Relationships

A Funny Thing to Do When Playing Games

A Trick for Playing Games

On one of our very early dates, my boyfriend and I went to the park, armed with a couple of books, the newspaper, and a pack of playing cards…

I was thrilled to find someone with the same nerdly, paper-centric interests as me. We worked on the crossword together and played a few rounds of gin rummy. Back then, we were new enough to be on our best behavior. I don’t even remember who won, only that we had a good time.

As our relationship progressed, however, card games had a tendency to get more heated.

Have you ever noticed, when playing gin rummy especially, that sometimes one player will get on a hot streak? Whoever was winning that day would win, like, five games in a row. It wouldn’t even be close. “HOW is this possible?” the loser would lament. “It’s like I never even have a chance to do anything, and you already have gin!”

Then the winner would feel bad, because the loser felt bad, and suddenly everyone felt bad. As it turns out, card games between two people who are highly competitive yet empathetic are the opposite of fun.

“No more cards!” we threw up our hands in frustration. “It’s not worth it!”

For a long time, the playing cards lived in the cabinet, tucked away with the puzzles and a dusty backgammon set. And then, we were asked to stay at home. For over ninety days.

Back in March, when New York first released the stay at home order, I floated the idea of playing a friendly little game of cards. We were indoors, after all. What better time for games? Fast forward to a few hours later, when one of us (fine, it was me) may or may not have stormed into the bedroom shouting “I AM NEVER PLAYING THIS AGAIN!”

Then one day, I had an idea. “What if the winner buys the loser a coffee tomorrow morning?”

It worked like a charm. As it turns out, I am both competitive and frugal. “Loser gets a prize” has saved us from ourselves and made card games extra fun again. Winner gets the glory, loser gets the goods.

We vary the prizes from time to time — we might make each other dinner or run an errand or buy the other person a bagel. These are all things we’d take turns covering anyway, but it’s the gesture that counts.

After sharing this story with friends, I discovered we are not the only ones to create our own rules around games.

“My partner and I play games together with no problem. But if we play with a larger group, we cannot be on the same team,” confessed one friend. “She’s way too competitive, and if I make a wrong move or don’t know an answer, she gets so pissed about it — way more pissed than if she teams up with someone else.”

Laments another friend, “We used to have holiday game nights, but we don’t anymore, because when we play with my husband’s family, he cheats. He’ll take a strategic ‘bathroom break’ so he can try to see what cards you’re holding or he hides the Monopoly money under the board. His brothers all do the same. They’re beyond help.”

Do you have any tricks (or traditions) when it comes to playing games?

P.S. Easy party activities for grown-ups and the best birthday party game. Plus, four games to play while lying down. ;)

(Illustration by Joelle Avelino for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Lindsay Anthony says...

    My favorite, most “universe is watching” story has to do with gin rummy so I have to tell you (whoever is reading). Back in 2010, my then boyfriend–now husband–and I backpacked through southeast Asia for 4.5 months. Playing gin rummy was our favorite pastime and we ended up keeping our scores in an old paperback book one of us picked up in one of those “take a book, leave a book” little libraries in a guest house (like a youth hostel). We picked up the book in Indonesia in September, ended up leaving it by accident in Thailand (probably October), and then, at the very end of our trip, we ended up at a guesthouse in Hanoi, Vietnam (in December). There, in the lobby, was our book. It was a bright orange paperback that you had to double take at—and I just KNEW it was going to be our book. Sure enough, I picked it up, opened to the front inside cover and there were all of our rummy scores from Indonesia to Thailand. How insane is that?! It had literally traveled thousands of miles through who knows how many hands, to end up right where we ended up. We obviously kept the book and it now sits in our hall….and the funny thing is, neither one of us has ever read the damn book!

  2. Alyssa says...

    I stayed with my parents for most of the last 4 months of quarantine/shut-down time. We had always been game players, but mostly party games. Over the last few months, we’ve branched out! My dad taught me cribbage, backgammon and gin rummy. We placed a bet early on with our cribbage game and I was able to have my dad pay for my car to be washed since I beat him! I’ve loved getting to play games we never played when I was living at home as a kid. We also have played a lot of “roll & write” games because they were easy to play a few rounds after dinner but didn’t require committing to hours of game play!

  3. Gillian says...

    Genius! This is just what i need.

  4. Lucy says...

    We post a friendly wager of chores with card games or random bets!. The loser (or winner if you’re empathetic) takes one chore for the next day, doing dishes or cleaning up from dinner is small but oh so sweet to get to skip!

  5. Lin says...

    My husband cheats too! He is shameless. His top strategy is to take an extra card or two when it’s his turn to draw, and no one is looking. Or, if it’s a game where jokers are wild, for example, he’ll offer to deal the next round, then slip out a joker and hide it on his lap (under the table) until the next round. He used to win ALL the time, but now the kids and I are onto him. We watch him like a hawk! It’s kinda exhausting though. ha ha

    • KLO says...

