While my dad focused on a thoughtful game of chess, other family members sometimes played the most frustrating game in the world, Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht. The literal translation is, Man, Don’t Get Frustrated. English-speakers might know it as Trouble or Parcheesi. It’s a four-person game and works well when there are little kids around who can’t read, but know their colours and can count up to six. It’s a game focused almost completely on chance.
Our own family edition, taped and re-taped, includes only an incomplete set of the wooden game pieces. I regret not buying one in pristine condition at a yard sale a couple of years ago because, as frustrating and boring as the game was, it represents many hours spent around the tables of my childhood. I looked online and was surprised to see that it’s still available—still looking the same.
The original German game came out in 1914 and has been the most popular board game in that country ever since. The German post office even issued a stamp in 2014 to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Other countries have games similar to this one with even older histories.
I’m wondering why German families found this particular game so compelling? Was it because they identified with the frustrations of not achieving their goals? Was is about the dice—that destiny changes with the roll of the dice?
And then later, all those refugees. . . like my mom . . . unable to get 'home' on the playing field. Maybe that's what she liked about Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht. It reflected her life.
On the other hand, maybe that’s why my dad embraced chess. He had little control over the events of his life, but chess gave him back some control. Chess isn’t about rolling the dice and accepting one’s fate. Chess is about anticipating your opponent’s next move.
Still, there’s a time when rolling the dice seems like the ultimate way to abscond responsibility. Me? My favourite game has been Settlers of Catan. Hmm. I wonder what that means?