Help a grown man beat his 9-year-old son at puzzle game ...

features@islandpacket.comJanuary 13, 2014 

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Are you supposed to let your kids win at board games? Let me rephrase that: Are you supposed to let your kids win at board games if you can beat them at board games? Because frankly I lost a shocking amount of Candy Land to my son when he was 4, but in my defense, there is zero strategy to Candy Land, and that dude had no idea what he was doing. It's not like I lost because of some series of tactical errors, right? The little mop-top just pulled the colored cards in the right order and avoided Gloppy when he needed to, right? Everyone just smile and nod, please, thanks.

On the whole, we've yet to establish a consistent routine about this winning-and-losing situation. Sometimes when we play games I'll take a dive in Battleship, make a ridiculous accusation in Clue or make a lousy chess move or two to let the Little Man stay a competitive step ahead. Sometimes I'll spot-decide that I should use this game of Ticket to Ride to teach that life is an unending thread of disappointments that he must begin enduring as soon as possible. Sometimes my 9-year-old straight up beats me at chess, which naturally makes me want to immediately crush him at Ticket to Ride.

But there's no rhyme or reason to these games, and there probably should be, at least while I maintain the ability to keep an upper hand at some of them. Because there is one game at which he regularly throttles me, one game that I lose, regularly, badly, to a person who routinely puts his shirts on backward and ends 85 percent of all dinners by falling out of his chair.

The game is called Blokus. It's hard to describe, but it's a strategy puzzle game, and if there is one difference between my constantly-in-motion, frenetic, imaginative, science-kid son and myself it's our relative skill at strategy puzzle games. (Him: Good. Me: A picture of a monkey clanging his little cymbals.) He is way, way better at Blokus than I am. He comes up with moves and ideas and strategies in the time it takes me to figure out which way the board is supposed to point. He's the LeBron James of Blokus, and I'm the me of basketball, playing Blokus. (I'm terrible at basketball too.)

If you don't play Blokus, the following paragraphs will read like a Microsoft manual in French to you, so go ahead and flip over to Beetle Bailey or something. If you DO play Blokus, THANK GOD YOU'RE HERE, please tell me if this sounds like a good plan for beating a fourth-grader: My strategy now is to try to spread out as quickly as I can at the beginning, cover the board in a creeping sea of blue plastic, getting as much of a jump as I can before he begins plotting my demise. Spread out first, right? That's the way to go?

But see, it's a trick! That's where my little nefarious son gets me. I'm thinking I'm creating an impenetrable "Game of Thrones" wall across the board, and then he sneaks in with that little two-block piece and THWARTS ME, then wreaks havoc in MY TERRITORY with those WEIRD-SHAPED PIECES THAT LOOK LIKE W's. Seriously, if he keeps this up I'm going into his college fund and buying myself stuff.

This was my New Year's Eve, by the way: Watching Blake Shelton on TV and playing Blokus with a 9-year-old, in case any of you non-parents worried about the zany excitement level dropping after you have kids. Who knows, next year, when my youngest is 3, maybe we'll get all crazy and break out the Candy Land.

Jeff Vrabel also falls out of his chair a lot. When he is upright he can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com and followed at twitter.com/jeffvrabel.

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