Games as Retrievers of Departed People and Moments
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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In Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, the author expresses sympathy for the ancient Celtic belief that the souls of the departed are contained in every material thing, and that their release depends only on one having a chance encounter with the thing that imprisons each soul.

Randy Cox’s excellent list reviewing the top game releases of recent years put me in mind of an experience I likely have in common with other baseball fans -- which, believe it or not, relates to Proust's comment paraphrased above. That experience is summoning up of long-vanished moments, both people and environments, from a phase of one's life, based on nothing more than the date of a game.

Baseball is particularly apt for this, because the sport is so rigorously catalogued. Mention the 1972 Pirates-Reds playoff, and I am whisked to the basement of our old house near Pittsburgh, asprawl on a burnt-orange shag carpet, watching the game on a miniature television. Mention instead the 1979 Pirates-Orioles World Series, and suddenly I am a junior in high school, during an unseasonably chilly autumn, crumbling Kleenex flowers for homecoming floats with (and making clumsy passes at) Laurie Leubkeman and various Pom-Pom girls. Mention Buckner’s 1986 boot, and I’m in my small, ratty, brown-carpeted studio apartment in Berkeley, California, sun streaming through the windows, within earshot of the stimulating bustle of Telegraph Avenue.

Randy’s list reminded me that boardgames have this power as well. As I noted on his list, the mention of Lost Cities and the date of 1999 together reminded me of the Christmas I received it as a gift. I soon thereafter played it on a shaded porch of a bed and breakfast in Asheville, North Carolina, with a now-long-lost romantic interest.

And so this list. Thought it might be fun to allow a series of games to exercise their respective powers to retrieve a friend or family member from a dormant memory of a period of time, or of a specific instance.

With some carelessness, this list could easily devolve into another of those “biographies through gaming.” This is not my intent. Rather, this list is for each of us to allow a few handy games to bring back some people who have passed through our lives.
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1. Board Game: Careers [Average Rating:5.79 Overall Rank:4913]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Mom, the Instructor, Some time around 1970: – One of the more precise and rewarding aspects of Proust’s style is his gift for capturing the multiple incarnations one’s mind carries of acquaintances. Parents are a particularly obvious example of this phenomenon. My memory simultaneously carries one-dimensional editions of my parents, reflecting the limited comprehension of my toddlerhood, along with the more complex, vulnerable versions of the people who eventually became known to the more discerning adolescent and adult me. Hence, the flat, expressionless father who sits on the couch watching TV in my earliest childhood memories has nothing of the depth and multi-facetedness of the man I grew to know as I matured. But both of them coexist in my memory.

To accurately reflect this, I’ll select a couple of games for both parents, reflecting their different incarnations.

Mom was my instructor and career counselor early in life. The game of “careers” always puts me in mind of Mom’s tutelage. I have a distinct memory of playing it with her and with my sister. Moreover, it meshes with the other things I remember about growing up in Mom’s household: the emphasis on planning one’s path through school, picking a college, and finding an appropriately prestigious career. How can I not think of Mom whenever I see this game?
 
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2. Board Game: Bridge [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:489]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Dad, the Protector, some time around 1970: Mention bridge, and my parents come to mind. They rarely left our home for evening socializing or entertainment, but the few such occasions did include a couple of bridge contests against other couples.

I never witnessed my parents playing bridge, but I did receive the post-mortems. They usually included an account of the two of them waxing impatient with one another. Mention bridge, and the early 1970s version of my parents rush to the scene.
 
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3. Board Game: Hey Pa! There's a Goat on the Roof [Average Rating:4.99 Unranked]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Older Sister Beth, Late 1960s: My older sister is the one person with whom I shared the cultural experience of 1960s childhood. Younger sis didn’t come along until later, when 1970s fashions, such as they were, were in full swing.

As recorded on Morgan’s delightful list, the late 1960s were a giddy, somewhat surreal time in entertainment culture. Marketers reacted to the turbulence of the era by hawking silly, cartoony objects. Baseball uniforms turned especially loud and caricaturish during this time. Children’s games were filled with outlandish plastic buffoonery, of which Mouse Trap may be the best known example.

There’s only one person who comes to mind when I look at this picture: Beth, the only person with whom I would have played it.
 
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4. Board Game: Monopoly [Average Rating:4.39 Overall Rank:15319]
 
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Little Sister Laura, late 1970s: We had few games that were ever age-appropriate simultaneously for both Laura and me. Monopoly was played quite a lot as a result. Monopoly summons many disparate images for many people, but for me it’s a vehicle in which Laura arrives, with our old cassette recorder in tow, blaring a pop music accompaniment to our banter.
 
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5. Board Game: The Game of Life [Average Rating:4.19 Overall Rank:15321]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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John Mattson, circa 1970: My best friend in the first couple of years of elementary school was a boy named John. John was an expert on Saturday morning TV, possessed a terrific toy collection, enjoyed limitless access to Kool-Aid and home-made pizza, and had a beautiful Korean mother on whom I bestowed perhaps my first inappropriate crush.

