Larry Banman: Use board games to spice up your reunions |

Larry Banman: Use board games to spice up your reunions

This is the time of year when most of us spend a lot of time with family.

Depending on your family, that can either be a time for blessing and thanksgiving or a time of stress and endurance.

I fall in the category of blessing and thanksgiving. I enjoy the family into which I was born, as well as the family that has come my way via marriage.

Since leaving the farm in Kansas, I have always lived at least a full day’s drive away from where I was born. Therefore, family gatherings were a time to reconnect. My siblings are either nicer or funnier than I, so reunions are always enjoyable and usually a hoot. My parents oversee the chaos and give them a bit of structure, somehow enduring the hi-jinks and hilarity. My immediate family (wife, daughters, son-in-law) is no different. We eagerly anticipate the time we get to spend together.

It has been said that in life you can pick you friends, but life selects your family.

During the holiday season, for better or worse, we get to play with the hand that life has dealt.

Some families like to sit around and visit, while others enjoy the diversion that television provides. There is seemingly no end to the football games, holiday specials and parades that can be watched from Thanksgiving to the middle of January. And, that season pretty much covers the time of year when families are typically obliged to gather. During the rest of the year, you can make an excuse for missing the annual clambake on July 4 or the Memorial Day fish fry, but missing Christmas raises questions about commitment and loyalty.

While growing up, I was part of a family that enjoyed games.

During the summer, we played cowboys and Indians (pre-political correctness), kick the can and hide and seek. During the winter, it was Lincoln Logs, Monopoly and (in later years) Hearts and Spades.

My dad tried to teach us Rook, but it didn’t have the allure that it apparently did for his generation. I do enjoy watching good football, but there is nothing like playing a game to get people talking and laughing.

Part of the fun of visiting other people was to find out what games were in their houses. Our cousins always had the more modern games like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and a football game that did nothing but vibrate. Hardly enough to interest today’s Madden NFL generation, but in the 1960s it was enough to help us while away the hours as a Kansas sleet storm played a rhapsody on the window panes.

My most immediate family includes my wife, two daughters and a son-in-law. Left to our own devices, we would gravitate individually toward playing video games, watching a football game, discussing crafts, watching HGTV, text messaging friends or doing some sort of personal self-improvement.

It could easily become disjointed. We have found that our small family shares a common bond over a couple of things. We love to travel together to all-inclusive Mexican resorts and we always have a grand time playing board games. It can be Cranium, Boxers and Briefs, Mad Gabs, Balderdash or any of a variety of games. We stay away from the long analytical games like Clue, Monopoly or Risk, primarily because we usually don’t have the time needed to play those games to a conclusion.

A good game really only provides the framework for interaction. We all have our particular style, but the common goal is to entertain or be entertained. We have yet to play when we didn’t break down into convulsive spasms of laughter. It is also a marvelous way to converse without the pressure of having to make small talk or for the kids to hear one of my stories for the umpteenth time.

I can assure you, there are no awkward silences while the son-in-law is doing his best to impersonate a coffee table. In addition, all of my family members amaze me with their individual talent, intelligence, insights and wit. If you pay close attention, you will discover amazing insights about people. Every joke told, every clay model built, every answer given exposes something about the people playing the game. As an example, it was while playing games with my family that I discovered I had some “ham” in my personality. I can’t tell a joke to save my life, but I can make a passable stab at spontaneous humor.

I believe playing games are a wonderful way to have a good time and to learn more about your family and your friends. It can be a safe environment in which to interact. It is not foolproof, however. The games should not be taken as an opportunity in which to make a point that probably should be handled in private, if at all. For example, in a recent game there was one of those situations where the participants were basically asked to say what annoyed them about a particular person. Fortunately, my family is not mean-spirited and that person was not humiliated or embarrassed. It could have been otherwise. In addition, if the wrong combination of people is participating, the most entertaining game can adopt the mood of a wake. My daughter told me they took a game we had enjoyed to a party and were disappointed when the game became more painful than a root canal without anesthesia. My suggestion would be to remember that they are called “games.”

The questions may sound serious, but few people want to be thoughtfully and critically analyzed. Lighten up and seek to entertain and not interrogate.

If you have a family gathering that you are dreading, consider spicing things up a bit with a board game. There are prerequisite skill levels that have to be considered.

Age differences are also not a problem, unless you have somebody with an inappropriate sense of propriety. Board games can add more spice to an already good mix of people or they can help rescue a family reunion headed toward Dullsville. In either situation, you can be assured you will learn something about people that you likely would not have discovered otherwise.

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