – Chutes and Ladders, Connect 4 and Candy Land.

Chutes and Ladders – Numerous times I’ve witnessed on Facebook a mother’s disdain for this childhood favorite and the arguments it incites. For one, it's the longest board game known to man, except maybe for Monopoly, which I wouldn’t know because in 34 years, I’ve never gotten further than pulling out the game pieces and fighting with my brother about who got to be the shoe.

Second, no kid responds well if he lands on the slide. Ever. My conversation with MJ usually goes: “If you land on the slide, you slide down and you lose your spot. No, you can’t climb up the slide. Yes, I know you can climb up a slide at the park, but you can’t in the game. No, I’m not changing the rules for you. Yes, I know life is unfair – talk to innocent people sitting in prison about it (the last one’s courtesy of my dad).”

Chutes and Ladders is now hidden on the top shelf. Maybe when it’s winter, and we’ve exhausted our evenings of Play-Doh and finger paints, it may find its way to our living room floor again.

Connect 4 – I often play Connect 4 with both of the girls since KT, the two year old, loves dropping the discs into the slots. We’re a great team – when it’s my turn, I just point KT to where she should insert the disc. All is good - I’m spending quality time with MJ and building KT’s fine motor skills. I’m a multi-tasking Supermom! At least for a few minutes.

MJ: Argh! She just blocked me!

Me: You know that’s how the game is played.

MJ: No fair! You two are teaming up!

Me: She’s just dropping them in for me.

MJ: It’s two against one, and it’s not fair.

Me: We’re not sharing tips with one another. I’m 34 – I don’t need a two-year-old helping me strategize my next Connect 4 move!

Candy Land – Candy Land would be fine and dandy if you just moved spaces in conjunction with the colored card you pulled. But then Hasbro got all sneaky with its double color cards and candy cards and lose a turn tiles. Nothing devastates a suburban child more than getting the gingerbread man card when she’s chillin’ in the Chocolate Swamp.

There are evenings I make a deal with the board game gods, when the game seems like it’s never going to end and MJ is losing her patience, that if they can stop me from pulling a candy cane card, I will give up my iPhone, my Entertainment Weekly subscription and Justin Timberlake to avoid a King Kandy-sized meltdown.

Please don’t get me wrong – I love spending time with my little girls, and board games are a great way to bond. Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that MJ is at that five-year-old stage when losing just trears her up inside. I do purposely let her win every now and then, but I also want to reinforce that life isn’t always in one’s favor – like Dire Straits says, sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug. And more often than not, MJ wins as opposes to loses. I mean, she kicks my butt on Hi Ho! Cherry-O and she always outdances me to “I Want You Back” on Just Dance.

I just had no idea where her competition stemmed from until I mentioned it to my brother.

“Do you remember when you danced a jig on the coffee table because you beat me at Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and then threw the Nintendo controller at my head?” he reminded me.

Ummm…

“And the time you shoved your friend out of his chair so you could win drunken spoons?”

Okkk….

“And the time…”

I get it, I get it. Maybe there’s a bit of board game competition in all of us.

By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge has written for STL Parent for more than 12 years. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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