November 21, 2005

"The zobo and the ogive could not quite triumph over the qanat and the euripi on Sunday, and thus the contender was birsled."

At the World Scrabble Tournament:
Adam Logan, a 30-year-old mathematician from Canada, scored 465 points to beat Pakorn Nemitrmansuk, a 30-year-old architect from Thailand, with 426 points in the final game of a playoff.
Inevitable topic in any article about Scrabble champions: the way they don't care what the words mean. Why do we want them to? Why do we feel that it's wrong -- almost like cheating -- not to love the words the way literary word-lovers do? Is it something about the passion -- like sex without love?
During the contest, Mr. Logan said, when he was going for one particularly high-voltage triple-letter-score, triple-word-score word, he was so tense that "my hands were shaking and it was difficult to get the letters on the board" - passions perhaps not familiar to the average parlor player.
I've seen "parlor" players get like that, though. Haven't you?

What's the board game people get most emotional about? In my experience, it's Risk.

50 comments:

Icepick said...

Board game? Chess, no question about it. (Perhaps it might be Go in East Asia, but I can't say for sure.) The amount of acrimony and bad blood that chess players develop towards each other is tremendous! Fist fights, boards cracked over each others heads, endless accusations of cheating and dirty deeds (accurate, frequently enough to feed the paranoia), etc.

My favorite case of cheating came from ancient Persia, before the game had taken on its modern form. The local monarch (and I forget which term they were using, so I will just say King) was playing a blind man at his court. The blind man was the better player, so the King cheated by removing the blind man's pieces from the board! Afterwards, the blind man lamented to bystanders, "If it had been anyone else, I would have complained to the King!"

SteveR said...

Risk can be very emotional. "Why are you attacking me when John has South America" In my case if I feel like some one has been "unfair" to me, I'll wipe myself out in order to weaken them as much as possible. I understand that Chess can be intense but I'm no good at it and I have no interest in watching two people play it.

Asher Abrams said...

've seen "parlor" players get like that, though. Haven't you?

Yeah. My mom.

Dad held a Master's in English from Wesleyan University; Mom managed to finish high school (in small-town Maine) after staying back a year. And she would routinely thrash him at Scrabble.

Ahhh, the memories ...

reader_iam said...

From a family standpoint, I've seen the game of Monopoly burst forth into full-blown hostility--and inter-generational, to boot!

I think that many people just don't get that Scrabble, played for high stakes, isn't actually about words. It's about points and strategy--the words are just tools. Of course, if you were my (late, much missed) grandma, you could both love words and wipe the floor with any and all comers.

I read an oddly engrossing book by Stefan Fatsis last year about Scrabble Tournament participants. You might enjoy "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players."

HaloJonesFan said...

The board-game I've seen people get the most emotional about is Federation Commander, the exciting fast-paced game of Star Trek starship combat, recently released by the Amarillo Design Bureau!

(No, this is not auto-spam, although I am shilling for my new favorite game...)

reader_iam said...

And I find it no coincidence that the referenced finalists were a mathematician and an architect.

Mica said...

Yes, Risk is definitely the most emotional. I can't play with certain friends anymore because it always gets ugly!

Undercover Christian said...

We have an annual family Risk game each year at Christmas. I definitely agree that this is the game people get emotional about.

Broken alliances, suicide missions based on anger, surprise underdog victories--what a game!

DaveG said...

One of my fave photos of my daughter and her cousin is the two of them face-to-face over the Stratego board. People comment on the intensity they're both showing to the game. What they don't know is that about three seconds after the picture was taken, one of the players went nuclear and threw the board across the room.

Ah, the memories.

No Love for Frank said...

Empires in Arms. Without a doubt. Basically, EiA is to Risk what a college physics course would be to eighth grade science. With about ten times the complexity, not to mention the average game taking anywhere from 80-120 hours to finish, the emotional level can get staggering. To the point that I once witnessed a friendship ended over an in-game double-cross...

Telecomedian said...

If a board game can take two or three working weeks to play, and end a friendship in the process, I do hope you'll excuse me as I stick with good ole' Candy Land.

Dave said...

