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No dice



So the other week I get this package from my friend Trevor.

Trev and I grew up together, and even though I haven't seen him in a dozen years, we still keep in touch via e-mail. Every so often he purges a closet or two and generously scatters the results of his personal archeological dig, usually old games or out-of-print books.

This time it was a game, one of those geeky Avalon Hill war games with a box full of cardboard chits. It had been published when Jimmy Carter was in office. The cover looked familiar, but I had no recollection of playing it, with Trevor or anyone else.

(We played a lot of games growing up. Risk, chess, Chinese checkers, board games, strategy games, role-playing games, video games--if it involved dice, cards or a joystick, we played it. When we weren't playing published titles we were creating our own games, making up our own rules. Two of my friends eventually went on to start their own game company. What I'm saying is--we played a lot of games.)

Then I opened the box and unfolded the map and--whap! Just like that it all came back. I suddenly remembered battling endlessly over this tunnel and making a desperate last stand at that castle.

I contacted Trevor to thank him. He said he recently began to introduce his own kids to Dungeons & Dragons and many of the other games we once played, often with the very copies we had used, and sometimes got that same sense of déjà vu.

Compare this to the disappointment I felt last year when I replaced my nearly decade-old Macintosh and discovered that virtually all my old computer games no longer worked. Even with the backwards-compatible software Apple offers, only one of the titles I picked up over the years played properly.

Don't confuse this for a luddite rant extolling the eternal virtues of Chutes and Ladders--I love video games. I probably dropped a tuition's worth of quarters at the arcade, and my brother and I once bought a 400-pound Star Trek machine for my apartment. (It now sits in the corner of his basement, dark for lack of parts that haven't been manufactured in 20 years.)

I'm not the only one who pines for lost electronic games: You can now buy emulators that play old Atari 2600 cartridges, and Nintendo promises you will be able to download every game it ever released to its next console system.

Somehow, though, I suspect a century from now--heck, even 20 years--it is the board games that will prevail.

Shortly after Trevor's package arrived, we went to the beach with one of my wife's oldest friends. We hadn't seen her teenage kids since they were rugrats, but just in case, I tossed Trevor's game in the trunk.

The boys were glad I did--it turned out the old TV set in their condo didn't have a plug for their Xbox.

For more on games people play, see Annual Manual.

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