Discover more from The Art of Unintended Consequences
When Family Game Night Goes Terribly Wrong
Game night with the family is a wonderfully wholesome and fun activity. But, as many families learn, it can sometimes get out of hand.
Even so, let’s have a little fun with it, shall we?
Zombie Gin Rummy.
Millions of families regularly do family game night. But I’m guessing their approaches might be different depending on family background, ages, makeup, sense of humor, and willingness to drink copious quantities of alcohol for the greater good.
Family game nights these days are fairly tame for us. Our last venture into this started out innocently enough the other night with some Zombie Gin Rummy (don’t ask). Let’s just say the game doesn’t usually last long as the bleeders generally start marking the cards and making it unfair to the others. Afterwards, we moved on to a bastardized version of Scrabble™. (Sorry Hasbro, for what I’m about to do to your game.)
Before we go there though, I would love to tell you about Family Game Night from my childhood.
Boredom to Bedlam.
I was fortunate enough to be born to a large extended family that always offered a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, and… um… skills. Every year we would bring the entire family together for the holidays. After mass quantities of food and just a bit of imbibing, the gathering of generations would eventually devolve into some quite memorable Extended Family Game Nights.
Don’t worry, no children or animals were harmed in the execution of those events.
One of my favorite memories is of what we called, Kitchen Dodge Ball. This was always a family favorite (and helped solve the problem of about 2,000 dirty dishes).
The game also tended to wear out the many dogs that showed up for the feasting, so that’s a plus. I never was sure how many actually belonged to the family. There always seemed to be plenty of dogs left over after everyone went home.
Most of our games evolved over the years to keep up the excitement level and the challenge. We don’t play this one much anymore as it has gotten quite expensive. Once Kitchen Dodge Ball “evolved” to incorporate a 20-lb Medicine Ball and merged the mechanics of “Dodge Ball” with “Hot Potato”, mistakes tended to be a little more problematic in the closed environment of a kitchen.
You might ask at this point why we didn’t change the venue? Well, why would we? Bathrooms are too small, there’s no room to run in the bedrooms, and the big TV was always in the living room. Duuuh! No, we stuck with the kitchen as the most viable playing field.
Use your imagination and you can sort of picture the glorious nature of the kitchen game as it revolved around the massive center island.
Once we cleaned up the glass and dishes, it was time to move on to Musical Electric Chairs. That one, of course, needs no explanation. The only difference in later years was the addition of seatbelts to each of the chairs (we used belts that would snap closed easily but were hard to unbuckle while the sittee was twitching).
This modification vastly improved the enjoyment of the game for everyone. Well okay, sometimes the losers would complain, but a short nap usually brought them right back into the spirit of things.
I only wish we had video from those days to share. Then again, maybe it’s better this way.
This next game was always a great crowd pleaser and generated a bunch of ribald rivalry among the family. Favorites were cheered, others were taunted mercilessly. Guests usually ran screaming into the night.
Mumblety-Peg is always a Zen kind of game with a lot of deep breathing and just a bit of blood from time-to-time. It has an interesting history and I thought you might like a few fascinating facts (real and true… honest):
Mumblety-Peg (also: Mumbly-Peg, Mumbypeg, etc.) has been around since at least the early 19th century. In reality, basic versions of this intelligent Sportsmen’s game have probably been with us since knives were first invented and Gragggh dropped his paring knife, spearing his foot to the immense enjoyment of those around the campfire.
There are numerous variations, some more dangerous than others, but all involve sharp implements combined with a whole heapin’ helpin’ of stupidity. Always a combination sure to please the crowd.
The name, Mumblety-Peg, comes from the earlier versions where:
At the end of the game, the winner(?) would pound a wooden peg into the ground only with the hilt of his knife.
The loser (if he hadn’t bled out yet) was then required to get down on his knees, root around with his face to the ground, and remove the peg with only his teeth.
→ The grumbling, mumbling sounds from the loser is where the name of the game came from. ← True!
Why was this face rooting in the ground version the common version and the game’s namesake? I’m going to guess it was the lack of access to the Internet back then.
Also, for some reason I can’t fathom, women don’t usually play this game. I’m not sure why, but I think it might have something to do with them being much smarter and more sober than the men. But that’s just a guess.
Now back to our family night adventures…
Once everyone gathered out in the back yard (weather permitting, otherwise, it was back to the kitchen), play would begin. We never played the actual Peg version as we had all of those aforementioned dogs and rooting around in the grass with your face would be, well… just gross. We do have limits.