OK, the idea that elite Scrabble players should know the definition of words is asinine. There are too many obscure words with odd spellings for one to at once learn those spellings, and the definitions of the words. There is no rule in Scrabble that requires one to know the definition of, say QAT, only that QAT is in the Scrabble dictionary.

(If you must know, QAT is a plant commonly eaten in places like Yemen.)

Arguing that an elite Scrabble player should know the definitions of words is like arguing that Barry Bonds should know the names and homerun totals of all the great hitters that came before him. His knowledge of Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson informs nothing about his ability to hit home runs. Likewise, knowing what QAT is, is irrelevant to knowing how to spell it and place it on the Scrabble board at an opportune time.

The morons who write these stories need to think critically about their assumptions. Their assumptions are stupid.

Sorry to go on about this, but the lack of a connection between the word's definition and knowing how to spell it is stunningly simple.

Troy said...

Monopoly... yes. I almost had to sleep on the couch over that one.

Most emotional??? Try telling a 4-year old why he has to take the long chute all the way down and can't go back up the ladder unless he lands on it. That's right... Chutes and Ladders can be as emotionally wrought as the Civil War. Ken Burns should do doc on it.

Troy said...
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Knemon said...

Without a doubt: Diplomacy.

There's no luck involved, just treachery and more treachery.

Tempers run high.

tdocer said...

Backgammon. Take luck, strategy, and vengence capability, add ego, and expect the worst. My spouse and I now only play backgammon under "gentlemen's rules"--that is, no knocking pieces off the board. Mostly, though, we just play cribbage.

tdocer said...

Backgammon. Take luck, strategy, and vengence capability, add ego, and expect the worst. My spouse and I now only play backgammon under "gentlemen's rules"--that is, no knocking pieces off the board. Mostly, though, we just play cribbage.

Henry said...

Risk is probably the most dramatic game for the "tipping over the board" tantrum, an event that happened more than once in my childhood.

Risk does seem unique to me in the ability of a disgruntled loser to screw the game for someone else. I had a friend in school who held a weekly or monthly game. I played once and realized that the guy had so psychologically demoralized the other regular players than none dared attack him in strength. They were all playing for second before the game even started.

I haven't heard of Empire in Arms, but it sounds somewhat like Diplomacy, which is one of the most tedious games I've every played. It's interesting through the first few half-hour turns, then mind-numbingly dull thereafter for as long as all the players can stand it.

Doug Sundseth said...

"What's the board game people get most emotional about? In my experience, it's Risk."

As Knemon mentioned, it's Diplomacy. Because there's no random factor, every factor in the game is the direct result of a conscious decision. And you can't win without either betraying your (nominal) allies or bad play on the part of the other players.

It's a great game with the right people, but "the right people" is maybe 10% of the people who are serious about boardgames. I've seen it break friendships, and not just once or twice.

wildaboutharrie said...

I agree, Monopoly, especially when your jerk of a brother is withholding what you need for your first set and he already has hotels.

I've seen Trivial Pursuit reduce people to tears.

John(classic) said...

The old (ca.1965) Diplomacy, played on a real map with boundaries at pre-WWI and rules somewhat like Risk. A game was a three day affair.

I once saw a player break his finger punching out England when a double cross landed the English fleet in Kiel while the Russians poured acoss the eastern German border...

Buck Pennington said...

I'll agree with Icepick, chess is the board game with the highest potential for personal, and even geopolitical, violence. No contest.

One of the worst temper tantrums I ever threw in my life was when my use of "yurt" in a hotly-contested game of Scrabble was disallowed. "Yurt" wasn't in the abridged dictionary we had all agreed upon as The Reference before starting the game. This was before the 'net, of course.

I used to annoy the Hell out of my second Former Central Person (thanks for the term, RLC) because I refused to play the game with more than seven letters. Rules is rules...

howzerdo said...

A lot of board games make people get down right vicious. As a kid, I saw quite a few Monopoly games end with boards tipped over, fake money flying, pieces scattered everywhere (and later vacuumed up, does any kid have all the houses?). But I think the most painful is Scruples. I will never forget begging a friend to unlock the bathroom door where she'd retreated, crying, during a party at my house (I only have one bathroom! And the other guests were getting pretty restless). I've no doubt that relationships have been ended by that game.
Gina

tiggeril said...

