Eyes locked, fingers clicked, breathing settled…….it’s go time, baby!
Fear not friends; your sofa cushions have not just spontaneously ripped a hole in space-time, swallowing you up and spitting you out at the O.K Corral! I promise, it’s ok, you can settle back down (although good effort on the speed at which you jumped up and put your hands in the air like you just don’t care!).
Having said that, however, facing a worm-hole in your jammies with only an IKEA scatter cushion for protection will seem like a cakewalk in comparison to what is about to go down. For there is something far more serious developing.
This is grown-up game time in my house. With our littlest meeple tucked up all snuggly warm in bed, the next 60 minutes are going to be INTENSE!
Man v Woman. Husband v Wife. Red v Blue.
Now, I should give this situation a little context. 23 hours per day, my husband and I are the sickening epitome of eternal love. Sam and Molly? Ed and Bella? Morticia and Gomez? Pfffft…… mere amateurs when it comes to heart pumping devotion.
Without thinking, I would take a bullet to protect him (although, having said that, I would also just as instinctively use him as a human shield to protect our son but that primal lioness moment can be our little secret!). Indeed, most of my daily decisions have my husband at the centre. Like my own personal bearded moon, he creates the gravitational force that keeps me from spinning out of control. My husband is my rock, literally.
However, even love has its limits. And when we play games, for one solitary hour, the transformation into something darker and more brutal is as surprising as it is instantaneous. Goodbye Romeo and Juliet, hello Mr & Mrs. Smith. Like a bargain bucket, woefully resource poor and skill devoid version of Brangelina, we are out for each other’s blood. Whilst my husband loves me unconditionally, he will happily hate-draft me into oblivion in Azul Summer Pavillion and Battle Line to secure victory at our kitchen table. The favour is repaid in spades as I place meeples precisely where he wants to go in Five Tribes and Ticket to Ride, smashing his ten-moves ahead strategy to smithereens. As you may be able to deduce, care-bear gamers we are not.
Anybody watching the drama unfold would be wise to duck back behind their (now slightly untrustworthy) sofa. Fists shake, eyes narrow, and entire decks are thrown in frustration. And that is just when determining turn order!
The actual game play is an extremely icy affair. Schadenfreude, an emotion completely lacking in all other aspects of our married and own lives, swirls around the room like an ethereal presence, tempting each of us into savouring the discomfort and frustration befalling the other. The victor is Smuggy-McSmug-Pants and the loser, well, let’s just say they make Prince Joffrey from Game of Thrones look like a good sport…….
Targi from Kosmos’ 2 player range is a fantastic example of just how crushingly competitive we can get. Set up is an ardently affectionate affair; the love is palpable as our eyes meet and hands accidentally touch arranging the cards forming the play board and various decks. Drinks are kindly proffered and favourite snacks prepared and arranged in mutually easy-to-reach spots. But then, as our elbows hit the table, our kitchen suddenly makes “Cambodia look like Kansas”.
After 60 minutes of tears and tantrums (him) and (hair pulling and pleading (me), we sit, exhausted. Spent; staring at the scores, watching, waiting for the first person to react to the numbers. And then it happens……. Thumb and first finger start rising on the victor’s right hand. Slowly but steadily they creep up to the smooth, frustration free forehead of the winner until forming an L shape that leaves no doubt as to who has come second in this two player battle for tribal superiority! The glory badge is quickly followed by a serpentine hiss as “yessssssssss” escapes bitten, tight lips, and the demonstration of an altogether rhythm-be-damned dance to which no other person (save the unworthy loser!) should ever be exposed.
When I am the subject of my husband’s shimmy-shimmy-snake-hipped-take-that-Tor-tango, I won’t lie; I can’t look at him, let alone speak to him for at least five minutes (and not just because the dancing irritates like a pair of woolly knickers!). I storm from the table, throwing pepper, salt, and date tokens back into the box as I huffily accuse foul play or curse Lady Luck’s influence upon the game. Cards are returned to the safety of their insert staccato style, and the box goes back on the shelf in the dining room, cocooned between equally competitively dangerous options.
