The family that plays together

My family has always been into playing games. My brother and I preferred classic board games like Life (oh! to land on the twins space and fill that plastic car with two more pegs!!) and Monopoly (my brother was always the banker; it took me until I was in college to realize that this might have contributed to his winning every single game). Given how rarely I could claim victory, the simple act of playing the game was what drew me back time and time again.

When my extended family would get together, our focus turned away from board games and toward dice (Yahtzee) and cards. Our perennial favorite is Cad, a less-intense version of the card game Thirty-One, which is so basic in concept that Ella and Annie have already begun to play. Do not mistake simplicity for a lack of intensity, however; even the most hastily thrown-together Cad games require a monetary ante-in, and the “simple act of playing a game” is not what draws everyone to the table. No, my extended family possesses an innate desire to wipe the table with the other players, and showing mercy is definitely a sign of weakness. (We still talk about a Spoons game from years back when my cousin wrestled my then-80-odd-year-old grandmother to the floor because neither of them would relinquish the spoon and concede defeat.)

It was a happy fate, then, when I discovered that Nick and his family are also game lovers, with Monopoly and Life as childhood favorites, too, and cutthroat rounds of Hand and Foot as today’s game of choice. Many moons ago, when my brother turned twenty-one, Nick and I got our collective game geek on and created an alcohol-themed board game called Chug It — laminated board, logo-printed game cards, instructions page, and game pieces — and shipped it off to him at college, where, I’ve been told, he and his fraternity brothers got quite a kick out of it (and, yes, chugged it). Not wanting our gaming legacy to end there, when Nick’s middle sister reached the legal drinking age, we created Absolut Game – whose layout was shaped like an enormous bottle of vodka (duh) – and shipped it off to her, too. (Alas, we tapped out after that and so Nick’s youngest sister got the shaft… When she turns forty, we’ll really have to step up. Chardonnopoly, anyone?)

Last weekend, as Nick and I were relaying the wonders of these games to my youngest cousin (who turns twenty-one next year; BOOYAH), we realized, with all of the inane and crazy extended family quirks, surely there was an awesome game in the making. And so, combining our childhood love of boardgames, my extended family’s love of cards, and inspired by our Chug It and Absolut Game masterpieces, we created The Lake Game.


The premise is very straightforward: move your piece around the board, complete some assigned tasks, and be the last player holding any (poker) chips. In reality, the game verges from slightly odd to downright absurd. While it’s true that “all” you have to do is move your game piece around the board, you probably don’t want to get too comfortable because The Lake Game makes you work for your victory. Land on “Hugs Not Drugs” and you’ll give every other player a squeeze… or lose a chip. “Who’s Sleeping” requires that you find someone who’s asleep (human or canine), take a photo with your phone, and send it to the other players… or lose a chip. You might find yourself throwing away a mystery item from the fridge (we collect leftovers like we’re preparing to stock a bunker) or running outside and up the driveway to touch our converted-garage/ storage space/guesthouse (aka “Up Top”), a feat which elicits monstrous groans because of its propensity to reduce you to a gasping-for-breath heap.

up top
The view of Up Top from the lake house. It’s difficult to get an accurate photo, but I can assure you that going Up Top could be included as an end-of-session, now-you-will-die Boot Camp activity.

“Up Top” aside, it’s the “Draw a Card” squares that are the most arduous… and hilarious. Some are just annoying:

or lose a chip.
Pretty self-explanatory.

Others require dexterity and getting off your duff:

Go do the to the beach. Stand on the shore and throw a piece of shale at the raft. If you don’t hit it in three tries, lose a chip.

Given that we often play at night (and you never know who’s had a cocktail or three), this is more challenging than it seems.

Others demand little physical exertion but do test your mettle (and your iron stomach):

Take one bite of leftovers from either fridge, or lose a chip.

When the choice is between losing a chip or consuming a mystery food – that may have been in the fridge since this morning or since last month (just tonight, I threw away some soup we’d brought home from a restaurant that, I kid you not, bore the date 07/01/13) – it’s not an easy choice.

And still others are both a combination of exercise and game-long torture

Go get one from the shed. Wear it for the rest of the game.

THERE ARE SPIDERS IN THAT SHED, people. Losing a chip may be vastly preferable.

So, clearly, The Lake Game is not for the faint of heart… which makes it perfect for those of us who, say, enjoy scuffling with our grandmothers over a spoon and playing card games that require six year-olds to ante up.

We began working out the kinks to the game, trying to determine just how many chips each person should begin with, which squares were the most fun/embarrassing/absurd, and asking other family members to contribute their ideas. During our practice games, Annie somehow managed to win every time, despite the ridiculous scenarios she found herself in.
She was stuck wearing a life vest, holding an old family jacket, sitting on a clam pot, and having to utter an infamous family phrase at the end of each turn… but that didn’t stop her from becoming the victor.

After the children had gone to bed, we invited my grandmother to play the final game of the night, but weren’t sure if she’d actually join us, given the craziness of the game. In true family style, however, she was totally in – but we gave her a whole bunch of extra chips, assuming that she’d forgo many of the more arduous adventures in favor of simply giving up a chip.


No matter what was thrown her way, Phoofsy was up to the task.
“Throw out a leftover? Oh, this minced ham is at least two weeks old!”

When faced with the exhausting challenge of having to go Up Top, and given that she might not have trekked there yet this summer, we knew – of course – that she’d hand over one of her chips. Instead, she looked us straight in the eye and said, “If I don’t do this, I lose a chip? Well, certainly I can go Up Top. Why would I waste a chip for that?”
It took her about five minutes, but by God, she touched Up Top.
The Force may be strong with Luke, but the Competitive Drive is strong with this one.

After well less than an hour, and despite our very best efforts, there was nothing we could do: Phoofsy was the champion. We have since introduced The Lake Game to more of my family members and have taken great pleasure in watching one another make fools of ourselves. To make it even more competitive fun, we think we’ll now require an entry fee (because I’m far more likely to sing a Christmas carol – after having just changed my shirt and gone down the dock ladder in the dark – if there’s money on the line).

Money or no money, one thing is certain: Phoofsy is going down.
And, really, she can’t complain that I’m taking the game too seriously… As a true family grandchild, I learned from the best.

2 thoughts on “The family that plays together

  1. Pingback: A Sporting Chance | All Together in a Scattered Sort of Way

  2. Pingback: To Say Hello | All Together in a Scattered Sort of Way

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