It depends on the players, really. My brother and I could get into a drag out fight over a game of Uno.

XWL said...

I think both Monopoly and Risk share a common design flaw that makes them both prone to cause tantrums.

They both aren't well structured to lead to a definitive conclusion in a reasonable amount of time.

Games can drag on forever if you have someone slightly behind beset by the illusion that if they hit a few lucky breaks they can catch the game leader.

Of course console and computer gaming (especially Counter-Strike and its progeny) has taken the intensity and competitiveness to levels that board games never could.

On top of the adrenalin rush from plain old hostility, you have the added boost of fast-twitch action. Firing the long forgotten fight or flight brain wiring pathways is headache inducing to some addictive to others.

mrbungle2103 said...

I'm nominating Monopoly because someone always cheats. It's usually the banker. I can't count the maount of times I've said "hey...was that hotel there a second ago?" or "where'd you get all those 500s?"

As for Scrabble, I hold the record for points for a single word in my house. I managed the word "clangers" which was a crap childrens tv show in Britian years ago. It lay down the left side from the center to the bottom left square. So that means it crossed two triple word scores and one double letter score. So a word which orinally was worth a measly 13 achieved a mighty 117. And you get 50 points for using all 7 letters which gives 167.

Marvelous.

Years later my father-in-law still argues that when you get two triple word tiles you only count one, and if you did count two you'd only triple your original score twice, not triple it then triple the new number. I say he's just bitter.

katiebakes said...

Parcheesi! So frustrating!

MGO said...

You know, I knew a guy who won $10,000 in a nationwide Scrabble competition. He spent weeks memorizing the eight-letter words, but with the letters rearranged in alphabetical order. When he'd play, he'd keep the letter tiles in alphabetical order, and would win by nearly always playing out all his tiles.

It had to have taken him an inordinate amount of time, but the guy was a concert pianist who probably enjoyed the break.

Robert said...

From a family standpoint, I've seen the game of Monopoly burst forth into full-blown hostility--and inter-generational, to boot!

Indeed. My mother in law will not play Monopoly with me any more, saying that I am the devil incarnate.

Just because I forced my 7-year old son into indentured servitude to pay his rent...

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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reader_iam said...

Gina: Oh Lord yes! I'd forgotten about that game ... I've witnessed a whole number of terrible scenes related to playing it back in the day, but had blocked them out of my mind.

bill said...

These are all very good answers. But I would suggest Jarts. There's a reason it was outlawed and I have to order a new version from England.

For the record, when your mother asks why your sister is bleeding and crying, "speed jarts" is not an appropriate answer (This story is 90% accurate - the jarts were dull and it's quite possible she wasn't bleeding).

Eli Blake said...

Monopoly. No question. I've been in a game where one of the players got so mad she jumped up and stomped all over the game and smashed all the pieces.

On the other hand, Monopoly also has the opposite effect. If it is 3:52 AM and you are still playing a game that began about 8:00 PM, and no one seems to be winning, it induces a state of complete and total withdrawal.

Eli Blake said...

Then again, board games are nothing compared to the behavior at kid's sporting events-- by the adults.

This year, my kids played in a soccer game in which the other team's coach pulled his team off the field halfway through because of a disputed call. And a couple of years ago, there was a trial involving a fight between two parents at a junior hockey game in which one had killed the other.
And it is almost routine to see parents getting into shoving matches and yelling all sorts of obscenities at each other, the umpires and the coaches at little league games (one reason I don't let my kids play little league).

On the international scene-- soccer. Honduras and El Salvador fought a war in 1967 (I think that was the year) in which several hundred soldiers were killed over a disputed call in a soccer game. 'nuff said.

Eli Blake said...

here is a link on the 'hockey dad' who was sentenced to 6-10 years for beating another father to death in a fight over their son's hockey game.

vbspurs said...

I think that many people just don't get that Scrabble, played for high stakes, isn't actually about words. It's about points and strategy--the words are just tools.

EGGZACKLY, Reader_Iam.

I have played with my online buddies on that Yahoo Games site (Literati, they call it).

One of my friends, who routinely wallops me (and I'm not so shabby myself in vocabulary, if I do say so meself), often jokes:

"Never play Scrabble with an Asian."