      Cheating was part of the game with my Dad–the goal being to cheat quietly, then increasingly obviously until someone noticed. I recently found a points tally from some game or another. The player names: Jonathan (my husband), Chris (cousin), Cheater 1 (Dad), Cheater 2 (me). I should frame it, it makes me laugh every time.

  6. I love this! Playing games was such a central part of my childhood as my grandparents were VERY into games. It would get so competitive we would get so nasty. My grandpa had rules while playing like you couldn’t get up to get a snack or anything and bathroom breaks were very quick. It wasn’t possible for us to just play for fun. Not even mini golf. It ended in tears a lot.

  7. Jordan says...

    My family is super competitive and overly emotional, to make sure the spirit of the game stays fun the rule has always been “Winner Cleans Up.” The first time I shrugged off a loss to my now husband citing this rule he looked at me like I had snakes coming out of my ears, but it has saved more than a few heated game nights!

  8. Robin says...

    I don’t play scrabble any more with my husband because he always uses those words that are legal but he doesn’t actually know what they mean and it drives me bananas. And we overdid cards in our twenties. Now that we have kids we’ll rarely find ourselves playing a sit down game just the two of us, but we do (especially now) go out to a park, give the kids something like Pokémon on my husband’s phone and do something active together as a kind of quasi date. Often we just walk big circuits where we can still keep an eye on the kids but frisbee or badminton have been a lot of fun – we aim for the longest rally. It feels good, gets us outside and moving, and all we’re competing against is our previous best score. Win win win.

  9. Kc says...

    We’ve kept the same small notebook for 10 years of our gin games. There’s a tally at the front to keep score (he’s two ahead) and notes throughout from where we were when we played. We’ve played as water rose in our house during a hurricane, on a train from Paris, on the porch in the texas hill country for our 5th anniversary and more. The best part is, my husband never looks at it and I talk so much smack in little notes! It’s not like me since I’m not competitive but I’d like to think one day he’ll read it and laugh at all the notes I’ve been making.

  10. Charlotte says...

    My husband and I also picked up gin rummy during quarantine, when I was rounding in on the end of pregnancy with our first child. We even played while we were passing the time when I was in the early stages of labor. The next day, after we had our baby girl, I asked him to write up a summary of the birth and when I read it back later, he of course had included his winning of a “decisive final match.” Haha.

    • katarina says...

      hahaha so cute

    • Wendela says...

      This is funny (playing cards while in labor). My parents played gin rummy in the hospital waiting for me to be born, too. My dad always insists that he won (he is very competitive) and my mom is like “but I was in LABOR”.

  11. Katie says...

    My husband and I have played cribbage all our marriage however sometime in the last year we started keeping tally marks on the back of the crib board counting our wins. My husband always thinks he loses the most, but it turns out that out of the 100+ games we’ve kept track of, he’s won a few more than me.

  12. Megan says...

    I don’t compete against my husband, even if we’re playing against each other. I never purposely sabotage him or try to trick him. I just play my best and he does the same. I think of us as playing against the game or all the other players. When I win and he loses (or vice versa) we both get the win. We just say, “McGees won!” We still have fun playing but I’m never upset when he beats me, because it’s my win too.

  13. Emily says...

    My husband and I buy a deck of cards as soon as we get to our vacation destination and then we use them throughout the trip (rummy on the train in Alaska, spit on a rooftop in Athens) and the best part is those quiet nights at home when we get to pick from our souvenir decks whichever trip we want to feel nostalgic about

    • Rachel says...

      Love this, Emily!

  14. Clare says...

    My favorite group game is not competitive at all – but requires a lot of work to convince people to join. We call it writey-drawy and it’s basically visual telephone. Each person has a piece of paper they write a random sentence on and then they pass it to the person next them who illustrates their sentence. The illustrator folds the paper to cover the original sentence then hands it to a third to write a description of the illustration – and on and on.
    Everyone always tries to give the “I’m not an artist, I can’t draw” excuse but the most unexpected creativity comes out. Seeing a serious uncle drawing an elephant on a skateboard or your mom trying to figure out how to depict a surprise party for porcupines … it’s kind of the best

    • Claire says...

      We call this telephone pictionary, and it IS fantastic, but I LOVE “Writey-drawy” as a name! Stealing it for sure!

  15. Holly says...

    I want to stay married so I will never again play Risk with my husband (actually I HATE that game so I won’t play it with anyone). The joy he finds in plotting and backstabbing in that game! Makes me made even now and it’s been over a decade since we last played ?

    • Rae says...

      Same. SAME. Risk is the worst

  16. Marni says...

    I turn into a trash talking lunatic that absolutely drive my husband crazy. Needless to say we don’t play games together. :(

  17. My husband is competitive, me not so much. We found playing a game “together” helps. Escape games are great and a game called Pandemic (not great right now I realize) is perfect. You play together to save the world. You either win together or loose together!