But then, just as quickly as the tension descended upon the table, a huge grin appears on each of our faces as we hug and race to be the first to say thank you for a fantastic game! Ahhh, see? Normal service has resumed!
And that underlying, unconditional love is at the core of even our fiercest of cardboard duels. The knowledge that gaming is our personal shared safe space; a place where we can let off a little steam and rib each other without judgment or it ever lasting longer than what has been played. Our dressing gowns (yup, not going to lie, we are winceyette warriors after 5:30pm) become our alter-egos’ uniforms; belted for battle then hang loose in the detailed and mutually admiring and celebratory post-mortem stage.
As well as being a massive part of my management strategy (and precisely because of its indiscriminate presence), my anxiety disorder manifests in lots of ways when gaming; analysis paralysis being a doozie. But I know unequivocally that my husband would never resort to rushing me as a way of gaining a player advantage during our (honestly!) good natured duelling. Likewise, I am conscious of his need to settle into a game before he feels that he is playing right and so to thrust a first-time-loser fist pump his way would be dispiriting and unfair.
I should probably mention at this stage (before you seek to ex-communicate us from the community forthwith!) that we are benevolence-business-as-usual when gaming a trois or more! This year, more than ever, has demonstrated just how much playing games with other people is a privilege, and experiencing play through a different perspective is a joy that we would never diminish through uber-competitiveness – in fact, the desire doesn’t even materialise.
In truth, life is a mad-cap, ten-car-pile-up, sensory roller-coaster right now and being able to release some of the tension through playing a game together gives us both a little more headspace to buckle up and get our game-faces on, ready to face the next day; hand in hand, stronger together. It also gives us opportunities to try different things; different approaches, tactics, and strategies in an environment that has no real-time third party consequences (although the everlasting memory of those dance moves is a heavy burden to bear!).
Don’t tell my husband I told you this (no, seriously, my carefully crafted two player-persona will be shattered!) but, do you know what? Although my initial reaction upon losing to him puts a teething toddler to shame, I am inwardly very proud of every single one of his victories (in gaming as in life) and, of course, I have nobody to blame but my inadequacies and his gaming greatness. But, and not to dilute or diminish his triumphs and superior skills in any way, this punishment is more than simply because I am outmatched and outplayed by him most days.
For better or worse, I have grasped the nettle that is taking control of our gaming purchases; my anxiety would have it no other way. I research, compare, obsess, dither, add-to-basket, remove-from-basket, agonise, and ponder every time I hear about a game I think might suit us as a couple. Above everything else, however, the most important branch in my personal consumer decision tree is whether my husband will enjoy it. After all, on a selfish level, without him, my core gaming group is a solitary affair, and, playing (as with life generally) is the most fun when I get to share it with him.
And so, peeling back layers of theme, components, colours, and playing time, I am conscious that his enjoyment centres upon the base mechanic(s). Engineer by trade and accomplished Do-It-Yourselfer at the weekend, my husband thinks in systems and both his planning skills and spatial awareness are off the charts compared to my own woefully hopeless attempts to tessellate and project shapes into spaces not helpfully indicated by enormous neon signs!
Hence, because there is no other person (besides our son but he is under 3ft right now and so, like any decent fairground ride, doesn’t qualify for this particular scenario!) I would rather keep happy than him, I gravitate towards games I know he will love, self-inflicted player pain notwithstanding.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of duplication in terms of our respective favourite games. However, like a crossed purpose worthy of star-crossed Shakespearean lovers, his opinion is based scientifically upon his own performance (men, eh?! haha) whereas my true judgment centres on the joy I feel as he makes a beeline for something on our shelves which I have carefully matched to his skills and capabilities.
Regardless of the cause, the effect is the same, and I would want it no other way; to be bested at our game table by my soulmate is a strangely satisfying affair!