Growing Up with Board Games: The Power of Nostalgia

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Hey there, everyone! My name is Maria. I feel like the Goldilocks of boardgames. I don’t want to play a game that is too intense (no offense, Dominion), I don’t want a game that is too easy (I’ll only play Go Fish with my 3-year-old niece). Instead, I find myself somewhere in the middle when it comes time to picking out a game. Part of this is because of my early years growing up with board games.

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Brandon asked me to write a few guest posts for you all to give the perspective on games from someone who plays, but isn’t what most would consider a “hobby board gamer.” He says that’s because the board game market is a lot bigger than people think.

In this post, I’m going to share a little bit about me and the games I grew up on. I’ll also be writing future posts like: 

  • My Top 5 Games
  • My “I’d rather clean the bathrooms” Games 
  • Board Games for Dating
  • Marrying a Game Developer 

Growing Up with Board Games

I was born in the late 80s to parents who love games, specifically card games. Being the fourth member of the family, my parents saw an opportunity in our little quad of a family to play games regardless of our age. Some of my early memories of aluminum foil (don’t you think about your early memories of kitchen accessories?), was sticking my Uno cards in the box because there was no way I could hold all the cards at once.

By the time I was 6, I could tell you what Knobs meant, the importance of an Ace of Spades, and why you should never agree to “playing blood”. I much preferred a rousing game of Rummikub over Sorry! but, desperately clutched at Snakes and Ladders over trying to learn Backgammon yet again. 

My childhood is full of fond memories, many of which involve some form of game. I also recognize, however, that my childhood was not a normal one. When I was almost 4 years old, my family moved from the US to Saudi Arabia; I mention this, because travel board games were my mom’s go-to in keeping me quiet during the 24-26 hours of travel.

In addition to my own backpack of stuffed animals, Mom would always pack the giant purple “Game Bag” that held all kinds of amazing activities and SNACKS. Airplane food was definitely lacking, and our layovers were often at times where airport restaurants weren’t open, so this bag was the saving grace.

It had name brand crackers (Ritz), trail mix (M&Ms with obstacles), fruit roll-ups (pretty sure these were considered in case of emergency), and the aforementioned travel games. My favorite game was Guess Who because I liked looking at all the little pictures of people and imagined what they would talk about when we put the game in the box. My brother’s favorite was Battleship, and despite always having to play him so I could have someone on my end of the guessing game, I’m still terrible.

Board Games Were a Huge Part of My Childhood in Saudi Arabia

Since I grew up in Saudi, where there were no malls or movie theatres, and we didn’t get British TV until after a few years of living there, games were a stable in my childhood. Another aspect of living overseas meant that all the expats were their own little community.

Kids called adults by their first names. Adults expected kids to join in on the day’s activities. It seemed only natural that if my parents wanted to play a rousing game of Spades, then they had to teach me and my brother in order to complete the table. To their credit, we did play a lot of Uno too.

I could talk about dozens of games, but I’m going to focus on five. I’ll include a longer list of games at the bottom of this post if you fancy a trip down memory lane. 

  1. Monopoly
  2. Clue
  3. Mastermind and Mastermind Jungle
  4. The Game of Life
  5. Titanic

Growing Up with Monopoly

Let’s go ahead and talk about Monopoly to get it out of the way. I hate Monopoly. I used to love it when I was a kid because I thought the little pieces were so cute. The little Scottie was always my piece. It helped that Mom would let me pick whatever trades I wanted if I couldn’t fork over the money.

But Dad? Yeah, Dad was the real hardass in the game. If you landed on his hotel then you had better pay up, mortgage your properties, or walk out. Once I got a little older and my cute “but daaaaaad” didn’t work, we stopped playing the game. The below meme (courtesy of Facebook) is painfully true for my family.  

Growing Up with Clue

Clue. LOVED that game. I loved any kind of mystery, and this game let me play a sassy character: Scarlett. Looking back on it now, I can see how the game would get old after a while, but I do still enjoy games that target the same audience (I’m looking at you 221B Baker Street). I realize that I could just try and solve the crime without moving the puzzle piece around, but there is something so satisfying about hearing the dice roll and getting to click-clack your piece around the board. Almost like getting to play with a paper dollhouse…but a dollhouse with a murderous past. 

Growing Up with Mastermind

I actually forgot about this game until I sat down to write this post. Have you ever heard of it?

I remember when my brother and I found the game in the basement that had no directions and we tried figuring it out (apparently we found the 1972 original version).

Definitely getting those 1972 vibes.

Essentially, it is a 20 questions game that can be played without speaking and rather than answering “Who Am I?” you are trying to figure out the hidden 4-sequence pegs. This probably led to my lifelong interest in mysteries and heists.

While the first edition we played was certainly not physically accessible, we ultimately got a “jungle edition” that had the different colored pegs also be differently shaped animals. The hippos were purple, so it was pretty easy to guess my sequences.

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Growing Up with the Game of Life

So inaccurate, and yet accurate, all at the same time. It would explain a lot if 2020 were being caused by the spinner in Life flying off its inset.