  18. Kristian says...

    The game our entire family – like, the extended family- played was 500 (its a card game, a bit like Whist or Bridge, but better). My grandmother loved to recount how the first time she met all the in-laws they made her learn to play and my grandpa said, “I wouldn’ta married ya, if I’d known you didn’t know how to play 500!” Needless to say, every serious boyfriend I or my sister brought home had to learn to play.

    The best part of the game is that its a mix of strategy and luck- and you have to work with a partner, which always makes it fun/funny if you have a partner who will gamble just to take a big risk.

  19. Stephanie says...

    My husband and I love playing Monopoly Deal, but are both highly competitive. The rule we have is that the winner gets 10 seconds to gloat, right after the game ends. In that 10 seconds, you can celebrate however you want to, but after the 10 seconds is over, life moves on and the scoreboard is reset.

  20. Mads says...

    Caroline, I love your writing. Any time you write a post, I get about 2 sentences in, and then I think to myself, “This sounds like Caroline.” I always scroll up to check, and I’m always right. :)

    PS My husband and I CANNOT play Bananagrams…if we want our marriage to stay intact.

    • Maria says...

      I do the same thing!

  21. Lara says...

    I am so much more competitive than my partner when it comes to games! I grew up in a family where banter was a very normal part of game interactions and my partner DID NOT. We have found that cooperative board games are fun for both of us and do not require any post-game apologies. My favorites are Mysterium, Pandemic, and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle.

  22. Jenny says...

    One of my favorite early dating dates is (was, RIP dating) going to this bar in Seattle that has 100s of board games. I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they play a silly game. I am notorious for never remembering the rules for card games (I honestly can’t tell you what gin rummy even is), but I love board games and crossword puzzles!

  23. Unfortunately my husband and I have scarred our 18-year-old daughter – she refuses to play any board game with us. I am super competitive and my husband gets really obnoxious, so I don’t blame her. But still during lockdown, I tried every week to get her to play and she won’t, even when I promised that we will take it easy. Monopoly especially is banned from our house, forever. It’s just too ugly. Early on in our marriage, 24 years ago, my husband and I played one New Year’s Eve and I beat him so bad that I wrote it on the inside top of the board game. Several Monopoly games later, we still have the cut out from that top.

  24. Jessica says...

    Is hiding Monopoly money under the board cheating? I just thought it was part of playing the game. :)

  25. laura says...

    We also play card games, but no one ever feels bad for winning. I think we’re just maybe too competitive. But it’s fun!

  26. Hilary says...

    Oh this is too funny :) My husband and I received a book of “nearly extinct” card games from different countries and eras and had so much fun diving into new games until…UNTIL…we discovered an old Victorian game called Spite & Malice. And let me tell you…shit got so, so spiteful that we had to stop playing!

    • Lily says...

      Spite & Malice is my family’s game!!! My dad’s family all played growing up and we still love to play together. Rumor has it, my great-grandmother would stab their hands with a fork for not playing correctly. My husband is an enthusiastic convertee. I’ve never known anyone else who has heard of it!

    • Hilary says...

      Lily, I seriously don’t doubt the fork stabbing (which made me laugh so hard!) I wouldn’t have put it past my husband to spear me with something sharp during our Spite & Malice heyday. I feel like maybe we should bring it back during this quarantine times…if we can handle it, ha! I’m so glad someone else is out there playing it, too!

  27. Twyla says...

    My husband teases me because I hate to play games where winning means screwing the other person over (SETTLERS OF CATAN!). I’d much rather play games where it’s more based on chance – like Yahtzee, or skill – like Scrabble. So he graciously plays my ‘nice’ games with me and plays the ‘cutthroat’ games with his sister. We also try very hard to cheer for the other person when they win. It doesn’t always happen.

  28. Erin says...

    When my friends and I play a card game, our rule is that everyone is given a nickname. Usually inside jokes or something silly like our old AOL Instant Messenger names from when we were 13. We write it on the score sheet and and for the rest of the game, are only allowed to call each other by those names. It makes yelling at each other hilarious.

  29. Rachael says...

    My boyfriend and I decided over the weekend that the most recent winner is responsible for all drink refills until a new winner is declared :)

  30. Laura B says...

    Quarantine has really upped our game playing as well! Most Saturday nights are Settlers of Catan nights with my fiance, his sister, her boyfriend, and roommate (our Quaran-crew). His sister rarely wins but is highly competitive so once the game starts to leave her in the dust, she wanders into the kitchen and makes us all snacks; it’s win/win because when she loses she has the excuse that she was busy feeding us and we get snacks! The game Risk, however, is banned in our home after my fiance and his friends almost ended their friendship over allegations of secret alliances and potential cheating during a game a few years back!

  31. Diana says...

    My 9 year old daughter, her dad, and I all love Monopoly Deal.

    • laura says...

      Monopoly Deal is so underrated! Just because it’s from the Monopoly family. BEST card game. Even if it’s all adults, older kids, etc. We play it as a drinking game lol.

