I love board games. I always have done.
I still remember the glorious triumph of finally beating my Auntie Pat at Scrabble for the first time when I was seventeen (it’s possible I’m a bit competitive). I was in hospital at the time, but she wasn’t going to let a small thing like that stop her playing to win. There was also the phase when I was about sixteen, when Mum and I would have a game of cribbage with our cup of tea when I got in from school, chatting about the day as we played. And it’s not just board games, but card games too. Family holidays always involved games of whist or rummy in the evening – and in the daytime too when it was pouring down with rain outside. During a fortnight in the Highlands of Scotland, we kept a running total for the whole trip and Auntie Jinny’s mammoth minus score has gone down in family legend. These days, when friends or family come round for the evening, or when we go to them, at some point a board game is usually brought out. Who wins seems less important the older I get. It’s the laughter and the coming together that makes it so rewarding. New friendships can be fostered and old ones celebrated.
We live in a golden age of board games. Alongside the old classics, a whole new raft of games such as Carcasonne, Dominion and Ticket to Ride can be bought from wonderful specialist games shop. And this has given rise to board games cafés. My best friend and I visited one of these in Manhattan last year, in the University district. We were on sabbatical, looking at churches, but that didn’t take up all our time. We arrived at the café late morning and it was very quiet. We played $5 each to ‘play’ and then set about choosing which of the 1500 games we wanted to start with. We ended up staying there for nine hours, playing some old favourites and some new games, and sustaining ourselves with food and drink from the café. By the time we left the place was heaving. Every table was crowded with people playing games together. Some were in pairs, some were in groups. We were struck by the youth and the diversity of those playing.
We had a wonderful day; the only slight niggle for us was that we’d have loved to have joined up with others, played some games that work better with more than two people, got to chat to some of the locals. But that didn’t seem to be how it worked, unless you specifically signed up for one of their ‘bigger games’ at set times.
We got to wondering, could we use our love of board games and their ability to bring people together as part of our ministry at St Clare’s? What if we did something a bit similar to our New York experience but with one crucial difference. You don’t just play with the people you come with, but join in with others. Then it wouldn’t matter then if you came on your own, everyone could take part, and it would be a brilliant way for people to get to know one another. We reckoned that we could rustle up enough games at home to give it a go, and once we shared the idea, church members and others contributed more games. We also got chatting to Grapevine, a Coventry charity who are working to support people who are lonely and isolated. They loved the idea, and promoted it to people they work with. And so the St Clare’s Monthly Board Game Meet Up was launched. We meet on the first Thursday of the month, from 6-9 pm.
Our first meeting was brilliant (we’ve only had one so far) and was everything I’d hoped it would be. There weren’t huge numbers of people, but we had a really good time. Towards the end of the evening, eight of us joined together for a giant game of Pictionary. We played in two teams. Many of us had never met before, and we came from different backgrounds, countries and experiences. I can’t remember if our team won in the end. But I do remember how much we laughed together. It felt to me like a glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth. And that is why I love board games.
Rev Charlotte Gale. St Clare’s at the Cathedral, Coventry.