Definitions: Classic Games, American-style

I defined European-style games yesterday, so it seems fair to give “American-style” games a fair shake today. They go by a lot of names—mainstream games, classic games, family games—but they all have a few things in common.

1. Everyone knows their names. Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Boggle, Battleship, Sorry, Trouble, Risk, Life, Uno, Stratego, and Trivial Pursuit. I could also probably add Candyland, Operation, Connect 4, and Twister. I’m sure I’m forgetting some others, but off the top of my head, those seem to be the big names we all know.
Good

2. Almost all of them are from Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers, and both of those companies are now owned by Hasbro. This gives Hasbro an actual monopoly over classic games in America. Uncle Pennybags would be in awe.

3. They have been around fooorever. Of all those games, only one can be considered “modern,” and that’s Trivial Pursuit, invented about 30 years ago.

Not Good

4. They are endlessly malleable and can be jammed, crammed, folded, molded, spindled, and otherwise mutilated to fit any license. If someone is going to makes games to promote the latest Shrek, Toy Story, or Twilight movie, they’re going to make a version of one of these.

The other day I saw a “Shrek Operation” game in the store. No child should have the joy crushed from his soul by opening a birthday present only to find a “Shrek Operation” game inside. I don’t have solid proof, but I suspect this is what creates serial killers.
            I like to imagine what the product line meetings are like at Hasbro:
            “Hey Bob, I just landed the Twilight license.”
            “My MAN!” [High fives all around.]
            “Okay, take the afternoon and drag Twilight through the classic games backlist and see what sticks.”
            “You got it, Bob.”
            “I’m thinking Trivial Pursuit. We can come up with a lot of questions only obsessed 13-year-old goth girls could answer.”
            “I totally dig it, Bob.”
            “And maybe Stratego, with those werewolf things versus those vampire things.”
            “Consider it done.”
            “And Scrabble, where the only letters you have are BELLA and EDWARD.”
            “Um…”
            “And Life! That one should be a snap! You go through the entire game, and to win you die and become a vampire.  We can have a ‘Bella gives birth’ card!”
            “Well…”
            “And Twister! One of the spaces on the spinner can be ‘neck bite’.”
            “I think legal might object to that one.”
            “Candyland!”
            “You’re starting to scare me, Bob.”
5. For most Americans, these games are bound up in memories our youth and our families. These are games we played when we were kids, and they often were the first board game we were given. They came out on rainy days. They came out in the evening when your parents decided it was a No-TV night. They came out when the relatives came over. They came out when you and your pals couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Gamers who move on to Eurogames often leave the classics behind with a sneer. I admit to a healthy hatred for several titles on that list (yeah, I’m looking in your direction, Risk, Sorry, and Trouble), but it’s silly to dismiss time-tested classics like these simply because they’re not the latest game from Bruno Faidutti. I would probably never pick Monopoly as my game of choice for an evening, but with the right group it’s still a great game, particularly if you avoid silly house rules. (The thing most people hate about Monopoly–its length–is largely a product of house rules that keep flushing extra money into the system.)
Classic American games still have a lot of kick left in them, and played correctly, they still make for an evening of fun with the greatest number of people. Most people who come over to your house already know how to play them, so there’s a shared understanding that goes back years.

The Very Stuff of Nightmares

Look, I played so many rounds of Candyland when my kids were young that Queen Frostine wound up haunting my dreams. This is not a pleasant thing, in case you’re wondering.

However, I would never, ever knock Candyland. It’s usually the first game anyone plays, and it teaches kids all the basic lessons of game-playing: taking turns, drawing cards, moving pieces, and using a marker to represent yourself on the board. These are not innate concepts: they have to be taught, and that’s what Candyland does.

And if God is merciful, I shall never, ever, ever do it again.

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