  32. Anna says...

    I love the BIPOC representation you’ve been bringing to Cup of Jo in the recent months It’s great to see more diversity. It does feel like a fine line sometimes though… Over-representation can feel a little tokenizing.

    This post was written by a white person about her white relationship. The maternity clothes post featured almost all BIPOC models–love love to see it, but I think we still need to be mindful of overrepresentation. I love that you’re featuring more Black womxn in beauty guides and week of outfit posts. But every post now seems to have photos or illustrations of black women, while the voice of this blog is primarily white women.

    This is coming out more critical than I mean it to, and maybe it’s one of those impossible to win situations. Just makes me thing of how orgs like The Wing overrepresent BIPOCs in advertising and profit from it. I know that’s not what’s happening on CoJ, but still wanted to raise the point.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you so much for your note and thoughtfulness! I appreciate the feedback, as always. It is a fine line, I agree, and one we are trying to navigate daily with great thought and care. We won’t always get it right for sure, and we are still learning every day. In this case, we assigned this illustration to a great Black illustrator and she happened to draw a Black couple, because that’s what she felt inspired to do. We talked as a team about how maybe it wasn’t a fit because Caroline and her boyfriend are white, but we loved her illustration and in the end felt like the illustration didn’t need to be too literal. But I hear you that it is still complicated and nuanced. We will keep trying and learning. Thank you so much, Joanna

    • MariaE. says...

      I am sorry but I don’t get the point of the comment. We are all human beings. It don’t think it matters that Caroline and boyfriend are white that and the illustration depicts a couple that is not white. In this order of ideas, if an article is written by Kim and it shows an illustration, does it have to be a black/white couple? or if Jenny posts a recipe of let’s say Pho and it has an illustration of an non-Vietnamese/Asian couple, is that bad??? I think it’s time to be universal!!! We are all together in this!! I loved Caroline’s article and I loved the illustration!! CUP OF JO, you are doing great!!! You are all amazing!! I don’t care what colour your skin is!!

    • mado says...

      I love Anna’s comment and the response from Jo.

    • Anonymous says...

      Anna, just wanted to say I noticed that too and had a similar reaction. I think you worded your concerns very eloquently. Joanna, thanks too for the thoughtful reply. Mariae, you’re of course entitled to feel differently, but I gently remind you that phrases like “I don’t care about color” or “I don’t see color” are often used to shut down important conversations about race or to silence people of color who are trying to share their experiences and feelings (e.g. https://theeverygirl.com/i-dont-see-color/).

    • Vee says...

      Yes to this and to Joanna’s reply! Not nearly as important, but intriguing: Are they using see-through mugs?!

    • Courtney says...

      I think it’s worth asking ourselves if we would have noticed “over representation” of white women? Would you be as likely to notice if the cartoon had illustrated a white couple but the author was a person of colour? Would you write the same comment if the last ten blog posts had only featured white women? I say “over – represent” away until the skin colour of some cartoon people is no longer a talking point (and also can there be such a thing as over – representation? There are hundreds of years of under and mis – representation to answer for…)

  33. Amy says...

    Collaborative games are brilliant–everyone wins or loses together. Pandemic, while a great game, is hitting a little close to home right now–but we have a variant called “Pandemic: Fall of Rome” where you have to try to keep the barbarian hordes from sacking the city. It’s REALLY difficult but very engrossing. We also love Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, and Codenames.

    • Robin says...

      Yes despite all the game playing in the house right now, pandemic is staying right there on the shelf. I don’t want to have to explain to my 3 and 6 year old kids that it is possible we may all work together to win, and still lose. It’s something they need to know, but – not yet.

  34. Nicki says...

    My French husband’s family LOVES games, they come out every night during family holidays. New games – often involving elaborate rules and strategies – are given as gifts. The whole family plays: the card game “belote” is the grandparents’ favourite, while a card/role playing game about werewolves called “loups-garoux” is a big hit with the kids.

    But the real action takes place in the evenings when the adult siblings become very competitive – there is definitely some cheating as well as occasional shouting and storming off.

    When I first came to join these family holidays, I found the game playing and especially the competition part quite intimidating and excused myself. The siblings have been quite persistent though, so 12 years on, I find myself joining in at least once or twice per holiday. This year I suggested Pictionary at Christmas, and it was hilarious. I love the fact that even if it gets competitive, the laughter breaks up any tension that arises.

  35. Meg says...

    I cannot play competitive games with my husband and stepsons. I get so emotional! And my husband is unfairly good at strategy. Last fall, I doubled down on purchasing cooperative games – all of the family time, none of my misplaced anger. That included a creepily prescient purchase of Pandemic, which was our favorite until about April, and some serialized solve-a-murder games.

  36. Reesa says...

    My husband and my best friend are incredibly competitive, and love to bicker, so card games can get spicy fast. We’ve found that the best solution, is to put them on the same team, where they bicker at each other (not at us) and play with mutual intensity. Meanwhile, husband and I just chill out and play it leisurely. Their team usually ends up winning, but I think WE have more fun.

