The Games We Play

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column appeared in print on Jan. 15, 2018.

I have reinstituted family game night at our house. It’s a New Year’s resolution that I was pleasantly surprised goes hand in hand with another of my resolutions: To get fit. I have to physically drag both my husband and my daughter to the dining room table for game night, so it qualifies as a workout.

Fitness actually used to be part of our game nights when Emma was younger. We went Wii Wii Wii … all the way to laughter and sore muscles. I remember waking up the next day after a Wii bowling marathon with sore quads and glutes. I was ashamed and embarrassed, so of course I told everybody I knew (and probably some I didn’t, like the Kroger clerk).

Prior to our Wii revolution, games often were exercises in patience. Attempts at cheating (stacking the Candy Land deck!) and tantrums over losing were no fun at all. It was developmentally appropriate behavior for Emma, but when Dave started, I just gave up. (Just kidding.)

Emma grew out of those games, and for several years now, our Wii console has become more utilized as our Netflix connection. Family game night disappeared between binge watching and Emma’s fixation with viewing other people playing video games on YouTube.

During the holidays, however, we got introduced to a fun group game that’s a cross between the old game of Telephone and Pictionary. Telestrations has been around for nearly 10 years, but I only heard of it when I wrote an article about the resurgence of board games last year.

The game involves each player drawing a picture of his or her “secret word,” and passing their drawing to the next player, who guesses what is depicted in the drawing. The next player draws what the previous player guessed, and so on, until the drawing pad comes full circle and hilarity ensues as you share the path your word “lettuce” took as it morphed into a “department store.”

A friend got it for me for Christmas, and we first played it with a group of eight people that included adults, college students and middle-school kids. We played round after round and laughed till we cried at some of the unlikely transformations. I highly recommend playing it, as we did, with people for whom English is not their first language. It adds a whole additional level of silliness! I also recommend playing with at least six to eight people. We tried it with four, and even with our Chinese host daughter from West Liberty University, it fell flat. Just like Telephone, the original word gets more convoluted as it passes through more humans.

Game night at our house recently has centered on a game Emma got for Christmas called Catan, which is for two to four players. I also heard a lot about this game during my article research, as it is hailed as “single-handedly revitalizing North American board games,” according to Escapist magazine.

Dave and Emma set it up and for the most part patiently waited and listened while I read and reread — and reread — the directions.

The idea is to “settle” the island of Catan by building roads and cities using resources — ore, bricks, lumber, sheep and wheat — that you capture through the roll of the dice. There’s a bit of strategy, and it’s a great lesson in trading. You can trade other players for the resources you lack, if they are willing.

Emma found out the hard way that while one resource may be scarce during one game, the next time it may be a different resource. Determined to monopolize wheat after it was in short supply the first game, Emma was drowning in it the second game. Balance is key, young Grasshopper.

I ended up winning both games, and I am happy to report there were no tantrums — only vendettas. They’re out to get me now, so maybe I won’t need to drag them to the table anymore. I guess I better hit the gym.

Betsy Bethel is the Life editor and editor of OV Parent magazine. She can be reached at