The Yes Woman: So . . . who’s for a friendly board game?

It doesn’t take long for our relationships to play out across the board – and not in a good way

‘It doesn’t take long to remember how awful Monopoly is.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

‘It doesn’t take long to remember how awful Monopoly is.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

When you don’t drink in Ireland, the list of potential evening entertainment isn’t very long. You can go to pubs as a teetotaller, but the fun stops at about 11pm, when people start turning maudlin and talking about their strained relationship with the cat, or how they really could have played for Ireland. These topics of conversation aren’t interesting when a person is sober. Even so, I know that they won’t remember my sincere attempts at comforting them, or how patient I was while they slurred on in existential crisis. There is a stage of drunkenness (it’s directly before the stage that might be described as reeling oblivion) in which a person becomes entirely self-obsessed and rather miserable. Since people generally hit this stage at about 11.30pm, I’m out the door before then.

In an attempt to maintain friendships as a non-drinker, you have to think unconventionally. The last time I had uncomplicated interaction with others was in childhood, over board games. And so the perfect solution to the problem of pubs, I reason, is to institute a weekly(ish) board-game night.

‘I’ve been made redundant’

The disagreements begin almost immediately. The first controversy is over the choice of board game. We try Monopoly, but it doesn’t take long to remember how awful Monopoly is. Apparently originally designed to showcase the problems with capitalism, it very quickly has us fighting among ourselves. It is put to an end when, for the third time, a friend declares, “But I’ve recently been made redundant” (which she has, a week prior) in a bid to protect herself from creditors. When I still insist that she pay me the €24 owed for trespassing on my land, things become unpleasant. The Monopoly has suddenly become all too real. The strange tension and the passive-aggressive comments it stirs up are direct from the Monopoly games of my childhood. I recall my brother, aged about 10, threatening to “punch me something serious” if I dared to buy Shrewsbury Road before he could get to it. Playing Monopoly as an adult is still tainted with that bitter aroma of desperation and threats. Thoroughly ashamed of ourselves, we box it up, and another game is pulled from the cupboard.

We move on to Runebound, a deliciously nerdy fantasy board game involving epic quests and strange creatures. It certainly isn’t as bad as the Monopoly, but still there is a strange flavour to the proceedings.

It seems like our relationships suddenly undress themselves and are played out in microcosm across the board. That quiet friend who seems so amiable suddenly starts to go for everyone’s jugular. If there’s a chance to wound or kill another character, in he goes, eyes agleam, teeth bared. The rest of us take note of this surprising seam of aggression, which clearly runs under the surface of his otherwise sanguine character.

Across the table, there’s the hypersensitive friend who seems to take any action against him very personally. This too is noted and stored away. It occurs to me that I too must be handing out pieces of myself for their digestion. I feel my eyes narrowing. What was intended as fun is becoming bizarrely competitive, and the air starts to quiver with tension as each of us decides resolutely that our bizarre zombified water creature thing would certainly be the one to beat the dragon and win.

As we eyeball one another suspiciously, far too engrossed in the game, I recall that I never really enjoyed board games as a child after all. They had always ended with someone getting angry, someone winning and then gloating about it in an obnoxious fashion, or, in my student years, someone spraining an ankle during a particularly energetic game of alcohol-fuelled Twister. Games clearly bring out the worst in us.

The quiet, obliging friend wins. She has been quiet and polite, while manipulating us all along.

I look at her, unblinking. “So, same again next week?”

  • Yes to . . . games. No to . . . Monopoly
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