    • Marci says...

      I like that description of the games “get spicy”. I’m adopting spicy to describe my competitive spirit :)

  37. Abby says...

    On the theme of card games played by two players:
    If you are looking for a really good, more strategic game, look no further than 7Wonders: The Duel. It is one of my partner’s and my favourites!
    (Other great 2 person card games include: SkipBo, Phase 10, Settlers of Catan: The Duel, Dead Man’s Draw, Ligretto, The Game and the teeny tiny travelsized: Punto)

  38. Sara says...

    When our kids were younger, we instituted “places” for board games. The winner was 1st place, of course, but we kept playing the game until everyone had finished. So sometimes one of the kids would be excited to get “second place.” It appeased them at the time and now that they are 17 & 20 all four of us are cutthroat card players. It’s brought us so many moments of joy during the pandemic.

  39. Colleen says...

    I will NEVER play any game with my husband of 24 years. He insists on changing the rules continually as the game goes on and its…horrible. My daughter and I will play an occasional round of monopoly or similar but he is not allowed to join.

    • Carrie says...

      In high school I had an English teacher who had an endless supply of odd quirks. It was one of the last days of class that year and a group of us were sitting around playing cards (as you do when you’re just killing time waiting for summer), and she yelled at us to stop. She told this story about how her husband and her used to play cards with another couple, and things got heated one night. A little while after the other couple left, the husband returned with claw marks down his back from his wife. And that is why she never allows cards to be played in her presence.

      It’s been 20 years and I still think about that story all the time. Did it really happen? There seems to be some missing context here… and I don’t think the cards were the real issue in that relationship.

  40. Kelly Simmons says...

    I have PTGS (post traumatic game stress) from my uber competitive family growing up! My kids know I will only play Kings in the Corner or word games. Nothing involving strategy and hurting others to win hahahaha.

  41. Kate says...

    Winner cleans up!! I grew up with this rule, and it worked well for competitive monopoly games between my two siblings and me. Everyone wanted to win, but at least if you lost, you could walk away, grab a Coca-Cola and watch tv on the couch. Now my husband and I have the same rule in our house, but the loser swaps out the Coca-Cola for a glass of wine.

    • MM says...

      Genius! What a great rule.

    • joy says...

      Yes, my family also has a rule that winner puts the game away. This is especially comforting for things like gathering up scrabble tiles!

  42. Carrie says...

    My husband is very good at Bananagrams and I am….well, terrible at it. If we play, he has to play by special rules – no two letter words, etc. It evens the playing field a bit. But in general, we prefer to party games where there’s no real winner and the point is more having fun with friends than beating the other person. Apples to Apples is a family favorite.

  43. Miranda says...

    PS Caroline is such a great writer!!!!! Can she write more frequently on this blog please?!

  44. Miranda says...

    Quarantine meant beating my boyfriend and his family at Scrabble, playing in their native language… needless to say, they were not impressed by my insane desire to strategically assemble words with plastic tiles on a piece of cardboard. But for the next 4 weeks, I told every single person I knew that I’d won – twice ! :)

  45. Hannah says...

    I can play a game with my sister or my husband – no issue there. But as soon as my sister, her boyfriend, my husband, and I are playing (more people optional), shit hits the fan. My sister and her boyfriend are helping each other, but accuse me of being extra lenient with my husband. Which is ridiculous, since I’m really competitive and like to win.

    Ever since we played a round of Carcassonne that almost resulted in a screaming match and me pushing the board off the table (because I was so angry that I was accused of favouritism), I avoid playing games in that particular constellation.

    But no worries – outside of boardgames, we really love each other dearly. <3

  46. Alice says...

    Collaborative games have been our saving grace. I am NOT a good loser- it’s something I’m working on, but I never have been. My boyfriend is a big fan of visual strategic games like chess or Santorini, and my brain just does NOT work that way. I lost something like 12 games of Santorini in a row and just couldn’t take it anymore. So we bought Pandemic! You work TOGETHER to beat the viruses (and yes, this is absurdly topical, but somehow it helps with the anxiety?!), and honestly it’s so much fun to play something where you’re on the same team.
    I like the idea of winner getting the loser a treat though… it might encourage him to go slightly easier on me next time we play something I’m bound to lose…

  47. Hanna says...

    Haha. We had a mostly peaceful game afternoon with my family on Sunday. It ended in frustrated people storming out of the room after a round of Risk though…maybe we should start having treats as well ;)

  48. Agnès says...

    Joelle Avelino: I love your work! Thank you Cup of Jo, I really really appreciated that you care so much about the illustrations and photographies on your blog. They are so important. It’s exciting to discover new artists. I am convinced that music and poetry (well, art) will save the world ;-)

  49. Meg says...

    One of my favorite odd things to do while playing board games with adults is make them give everything a name. You have a game piece- what’s its name? You just built something- what’s the name of that hotel/settlement/meeple? It’s so much fun to see how people think especially the first time they’re put on the spot. One friend always gives every one of his settlements and cities in Catan the same name- his middle name!

