x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Bring back board-game culture, it’s addictive

Spice up your social outings with some wholesome fun 

Antonie Robertson / The National
Antonie Robertson / The National

My small, sleek Saint Laurent cross-body bag bulges at the seams, slightly over-stuffed with my wallet, phone and deck of Uno playing cards.

When I take the cards out, the bag closes easily, and as my husband waits for me at the door, reminding me we are running late, I find myself debating whether or not to leave the cards at home or take them with me and suffer from a swollen handbag all night.

I can’t resist, so I stuff the cards in and race to the door – a few hours later, I am thankful I brought them with me.

While the game of choice among Emiratis in a lot of Dubai restaurants and shisha cafes is backgammon, handbag-sized novelties such as Uno, Bananagrams, Sequence and Monopoly Deals are the games that have come to define my weekend outings. Thursday-night shisha get-togethers, Friday all-you-can-eat brunches and Saturday cinema dates is how many residents spend their weekends.

If you are feeling content and fulfilled by engaging in these routine activities, where conversation ranges from politics to office drama and futile gossip, then by all means, continue on in this lifestyle.

But if you find yourself craving a different sort of fun, consider indulging in old-school board games with your friends.

Board-game culture is making a comeback. And before you turn the page, let me clarify: this is not a call to join some geeky chess club or online gaming community.

I am proposing a revival of games that are more engaging in group settings, that will appeal to even the most digital-obsessed millennials.

While childhood memories involve long, drawn-out family Monopoly games, Scrabble matches and Candy Land or Operation sessions with siblings, the 21st century has brought with it a breadth of other options.

Many of these, you will find, will be amusing at least and addictive at best, within your social circle.

My friends and I are hooked. We have grown particularly fanatical about Monopoly Deals, a faster, cards-only version of Monopoly. Each round takes about 20 minutes, and the game takes the same degree of skill and strategising required to play the original Hasbro-owned board game.

Bananagrams is another favourite – it is like Scrabble to-go. The little squares engraved with alphabet letters are toted around in a yellow banana – no board or letter holder required. Players simply start flipping over the squares to reveal letters, and shout out words as they see them. Other players can steal your words by adding other letters, so long as the root word gets changed.

Our newfound obsession has even led to the advent of regular game nights at friends’ houses, where we will order pizza and play for hours.

Sometimes, to mix it up, we return to games such as Taboo and Cranium. And though I haven’t yet played it, many of my friends are utterly obsessed with Catan, which involves players acquiring properties and building settlements.

Working your cerebral wheels, refining your mental math and elaborating your vocabulary – now doesn’t that sound healthier than debating religious sects or scrutinising the outfits of fellow restaurant guests? Unfortunately, some restaurants and cafes don’t allow card games, for fear of gambling or over-staying your welcome. But if that’s the case, it’s a pretty safe bet there will be another that will.

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