Tabletop Games in the midst of Quarantine

Story by Roger Moore

Not that quarantines, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place orders are things we hope for, but they can allow for a trip down memory lane. Being stuck at home means a chance to finally organize that extra bedroom or storage facility or to get that flower bed in the backyard shining bright. But, instead of heading out for dinner or to a movie or anything outside the boundaries of your driveway, evenings and weekends mean hunkering down in front of the television or with a good book.

It can also mean digging out and dusting off the board games you have not played since the 1990s. One of those, at least one in my “games closet” just happened to be developed in Stillwater by a former Hideaway dishwasher. In the early 1970s, Gary Gabriel worked at Hideaway Pizza and evenings were often spent playing chess and checkers on the checkerboard tablecloths of Hideaway fame. In conversation with other like-minded gamers, Pente was born. Gabriel sent his idea for the new game to prominent game companies – he was rejected. Confident the game was a keeper, Gabriel and his van hit craft fairs and trade shows around the country. In 1979 Pente Games was incorporated and a small staff of recent Oklahoma State graduates helped the founder. By 1983, a million copies of Pente had been sold. A 1983 article in Inc. Magazine points out that boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, publisher Hugh Hefner, and President Ronald Reagan were among the players. Pente was and is not intended for social distancing, but it certainly helps pass the time. It also requires patience, something sometimes lost to the video-game generations of the last three decades.

What other old classics are on the game’s closet shelf or ready for re-introduction to the dining room table?

Backgammon, according to some, can be traced to Ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures. The Byzantines, around the middle of the fifth century AD, left evidence of the game that requires some good dice-rolling and a bit of luck. No luck is required for chess, a strategy game that dates to before the seventh century AD. Patience is an understatement regarding the rules of chess. Memories of mid-1990s chess marathons that started in the evening and finished with the sunrise against my nemesis showed my lack of “Grand Master” ability.

Monopoly. Sorry. Clue. Add Cards Against Humanity and you have a weekend full of appropriate – and sometimes inappropriate – entertainment. What about a deck of cards? There are endless possibilities. For instance, how about continuing a game of Gin Rummy that started in a Las Vegas airport in 2007? Shelter-in-place is a great time to cut into your spouse’s 25,270 to 23,225 lead. That same deck of cards has seen thousands of games of Solitaire. Of course, the app on your phone is easier and does not require a flat surface, but that is another story for another month.

Sports board games have been replaced by video games – or so you would think. In 1977, while browsing at the old Game Shop in Cimarron Plaza, probably before dinner at Wyatt’s Cafeteria, I came across APBA and its baseball, football, golf, bowling, and basketball board games. A game of baseball, any season dating to the days of Ty Cobb, can be played in less than 15 minutes. Roll some dice, check a player’s card, reference the pitcher’s grade, look at the situational boards and you have baseball in the friendly confines of your dining room or office. Want to play the 1927 New York Yankees against the 1977 Pittsburgh Pirates? With APBA all fantasy is possible. One would be amazed at the folks with similar passions. Facebook and social media have brought these sports board game enthusiasts together. A visually-stimulated culture and the amazing graphics of modern video games mean sports board games are left to those of us who prefer a book to the movie of sorts.

Is it possible that board games can teach lessons? Not that Monopoly will turn you into an investment banker or Wall Street wonder, but it might teach some fundamentals in money management. It’s not too far-fetched to think that successful realtors began their training with an intense game against siblings. Risk, another game of patience and strategy, did not create our military leaders, but, again, do you think any of them ever played a six-hour game, trying to hold on to Europe or the massive expanse of Asia? What does the game of Sorry provide? Maybe a lesson in cruelty and how one’s fortune can change with the roll of a die.It is fascinating to wonder how our board games developed in the minds of the inventors. If I like it, will others? How many actual games, like American baseball, are conglomerates of other games brought by immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and England? For Gary Gabriel, hanging out with his buddies at the Hideaway in the early 1970s, the game of Pente came to fruition. A half-century later it is still being played on dining room tables around the world. It is safe to say that board games are a part of our past, present, and future. Is there another dishwasher tinkering with an idea? Perhaps during the first quarter of 2020, there is a creative mind developing a game that will be played a century from now.