  50. Hannah says...

    I have found the key is collaborative games. We love Hanabi and Forbidden Desert. It’s fun being on the same team!

    • Abby says...

      Yes, found a really joy in collaborative games too. I will try the two you recommended. My favourite is the currently apt Pandemic and the smaller card game The Game.

  51. Kay says...

    Games are how I knew I had found the man I wanted to marry. My previous boyfriend and I played lots of games, especially Scrabble, but he would use all the bad/but lots of point words and do anything to block me off from getting a Triple Word etc. It once ended with the Scrabble board hitting the wall and making a dent. Yipes!
    The first time I played Scrabble with my now-husband, we played a really equal game with lots of long, interesting words but no one really cared how won, just how “beautiful” the board looked when we were done. It was…fun. When we got married, my friends gave us a framed Scrabble board – because that’s how we knew we could live and play together forever.

    • JN says...

      This is so incredibly sweet, Kay <3

  52. Emma says...

    My family also cheats at cards. It’s part of the game – busting someone cheating is part of the glory.

  53. Carol F. says...

    This is genius! My super smart son doesn’t like to play games with us unless the game has enough strategy that he will win. I think this will work.

    • Jemma says...

      I was always an avid reader and had a pretty reasonable vocabulary but every time I played Scrabble with my then boyfriend, a guy who is proud to say has only ever finished one book in his life, I would ALWAYS LOSE! Turns out thinking strategically is just as important as having an arsenal of words in your back pocket. I had never played board games growing up (only child) whereas he had a highly competitive older brother who memorised all the legal two letter words in Scrabble AND their definitions in case he got called out on a word!
      We got a beautiful Scrabble board for a wedding gift, one of those boards where all the pieces are made of wood, but we never opened it and ended up having to sell it because my now husband wanted to end on a win and I just didn’t want to lose AGAIN.

  54. Celeste says...

    I’m incredibly bad at cards and can never remember the rules, so, not really.

  55. Mags says...

    I love board and card games so much! However, I think I don’t run into Caroline’s problem because although I’m super competitive, maybe I don’t have enough empathy? My 6 yr old is also way into games and we have had the monopoly board up for the last month — always with a game half played. My son has actually stopped trying to win (no more than 2 houses on boardwalk!) because he doesn’t want the game to end. I love this kid!!!

  56. Jennifer says...

    I used to go to my grandparents’s house after school when I was young and listen to their stories and play games. My grandma and I would play cribbage and my grandpa and I would play gin rummy. We’re a competitive family, but somehow my grandpa and I realized it was much more fun to play the game than to be the winner. So we had the idea to play the game with the rule that the first to one million points won. The scorecard stayed on their table for years and, while nobody ever won the game, I will always cherish those memories.

  57. Dre says...

    I’m an elementary school teacher so I always have to set a good example by playing fairly and winning/losing graciously when I play games with kids at school. When school closed, I went to my classroom to collect everything I’d need to teach 7 year olds on Zoom. On a whim, I also grabbed Uno, Jenga and Mancala from our game shelf. My boyfriend and I have been playing these games non-stop for the past three months! He commented the other day that I’ve gotten so strategic at Mancala that I’ll have to rein it in when I go back to playing with kids so they’ll still have a chance of winning. The best part is that I get to talk smack and gloat when I win in ways that I never get to do when playing with kids :)

  58. Lindsay says...

    We are currently living “The Summer of Trouble” — every day, my husband, 4.5 year old and I play a game of Trouble, when our five-month-old takes a nap. Our daughter is documenting the wins on a bar graph! (Current standings: kid: 4, daddy: 5, mommy: 3)

  59. Bren says...

    Growing up, my brother and I played Monopoly ALL the time. And he ALWAYS won. I could never, ever figure it out. I was trying so hard…how did he ALWAYS get Park Place?!?! It wasn’t until our late teenage years that he said to me one day “You know I cheated in Monopoly our entire childhood, right? Every time you went to the bathroom I stole money.” THIS IS NOT A DRILL THIS WAS MY ACTUAL CHILDHOOD.

    • Rae says...

      Oh man. I so relate. My brother regularly insists that I cheated at every board game we played as kids. I never cheated. In fact, I feared his competitive streak so much that I often didn’t really try at games. Still hate game nights — I get stressed out as soon as the “it’s all for fun!” vibe starts slipping.

  60. Susan says...

    Things were getting ugly as we’d play Catan, Dutch Blitz, Phase 10, Ticket to Ride, Cover Your Assets, etc as a family. So we started a house rule that winner has to clean up the game. It works! The winner is on a high so doesn’t mind the extra work, and one of the kids will always say, “Well at least I don’t have do clean it up!” while they wander off to nurse their pride.

    • Bonnie says...