I’ve played the game of Life exactly once in my life, with John and his brothers and sister. John is out of my life for good now – or rather, he’s not. Mention the game of Life to me, and he materializes in a flash.
 
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6. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:414] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Cousin Allan, circa 1972: My cousin Allan was the drifter of our family, wandering between jobs, building up various resentments against employers, women, and the “establishment” at large. Later in life I found him impossible to get along with, his various causes and resentments, in my view, a function of his own personal demons rather than any legitimate persecution.

But I cannot repress a favorable first impression of Allan that comes to mind whenever I read a book on chess. Allan gave me my first chess book on one of his stops through our house. The memory serves as a reminder to me that enthusing a kid about an intellectual pastime is a gift that just keeps on giving. I don’t know where is the current version of Allan, but the long-ago one, sitting on the sofa with my parents, resplendent in shaggy beard, smiling at me, is readily made present via a chess book.
 
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7. Board Game: The Inventors [Average Rating:5.50 Overall Rank:13922]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Ray Wright, any time in the 1970s: Ray was my childhood gaming companion, always up for whatever I wanted to play. We went through it all: roll and move games, abstracts, trivia games, tabletop baseball, the 3M line, and later on, wargames.

In a certain sense, I should put Strat-o-matic here, which indeed reminds me of Ray like no other person. But it’s not a pure, undiluted memory – my memory bank travels as well to Strat round-robins involving another old childhood friend. And, while Ray and I played our share of wargames, I’m not sure that any brings back Ray by his lonesome, unaccompanied by various other wargamers I have known.

The surest way to bring Ray back, I believe, is to select a game that he had in his back room, and which I’ve found nowhere else. Ray lived in a house his father built, and in the hallway past the main rooms, on the left end, was a small back room that was perfect for isolation and gaming. That room contained a closet that was packed floor to ceiling with games. The Inventors, along with Mr. President, the Guiness World Record game, and many others, was among them.
 
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8. Board Game: Diplomacy [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:500]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Scott Wigton, circa 1979: One of my best friends in high school was one year older, a creative, sardonically funny, extremely smart (class Valedictorian), somewhat rebellious, dashing fellow named Scott. Scott was my co-songwriter when music dominated my teenage years. He also introduced me to a lot of stuff that enriches my life still, from James Joyce to Charles Mingus.

I’ve played only one truly memorable game of Diplomacy in my life, in our basement against Scott, Ray, Edna Fleischacker and her prodigious younger brother. Scott won the game as Great Britain. I think of that game every time the Diplomacy map appears on BGG.
 
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9. Board Game: Dynasty League Baseball [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:3459]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Ed Seidl, circa 1988: In grad school I roomed with an entertaining, well-read fellow named Ed. On the occasion of one scientific conference that we attended, we wound up skipping most of the presentations and playing a long tournament of Pursue the Pennant in our hotel room, wolfing down cheesesteaks as we did so. Consequently, I can no longer think of PTP without thinking of Ed, the baseball rosters of the late 1980s, and a hotel room in Florida.
 
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10. Board Game: Genius Rules [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:10229]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Mom, the Friend and Game Companion, some time in the mid-to-late-1980s: After I had grown and moved away, my parents graduated from one place in my brain to another, no longer authority figures but loved ones living at a distance. We slowly discovered that my mother shares some of my love of playing games. My memories of family vacations of the time are sprinkled with many game-playing occasions.

Life in many ways came back into bloom for me in the 1980s, after some struggles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I have vivid memories of playing this particular game at a Walt Disney World hotel around that time. I will always associate this game with my mother because she smoked us all at it.
 
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11. Board Game: Out of Context [Average Rating:5.15 Overall Rank:13479]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Dad, the Friend and Game Companion, some time around 1990: Dad is not the enthusiastic gamer that is my mother, but he does have his specialties. One is trivia, another is creative thinking. This game was perfect for him, so I always think of him whenever I see this game.

Funny thing about Dad, is that his bluff answers were always so perfect, so brilliant, that others with less familiarity with the celebrities invariably missed them. He would find the definitive “bluff answer” time and again, and in turn be bluffed by good choices by others, but still lose because others weren’t as sharp. I’ll never forget the time he chose “Jimmy Carter” as his bluff answer to “I owe everything to my dentist,” and didn’t draw a single vote.
 
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12. Board Game: Mahjong [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:616]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Suzan, My Ex, 1989-1996: My first wife was never a gamer, but there are games I do associate with her family. She was from a Taiwanese-American family, truly wonderful people, kind and supportive in every way. They didn’t play many games, but mah-jongg was one. I immediately thought of them during that scene in the Joy Luck Club where the mothers are all playing Mah-jongg. Suzan and her mother especially come to mind whenever I see this game.
 