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Ann,

To answer your question: being an only child sucks in terms of board gaming.

That's why I played versus my nurse, my mother and my father, more often than not...

But still, I loved Monopoly (I have both the UK and US versions, and have the German and Brazilian versions on order), I loved Risk (it's called Guerre in France), and I loved Stratego and Battleship.

I also have a soft spot for the Game of Life -- choosing always the pinkie car.

But my generation was the cusp between the board games apogee one (the late 60's / early 70's) and the start of the video gaming phenomena -- mid-80's.

I didn't touch a board game for years, after they gave me my Atari and later Sega Genesis.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Word Wars - Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Game Circuit

Highly recommended. The black Scrabbler was hilarious.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Professor Althouse.
In the Conservatory.
With a candlestick.


Colonel Mustard
In the Bedroom
With squism

Cheers,
Victoria

Patrick Martin said...

The other reason Monopoly and Risk are such prime instigators of domestic unrest is because it is all too easy for 2 players to conspire to vanquish the other players.

Bill: "John, I won't attack West Africa from Brazil if you won't attack me back; I'll let you have Europe and Africa if you let me have the Americas. We'll beat Bob and then fight it out."

Bob: "But that's not fair!"

Suddenly the game is no fun for Bob because it's 2 against 1, and he's outnumbered and surrounded.

Likewise, you get the Monopoly "teammates" who agree to swap properties to get color sets between themselves, but won't cut the other guy the same deal. Once the 3rd guy knows he has no chance, there's not much point in playing any more, and tempers flare!

Starless said...

Risk, definitely, as was illustrated by Kramer and Newman. "Ha! The Ukraine is weak!"

SteveR said...

Patrick Martin: When I played Risk on a regular basis, open conspiracies against a third party were frowned upon. To the extent we had any class in those days, that was beneath it. Nonetheless it is easy to feel picked on for many reasons, thus inciting unrest.

Of course in the late seventies dorm room setting being vanquished freed you up to take full control of album selections and more frequent bong hits, both worthy consolation prizes.

somross said...

My husband and I used to be the neighborhood Trivial Pursuit champs, with complementary categories: I'd do lit and vocabulary and culture questions, he was good at geography and history and sports. But that was the 80s. This summer my younger (college age) son and his friends turned Trivial Pursuit into a competitive sport and one of his friends wanted to take the old couple on. But the categories in the updated game were so different we were only so-so. Not to mention I know nothing of popular music from 1980 to the present. I couldn't remember "Lil' Bow Wow." I kept saying "Little Snoop? Little Snoop Dogg?" Those boys made us play til 2 a.m. And we lost.

reader_iam said...

Patrick:

Ohhhhhhh yeah. The old "rule of three" comes into play, as in "never do anything in threes," because someone's always on the out and always feeling ganged up on.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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Eli Blake said...

Nothing these days though compares to the way poker was, say 100 or 120 years ago, when any hint of cheating could earn you free bullet.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Blake:
Mr. Blake, I am surprised to know you are still alive to tell us about it. I would have thought time, or the bullet, would have gotten you. Well done, sir!

My sister routinely beat me in monopoly and scrabble and I was always the sore loser. Then, as mentioned by someone else, Atari appeared, and I spent most of my time at the houses of friends trying to get them to let me play.

We altnated game playing with reading Soldier of Fortune magazine and watching my friend's parent's porn on betamax. (That friend's father always gave us lectures about how betamax would ultimately be the main video standard, and since he was a professor at Baruch College, the business college at the City Univeristy of NY, I figured he knew what he was talking about).

peter hoh said...

Ann, this is such a shameless attempt to grab all the people who google for zobo and ogive.

hoosthere said...

Hey Ann...where'd you go?

Sean E said...

"I think that many people just don't get that Scrabble, played for high stakes, isn't actually about words. It's about points and strategy--the words are just tools."

I think you just hit on exactly why I hate Scrabble. It calls on knowledge of a set of tools outside of basic game strategy or general knowledge. You can have the strategy down and a good vocabulary, then get your had handed to you by someone who memorized a list of words containing the letter Q.

It's what Risk would be like if you could gain an advantage by knowing the main exports of Urkutsk.