      LOVE THIS! Great idea! :)

  61. Reanna says...

    Great idea, and a BEAUTIFUL illustration.

  62. mym928 says...

    Not about a tradition, but about an attitude toward game-playing. When my family (my husband, myself, and our teenaged son) play Catan, I rarely win. I guess I’m not an analytical or strategic game player. I used to get kind of bummed about losing. But recently I had an insight. I need to exist in order for my husband and my son to win, because this is a win-lose game – they’re competitive and get joy out of winning, but they can’t win if I don’t lose. So, although I may feel bummed about losing yet again, there is VALUE in my playing the game with them and, yes, in LOSING. I’m contributing! It’s a funny way to look at game playing, but it was a validating thought for me.

    • Anju says...

      I relate so much, thank you for writing this! I am not competitive at all, maybe growing up with two older brothers who always won everything has something to do with it. (They probably cheated most of the time.) But now I know how to explain this to my 6-year-old, who always wonders how it is possible that mommy doesn’t mind losing. There is no winner without a loser, and every contribution is important!

    • Sara says...

      This is how I will try to see it from now on. Yes! What a gamechanger (pun intended)

  63. Andrea says...

    When we were dating, a charades night turned emotionally fraught. The host put us on separate teams and it was like she had stuck a knife deep in the heart of our relationship. I hated feeling like my then boyfriend was not on my team, was not in my corner. It was so philosophically unsettling.

    • K says...

      this is so funny and relatable.

  64. My partner has encouraged me to learn to play Settlers of Catan for at least 2 years, and I finally caved at the beginning of lockdown. (It has seemed to nerdy to me before… turns out I love the nerdy features! It’s so fun!) We have to play on an app together because it’s not a two-person game. We quickly learned that if one of us has a particularly good game, the winner will brag juuuust a bit. One time, my fiancée asked me about a trade out loud, kind of nonchalantly. I answered that yes, I had some of the resource cards she needed. Then she USED A SPECIALTY CARD TO STEAL FROM ME!!! I felt so betrayed!
    We still love to play together. But we can’t communicate with one another. We have to be as focused as if I were playing with anyone, not the love of my life. Games go a lot more smoothly now :) And I can actually congratulate her if she wins, rather than take it personally.

    • Laura says...

      hahah, yes, such a common ploy for grabbing the resources. It hurts every time when you’re duped! And feels victorious when you’re the one to pull it off, lol!

  65. Hannah says...

    My boyfriend and I are both highly competitive, too. I bragged to him about how good I was at ping pong—only to have him beat me at every game when we went to a ping pong bar on a date! I kept insisting we go back until I finally beat him one day. :) We’re planning to move in together in December and considering buying a ping pong table for our apartment.

  66. nadine says...

    I just wanted to say I love the illustration! Super cute! I went into a rabbit hole in Joelle’s instagram and her other work is great too..

  67. Kathy says...

    You know what would be cool? If there was an option to “like” someone’s comments. And then all the comments with the most likes will be at the top of the comment section (and the rest will just be chronological order…) then we get to read all the awesome comments right away. Sort of like reddit’s comment system. That way, we get to read the most wonderful comments on Friday’s posts, but can easily read the pretty awesome comments that didn’t get to make it too. OR would that cause too much sadness for people whose comments are unliked? … hmm just a thought.

    • CS says...

      IMO I prefer the current comment system. It keeps things more authentic. Otherwise, people start focusing more on the competition aspect and on trying to have their comments liked, rather than just engaging honestly.

  68. Kathy says...

    hahahah

  69. Olivia says...

    A few years ago, my roommate/best friend and I instituted a weekly gin rummy date at one of our favorite local bars. We decided to keep track of our points every week, until the score showed me losing so badly that we ended up glowering at each other across the table for the duration of each game. Me: “Gin rummy is a matter of luck! Not skill!” Her: “…”

    And, in another notable incident (after a beautiful date night to celebrate my birthday), I was reduced to tears after my boyfriend beat me twice at Yahtzee.

    I so look forward to implementing this tip, and likely ending up with allll the free iced coffees, haha.

  70. Sadie says...

    My mom is the queen of rummy but she has loads of house rules. My partner and I now have our own house rules, every time we play it feels like a metaphor for our relationship. We will take some things from our family cultures but we will also create our own.

  71. Christie says...

    Side note: Can anyone recommend good card games with kids while in isolation? Uno is our all time fave…

    • Sarah says...

      Too Many Monkeys from Gamewright! My kids are 8, 6, and 5 and they love it. And it doesn’t bore me or make me want to pull my hair out!

    • Tracey says...

      Djeco card games are 10/10 good, kids and grown ups love them. I recommend piou piou, mixamatou and sakapuss, they are pretty much traditional card games like old maid etc but reinvented with great illustrations and instruction cards in about thirty different language.

    • Deanna says...

      Skipbo or Sequence!

    • Melanie says...

      Phase 10!

    • Meg says...

