Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Indoor Games

     One of my fondest childhood memories was my Dad teaching my siblings and me card games such as cribbage, hearts, and bridge. It wasn't normal for him to spend an entire evening interacting with us as it was his nightly habit to instead watch TV, read the paper, and listen to the radio with an ear bud, often all at once. So when he got on a teach-them-a-new-card-game kick, it was special for us all, including him, as his eyes would light up and his hands would quiver whenever he got an exceptional hand. 
     He probably acquired his fondness for cards from his dad, a loving old chatterbox in our eyes, who taught us poker, Paiute, black jack, and craps, and how to liven these games by wagering chips. All his grandkids looked forward to playing cards with him for he had a way of creating excitement by saying “First knock, double!” or “Eieee! How can you raise me on a hand like that?” or “Best position is right hand of dealer because he gets to bid last,” or “Never count your chips at the table. Always wait until afterwards to figure out your winnings or losses.” He was knowledgeable and shared with us all his secrets.  
     To date I haven't taught my kids many indoor games other than checkers, chess, Hanafuda (with yaku), and a limited amount of poker. It hasn't interested them much, probably because we don't make a big deal of winning or losing as it's all about the fun. 
     Of course, we have some board games such as Life, Monopoly, Connect 4, Yahtzee, Scrabble, Trouble, and Mancala. It's mostly Jaren that's enjoyed playing these with me and I seldom say, “Okay, who wants to play a game?” perhaps because I so much prefer doing things outdoors that involve physical activity. Even walks at night can be beautiful and peaceful, with the air soft and cool and sometimes chilled.
     It was a surprise, then, that we had such a raucous grand time playing Pirate's Dice in Seattle with Norm and his kids. The simple bid or call game, last man with dice wins, involved mental probabilities calculations and psychological considerations (Who's bluffing? Who's bidding safe based on what they have?) for optimal strategy. The only certainties are a player's own dice, total dice remaining, and how many dice each player has. And bidding is based on all dice in play. (A die is lost in each round—either by a bidder, or a caller. Bids go around in a circle, each bid higher than the last, which reduces the probability of each successive bid's success. A “call” in lieu of a bid ends play at which point all dice are revealed.)
     Norm's kids are very competitive and bright so they advised on strategy in general terms: “Fifteen dice remain. That means there should be about five of any number other than one.” (Ones are wild.) Of course a player with a disproportionate share of ones or any other number may feel emboldened to bid aggressively.
     Most of the kids bid conservatively such as, “Two threes,” or “Three twos,” so to speed things up I bid aggressively such as “Five fives,” or “Six threes.” Norm's daughter and Braden got eliminated first, which left Pene, Norm, his son, and me left. Pene held the lead while Norm's son and I got eliminated. Norm and her—both highly competitive—went head to head, four dice to two in Pene's favor. Pene lost a die. Norm lost one. Pene lost two, leaving them with one each. Norm bid, “One four.” Pene bid, “One six.” Norm bid after a loooooong pause...., “Two sixes.” Pene, after a longish pause (What was she thinking? She couldn't possibly bid Three of anything) called. He showed a four; she showed a six. “I won,” Pene declared while onlookers screamed mock horror and delight.
     I said, “You don't have to say that. You should say, 'I got lucky.'” The build up had been so intense with shrieks, cries of alarm, groans, and laughter that she was just relieved to be done with it I think. (It seemed like she would have had difficulty swallowing, so intense was her concentration beneath Norm's show-me-what-you-got smug scrutiny and barrages of cheers (for her) and jeers (at Norm) from the partisan (everyone was rooting for her) crowd.)
     Later that evening after things had settled down, Norm's son said he needed to get more board games for his apartment (where he lives with a girlfriend and two others) because in the past, they just didn't get into the few that they have. 
     I noticed at recent church games nights a plethora of board games, only a couple of which were played at most, the adults mostly opting for Hanafuda, poker, and Scrabble, the kids opting for ping pong, pool, and Heads Up.  My daughter and her friend were the only ones to play traditional games Jenga and Candy Land but only for brief interludes when not much else was happening. I think it's sad that whereas my friends and I could spend dozens of hours across countless days playing Battleship, Monopoly, Life, Yahtzee, Chess, Checkers, Kings Corner, Clue, Risk, Stratego, Chinese Checkers, War, Speed, Trumps, and Poker, today's youth seem uninterested in such diversions, instead preferring electronic games that only seldom are played with others in person. Though traditional indoor games won't cement social bonds, they nonetheless beat out many of today's repelling do-it-yourself-while-with-others forms of hand held entertainment, so prevalent among youth I see in restaurants, buses, and public settings.
     In a couple years when Jaren's old enough (he surprised us by how well he did in Pirate's Dice) I'll teach the kids trumps—a good game to learn probabilities and strategy, and how to count cards and play cooperatively with a partner. I never mastered the game though I suppose I know its rudiments sufficiently well. And I won't more than mention the not-so-secret signals for strong suit, weak suit, high versus low, “I got boss,” hit again, pass the lead, etc., for sportsmanship—not cheating—is just as important as having fun, as there's never much fun if the most proficient cheaters always win, or if all luck, hope, and surprise are eliminated because everyone knows everyone else's cards, for to me, not knowing is half the fun.

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