There are certain hallucinogens (or so I’m told) that cause one to lose all sense of time. Hours feel like minutes. You can become immersed in something so entirely mundane that a whole day can go by without you realizing it.
Here at Murray Manor, our Risk board has sat in the basement for years. I can’t even recall how old it is, but judging from the mildew and dust, it’s gone unplayed for at least 20 years.
“Let’s play Risk!” Emily, our eldest, proposed this past weekend. It was St. Jean Baptiste Day, as appropriate a day as any, I guess, for simulated open warfare.
“You play Risk?” I asked.
“Yeah!” she said. She’s a college student, you see…
“So you know the rules?” I asked.
“How long does a game take?” asked James.
Two to four hours, the box said.
It was around 8:30 p.m. We began.
If you’ve ever played Risk, you know it combines strategy and dice luck. The strategy is based on deploying your armies and collecting additional armies by turning in sets of Risk cards. Each set earns a higher number of armies than the last, until you’re earning 20, then 25, then 30 armies, and so on.
What the rulebook wasn’t clear on is what happens when you run out of cards. We decided to re-shuffle them and keep the ever-increasing bonus armies going.
“I get 60 armies!”
“There’s not enough room in Irkutsk for 60 armies!”
“Wait a minute. That can’t be right. Maybe you’re not supposed to re-shuffle the deck.”
“But that’s how we’ve been playing.”
This, I guess, is what they mean by the fog of war. War, on the other hand, doesn’t usually include popcorn breaks.
All our loose interpretation of the rules managed to accomplish was over-clutter the board and make a very long game that much longer.
By the time we decided not to shuffle the deck a third time and to cap the Risk cards at 50 armies, it was 11:30 with no end in sight. We were battle-weary but we each had a foothold in a misshapen, poorly labelled continent. In short, we had a taste for blood.
“We’ll finish tomorrow. Just leave it.”
“But the cats.”
“I’ll take a picture!” shouted Katie, which was a brilliant idea, mainly because I had just thought of it too.
The next afternoon, we launched the second wave. James was the first to fall.
“If I’d known the rules, I would have set up my armies better starting out,” he grumbled, secretly happy to go watch TV.
It looked like Abby was next, but she clung on, aided by the collusion of her quisling mother.
“I don’t want to play anymore,” she said.
“Just play a little longer, Abby. We’ll kill you soon.”
“Fine. But can I watch TV between turns?”
“Wait a minute, Abby; do you have a set in your cards?” asked Deb.
“You get 50 armies.”
“I want to keep playing!”
And this was when we started to lose sense of time. Dishes piled up. Nutritional standards lapsed. Supper plans were drastically minimalized. Physical activity was neglected. In other words, we had become college students.
Soon, Abby was gone and Katie was about to get her Madagascar kicked. Em was barely holding Europe and Deb’s grip on Asia was tenuous. I held the power. The girls’ strategy then became quite simple: it was no longer important that they win; it was important that I didn’t. Such is the politics of war.
But I was too mighty. After a break necessitated by a pre-scheduled real-world softball game, we reconvened on the battlefield. I soon eliminated Em, leaving Deb and me to battle it out. Oh yes, and Katie with a single army, too insignificant to attack, just waiting to be picked off. “Just kill me!” she begged from the TV room.
Twenty-four hours after we’d started, only the adults were left at the table. While I was keen to witness my red sea flood the board, Deb looked at me and said, “You know, I think we can say you won.”
Which brings up another truth about Risk: no one ever finishes. Oh, and I’m awesome.
“What happened to the game?” Katie asked when she saw the cleared kitchen table.
“Mom surrendered,” I said.
“But I still had a piece left. I didn’t surrender. I win!”
War is hell.