I'll play if I'm allowed to win

9th August 1996 at 01:00
What three games will you entertain your children with this summer? I've just been asked that question. Difficult, because we're not just talking entertainment here; it is all about morality, rules, cheating and winning. If you are a serious games playing family, winning is especially important.

My grandad lobbied for years to reduce the number of "I" tiles in Scrabble, but Grandma wouldn't have it. A couple of years after he died, I noticed that all "I" tiles had faint pencil marks on their backs, but I wasn't smart enough to keep the discovery to myself. Grandma played below par that night and I won. I take the precaution of playing games with my children where I don't have to cheat to win. This rules out Scrabble, Monopoly, chess, bridge and poker.

Raw competitiveness is the order of the summer season, so bring out Uno, a card game which teaches shuffling, cutting, dealing, following suit and recognising numbers. Unlike whist and rummy, which are kiddie imitations of better games, Uno is a game unto itself where the rules are simple. It is fast and the concentration intense. While basic Uno is available with meaningless embellishments such as Uno Stacko and Uno Dice (whose rules are more complex than a tax form), we stick to the straightforward and the cheap.

The satisfaction of any game is that it forms a self-contained world. Toys are different. They're always fragments of larger collections and sold in display-only cartons that self-destruct on opening. Toys keep my children in a state of dissatisfied consumerism and my kitchen floor becomes a slurry of moulded plastic. Games makers can afford boxes that close as well as open, and we can afford the Sellotape to constantly reinforce the oldest of boxes.

The box for Sorry merits the most care. It is inscribed with my father's name, "D Fisher" written in such a childish hand that it must be from the Twenties. Kate, Dora and Charlie learnt Sorry strategies more quickly than potty training or spelling their own names. This proved to me that its rules have been genetically transmitted. We know that ones and twos get you out of the start box, that twos give another turn of the card, that sevens can be split, that 11s are swap numbers and that threes, fives and 12s are boring no-choicers. We know that I play with the red soldiers or not at all. Drilled in mechanical politeness, we know to say "sorry" when we turn a sorry card. Otherwise, the opponent's piece isn't returned to base.

Sorry is a game of genius, to be seriously recommended to adults intent on bringing up well-mannered, but vicious, children. The tactical cards enable losing players to engineer reversals of fortune with finishes as close as a European Cup semi-final.

This summer, we will be playing snooker on a miniature table we were recently given. This has no box and breaks every other rule for keeping me entertained with games this summer. Instead of being a patriarchal arbiter, I can only pose, squinting down a freshly chalked cue, while the children sink the balls and tell me the score. I can't even think of a way of cheating properly. It's not fair. Next time I visit my mum and dad I'll take the Sorry box with me.

Miniature snooker table Pounds 49.99 Argos; Sorry, Waddingtons Pounds 15.95 Mattel's card version of Uno Pounds 5.99

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