It seemed ironic that this was the first beautiful day in months. Days after days of lashing rain had kept every one of us indoors, hiding from the elements. Of course it was only when we were forced inside by quarantine that the sun decided to show it’s face again. The sky was a brilliant blue, a gentle breeze shifted the tree leaves on the street outside; you could practically hear the Disney Princess singing to the birds. From a fourth floor apartment, however, we could only watch with envy. It was as though spring had arrived simply to laugh.
It’s no surprise, considering, that each of us were in rotten moods. Five of us stuck in a place with four rooms and a bathroom, we were bound to get in each other’s way. It didn’t seem to bother my mom much - she sorted the kitchen over and over, humming slightly-out-of-tune U2 songs all the while. But the rest of us were slowly going insane. My older sister, in particular - a highly competitive athlete, her hockey season had just been cancelled last minute and in my parent’s apartment there was hardly the space to work out properly. All of us were like sausages cooking in a very small pan, and it was just a matter of time before one of us burst. That’s what brought us here, at four o’clock on a tuesday afternoon. The Catan board in front of us. The dice rolled, and the game began.
Mum had suggested that we play a game “as a family,” after a morning full of irritable jibes and bickering. She’d hoped it would give us a chance to let off some steam and argue over something less trivial. In fact it seemed to make the whole situation worse.
The premise of the game was simple - gain 10 points by building roads, settlements and cities. It seemed tame enough, yet somehow it always turned out to be the most competitive game we’d ever played. Even as we placed the first settlements, sighs and groans arose as my sister stole the prime resource spot. The rest of us scrounged around the edges, grumbling that the game was rigged, that there was no point even playing now because she would hoard the resources and win the game within 30 minutes. I ended up settling on 2,3,11 &12 - statistically the four least probable numbers rolled with the two dice; I resigned myself to a quick and bitter defeat. Only my mom, with a slight smile, refused to be disheartened. “You never know what the dice will do.”
And so again, the dice rolled.
It was a game where there were never enough resources. Despite the fact 10/11 of the possible numbers added resources to the game, it seemed every other roll was a 7 - no use to anyone! There were two rounds where I failed to pick up a single card. Slowly, the frustration began to mount. Occasional windfalls kept the game going, but as glorious sunshine outside faded into glorious evening, we still hadn’t declared a winner. We were covered in cracker crumbs and surrounded by empty mugs from the inevitable tea breaks that came from when we became too irritable (or hangry) to continue. Still we soldiered on. My younger sister had flat out given up half an hour before and left to return to her Sims 4 in her room; it was a decision I was considering more and more wise. I wanted to bail as badly as anyone, but Mom refused to let anyone else go, and there was no way I was giving my older sister the satisfaction of winning by default. It was a miracle she hadn’t won already: she was on 8 points, but the one thing I had managed to achieve was the longest road card (which awarded the holder 2 points). With the lack of resources, the longest road card was the easiest route to a win, as all she had to do was connect to parts of the road she’d been building on different sides of the board. It would have been inevitable, too, if not for the complete lack of wood in that part of the game. It was necessary for road building but hadn’t been rolled in an age. And so her plans of victory were ground to a steady halt. Dice and after dice roll, the rest of us, slowly enough, began to catch up.
My Dad’s eyebrow began to twitch as his patience waned - a telltale sign, that, winner or not, this game would only last so much longer. My Mom remained unfailingly cheerful; she’d been collecting development cards all game and had gotten nowhere, which only made her cheeriness more potent and aggravated the rest of us immensely.
I finally, after many many more 7s and a life-saving 12 roll, made it to 8 points. All I needed was a couple more cities to win, and I had enough for one of those in my hand. As my turn rolls around, I thump the cards down on the shaky coffee table, almost spilling my Mom’s latest cup of tea. As I placed my city, it was as though a switch had flicked in the room. The end was finally in sight with one of us at 9/10 points. My Dad huffed out a sigh of relief, but my sister’s eyes narrowed. This game had gone on too long for her to just let me win. She didn’t have it in her - not when she was so close. Her turn came next. She rolled. The dice dropped.
That gave me and my Mom the wood resource! The one resource my sister needed and the one resource she just couldn’t get. In desperation, the words rang out: “I’ll trade anything for wood!”
A laugh forced its way out of me. After hogging all the resources at the start off the game, had it really come to this? There was no way. My silence rang out like a decree that told her she may as well end her turn, because she was not getting anything from me today. She sighed and looked down at the dice, ready to pass them on. It looked like I might actually win this thing!
Then - to my shock - to my horror- another voice piped up. “Wait! I’ll do that trade!”
My Mom. Lost in her blissful development card collecting, cheerful as ever. “No! Mom! You can’t! Then she’ll win! Why would you-” The protests leapt from my lips far too late. The cards were already exchanged. Grinning at me, my selfish sister laid down one small piece of wood. It seemed so insignificant, but in that one movement the last three hours of our lives and all the progress we thought we were making were raized in one fell swoop. Connecting the two areas she’d been building, my older sister snatched the longest road card from my grasp. This took her to 10 points. She had won.
Cackling, victorious, she rose on long-asleep legs and strolled away, leaving the rest of us knelt in defeat around that coffee table. The sun slipped below the apartment block opposite us as if in exhaustion, and the cool evening breeze sailed in through an open window - taunting us of the fresh air outside. It did little to disturb the stagnancy that had settled. Mom sighed and began to pick up the game pieces. The dice clattered into the box. “Same again tomorrow?”
It was going to be a long few months.