A game of Monopoly was an adrenaline fuelled activity in my family. With our competitive natures and argumentative streaks, it was never a polite quiet game. My brother would steal money from the bank every time we looked the other way. My sister would cause outrage by going in to cahoots with another player, letting each other off fines. My Mum would ruthlessly collect all the green and dark blue houses, then dish out extortionate rents with a grin. There was a strict ‘no telling another player if someone lands on their property’ rule… all hell would break loose if it was broken. The board would be thrown in the air, piles of money would line the carpet, the iron piece would be forever lost behind the sofa. Despite the drama and the action, Monopoly was my favourite childhood game.
I’ve always loved playing games, and growing up I was never short of opponents. As a youngster, games were short, noisy and exciting. Bashing hippos as they loudly munched balls (‘Hungry Hippos’), jumping when the horse unexpectedly threw its luggage (‘Buckaroo’), the tell-tale buzzer when my surgical skills were not up to scratch (‘Operation’). My friend Ruth and I would pass whole summer days playing continuous matches of ‘Uno’ and ‘Downfall’. My Sister and I became ‘Guess Who’ experts, eventually able to guess six cards at a time. Later on, I progressed to adult board games; long epics that took a whole afternoon to play. The tension of killing an army one dice roll at a time (‘Risk’), the excitement of training to be a spaceman (‘Careers’), the worry of putting twin pegs in the back seat of your car (‘The Game of Life’). When I was at university, games changed again. Instead of being played on quiet Sunday afternoons, they now strangely took on a prominent role in drunken parties. Action games and alcohol mix well; laughs and smiles and merriment. Shouting out guesses, drawing pictures, making models, acting out words. I loved special occasions when the drinks would flow and the games would come out.
Then when I got ill, games had to be abandoned for a while. The ones I had previously loved, are now difficult for me to play. Monopoly is too long: I rarely have the energy for an afternoon epic. Articulate is too energetic, I don’t have the vocal strength to shout out answers above others, and get breathless talking quickly and continuously whilst describing my words. I don’t have the arm strength to draw multiple quick pictures in Pictionary, the breathe to act out actions in Charades, or the memory to remember facts in Trivial Pursuit (Ok I never had the memory for that, even before I was ill!). For the first year, games were pushed to the side, forgotten.
And then a year into my illness, my brother bought us ‘The Settlers of Catan’… and introduced us to the new world of strategy games. Games that didn’t rely on luck but instead required brains and thinking. Games that lasted anywhere between fifteen minutes and a couple of hours. Games that didn’t require extra energy or breath to play. Over the last three years, Phil and I have turned into real gamers. Prior to my illness, most of our joint hobbies involved activity and exercise and the great outdoors. Over the last four years, our relationship has had to find new common ground, other activities that we both mutually love. And strategy board games is one such discovered hobby. Particularly in the colder months, a few evenings a week will be spent playing a game together. We now have a range of games of differing lengths and differing energy requirements, so can always find one to suit how I am feeling. If I’m tired, we play a ten minute game of ‘Sushi Go’. If I have energy, then an hours game of our current favourite ‘Pandemic’. As I’m home alone most days, I prefer the human interaction of spending the evening doing an activity with Phil, instead of watching television. Thankfully we both equally love games, get excited playing games, enjoy learning new games.
My brother is a gamer too. Every few months we will get together and have a games weekend at our house. Forty-eight hours devoted to playing games and eating junk food! Gary and I are like chalk and cheese; but as we have one mutual interest, we get to spend quality time together regularly. Last weekend, we feasted on haggis and Pringles, whilst learning the rules of his latest game ‘Dominion’. And happily we’ve now both matured enough to no longer cheat and steal, so the games don’t get kicked in the air in an argument!
Alexander Graham Bell once stated “When one doors closes, another opens”. I’ve lost many activities and interests that I enjoyed before I got ill. But I’ve also gained new hobbies and new loves. The world of strategy board games has been a wonderful find. Even if I get a transplant so we can enjoy the outdoors together again, Phil and I will continue playing games regularly. Maybe we could combine both hobbies- a game of Catan, in a tent on top of a mountain!