Board Games with My Boy

When I was an elementary-aged boy in small-town Minnesota, I spent my summers playing baseball at the diamond a block from my house. I swam in the municipal pool three blocks from my house. I played with Legos, read lots of books, hung out with friends, and hung out with my dad.

Until I was about twelve, my dad didn’t work in the summers (having the summer off because he was a sixth-grade teacher). One of our many activites was playing board games, many of which he brought home from his classroom.

All Star Baseball–one of my favorites, complete with the paper discs and metal spinner. Monopoly. Chess. This basketball game with levers and a ping-pong ball. A Civil War game called Battle Cry. A GI Joe game.

As a dad myself, I share those game experiences with my son now, who is eight. (Being a college professor, I have much more free time in the summer.) While we manage to take advantage of Christmas break and Spring break, there’s something about the span of summer. One of the first “grown-up” games I taught him was Ticket to Ride. He was quick to catch on, and what a thrill to be able to play with him a game that my wife and I enjoy.

Unlike my house growing up, we have a closet in our house dedicated solely to board games, several shelves worth. Of course we have our favorites: Dominion, a deck-building game; Commands & Colors, a table-top war game based upon on the Punic Wars; Lewis & Clark, a game where players race to the Oregon coast. And then there are the “cooperative” games: everyone wins or everyone loses.

There are many others that I could name, but playing board games with him is more than about the game–it’s about doing something together. Being present with one another. It’s about conversation. It’s a way to be free from distractions. It’s a counter to a fixation on my phone.

It’s funny to be living an era of board-game “renewal.” Fifteen years ago when my wife and I were newlywoods, we enjoyed board games, but there weren’t easily accessible games beyond those made by the big toy companies. But now, these “niche” games are more common–just look at Target.

Even as I am on a study-abroad trip in Lithuania, checking out different coffee shops, working on various writing projects, touring the city, eating wonderful food, I’m thinking ahead to my return. My son has already said that we are going to be playing a lot of board games this summer. I can’t wait.

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