Remembering through role play

Axis & Allies board game
Now that the colder weather has well and truly arrived, we’re turning more to board games. For a period of time during the year, when it’s lovely and warm and too nice not to be outside, I’m constitutionally unable to play most board games, but then that changes when the weather makes being inside truly pleasurable.

Tonight, in keeping with the fact that it’s Remembrance Day, we played Axis & Allies. Or, more accurately, I went along with the notion that we were playing it so that the boys could have a good game, because really, I’m not needed once it gets going. They know that this game (unlike others) is not one that I ‘get’, and that it would be painful for me to play it properly. So, it was decided that my older son would be Japan and Germany, my younger son would play as the UK and the US, and I’d represent Russia. (My lucky husband, in the same room but not in the depths of the game, kept supper ticking over on top of the Ironheart and got a batch of bread ready to bake.)

We still revisit some of the same battles as a family when we play this complicated game, which attempts to recreate land, air and sea battle strategy from WWII. Even playing with greatly simplified rules (because man, this is one complex board game), we butt heads and it takes us a while to settle down into a pleasant family scene. It goes like this (greatly condensed, but you get the idea):

OLDER SON: It took me more than an hour to set up this game, can we at least play by the rules? (Translation: ‘I want to treat my eight-year old brother like a peer and feel free to beat him mercilessly.’)

YOUNGER SON: I can’t play unless you make concessions for me like you did recently in Ticket to Ride and Monopoly. (Translation: ‘Please just let me win, you know I always like to win and become desperately anxious if I think I can’t win.’)

ME, to older son: So, in twenty years, when you look back on nights like these, do you want to know that you enjoyed kicking your younger brother’s ass in a game he can’t begin to understand or compete with you on, or that you felt good relaxing with your family over a board game that brought us all together? (Translation: none required, I really do speak to my children this way when they need to hear it.)

OLDER SON: I know, you’re right [smiles sheepishly]. (Translation – none needed, he’s really this sweet and quick to win round once bludgeoned with the truth of the situation.)

And, within minutes, they are immersed in the game, enjoying the battles with each other, as the younger one loses his anxious edge and the older one generously concedes infantry, tanks, ships and planes as though he’s been happily losing board games all his life. I get to sit in on the game as though I’m a real player, enjoying the occasional troop manoeuvre or regional battle until my younger son decides that he needs to wipe Russia off the face of the planet and overpopulate the eastern hemisphere with US troops (all while pummeling the German and Japanese forces).

I’m grateful for a lot of things on Remembrance Day, including the privilege of engaging in these little scenes with my family.

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