Dylan invited me to play Dungeons & Dragons with Lorin and his brother Jake. I wanted to decline since I knew a whole lot of both fuck all and jack shit about that game. I just remembered that when I was in high school, only the social outcasts, losers and misfits seemed to like and play it. Those very much left of center youths used every available moment to play. They played relentlessly, obsessively, and impenetrably, with an outsider delight. I didn’t think I could contribute to the overall possible fun of the proposed game night very well, entirely unschooled as I was, but Dungeons & Dragons apparently would work better if there were four people present, so I was recruited to round out the number.
“The main point is to see Lorin’s new place, hang out, and have a nice game night with his kid brother,” Dylan said. “Come on, you should come, it’s gonna be fun.” Dylan’s tone was hopeful and bright. Eventually I conceded, laid aside The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (which I am loving) (actually I’m embarrassed it took me this unforgivably long to dive into the narrative satirical melancholic genius that is Graham motherfucking Greene) (his “entertainments” are so good it’s kind of ridiculous) and thought if worse comes to worst, I would just tell jokes all night and get wasted.
We arrived later than planned, so after enjoying a very nice quick and nourishing meal somewhere, instead of Dungeons & Dragons, we ended up playing The Settlers of Catan. Jake competently and patiently explained the rules of the game while I struggled to keep up with all the unending instruction and complicating details. I furrowed my brows many times. I tried to listen, to understand, and to not interrupt. “I didn’t really grow up playing a lot of board games,” I said, feeling shell-shocked and flustered. “I’ve played maybe five different board games my whole life, and then not more than two times at the most for each. The only board game I can remember playing a lot, being pretty good at, and really liking was Snakes & Ladders. That’s it,” I said. Jake smiled benevolently. “You’ll be fine,” said Dylan. Lorin said, “I know it sounds complicated now, but it gets easy. It’ll all make sense, as soon as we start to play.”
Jake pressed on with explanations, comments, instructions, guidelines and advice. “I don’t think Snakes & Ladders has properly prepared me for this moment,” I said. I slumped my shoulders and added “jeez” and “oof” for effect.
We all chose a colour and it was game on. I drank all available cups of tea and red wine and took several deep and dramatic breathes. We played a few open rounds with all our cards visible so that Dylan and I could learn and get comfortable. Jake declared by a certain round he would revert to how the game was supposed to be played and keep his hand private. We were all, “Whatever dude,” “Sounds good,” and, “That’s cool.”
It was fun to see the competitiveness come out almost immediately in the men. “Dylan’s one of those guys that wins everything,” I said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a board game, a card game, a computer game, sports or chess. And he’s an asshole about it. So watch out.” Jake half-smiled and Lorin just stared hard at his cards. I picked up the game far more quickly than I thought I would, and every time my turn came, I had a considerable amount of luck with the cards and the dice. I made generally speaking some pretty good, smart, and interesting decisions too. I began to really enjoy the game and gloated a little over how great shit seemed to be going for me. I tried to temper my gloating with acts of irrelevant cuteness. Only Allah can judge my motives and success in these attempts.
Whenever someone rolled a 7, they got to move the robber piece to wherever strategically they thought would work out best, and they got to take a card from whoever they had just unkindly fucked. Jake and his friends added previously a set of new electrifying rules involving an extra single roll of one die, to even further spice up all the crazy mostly good things that happened whenever someone rolled a 7. This extra roll of a die definitely added to the excitement, but shit got fucking real when someone rolled a 6. “You guys aren’t going to like this,” Jake said, the first time a post-7 6 roll happened. Obviously he knew something we didn’t. A 6 roll under these circumstances was the one roll that fucked everyone, including the person who was otherwise lucky to have rolled a 7. A subsequent roll of 6 meant that all players had to move from their seats once clockwise and leave their cards, board pieces, knowledge, strategy, familiarity, and loyalty to themselves behind. Three of us expressed various levels of displeasure, disturbance, and outrage. Jake quietly grinned.
Suddenly becoming the person next to you was jarring and unpleasant. It sucked even more if you had done some explicitly shitty thing beforehand to that person because now that person was you. Big learning lesson, a good microcosm of life and applicable in all sorts of ways beyond the game, but difficult to adapt to and hard to accept in the moment. These additional new rules added a distressing and unpredictable vitality to the landscape. Lorin wasn’t keen at all and was the least approving and cool with the wild new additional changes. Jake was stoked because I had been doing pretty goddamned great, and now he had become me. I was irked, a bit shocked and annoyed too, but still determined. As the only female playing, I stood for all Womankind as far as now, forever, and more could go, and so I “had” to win. Women might be weaker than men, they might get paid less for the same work, but goddamn if I wasn’t going to school these boys in my invigorating lively dynamic incredible first game ever playing The Settlers of Catan.
When a player reached ten points, the game was finished. Part of the game, besides all the thinking, considering, and strategy, was figuring how close someone might be to winning, and adjusting your actions accordingly. Jake was getting there, Lorin pondered his hand, I made a wry remark about how I might know a thing or two about it, I mean, I had been in Jake’s place previously for most of the game. Jake smiled a silent suggestion that I remain discreet.
Shit was actually getting good for everyone, and I was finally okay with being Dylan (someone else had rolled a diabolical post-7 6). Jake appeared then about to really win, I struggled with what moves and decisions I should fatefully therefore make, Dylan suddenly outed all of Lorin’s cards, because he had formerly just been Lorin, and so had 100% insider knowledge, Lorin cried foul, no fair, that’s cheating, and was miffed. In this development, I kind of sided with Lorin, and Jake supported Dylan. I had then to mediate the table, give a terse lectured statement to each player, and concluded with the remark, “Come now, boys, one for all and all for one, group hug, it’s just a game.”
Then, abruptly, with unaccountable and completely needless generosity, Dylan made a flippant and gratuitous decision that let Jake win. I was huffy and devastated, because the win would’ve been mine, and spectacularly. Dylan hung his head when I exploded with commentary and he said, “I didn’t think he would do that. I took a risk.” I shouted, “Well take your damned risks elsewhere, Mister! You denied me my glorious impending ultimate conquering. Shit!”
All in all a totally fun and really wonderful night.
“To be honest,” I said, as we made ready to leave, “I thought I wasn’t gonna like that game. I didn’t really think I’d enjoy myself, I kinda thought it was gonna be lame.” I smiled at all present and felt glad, even though I didn’t win.