As we all spend more time together at home—and, perhaps, a bit more time than we ought to staring at screens—here’s one person’s case for the cross-generational joys of a classic board game
Every Fourth of July, my family and I travel back to my home state of Minnesota for a stay at a century-old lodge on a lake up north. Over the decades, the place has expanded far beyond its original footprint, but the main lodge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is still the hub, and every year when we arrive, we walk past the stone fireplace with the moose head mounted on it; beneath the antler chandelier; and, while Grandma checks us in, we sit ourselves down at an ancient checkerboard on the coffee table for a quick turn at a game we never seem to play except for when we’re here, at Grand View Lodge.
Simple old checkers has a tough time competing with the oceans of instant gratification that exist in the palm of our hands, all of it precision-engineered diversions to optimize as many pleasure sensors as possible. (No offense if I’ve just inadvertently inspired you to take a quick TikTok break—we’ll be here when you get back.) But on those trips up north, even if our phones are on us, they tend to remain in the pocket while we’re immersed in the history of that log-scented lobby (once we’ve taken a pic in front of the stone fireplace, of course). Our attention instead turns to the epic view of the lake, and to that checkerboard.
It’s a rare case where tradition trumps technology, and I’m convinced that all of us, even those too young to imagine a world without social media, intuitively grasp that by sitting down at this table we are taking part in a story that spans generations—that my 13-year-old might someday sit across this very same table with her own daughter, moving those very same pieces quickly around the table in a game that takes barely eight minutes and whose outcome is never certain.
And another thing these trips have taught me: Checkers is a nearly perfect cross-generational game. Simple enough for kids to grasp quickly, yet complex and open-ended enough for that same kid to have a real shot at beating his dad. And, just as important, it’s quick enough that there’s always time for a rematch, never mind those vague voices in the background calling you in to dinner.
Now, as we’ve hunkered down at home, like a lot of parents, I’ve been reflecting on the specific qualities of quality time, and have developed a newfound appreciation for the shared distraction that board games provide. They bring you together, while also giving you something else to focus on besides each other, and as a result tend to bring you much closer than simply sitting down and chatting (which, let’s face it, isn’t really on the menu with an eighth grader, anyway).
Your game of choice doesn’t have to be checkers, of course. Scrabble (aka the IRL version of Words With Friends) is my all-time 12-and-up favorite, and Monopoly, Risk, Yahtzee, and other old-school games that have stood the test of time each have their fan base. It bears reminding that just because a game is old doesn’t mean it’s good (check out this overview of ’50s-era games for a few that have deservedly gone the way of the Hula-Hoop.) Though when it comes to quality, older does tend to be better, and if you’re looking for a set with some heft to it, I’d point you to eBay or Etsy rather than a big-box site.
Unfortunately, we won’t be making it to Grand View this Fourth of July (trip currently scheduled for mid-August, fingers crossed … ), but we have been playing checkers, and Scrabble, and several other classics that are starting to have the feel of a new tradition. Plane trip not required.
- Courtesy of Carter Berg