Instead, the loser of our Mumblety-Peg was required to complete a dare determined and agreed to unanimously by the other players. I do have fuzzy memories of my childhood where the daring portion was much more interesting and frequently involved trips to the Emergency Room or the local Vet (usually because he was cheaper than the Emergency Room).
The “interesting” aspect may have had something to do with my Papaw who, before he passed in an unfortunate gaming incident, was a grand old Moonshiner. Now I can’t swear that these dares were driven by real mountain Moonshine, but… you know…
Our games today are much more tame than in the past. In fact, everyone today wears heavy shoes and can still boast 10 toes each. Except or Uncle Warren who still has his original 11.
Don’t tell him, but we’ve been aiming at that extra toe for years. We have so far been unsuccessful in setting the universe right. Maybe next year. I’ve got a new 18-inch Buck knife I’ve been dying to break in.
I don’t know, maybe we were all dropped on our heads as children or maybe we just needed more exercise or something, but we always seemed to need a bit more stimulation than regular gameplay offered.
Whatever the case, after just a bit of bandaging and pain “medication”, those who were still ambulatory moved on to various card and board games. That’s when the real fun began.
Back To Current Day.
I always enjoy them, but this story is really about my immediate family and our Family Game Night. We tend these days to rely more on cards and board games that don’t usually result in late night trips to the ER or Urgent Care.
One of our favorite games has always been Scrabble.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, we have “evolved” the game a bit to make it more… interesting.
I wanted to share this game as one you could play with your family, especially since there are usually no sharp implements involved and no blood to clean up later. Here is our version of Scrabble - or Scrababble™ as we call it.
How to Play Scrababble.
The official Hasbro rules: “All words labeled as a part of speech (including those listed of foreign origin, and as archaic, obsolete, colloquial, slang, etc.) are permitted with the exception of the following: words always capitalized, abbreviations, prefixes and suffixes standing alone, words requiring a hyphen or an apostrophe.”
Those rules still stand but must incorporate the following additions:
Scrababble must NOT be played in polite company or in front of uncorrupted children as this will stifle open play.
Words used must NOT be allowed in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary - https://scrabble.merriam.com/
Words can NOT be real words or simple misspellings or derivatives of real words.
All words must have a structure and cannot just be a jumble of random letters.
The player must also declare a reasonable definition for it to count:
The more ridiculous and funnier the definition is, the better.
If NO other player accepts the definition as either vaguely viable or funny, the player must remove the letters and forfeit their turn.
Words may contain some roots or parts of other words, but should not just consist of whole words jammed together.
If a word contains within it any whole real words, ALL players must vote affirmatively to allow it because the players definition was entertaining enough to make an exception.
Words of three letters or less are NOT allowed unless you can prove they do not exist and can provide a sufficiently funny definition that is acceptable by ALL players as exhibited by laughing out loud.
A Proper name is still not allowed unless it is sufficiently absurd and it is supported by a definition that is NOT acceptable in polite company. See Rule #1.
ANY rule can be broken if ALL players agree or the definition is funny enough.
Here are a few example words from our most recent game…
Queeeza - when you have recovered from queazy, and are now just queeeza.
Fibualatory - a walking lie (fib + ambulatory).
Bedlamham - an angry pig (sometimes real words are allowed if the definition is good enough, i.e., bedlam + ham).
Sizoporx - pigs of large girth (I guess we were hungry at the time).
Hoytnak - skilled at being hoity-Toity
For best game play and more fun, combine two or more Scrabble game sets to have access to 200 or 300 letters. After all, you are going to need them IF you are doing it right. Using only 100 letters might require more alcohol… or is it the other way around? (Do NOT take that as a recommendation or sue me for the broken furniture.)
The game also suggests everyone work with 7 tiles at a time. Since most Scrababble words will likely be 7 letters or more, I recommend everyone keep 10-12 tiles to play with - hence the recommendation to combine two or more game sets. (Hasbro, I’ll take my commission checks now, thank you!)
Try to remember to keep score as the scores will be ridiculously high IF you are doing it right and hitting all the multiplier tiles. After all, you are making up the words so make those 2x and 3x spots count!
When the table runs out of tiles and there are no more funny words, the player with the highest score wins. Or whatever. By this point, who cares.
Calling It a Night.
Okay, I will admit that some of the specifics in this tale may be based on fuzzy memories, but I leave it to you to believe what you like.
All I know is I’m buying some steel-toed shoes and leather chaps for next year’s Extended Family Night.
Author and Consultant
This post is part of the “Fuzzy Memories Memoir” series.
Author of “Public Speaking for Kids, Tweens, and Teens - Confidence for Life!”
COMING SOON, my latest book exploring the crisis in our K-12 Educational System. Is it time for The Great Education Reset?