      We love “Spot It!” and “Taco, Cat, Goat, Cheese, Pizza”. Great for kids but also really fun for grown-ups!

    • KH says...

      Rat-a-tat cat and Spot it. I honestly love rat-a-tat cat and beg my son to play with me. Spot it is super tricky!! Both don’t involve any reading — good for pre-K kids and up but also fun for adults.

    • Amy says...

      Bandito!

    • Tami says...

      Sleeping Queens!!! The best.

    • Kelly says...

      Sleeping Queens! My nieces LOVE it! They’re 6 & 8 now, but they’ve had the game for 2 years. It can feel like a lot of rules when you first start, but once you get used to them, it’s fine. We can play rounds and rounds of it!

    • I gave Sleeping Queens as a gift for this past Christmas, and the parents said the girls adored it and it was helping them with their math too. Maybe Sushi Go party version too? I got that as a gift to give some other kids, but we ended up opening it for ourselves after being in quarantine for a while. We’ll have to buy another for them!

    • Emma says...

      There’s a French kids’ card game called Dobble that my kids (and every french kid seemingly) loves! You can get it off Amazon.

    • Anon says...

      Mille Bornes

    • Mimi says...

      We started playing 5 state rummy when my two were in elementary school.
      Hope this helps.

  72. Christie says...

    This post made me laugh. My husband and I are not competitive about games with each other, but when our 9 year old joins us, my husband seems to use it as a “teaching moment”. Any flouting of the rules results in him puffing up his chest, raising his voice and giving a big lecture about what the rules are *cue eye roll*.

    We’ve started making sure that we all agree to the rules before we play. One benefit is that we can make up silly rules if we want to – but once we’ve agreed to the rule and the game begins, we have to stick to it!

  73. Aileen says...

    Oh man. I am insane about this. I hate losing to my partner so much (and he is way better at games than I am) that the only way we can play certain card games is if we each pick a country to play for, and if you lose three in a row than you have to pick a new country. Somehow it helps make the loss less personal when I’m not really losing, it’s Albania.

    • Sara says...

      that’s hilarious!

    • G. says...

      As an Albanian, I beg of you to choose another country, we’re getting our asses kicked :)

    • Kelsey says...

      This is hilarious.

    • Lili says...

      That’s the funniest thing! :)

    • Alice says...

      This is incredible and I’m absolutely stealing this.

  74. Lucy says...

    This might be weird to say, but I feel like the comments on Cup of Jo are just a tiny bit competitive: who is going to be shared in that glorious Friday post?? Of course, in that case, being a loser is the best since you get to see a little piece of other reader’s hearts.

    • Calla says...

      Hahaha totally. I notice people (myself included!) Tend to phrase comments in a way that stands out on its own like that rather than how we would actually say it

    • cilla says...

      What? really? i have never tried or thought about phrasing comment hoping to be chosen.
      you really do that? i am a bit shocked. Who cares if your comment is published? what do you get out of it? would you tell friends and family about it? hmm, i don’t know. i guess i just have really hard and big things to deal with in my life at the moment and don’t have energy for minor things like that.
      But I love love love comments on this blog, so keep posting them: in more or less phrased form! :)

    • A says...

      I am just as surprised as Cilla! Even though I love reading the Friday comments, I would honestly be a little embarrassed if one of my comments was chosen. What a funny aspect to commenting that never crossed my mind. The comments at Cup of Jo are really delightful, though, so I guess I don’t mind if some folks are extra conscientious of their comments here!

    • Agnes says...

      I absolutely love how the competitive nature of comments (if it’s a thing) has only been addressed here, in comments about games and competition. I don’t remember this being talked about here before. Hahaha humans.

  75. Sarah says...

    My husband and I do this, too, in a way! Before each game, we bet a small chore, gesture, or gift that we’d like from the other person. We play a mix of games that we’re each good at so that it feels balanced in the end.

    We also have a giant banking ledger with a table of contents for all of the games we play. We track our wins and losses and record the date we played. We’ve been using it over 7 years now and it’s super fun to look back on.

    • Mimi says...

      Ahhh that is the sweetest record keeping, I’ve heard of.

  76. My husband and I are veteran gin players. That pack of cards has traveled with us around the world for decades, and has cured the boredom of rescheduled flights, late buses, and jet lag. But it has also filled hours of picnicking in exotic locations and wonky AirBnBs. So much fun in such a little package. And after all these years we still cheer for the winner.

    • Megan says...

      Love this!!

  77. Mae says...

    This is very on the nose. My partner and I have mercy rules, and all kinds of variations on games to make the games closer and gentler. It’s no fun to play with someone pouting, and we’re both too competitive to enjoy losing for very long. Basically, games with us are like playing with a toddler–tread gently, or risk a meltdown.

  78. Fiona says...

    My husband and I determined that in card games the winner has to give the loser a hug. It worked briefly, but then it became a point of not quite extra bragging. I think the idea of the loser getting a treat is genius!