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13. Board Game: 25 Words or Less [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:3090]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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A.A., a GF from 1996-98: I think I’ll avoid giving names from this point out. This game reminds me of a woman I dated from 1996-98, with whom I had an embarrassing spat in front of the couple we were playing against. They undoubtedly thought that the incident was symptomatic of a relationship growing rapidly dysfunctional, and they would have been right.

Still a good game, though.
 
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14. Board Game: Samarkand [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:2553]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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CL, a GF from 1998-2001: I can’t help but think of her whenever I play this particular game, and very specifically her apartment in Cambridge, near the game store where we bought it. She played games mostly to indulge me, but came to genuinely enjoy them after a while. This is about the time I began to drift back into gaming, and several of the games I now own date from this period: Lost Cities, Samarkand, Landlord, Tikal, Mississippi Queen, Buried Treasure, and Arguile among them. Samarkand is the one that puts me in mind of a particular scene: CL's Cambridge apartment had a lot of natural light, almost blindingly white in places. Played many a game of this on the floor in front of televised sporting events.
 
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15. Board Game: Acquire [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:206]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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James – Upon my jilting in 2001 (a fortuitous event in view of my current fortunate marriage), I began to get together with a couple of friends to play games, a ritual that ultimately evolved into our present game group. This game will always remind me of James, one of the co-founders of our little get-togethers. Those were good times. James, Ed and I used the occasions for fellowship and banter. I have clear memories of certain specific occasions, including assembling at 3:30 AM to travel to view a meteor shower.

James played this game throughout his college days, and always suggested it on Game Day. I miss seeing James more often (he is now a proud father with less time for gaming), and I miss playing this with him. But I always think of him when this game comes out.
 
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16. Board Game: Mystic Skull: The Game of Voodoo [Average Rating:6.69 Unranked]
Dave Ding Dong
United States
Ding Dong
Illinois
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and the ultimate departed moment symbolism:

Yorick - Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio
 
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17. Board Game: Altar [Average Rating:5.50 Unranked]
Peter Johns
United States
Houston
Texas
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I only ever played this game with one person, my friend Doc. We would rush home from orchestra practice and play endless games of this whilst watching Quantum Leap and Moonlighting on TV.

I've never playes it with anyone else....I carried it over to the U.S. when I moved to Texas from England, but I just haven't wanted to play it with anyone except Doc.
 
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18. Board Game: Rook [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:1935]
Dane Peacock
United States
Stansbury Park
Utah
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My Dad at Lehman Caves, Nevada.

Until I was 9 years old, we spent the summers at Lehman Caves. My Dad, who was a school teacher, worked the summers there as a tour guide/park ranger.

There are a few vivid memories that are anchored to my life at Lehman Caves. Certain songs, movies, and experiences suddenly and firmly place me inside those memories. One of these is Rook.

My Dad was not a game player. The rest of the family played with Rook cards endlessly during those long summers. I learned solataire, war, and other games with Rook cards at Lehman Caves. Once in a great while my Dad even got involved in a game.

These memories are rare and meaningful.
 
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19. Board Game: Risk [Average Rating:5.58 Overall Rank:14501]
Dave Serrette
United States
Lafayette
Louisiana
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A while back, my brother was dating a friend of mine's sister. For some reason, we were always together, because I was always with my friend, and he was always with his sister, who was always with my brother. We practically spent an entire summer together once, and almost every night we played Risk. I have never once won a game, and always the first or second person knocked out.
 
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20. Board Game: Reds! The Russian Civil War 1918-1921 [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:2272]
Was George Orwell an Optimist?
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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Erik Elfbrandt

This is an odd entry, because I never met Erik. I ended up with the high bid for a copy of Reds! that Erik was selling on Ebay in early 2003. I exchanged a couple emails with him, learning that he wanted a postal money order as payment, so I purchased one and mailed if off. I emailed him that the money was on the way, and never heard from him again.

Some time passed during which I emailed several times, but got no response. Eventually I tried to call him on the phone, to see what was up. I reached his roommate, who informed me that Erik was dead. Apparently he had died a few days after I sent him the money order.

The roommate put me in touch with Erik's fiancee, who sent me the game along with an obituary and a kind letter. Apparently Erik had sold several games right before his death, and she was trying to honor his intentions and get all of them to the appropriate recipients.

I still keep the letter and the obituary in the gamebox. It just doesn't seem right to separate them, even though they give me a sad, eerie twinge every time I open the box. Erik was two years younger than me, and should have had many gaming years ahead of him.
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21. Board Game: Star Fleet Battles [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:1665]
Trey Stone
United States
Texarkana
Texas
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My younger brother was taken from me in the early 90s. We fought much of the time when we were younger, but one area we could come together and not fight (usually) was games. He was often a participant at my RPG table, and also played wargames. This one was a favorite. I remember one time in Florida, staying with an Uncle on one of his properties. Just me, my bro, a huge living/entertainment room, a cardboard space map, and little cardboard chit/ships. A good time was had. Still have this game, but miss my bro.
 
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