Our Family Has a No Compete Clause

This means war.

Times we have fought over Pictionary: 8

Times I have won Settlers of Catan: 0

Times I have thought I was going to win Settlers of Catan: 13

Pictionary is off-limits in our family. When we head to the beach each summer, a multi-generational, extended family affair, my brother-in-law has declared Pictionary a no-go. My husband would tell you that this is because my drawings all resemble alien feet. But it is really because the arguments conversations go something like this:

“But why would you draw a globe if the word is earlobe?”

“Just the rhyming, you know, the actual ear drawing didn’t work…”

“That’s an ear? It looks like a treble clef. Seriously.”

“Treble clefs are hard to draw. Give me some props–high five…”

“There are no high fives for epic failure. Earlobe. Earlobe. Earlobe.”

The issues are not restricted to two people, or even four. There is dysfunction in the whole set-up, except of course, for my 9-year-old daughter, who is a wonderful artist and looks at all of us with disgust. Did I mention that cocktail hour begins at 4 p.m. at the beach?

In Pictionary, my dad is the liability. We take turns having him on our team, because as the timer is turned, his pencil hovers over the paper while the sand trickles inexorably to the bottom of the glass.

“Draw something, Dad! Anything.”

And then the random guesses begin as we stare at the blank page.

“Costa Rica!”


“Saltwater taffy!”

My brother-in-law is not an alcoholic, but he probably wishes he were.

I try to help. “Another beer?”

He shakes his head sadly and points to the puffy, benevolent clouds outside. “Looks like a storm might be rolling in.”

Everyone ignores him.

We have also tried poker, which my mom will not play because of some unknown aversion to betting. No money is ever used in the playing of our poker. It consists of me giggling, my husband telling me to find a poker face, and my brother-in-law and sister dealing each other the best cards. Or maybe they just know how to play better.

One of my favorites is Settlers of Catan, where you try to build settlements and use resources like sheep, wood, wheat and brick to dominate the board. My husband won’t play it anymore.

Problem #1: My husband wants to win. And he never does.

Problem #2: My sister has a Ph.D. in some complicated science-y thing, but I suspect now that it may be board game-related. She always wins. Effortlessly.

Problem #3: I always think I’m going to win and still have a chance. My son does, too, and we continue to cling to the wreckage of the sinking ship with looks of hope on our faces. We are the golden retrievers of board games.

I always thought that I wasn’t a competitive person. I never played sports in school and shied away from direct confrontation. But when my children were young and wanted to play Chutes and Ladders, I scared myself.

“Ha! Take that! Back down the chute with you!” I found myself saying to my 3-year-old daughter.

She did not often ask to play board games with me.

The whims of the chutes were so unexpected, so uncontrollable. Maybe my kids didn’t understand how mercurial the winds of life could be. By controlling and beating ol’ Chutes, success in life would be mine. Mine!

The only game that works for us now is Apples to Apples, Junior Edition.

For a writer, it’s a great game. You turn over an adjective, and everyone has a hand full of nouns. They have to play a noun that they think the judge will like best as a match for the adjective.

My son goes for silly.


His choice would probably be, “Helicopters.”

This throws my grandmother off a bit when she’s judging. “Helicopters?” she’ll ask.

My son will snicker, and she gives him a “hmph.”

The perfect multi-generational game. No right or wrong answers, and a little bit of guessing about how people are likely to judge.

But I’ve been working on my alien feet, and I’m hoping that someday, we’ll all be mature enough to try Pictionary again.

12 thoughts on “Our Family Has a No Compete Clause

  1. Bernie Brown says:

    Good one, Anne! There’s an ugly strain of competition in my family (read me) when we play games, too.; but foolishly, I continue to play.

  2. annewoodman says:

    Me, too! Maybe we should have a writers’ game night. Ha! We could all yell at each other. ; )

  3. crubin says:

    Yes, this all sounds familiar! Apples to Apples is one of our favorites too. Probably because you don’t have to move around, think too much, or use the slightest bit of exertion to play 🙂

  4. Melissa says:

    We have the same type of beach trip and we usually end up play spades or cribbage. We tried not allowing spouses to be teams, but we found that we cheat more….The rule is not cheating is not allowed, but cheat until you get caught…so sad.

  5. We used to have euchre tournaments within the family. Usually, Grandma would accuse everyone else of cheating and my aunt and Grandfather would team-up and beat everyone else. Once, when I was about 10 years old, my uncle tried to teach me how to play “casino”. after three hands I realized the rules had changed four times.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I giggled out loud at this: “We are the golden retrievers of board games.” I’ve never played Settlers of Catan, but I’ve heard good things about it!

  7. annewoodman says:

    Yes, Settlers is perfect for strategizing… something I obviously need work on. I always hoped the CIA would recruit me, but my Settlers record shows why they didn’t… lack of 5-step thinking??

  8. Oh god, we’ve got the same issues in my family. When we play with our daughters I kinda always give them an extra chance to help them win. My husband, on the other hand, is ruthless, though the girls really do like playing with him. My older daughter has an issue with Monopoly. She loves it, but absolutely hates losing. We’ve had to take the game away from her as punishment because she threw a fit when she had to forfeit all her properties! I’m not competitive, unless we’re playing Risk (we don’t play this one with the children). Risk takes forever to play, and everyone gets all riled up because I win the majority of times. Then we don’t talk for days; or if we do it’s only to discuss the game we had just played, ie, why did I take over South America and kill off the red army in the process…

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