By Sheila O’Kelly
When I was growing up in the sixties, board games were very popular and a great source of entertainment throughout the festive season and on long winter nights.
Squeals of delight filled our home on Christmas morning when my siblings and I woke early to find Santa’s brown paper parcels at the end of our beds. One of the presents I received one Christmas morning was Ludo. My sister Clare (RIP) got Snakes and Ladders.
The games provided lots of fun and my older siblings regularly joined in with us. There were many arguments over cheating, the missing dice, and the loss of the coloured round disks. One of my favourite board games was Solitaire.
I recall one Christmas Eve my Dad bored holes in an old round wooden breadboard and placed marbles in them. Whilst my mother prepared the stuffing for the turkey, dad put the board on the table and taught us to play Solitaire. The aim was to make valid moves to empty the board except for a solitary marble in the central hole.
Every Saint Stephen’s night Uncle Mick and Aunt Maggie arrived at teatime. When the table was cleared and the wash-up done Dad and Uncle Mick set out chess pieces on the board. Uncle Mick cleaned and lit his pipe.
Dad would open his Christmas annual gift from Aunt Maggie, a fifty-pack of John Player cigarettes and light one. Billows of smoke curled into the air as knights, bishops, pawns and rooks were moved cautiously across the board. The game seemed to go on for hours.
Whilst we played with our Santa toys my mother and aunt Maggie sat at the fire and took a trip down memory lane over a glass of sherry. Aunt Maggie had a funny laugh. After two glasses of sherry her laugh became louder and funnier and we giggled behind her back.
Our mother would turn and glare at us. Silence prevailed momentarily then the giggling commenced again.
My children got hours of enjoyment from board games. I recently came across Bingo, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Draughts, Mousetrap, Scrabble, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit in the attic. Some were still intact, others had bits missing, torn cardboard lids and one or two without lids.
Lovely memories flooded back to Christmas nights with my husband Frank and the children in the living room, a board game spread out on the coffee table or carpet, shaking the plastic container then rolling out the dice to commence the game.
When one of the children won a game, it was followed at times with accusations of cheating. One or two of the players would storm out of the room with the promise to never again play a game with that particular sibling.
I blew the dust from the old boxes and wondered about the origins of these games.
In the 19th century, Bingo or Beano as it was called then, was widely used as an educational game in Germany to teach the children spelling, multiplication tables and animal names. The game was modified and became hugely popular in America. It was during a game that someone in anticipation of winning shouted ‘bingo’ instead of ‘Beano’ and so the name Bingo was adopted.
Around the 6th century Ludo or Pachisi was established in India. In 1896 it was modified and patented as Ludo. Snakes and Ladders also originated in India. Its’ original name was Moksha-Patamu with the ladders representing virtues and the snakes representing evil.
In 1100, a Frenchman got the idea of playing Draughts on a chessboard. It was discovered that making jumps mandatory made the game more challenging. The rules for Draughts were set and the game has retained its popularity throughout the years.
Chess was known as Chaturanga, which translates as four military divisions: Infantry Cavalry, Elephantry (troops on War Elephants) and Chariotry (troops on war horses). The knight, the bishop, the pawn and the rook respectively represent these forms.
When the children were in their adolescent years Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly were the favourite board games in our household. Two Canadian editors, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott created Trivial Pursuit in 1979. Winning the game was determined by a player’s ability to answer general knowledge and popular culture questions.
Every Christmas, my family make time to enjoy a board game. In spite of all the modern technology games on the market today, I believe board games will continue to provide fun, education and arguments for years to come.