Game night, a retro trend that is reappearing in many households these days, and for good reason! Indeed, like more than a few families these days, we pulled a wooden board from the basement, and in a true burst of “we played this at Grandma’s house” type of nostalgia, we tried a night of Crokinole! Surely, nothing brings family and friends closer together than sitting less than three feet away from each other, rubbing both elbows and knees, whilst flinging little pucks of wood at your opponents. Obviously, an innocent enough game, but if you consider the fact that its counterpart, Curling, is played on ice with granite stones of some 40lbs being hurtled around, you can begin to see its “weighty” undertones.
Crokinole is probably featured in some version of the Canadian “Heritage Minute” series, as it is a proudly Canadian “moment”. A quick Wikipedia search confirms this, and states that the first known Crokinole board was created by a Tavistock resident, Mr. Eckhardt Wettlaufer in 1876. In honour of this game’s heritage, the World Crokinole Championship is still held in that small Southwestern Ontario town each June, and is taken very, very seriously.
Long considered a Mennonite game, it is true that the game was revered in an area of Ontario that disliked card games, and even worse, the ghostly Victorian trend of Ouiji, and many remaining period boards illustrate the skill of its Germanic makers with the use of inlay hardwoods and Fraktur ornamentation. I used to own one that was built of tiger maple and walnut, two Carolinian hardwoods which bely their early Ontario roots, so to speak.
However, as usual, I digress. Let us get back to the game itself. The name Crokinole is an anglicized version of the French word, croquignole, which very appropriately, means to “flick the fingers”, basically the main action maker of the game. On a round, or octagonal board, one attempts to gain points, and reduce those acquired by opponents, by flicking little round flat wooden pieces towards a guarded centre indent worth the highest number. The board is separated into individual pie shaped shooting areas. One uses a high degree of strategic aiming and concentration to advance, and a “flick”, can be as gentle as a few inches to gain 10 points, or as spiked as finding your pieces fifteen minutes later beneath the couch, after being “taken out” by an opponent’s lightening fast shot.
The rules are straightforward and simple, and the fun begins immediately with the first tenuous flick. It is when aim becomes better, and flicks become nasty that relationships begin to falter.
We set up a game night with our long time friends, Colin Ward, and his wife Ellen Preuschat of Tecumseh, Ontario, and after the pleasantries of an Italian meal, complete with the mellowing effects of wine, delicatessan made Tiramisu, and family photos, (more wine please), we made the common assumption that surely the game following would be civilised.
However, this is a game which brings out the competitive edge, and if you think board games are slow and boring, I highly recommend Crokinole for fun and perhaps a little anger management! Within just a few hours (we simply could not stop playing for the “tie breaker”), the sedate nature of the evening had turned into a cut throat, take no prisoners, all out rebellion. For one as passive aggressive as myself, I twice errantly claimed that I “might have married the wrong man”, while shaking my sore fingers from failed attempts to have his pucks removed, apparently, from the gravitational pull of the entire earth!
In equally uncharacteristic fashion, my best friend Ellen, who courageously and loyally lives vicariously through her twelve year old son’s eyes, enthusiastically called the young tween to break away from the television and try the game, and then with cold and frightening accuracy, quickly flung his very first tentative effort right off the board! Needless to say, her son returned with haste, to watching his favourite reality TV show rather than face the well aimed wrath of his otherwise gentle and attentive parent!
My husband, well known for his competitive nature, (he used to race horses) was twice traded between teams simply because he never lost, (did we really use the word “cheat”??) thereby pitting husband against wife, and friend against friend, also resulting in my horrifyingly dishonest use of the word, bi**h, against my oldest, (over 40 years of friendship) and dearest ally, who was also my bridesmaid over thirty years ago. Only the admitted blur of alcohol, and the subsequent poor choices of frustration, allowed the friendships and indeed our marriages, to endure the evening.
Thus, it is with the warm glow left after an evening of fun, frivolity, and stress release, (and no, I am not describing an evening of wild sexual abandon!), that I recommend finding your family a Crokinole board! We laughed, we slapped our fists on the table, we swore a few times, we fished our wood pieces out of houseplant pots, from under china cabinets, and from our laps, while enjoying a game that for over 100 years has remained an incredibly worthy National indoor past-time. Indeed, while relationships were temporarily challenged by this seemingly innocent game, overall the fun we had was both memorable, and necessary, in a real world that truly challenges our familial sense of security.