Playing a board game by yourself is akin to having a mannequin for a best friend.
Sure, you get to make all the decisions, but the conversation is a bit one-sided, and the hugs seem disingenuous.
Board games are intended to be social activities. They can lure people together for Wednesday-night dorm room trivia or Sunday Scrabble at the retirement community center. Chutes and Ladders entertains the kids for hours, giving Mom time to pound out a stern letter to network executives who carelessly canceled her favorite daytime soap opera.
And board games have been breathing new life into otherwise waning social engagements for a millennia.
I imagine an ancient Egyptian hostess, noticing a sudden lull in conversation and fearing a cocktail-party catastrophe of scorpion-bowl proportions, scrambling for a diversion.
“Quick!” she may have shouted, passing out clay tablets and short No. 2 pencils. “List all the items a person is buried with in preparation for the afterlife that also start with the letter ‘S’.”
Jim, the witty scribe, comes up with “Shabti statues,” an impressive two-point answer. But the win was given instead to the Pharaoh’s short-tempered second cousin who wrote down “sarcophagus.” It wasn’t as good, but said cousin is known to be a sore loser, and the kind of fellow who’d order Jim killed before deigning to accept second place.
Board games have thrived since. And for good reason. They entertain us. They give us purpose. They make us feel smarter, even if 12 turns come and go before we can finally slide that slice of orange pie into our Trivial Pursuit game piece.
In celebration of such friendly board-game competition and brain teasing, the folks at Portland Roots have organized Board Game Olympics, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bayside Bowl (58 Alder St., Portland).
“People should be playing more games in general,” said Bo Bigelow, Portland Roots co-founder. “It’s good for you. It’s good for the soul.”
The event will gather game players for 30-minute rounds of a few popular board games: Scattergories, Trivial Pursuit and Taboo. The highest-scoring teams will then move on to the championship round — a nerve-wracking, gravity-provoking game of Jenga. (Yes, organizers know there’s no board in Jenga. They also don’t discriminate.)
“These are the kind of games people know,” said Bigelow. “They’re the kind that, once you get going, you just kind of get lost in the game, swept up in the competitive spirits and shouting at each other.”
And the games will be played as they were meant to be played: with other people (like living ones, who blink and talk and don’t spend afternoons half nude in department store windows).
Teams of two compete against each other, with points handed out for correct answers. When the round ends, teams will move on to a different game.
The event is limited to 24 teams — meaning interested duos should register in advance at portlandrootsmaine.com to secure a spot. Registration costs $10 per team.
Folks who aren’t participating in the official Olympics are still encouraged to come down. Bigelow and fellow organizer Jeff Russell said the board games will abound, so anyone who’s interested can play away. There might also be a chance for wait-listed teams to be swapped in, should a registered team not show up.
Board Game Olympics, which Bigelow and Russell hope becomes a regular event, combines good old games, drink specials and new people. “Pull it all together, and it becomes a great experience,” said Bigelow.
Because, while Pictionary is a speed-sketcher’s dream and Balderdash makes wordsmithing liars of us all, the games don’t work well when player one is alone. Board games don’t unfold on family room floors with well-shined game pieces and orderly question cards so someone can play an unrousing game of Cranium with a mannequin and the family cat.
A few friends, on the other hand, can make all the difference. Even better: a roomful.
“It’s the difference between staying home, playing a board game,” Bigelow said. “It’s you and 50 people who love games getting together, seeing who’s the best.”
Revelry will be in abundance during Board Game Olympics, along with friendly rivalry and the persistent “you’re wrong!” blast of the Taboo buzzer.
There won’t likely be any lulls in the festivities, though there will be breaks between rounds for socializing and smack talking.
And aside from the board game boasting that naturally goes along with taking first place at Board Game Olympics, winners will also get a cash prize.
What they won’t get: threats from a Pharoah’s sore-losing second cousin.
Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at: