Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life

In Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life, Joan Moriarity & Jonathan Kay spend as much time writing about tabletop games as they do about the personalities and psychological makeup of their players, and how game theory can affect the world at large. I was more attracted to the chapters by Moriarity, who interacts daily with players at a Toronto gaming café and witnesses the behaviours exhibited by a wide range of customers. By her own admission, she surprises herself by what reactions game players exhibit versus what she believes they should be exhibiting. Case in point: the most politically incorrect game around today, Cards Against Humanity:

“Another curious thing about Cards Against Humanity is the people who choose to play it. I have spent years observing people selecting and playing games so I think I have a better sense than most about which games reach which target audiences. For a long time, I assumed it must be straight, white, cisgender dudes driving the game’s massive success. As the years went by, I began to notice something about the people at the café who came to me looking for help finding a copy of it: roughly nine in ten were women, and about half of those were women of color. Obviously, I do not know and cannot know the exact reasons why people choose to play any particular game but I thought my experience had provided me with ample basis for making educated guesses. What I saw went against who I supposed this game was for and how it was meant to be enjoyed. I wondered who these women could be punching down at. Their queer friends? Their trans friends? That did not seem likely.”

I have played this game many times and only within a group of other gay men. As one of the targeted groups within this nasty deck of cards, we can’t help laughing at the obvious antigay slant some of the cards display. I have attended comedy shows put on by gay and lesbian comedians, and their jokes are full of queer stereotypes that a straight comedian would lose his or her career over. We can laugh at the homophobic biases because we know that they are so totally not true or are surreal exaggerations. On a related note, there are some Jewish comedians who can tell anti-Semitic jokes that gentile comedians could never do (and Joan Rivers had been the bane of the Anti-Defamation League on more than one occasion). So I do not agree with the theory that Cards Against Humanity allows its players to be “horrible people” by being openly racist, sexist, homophobic and so on. The game is not unleashing the closet anti-Semite in all of us. We are not laughing at others, but ridiculing ourselves instead when we play it.

I enjoyed Moriarity’s teaching style and her insight into gamer personalities and I believe that under her tutelage I might become a convert to fantasy or empire-building games. My gaming preference has always been the wordy types: Scrabble, Probe, Balderdash, Hangman or any of the other Scrabble-inspired or -derived tile games like Anagrams and Fry Your Brain. I do play other games, such as Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, but of all the games Moriarity and Kay talked about in this book, Greenland (a survival game) has piqued my interest the most to want to play it and now I am looking on-line to find out where I might buy it.

Irony alert as chapter five was entitled “Cures for Pandemics and Alpha Players”, where Moriarity dealt with the game called Pandemic (this book was published in September 2019, which leads me to wonder if COVID-19 will inspire anyone to develop a game based on its worldwide spread) as well as how to deal with know-it-all players who ruin everyone’s experience by dominating the game table.

The authors referred to their own essays as well as each other’s, both ones already encountered and ones yet to come, and this must have required a massive editing collaboration to ensure that what they said was later covered, or had been dealt with earlier. Thus although the authors stated at the beginning that each of the game essays could be read independently and that jumping around the book skipping chapters was perfectly all right, there was nonetheless a tight sense of cohesion where chapters flowed well together. I would recommend reading the book from cover to cover.

By far the best chapter was Moriarity’s Scattergories and Sacrilege, where she pummelled the card game as a friendship breaker and family un-maker:

“It is often labeled a ‘party game’ but that implies a party-like atmosphere. Gregarious fun, rollicking hijinks, that sort of thing. Scattergories is more like being stuck in detention with nothing to do but your homework. Players sit quietly with their papers and pens, writing without talking to each other, without interacting or even looking at each other. They might as well be doing their taxes. This part of Scattergories is a silent, joyless chore.”

Kay wrote one of the most poignant lines that introverted social misfits like me can identify with:

“Board gaming in general…is the only thing I do in life that allows me to fuse fully my desire for intellectual stimulation with the inborn human appetite for some form of social connection.”

Some style notes I must comment on: I abhor the lazy suffix -wise, which my local weather forecaster uses excessively with the sentences always beginning “Temperaturewise…” I admit that the beauty of the English language allows its speakers to understand what neologisms like this mean without the excesses of circuitous prepositional phrases. A word like this might go over better in an oral context, but on the printed page, I would prefer to see “As for the temperature…” Kay was guilty of two such -wise monstrosities. I let the first one go without putting it in my notes, but by the time I encountered the second occurrence:

“Hobby-wise, board gaming is more properly described as a confederation of sub-communities…”

I had to note it. The -wise suffix is inelegant on the printed page and should be avoided in neologisms.

Unfortunately the end of the book disappointed me with two errors within its last two paragraphs. These mistakes ruined an otherwise pleasant read with a bang-bang effect of successive erroneous words:

“…those same people are have already shown their willingness to actually get together…”


“So maybe it’s good that there are all those various communities are there, playing among various kinds of people.”

This kind of error, where it seems more likely that the author changed tense or verb placement while the original wording or part thereof was left in, was found elsewhere in the book, but I did not note it. The editor in me felt that I could let those instances pass, but not twice in the final two paragraphs.

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