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Mom, My Game Guru

Happy February, folks.

Sometimes I find more time designing board games than playing them. I started thinking about who was the gamester in my youth, household or otherwise, who got me into this. It certainly wasn’t my father. He was a hands-on sports kind of guy. One would have to go outdoors and work up a sweat. Baseball, basketball, things you could kick, punch, throw, and eventually high-five your accomplishments with teammates. Something my older brother took to heart. As kids in Harlem during the 50s, the most board games we were familiar with were chess and checkers, played by our elders. I enjoyed watching the elders play checkers, their grunts and groans only added to the experience. I enjoyed watching them, even when they played horseshoes. I wasn’t really good at playing the “sweat” sports games. Somehow, I enjoyed the company of the “old folks” better than the kids my age.

But in learning the social courtesies of tabletop gaming, it was my mom. Her Puerto Rican heritage introduced me to Dominoes at a young age. How she played with her children and how she played with her compadres from Spanish Harlem was different as night and day. I still have to ask myself, “Is that Mom?” LMAO. My 500 Rummy experience came from her playing with me. I was the quiet kid, so when my brother and sister went out to play, she would keep me entertained with cards.

We didn’t have a wealth of games. We played the classic games of the 50s, Monopoly, Life, and Parchesi, eventually expanding into Risk, Stratego, and Battleship. Mom did her best to learn as many new games as possible.

She would give us milk and cookies while playing. Of course, this could have been one of the tactics used against us because a few minutes into game time, she would make faces or tell silly jokes that would have us laughing until we fell our chairs or spurt milk out our noses. She had a unique way of keeping our minds off our hard times. It was important to her to see us smile. She would get one of us to break down and the rest would follow.

Mom would have been 96 years old this February. She was surprised to see some of my early board games and would love a good game of Gin-Go when I would come by to see her. Naturally, she would kick my butt while making silly senior-citizen jokes. It was her way, her style. She could be critical of some of my ideas, but she was supportive when she found something she liked.

She would appreciate a good game where she could talk about something other than her illnesses which plagued her in her later years. Something that I find true to this day. Gaming allows for small talk that’s different from everyday small talk.

In and of itself, I think COVID was a game changer. It was very influential in bringing families and friends back into the “ballpark.” In close quarters, socializing on a level few had experienced in a while.

It might be easier to talk over a game than to sit and talk to one another across the room. It can be an icebreaker. You can spend time together and quietly fill a need without broadcasting it to the world. You can find the courage that you might fear to show others on the sideline, be it luck, strategy, or smarts.

I’m glad I had someone who recognized that I wasn’t going to be the outgoing kid my father might have wanted. I think my mother lit another candle. Maybe she didn’t know what it would reveal for me, even I didn’t know, but it sparked something. Something I enjoy doing. So I will continue to design more than play because watching others enjoy an idea is like having children who know how to make others happy. I think my mother would be proud; hopefully, they won’t spurt milk out their noses.


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