Board games are supposed to be cozy family activities.
The very words board games for me recall childhood summer afternoons playing Parcheesi. The kids in my neighborhood played Parcheesi with cutthroat aggression; each contest involved so many blockades that more games ended with all players paralyzed than with someone's triumphant ascent up the center ladder to victory.
Now, I have no problem with today's adult party games. If you think I'm going to gripe about Cards Against Humanity, you are mistaken. People can play Cards Against Humanity until the cows come home chugging lava lamps with P.F. Chang himself; I don't care. Any umbrage I take will concern one of the other games I saw recently at a toy store whose name I must withhold because I can't remember what it was.
I took pictures of the games, though. One game was the Original Mouthguard Challenge, described as "the crazy party game that's a mouthful of fun!"
Players insert a plastic cheek expander, like those used during athletic activities or dental procedures. Correctly worn, the appliance exposes to the air and your friends every tooth in your head. Thus equipped, the players attempt to repeat phrases, sing or -- as an "extreme challenge" -- eat watermelon. Hilarity, apparently, ensues.
But let's think about this game. You sit down with people whose opinion you value, deliberately -- I say "deliberately" to mean as opposed to this happening as a result of a freak accident -- jam into your mouth a plastic thing that pulls your lips back behind your ears and exposes your gums and every filling in your head. Then you start to talk. What fun.
You know how this game started, right? Obviously, some guy who had a mouthguard lying around the house put it in as a joke. "Hey guys, look at this!" he said, or rather, "Ay eyes, ook ah is!"
"Let me try!" somebody else said, and a party game was born.
On the positive side, this game may be the only one ever to note that the game pieces are dishwasher-safe.
Speaking of mouths, another game in the store actually caused my jaw to drop. No doubt I resembled a person playing Mouthguard Challenge when I came across Organ Attack! The Family Friendly Game of Organ Harvesting.
I assumed I'd read the box wrong. "Oh, ha ha," I said, leaning in to see the real name of the game. The real name, as it turned out, was Organ Attack! The Family Friendly Game of Organ Harvesting.
"The object of the game is to remove your opponents' organs before they remove yours," said the box.
When I was a child, my mother, sister and I would play a game of Scrabble with my grandmother just before we left her house after a visit. I can see us now, sitting around my grandmother's card table, frowning at our letters and eating chocolate bridge mix. My grandmother had a talent for playing her last few tiles in odd places: "Lo, the poor Indian," she would say, placing an "L" above an available "O."
Now imagine the four of us sitting down to a game of Organ Attack. "Grandma, I'll take your kidneys and your pancreas, too," I hear myself saying.
"Then hand over your right ventricle and your ovaries," my grandmother replies.
I doubt games of Organ Attack would have left me with indelible memories. Repression is a powerful psychological tool.
I could go on -- a family game named for a natural function that children are taught isn't polite to exercise in public -- subtitled "Fast, Flatulent and Fun!" -- notes, "Includes a CD soundtrack" on the box. Another, "Toilet Trouble," asks, "Which flush will cause the gush?" The last game I saw before I sought higher ground was "Doody Head." I refuse to describe it. I will say, though, that those childhood Parcheesi games, blockades notwithstanding, have begun to seem as wholesome as "Romper Room" and hula hoops.
I suggest we go back there right now.
Write to Margo Bartlett at email@example.com.