I loved this game because it was always the game that we would play at my grandma’s house when we were visiting. Looking back now, I don’t know why my parents never bought us a copy of our own. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made the game feel so special.

We would play that game over and over again. In the early wee hours of the morning before anyone woke up, in the evening while grandma was cooking dinner, or during a lazy afternoon sprawled out on the floor.

That’s the other thing about that game, I rarely remember ever playing it on a table. We always played it on the floor either in the middle of the living room or between the living room and dining room. Pink and blue pegs everywhere, the raattttattatatattatatatat of the spinner always clicking away, and me continuing to ask the question “but why is the teacher salary so much less???”

Ah, to be so naive!

Don’t they look so happy?

Growing Up with Titanic

I’ve saved this game for last, because it is my absolute favorite. Perhaps it is one of my favorites because I am as stubborn as I am Italian (…I’m really Italian in case the implication wasn’t clear). My parents STILL groan if I ever mention the game. Even my husband refuses to play the game with me!

I don’t recall who gave us the game, but I was obsessed with it. First off, the board for the game folded outwards horizontally, not into a big square like every other game I was familiar with at the time. Then, it was split up into 3 different sections where you could not advance to the next section until having met certain objectives for your current section. That was mind boggling to me and a completely new concept.

And then, best of all, there was a PURPLE Lady in an AMAZING HAT as a character. I was sold. If I were to look at the game now, as an objective 30-year-old without a lifelong adoration of the game, I would possibly admit that it isn’t very complex and is really just a game of chance. Even Monopoly has more strategy than Titanic.

But goodness I was in love.

The art on the board was also so intricate for a game at the time. You had to pick up cute little passports that had fun details on them. You had to move around the board that was based on a real-life boat, and the cards referenced such swanky parties on the upper decks.

To a little girl who hadn’t even hit the double-digits club, this game had it all (except, of course, strategy). Even though the only person who will ever play this game with me is my cousin, it will always remain as a personal favorite and is why I dragged it out of the Goodwill box and have it safely tucked under my desk to this day. 

*Bonus Game: Rummikub*

I couldn’t stop at just 5 games. Rummikub is a game I have been playing since I was…5? 6? The only thing about this game that is a lie is the “Fast Moving” part of the catch phrase. That, and the happy smiling faced on the box.

We play by “Aunt Sue Rules” which is apparently different from the rulebook rules. I don’t care what you say, but if you’re going to replace a wild card, you must play it with 2 from your own hand. And don’t even think about moving the played wild card when switching tiles around; that’ll get a flipped table for sure.

When the pegs fell out of the stand and all your tiles fell….ah memories.

The Common Thread

Looking back on all the games that I played growing up, I see now why so many made such an impact on my game preferences now. They pretty much all incorporate the below factors: 

  • Great art or colors
  • Included a clicking noise, but wasn’t the entire game (I HATED Yahtzee because it hurt my ears) 
  • Tactile, but not needlessly fidgety 
  • Dynamic character roles

Even now when I pick out a game, if it has great art or just enough physical pieces, then I’ll give it a go at least once. I’ll talk more about what draws me to a board game in my next post, “My Top 5 Games” but the factors are not going to be too far from the above. Looking at my list of games to discuss in the next post (My Top 5 Games), I can definitely see that the common thread goes far beyond my childhood years.

That’s All, Folks!

I hope you have enjoyed my trip down memory lane as I shared with you the games that made my childhood. This is really nostalgic for me, even having left a bunch of games out.

I’ll leave you with this. All the games below are ones I played in the first ten years of my life. Let me know if any are nostalgic for you too!

  • Monopoly (Washington DC version)
  • Clue (Original, and Simpson’s)
  • Mastermind (Original and Jungle)
  • The Game of Life
  • Titanic
  • Rummikub (Aunt Sue rules)
  • Cribbage (don’t ever play blood)
  • Spades (girls against guys, duh)
  • Uno (did you know that you aren’t supposed to keep drawing until you get the right colored card???)
  • Battleship
  • Guess Who
  • Candyland & Snakes/Ladders
  • Gin (I literally always thought this was based on the alcohol)
  • Jenga (Only play on carpet)
  • Twister (Fun factoid, our game was in Arabic)
  • Sorry!
  • Connect 4 (play Gomoku if you were a fan of C4 as a kid!)
  • Mancala (Wasn’t huge on this game, but I liked the beads)
  • Chinese Checkers (Same as Mancala)
  • Trouble

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Board Games, Seen By a Non-Gamer is written by Maria Polcari, Brandon’s wife. The series is meant to both make you think about games in a different way, and to give Brandon a much needed break!

This is the first in a five-part series (maybe more)!

One thought on “Growing Up with Board Games: The Power of Nostalgia

  1. The “Aunt Sue Rules” are the text in the book in older editions of Rummikub. The joker also freezes sets so that other tiles cannot be removed until the joker gets replaced. That’s REAL Rummikub. My parents’ edition has both of these; my edition only has the first rule. I think in the newest editions, the “hassle” of these rules about jokers was removed to streamline the game I assume. At least they improved the tile holders! And yeah, it’s definitely not fast-moving. x)

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