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By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Communication is simply telling a story that effectively gets a message to an intended person or group.  That has been my mantra for years.

I like to think I'm a reasonably good storyteller.  So, let me test both my mantra and my ability by telling you a story, and see what it communicates to you.

As a young boy, I remember sitting in my grandpa's dining room watching him play solitaire.  With a fly swatter at one hand to tease the cat should she meander by and a teapot and cup at the other hand, grandpa could play for hours.  Oft times the cards he played with would have wear spots on them, but rarely would you see him with a new deck.  And yes, he put the cards on the table and moved them by hand to their correct spots and with a purposeful rhythm he would turn three cards at a time. 

Every once in a blue moon he would play a different game, but 99.9 per cent of the time it was the classic Klondike game.  If you asked him how many games he had won today, he would give you a strange look as if to ask: “Is that important?”

All my life I have enjoyed card games and board games.  I'm maybe a little too competitive (there came a time that nobody would play Monopoly with me!).   From Snakes and Ladders (note the generation) to Hungry Hungry Hippos and Battling Tops, right through to Sorry and various strategy games.

Over Christmas this year, my love of board games was renewed by my children and nieces and nephews.  They would often play a board game at family celebrations, starting with two or three playing and soon the entire group was huddled about to watch and wait their turn to play.  I didn't know the game so didn't pay that much attention.  I did however take note that the age range playing was late teens to early 30s.  A board game when there were computers and video games at hand?

Well, there was no gathering this year, so the board game arrived at our house via Amazon.  Settlers of Catan! Now why would anyone want to play a game like that? The Christmas group always played a raggedy old game out of a dilapidated box that looked like it might disintegrate at any moment.  It was way too old school. But then why did they like it?

It took a week or more, but I finally slipped close enough to watch my family playing.  Wheat, sheep, rock, brick, wood?  Settlements and cities?  How can they be having so much fun? 

So, I sat down to try it out, all the while exclaiming as I oft do: “I won't like it and you can be sure that this will be one and done for me!”  As usual, I was wrong.  It was a very good game to play.  Lots of strategy, planning, even the odd chance to dive bomb an opponent which my competitive edge celebrated with glee.

But guess what?  The original game has morphed into many, many variations.  Each new game comes with multiple scenarios that will draw you deeper and deeper into the world of Catan.  They've added islands and ships and knights and barbarians and countless other options.  I read on one of the boxes that they hold a world championship!  And from what I can tell, nobody has tried to turn it into a video version.  You have to set up and take down all the pieces by yourself.  How can kids like that?

We have had many hours of joy around our family table in the last few months as we battle each other in multiple versions of Settlers of Catan and then boast of our new strategies and hint at potential new offensive techniques to reach the required points total.  Yes, cell phones can be an interruption and/or distraction, but not nearly as irritating as a dog who senses Catan starting and immediately whines at the door to go outside!

But it's also brought back something that I remember from being in my grandpa's dining room.  A chance to talk, tell stories, share our lives.  Grandpa never seemed to be in a hurry to do anything, so there was always time to entertain the questions of an inquisitive young man. 

As we set up for a rousing rendition of Catan, I know that I will also get to hear about life and challenges and friends and successes and all the things that are important to a family.  You can't share them during a video game, but the age-old tradition of a board game allows for conversations to unfold.

Who knows?  Maybe someday I'll have a grandson who will stroll to the dining room table and say, “grandpa, why are you using those funny pieces of paper?  Don't you know that you can play that game on the computer?”  You can bet that I will smile, grab another coffee, and sit down to connect another young man to the love of a good game!

So, how did I do in the communication department?  Did I stir some memories? Make you think about family?  Take you back to simpler days?  I thought I might have?

Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James' Westminster, London.

(Featured photo: Galen Crout/Unsplash)