I grew up in a family that enjoyed leisurely games of Scrabble on Sunday afternoon. We played to spend time together, often assisting one another, always with coffee and dessert.
I married into a family that enjoyed competitive games of Risk until dawn. They played to beat each other, never showing mercy, always with chips, soda, sandwiches, and dessert.
The first time I ate at my in-laws, they exchanged barbs about a game named Risk. I tried following their remarks, but was baffled. After dinner, I cleared the table, preparing to load the dishwasher.
“Oh no,” my mother-in-law reprimanded, taking a dirty dish from me.” We’ll do this later. It’s time to play.”
“Actually, I’d rather do the dishes, but you go play.”
“Hey, what are you ladies gabbing about in there? We’re ready to play.”
“You heard them, let’s go. Besides, Risk is more fun than doing dishes.”
“Can we play Scrabble instead?”
My husband frowned. “Not a chance. Come sit by me babes, I’ll help you learn the game.” I accepted his offer.
My brother-in-law laughed. “Don’t trust him. He’s never helped anyone play in his life. You’ll be the first one he takes out.” Everyone nodded in agreement. Not sure who to believe, I felt like a sheep among wolves.
I listened attentively as everyone spoke at once. Though confused, I grasped the purpose of Risk—conquer the world. Looking at the game board, I recognized continents and countries, though many with fabricated names.
My husband dealt out cards. “Each card has a country on it, place your armies on the countries you’re dealt. After that you’ll have to fight to get control of additional countries and eventually continents.”
“How do we fight?”
“By rolling dice—you need to out roll your opponent.”
Though a novice, I identified a greater disadvantage. I was scattered all over the board, not owning any two countries in the same continent.
“You’re doomed,” chuckled my husband. “Just watch and learn. Hopefully next time you’ll have a better draw.”
While they talked trash, I placed my pink tokens on my countries. Mulling over my options, I decided to go after South America, which was closest to me. Besides, it seemed safer than on the other side of the ocean. They were already arguing over Africa and Australia.
My first roll of the dice, I rolled all sixes. My lonely Peruvian armies had conquered Argentina.
“Way to go babe. Now go after Brazil.”
“No thanks, I’m done.” I took the card I’d earned, which later could be exchanged for additional armies.
I sat quietly, alternating between watching the others going to war, and consulting the directions.
“Don’t read the directions,” my husband shook his head, “They’ll only confuse you.”
“Besides,” chimed in my brother-in-law, “none of us have read them.”
I wasn’t sure if they were serious, but found the directions more helpful than their advice.
On my second turn, the dice favored me again. I left a few pink soldiers in Peru and Argentina, moving the rest into Brazil. Again, I refused to go any further on that turn, but took my new card.
I almost lost my battle on my third roll, but using reinforcements from Brazil and Peru, I conquered Venezuela. South America had turned pink. I was the only one with a continent, though no one noticed.
The war over in Africa and Australia spilled over to Siam, India, and China. I listened, watched, and wondered why they played so recklessly, but said nothing.
With each new turn, I used my other scattered armies to conquer one country, earn my card, and dump the majority of my pink patrol in South America. No one paid any mind when I cashed my cards for additional armies, placing them all on my South American borders.
Finally, I was ready—in one move, I attacked Central America, swept through North America, Greenland, and Iceland.
“Why hasn’t anybody been watching her?”
“Don’t blame this on me!”
My enemies turned on each other.
Next, I attacked North Africa from Brazil, sweeping through yet another continent.
It only took me one more turn to cover the world with pink. The game ended in ninety minutes, a family record.
“Next time, don’t let her have South America,” the family warned my husband.
“Hey, it’s not my fault no one wanted to play Scrabble,” I smirked, stuffing my face with pie. “Though I gotta admit, conquering the world is better than a seven letter word.”
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